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Sat, Jan

LA WATCHDOG--At its meeting on Tuesday, the Garcetti appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power will consider the adoption of a ten year, $63 million lease for 124,350 square feet of office space in Figueroa Plaza, a City owned office complex located at 201-221 North Figueroa Street in DTLA.    

This 25 year old property, purchased by the City in 2007 for $219 million, consists of two 16 story towers comprising 615,000 of office space and is located north of the Central Business District and about a quarter of a mile west of DWP’s headquarters on North Hope Street. 

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LA WATCHDOG--Mayor Eric Garcetti and the members of the Herb Wesson led City Council must think we are absolute fools if they believe that we will vote to approve massive tax increases in November while they continue to neglect our City and trash our quality of life.

On Friday, the Rules Committee of the City Council will consider placing on the ballot a measure to authorize the issuance of $1 billion of bonds.  This money will be used to finance the building of more housing for the homeless.  

The County is also considering a yet to be determined $250 million tax to help fund its homeless initiatives, including, subject to Sacramento’s approval, a controversial “millionaire’s tax” of 0.5% on incomes north of $1 million. 

The County is also contemplating a $200 to $300 million parcel tax to fund the repair, operation, and creation of parks throughout the County, especially in underserved areas.  

At the same time, Metro will place on the ballot a permanent half cent increase in our sales tax to fund transportation related projects and operations.  This will increase our sales tax to a whopping 9½%. 

Over the next 40 years, this new Metro tax, along with the existing transportation taxes, will raise almost $300 billion, of which almost $25 billion will be kicked back to City Hall as part of the Local Return program.  

Despite a kickback from Metro of over $200 million this year, City Hall does not have a comprehensive plan to repair our lunar cratered streets and alleys, some of the worst in the country. 

Nor does City Hall have a detailed plan to repair our residential sidewalks in a timely manner. Rather, homeowners may have to wait up to 30 years pursuant to the court mandated Sidewalk Repair Program unless residents are prepared to pony up their own dough to pay for a substantial portion of the cost to fix their broken sidewalks and replant their trees.  

City Hall is also starving our Department of Recreation and Parks by hitting it up for almost $60 million a year as part of its “full recovery cost” program.  This represents a third of its General Fund charter mandated allocation.  As a result, our parks have deteriorated and the Department has embarked on an unpopular program to commercialize our parks. 

The City Council and the Jose Huizar led Planning and Land Use Management Committee are preparing to allow the campaign funding billboard industry to install intrusive digital billboards in many areas outside the designated sign districts.  But the light blight from these highly profitable digital billboards is an assault on our quality of life. 

The Mayor and the City Council are also selling us out to real estate speculators and developers by approving zoning variances for luxury residential skyscrapers that will result in increased congestion on our already clogged streets.  

There are also hot button issues involving small lot subdivisions, short term rentals (AirBnb), granny flats, mansionization, and the hillside communities that have inflamed the impacted residents.  

At the same time that the City is neglecting our infrastructure and failing to protect our neighborhoods, City Hall has no problem entering into a new contract with the City’s civilian unions that will eventually cost an extra $125 million a year. This will result in a structural deficit of over $100 million for the fiscal year ending 2020 as opposed to a previously anticipated surplus of $68 million, a swing of $169 million.  

And this does not include the impact of the “goal” of hiring 5,000 new City employees or the underfunding of the City’s two pension plans by at least $400 million a year as the City relies on an overly optimistic investment rate assumption of 7½%. 

The three ballot measures all have fatal flaws that will make it difficult for them to obtain the approval of two-thirds of the voters.  They are also the beginning of an onslaught of new taxes (including DWP, stormwater, and streets and sidewalks) that will have the cumulative impact of raising our taxes by at least $1.5 billion.  This is the equivalent of a 30% increase in our real estate taxes or a 3% increase in our sales tax to 12%. 

City Hall will put on a full court press to convince us to approve these taxes.  But City Hall’s reputation for neglecting our streets, sidewalks, and parks; for not respecting our quality of life; for selling out to the real estate and billboard industries; for its kowtowing to the City’s civilian unions; and for its unwillingness to really balance the budget will doom these ballot measures to failure. 

Who are the fools now? 

 

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--If we are to hold the senior management of our Department of Water and Power accountable to the Ratepayers, the City Council, and the Mayor for the efficient operation of this complex, asset-intensive $5 billion a year enterprise that is transitioning its power and water systems to meet overly aggressive environmental mandates, then the management team must have the flexibility and authority to make operational decisions without undue interference from the City Council, the Mayor, the leadership of the City’s unions, and other self-serving special interest organizations. 

There are two operational reforms that will allow DWP to be more nimble and efficient.     

The first operational reform would allow DWP to establish its own Human Resources Department to oversee its 9,000 employees, allowing the Department greater flexibility by removing its reliance on the City’s slow moving, overly bureaucratic Personnel Department and its burdensome civil service rules and regulations.  This would result in increased accountability as Human Resources would report to DWP’s General Manager, unlike the current situation where the Personnel Department is not accountable to DWP management. 

Furthermore, the personnel and hiring policies needed for the successful operation of the nation’s largest municipally owned utility are significantly different than those of the City given the engineering background and specialized skills required by the Water and Power Systems. 

The second operational reform would permit the management greater discretion in its procurement and contracting process, eliminating time consuming bureaucratic delays as contracts work their way through the DWP and the City’s cumbersome bureaucracy.  This reform would eliminate the Mayor’s micromanagement of operational contracts and increase the contracting authority of the General Manager to more realistic levels of $5 to $15 million depending on the type of contract. 

Over the last month, City Council President Herb Wesson and his Rules Committee have held at least four open meetings discussing the reform of our Department of Water and Power, including unprecedented evening meetings in the Valley and South Los Angeles, where numerous people and organizations have had a chance to air their opinions and recommendations and engage in discussions with the Council Members.  (Thank you, Herb.)  But we have yet to see any Committee action or instructions to the City Attorney which will leave us with very little time to review, analyze, and comment on the proposed ballot measure. 

There are also the issues involving the role and independence of the Board of Commissioners, the potentially illegal 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System which supplied the City with $267 million this year, and the impact on the Ratepayers of efforts to have DWP subsidize the operations of various governmental entities (LAUSD and Recreation and Parks) and even greater environmental mandates. 

While these financial and governance issues are very important, they should not overshadow the need to reform the Department’s Human Resources function and the Contracting and Procurement policies so that the Department may operate more efficiently and we, in good faith, can hold the General Manager and the rest of her management team responsible for their management decisions.

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--The politically appointed Board of Commissioners of our Department of Water and Power recently approved two money losing water recycling projects that will result in DWP blowing $93 million of Ratepayer money.  This amount represents about a quarter to a third of the recently approved five year, 25% increase in our water rates. 

These Board decisions (with only one the five Commissioners voting NO on both deals) were made without relying on any financial analysis prepared by the Department.  Nor were these two projects compared to other alternative water saving investments that may have higher rates of return.  To the contrary, I supplied the Commissioners and DWP management with a cash flow analysis (based on the Department’s assumptions) for both recycling projects that showed that these two uneconomic water recycling projects were stinkers. 

But the politically appointed Commissioners were only following the wishes (orders) of Mayor Eric Garcetti (photo above) who, through his Executive Directive No. 5 (Emergency Drought Response – Creating a Water Wise City) dated October 14, 2014, established a goal of reducing the purchase of imported water by 50% by 2024.  This will require increases in local supplies through conservation, the remediation and replenishment of our aquifers, and increases in our local supplies through the recycling of wastewater and storm water. 

Unfortunately, this aspirational, politically inspired Executive Directive was not accompanied by any operational or financial analysis, putting the Department in a very difficult and awkward position. 

The first project, the $20 million Griffith Park South Water Recycling Project, is located within the nation’s largest urban park and will supply 477 acre feet (156 million gallons) of recycled water a year to the Roosevelt Golf Course and the surrounding area.  Based on the Department’s assumptions for the purchase price of treated water from the Metropolitan Water District (“MWD”), this project does not recoup its investment until 2040 (23 years).  

Alternatively, it would take over 40 years for this debt financed project to repay a loan that had an interest rate of 5%. 

Furthermore, this deal is double stinker as it is a pet project of former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and the responsibility of the Department of Recreation and Parks, not DWP and its Ratepayers, since it located entirely within Griffith Park. 

The second water recycling project, the $73 million Elysian Park Downtown Water Recycling Project, will supply 2,561 acre feet (835 million gallons) of recycled water a year to Elysian Park, DTLA, Exposition Park, Boyle Heights, and other adjacent areas, once again reducing the need for potable (drinkable) water. But like the Griffith Park pet project, the DWP does not recoup its investment until 2040 and would not be able to repay the loan until 2057.  

The economics of these two projects assume that they will have a life of 30 to 50 years.  However, this may be a bogus assumption if the recycled water from the LA-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant can be processed into potable water (direct potable reuse or better known as toilet to tap) that can be introduced directly into our water system.  This would result in a “stranded” asset, resulting in an even greater hit to the Ratepayers. 

The debt laden Water System does not have the flexibility to sink cash into money losing projects as its ambitious $5.5 billion capital expenditure budget is already causing its long term debt and debt ratios to balloon to levels where it will endanger its coveted bond rating. 

While the aspirational goal of reducing our dependence on purchased water from Northern California and the Colorado River is worthy target, it must also be accompanied by a rigorous operational and financial analysis that results in the Department investing in projects that have positive rates of return and at the same time discarding the dogs.  Otherwise, Garcetti’s green policies will result in considerably less green in our wallets.  

[Note: On Wednesday, MWD, the major supplier of water to our City, issued a press release stating that its “stress test” showed that it had sufficient water supplies to meet the demands of its customers for the next three years.]

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

-cw

LA WATCHDOG--On Thursday morning, the Rules Committee of the City Council released its recommendations for the reform of our Department of Water and Power.  This 2,300 word document addressed three areas of reform:  1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit undue interference and meddling by the Mayor and the City Council, 2) more efficient contracting and procurement policies that would free management from overly burdensome overhead, bureaucracy, and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department, free from the City’s civil service requirements, that would allow for hiring flexibility. 

The recommendations are a constructive start, but need to be refined over the next three weeks if the measure to reform the Department is to be placed on the November 8 ballot for our approval.  

One recommendation of the Rules Committee would require the Department to develop a “four year strategic investment and revenue plan (the “Plan”) for approval by the City Council and the Mayor.”  This would also include a robust discussion on our water and power rates.  While this planning process would give the City Council more authority over the DWP, it would also provide the Board and the management greater operational and financial flexibility as long as they stayed within the Plan’s guidelines. 

[Note: The City Council should take its own advice and develop a multiyear strategic, operational, and financial plan for our City!] 

Once the Plan is approved, the Board of Commissioners, the General Manager, and her management team should be given considerable authority to operate the Department without undue interference and meddling from the City Council and the Mayor.  This would include the elimination of the burdensome requirement that the Board and the Department clear agenda items with the Mayor’s office. 

The Rules Committee recommended that the seven part time commissioners (an increase from the current level of five part time commissioners) serve three year staggered terms.  But three years does not allow Commissioners enough time to learn the intricacies this $5 billion a year enterprise and would deprive the Board of important institutional and industry knowledge.  Rather, the term should be five years as outlined in Councilmember Felipe Fuentes’ January 22 motion that kicked off the discussion of the reform of our Department of Water and Power.  

The Rules Committee recommended that Commissioners could be removed by the Mayor with the concurrence of the Council or by a vote of 75% of the Council.  To the contrary, removal should be only for cause and not at the discretion of our elected officials. 

The recommendations appear to address the General Manager’s request that the Department be granted more freedom in contracting and procurement by amending the City Charter to allow the Department to enter into selected power contracts, leases, and design build arrangements with the approval of the Board of Commissioners, bypassing the need for a time consuming ordinances approved by the slow moving City Council. 

The biggest disappointment is that the Rules Committee was not able to follow through on Fuentes’ motion to “authorize the Department to oversee its own hiring functions and remove the Department from its obligation to follow civil service rules.”   While reform was endorsed by the Union Bo$$ d’Arcy’s IBEW Local 18 (a scary thought to some), this motion ran into a buzz saw as the leaders of the City’s civilian unions were vehemently opposed to the Department establishing its own Human Resources Department, free from civil service.  Rather, they are demanding that the City “meet and confer” which will allow the City unions to demand concessions from the Department in return for their approval.  

This collective bargaining may result in an impasse that will most likely result in litigation if the City Council has the gumption to take the side of the Ratepayers and pursue the establishment of a Human Resources Department that reports to the management of DWP.  

According to insiders, this is a continuation of the bad blood between the City’s civilian unions and IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy as the civilian unions have contract envy and resent d’Arcy’s justified opposition to the 2009 Early Retirement Incentive Program that allowed 2,400 senior City employees to retire early at a cost of over $300 million to the City (and its taxpayers). 

In the meantime, the Rules Committee should recommend that the City’s Personnel Department devote considerable resources to DWP and establish an fully staffed office at DWP to serve the Department’s needs, similar to the successful arrangement with the City Attorney.  Furthermore, the Department should be allowed to have 10% of its work force be exempt from civil service so that it has the flexibility to hire staff to fill positions in IT, customer service, purchasing, training, and other important departments. 

The Rules Committee has conducted an open and transparent process, taking input from many constituencies. This compares to the process with Measure B in 2009 (Mayor Villaraigosa’s ill-conceived solar plan) and Proposition A in 2013 (the permanent half cent increase in our sales tax).  Both were rejected by the voters. 

We have two to three weeks to rework and refine the Rules Committee’s recommendations, during which time we need continued transparency and flexibility.

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

-cw

 

LA WATCHDOG--The reform and restructuring of the governance and operations of the our Department of Water and Power is intended to make our utility more nimble and efficient so that it is better able to address the increasing complex operational, organizational, technological, management, financial, and regulatory challenges it faces and will continue to face in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment.  At the same time, our engineering focused DWP must earn the trust, confidence, and respect of its 1.5 million Ratepayers by developing into a more customer centric and efficient enterprise.  

There are three areas of reform that have been discussed at multiple meetings throughout the City: 1) a more independent Board of Commissioners designed to limit the interference from the City Council and the Mayor, 2) improved contracting and procurement policies to eliminate overly burdensome overhead and layers of bureaucracy and red tape, and 3) the establishment of a DWP Human Resources Department for the Department’s 9,000 employees, separate and distinct from the City’s slow moving Personnel Department and City’s cumbersome civil service regulations. 

While there has been considerable discussion about the three areas of reform, there has been no meaningful discussion of the Transfer Fee/Tax because of the class action litigation alleging that this fee/tax is illegal because it violates Proposition 26 (the Supermajority Vote to Pass new Taxes and Fees) that was approved by California voters in 2010.  However, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes suggested that the Transfer Fee/Tax, which provided $267 million to the City’s coffers this year, be capped at its 2010 level of $221 million.  

On the other hand, a better idea would be to ask the voters to phase out the Transfer Fee/Tax over a 10 year period and waive the repayment of the $1.5 billion of illegal transfers made since 2011.  But to win over the voters, City Hall must be willing to reform its budget policies by agreeing to place on the ballot for our approval or rejection a charter amendment that will require the City to Live Within Its Means.** 

There also appears to an appetite by City Hall to hit up the Ratepayers to support other initiatives that are not part of the core mission of the Department. 

At Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Chair of the Arts, Parks, and River Committee, proposed that DWP (read Ratepayers) subsidize the utility bill of the Department of Recreation and Parks to the tune of $20 million a year.  Mayor Garcetti also proposed to lower the rates for the Los Angeles Unified School District, DWP’s largest customer. 

While Recreation and Parks and LAUSD provide important public services, the Ratepayers should not be required to foot a portion of their utility bill.  This is not our responsibility.  Rather, these poorly managed government entities should feel the pain of the full impact of the recent $1 billion rate increase, just as we Ratepayers are forced to do. 

There are also others on the City Council and in the environmental community who are pushing the One Water agenda which would essentially put Ratepayers on the hook for financing a good chunk of the City’s $8 billion stormwater and urban runoff plan over the next 20 years.   This would deprive Angelenos of the right to approve or reject this massive project.   

There are others who want to expand the Department’s green agenda for the Power System without giving any consideration to the impact on the Ratepayers.  As it is, we are going to be hit with a $1 billion rate increase over the next 5 years plus another $150 million in new DWP related taxes.    

City Council President Herb Wesson has taken DWP reform under his wing, conducting a number of open meetings of the Rules Committee which he chairs.  He has also indicated that he intends to meet with labor and environmental groups, hopefully in open and transparent sessions where the public will be able to listen in and participate.  

We have yet to see any definitive ballot language.  This is disturbing since the ballot language needs to be determined within a month in order to be on the November ballot.  And as we all know, the devil is in the details, especially when it involves the politicians and their cronies who occupy City Hall. 

The reform and restructure of our Department of Water and Power will be a tough sell to the voters who do not trust or respect DWP and City Hall.  Rather than trying to do too much which will only complicate any ballot measure, the City Council and the Mayor (who has yet to come forward with any definitive thoughts) are strongly advised to follow the old KISS adage: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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** The “Live Within Its Means” charter amendment, if approved by the voters, will require the City to develop and adhere to a Five Year Financial Plan; to pass two year balanced budgets based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; to benchmark the efficiency of its operations; to fully fund its pension plans within twenty years; to implement a twenty year plan to repair and maintain our streets, sidewalks, and the rest of our infrastructure; and to establish a fully funded Office of Transparency and Accountability to oversee the City’s finances and operations.

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

-cw

 

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