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The DWP's 'binary star' relationship with the city of Los Angeles




DWP headquarters in downtown Los Angeles
DWP headquarters in downtown Los Angeles
Alice Walton/KPCC

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If you're new to Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power might seem like any other municipal utility. But it has a long history that gets more fascinating the deeper you dig ... ehich is what Off-Ramp contributor Marc Haefele did for the latest issue of Los Angeles Magazine.

In his story, Marc writes that back in the 1980s, when he briefly worked for DWP doing PR for the agency, he discovered that "DWP employees were proud..."

"They were better paid than other city workers. They had better benefits. They had their luxury cafeteria with the big grand piano, the deep green carpets, the terrace dining. While City Hall workers pushed paper, went the thinking, DWP workers kept Los Angeles alive a magic the DWP pioneers had conjured out of the rugged Sierra early in the last century."

The DWP and the city, Marc says, are like a binary star system. They rotate around one another rather than working in sync. The DWP, while officially a department of the City of Los Angeles, wants to be as independent as possible. But since Mayor Riordan stepped in to replace a DWP GM who wasn’t doing what he wanted him to do in 1994, twelve GM's have come and gone over 20 years. The ensuing years haven't been great for the utility: a major power outage, the Fleishman Hillard scandal, the computerized billing fiasco, and the trust fund controversy.

Listen to my interview with Marc for much more ... including a DWP legend about a councilman, his aide, a cabin, and a tour bus.