Is the DWP Ratepayers Advocate Really Independent?

LA WATCHDOG - The 657,000 Water Customers of our Department of Water and Power have just been assaulted by an incomprehensible 4,000 word, six page mailer that details the reasons and logic behind next year’s 18% increase in our water rates.  

And to top it off, the 18% increase in our water rates is not clearly enumerated but must be calculated from a confusing page of numbers and more numbers, all in small print.

DWP has indicated it needs rate increases to fund water quality regulatory mandates, to repair and maintain its aging infrastructure in order to ensure the reliable delivery of water, and to develop our local supply of water so we will be less dependent on the increasingly expensive water imported by the Metropolitan Water District.

Of course, there was no mention of the generous increases in personnel costs (salaries, medical benefits, and pensions to say nothing of the burdensome work rules) that were negotiated by the Executive Employee Relations Committee headed by Mayor Villaraigosa and former City Council President Eric Garcetti, both of whom are cronies of campaign funding Union Bo$$ Brain d’Arcy, the public be damned business manager of the IBEW, DWP’s domineering union.

While this 18% increase in our overall rate is the result of many factors, including increased “pass-throughs” associated with higher prices and volumes of imported water as a result of below average snowfall in the Easter Sierras, they were not discussed in this lawyer driven mailer that is required by Proposition 218.

There are also issues about the timing of this proposed increase in our water rates as the Department indicated the water rates were to be considered only after the proposed two year, 10% increase in our power rates was finalized.

In any case, this episode is just another reason why we need increased transparency into the rate making process, operations, and finances of our Department of Water and Power.

However, for the most part, this is not the fault of DWP and its management who first broached rate increases in the summer of 2011, subsequent to the March 2011 vote where 78% of the voters approved the formation of the Ratepayers Advocate.  

Rather, it is the result of the failure of the City Council to establish a Ratepayers Advocate on a timely basis, which, in turn, delayed the requested rate increases.

As a matter of fact, the City Council is still working on an implementing ordinance, even though it is over 16 months since the March 2011 vote.

And this continuing delay and ineptitude has caused the Neighborhood Council DWP Advocacy Committee to unanimously approve a resolution on Saturday, July 7, saying it was seriously concerned about the independence of the Ratepayers Advocate and urged the Energy and Environment Committee to consider the formation of an independent Board of Commissioners for the Office of Public Accountability; the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ratepayers Advocate and the Neighborhood Councils; the requirement that the Ratepayers Advocate provide Ratepayers and other constituencies with an understandable explanation of any rate increase; the establishment of a process to handle Ratepayer complaints; and the use of independent counsel when the City Attorney may have a conflict of interest.

The DWP Committee also discussed the need for greater transparency and posed the following questions and/or recommendations for DWP and it management, the Mayor and the City Council, and the Ratepayers Advocate.

How efficient are DWP’s operations?  The DWP needs to benchmark its operations, as recommended by the last two IEA Surveys?

What are electricity rates anticipated to be in 2020 when DWP will be required to have 33% of its power from renewable sources?  And how do these rates compare to other utilities in Southern California and other Western states?

How do DWP labor rates compare to other City employees and other regional utilities?  The Committee believes that labor negotiations should be negotiated by DWP management in an open and transparent manner since the members of the Executive Employee Relations Committee (composed of the Mayor and Council Members Wesson, Reyes, Krekorian, and Koretz) have a blatant conflict of interest because these members have received campaign donations from the IBEW and/or other City unions.

What is the status of noncore pet projects, both past, present, and future?

And finally, the DWP Advocacy Committee believes that there should be a Neighborhood Council representative on the Board of Commissioners.

We understand that our Department of Water and Power will need to increase our rates for water and power.  But at the same time, we need our independent Ratepayers Advocate to oversee the operations, finances, and management of our Department of Water and Power on a timely and continuous basis and, at the same time, make sure that City Hall and their cronies respect the wallets of the hard working Ratepayers.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and the Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler -- www.recycler.com. He can be reached at: lajack@gmail.com)

Tags: Jack Humphreville, LA Watchdog, Ratepayers Advocate, DWP, LADWP, water rates, rate increases, Fred Pickel, Eric Garcetti

Vol 10 Issue 55
Pub: July 10, 2012