LADWP CartoonIn April of 2014, the LA 2020 Commission recommended that our City establish the Los Angeles Utility Rate Commission to oversee the operations our Department of Water and Power, set policy, appoint the General Manager, and set utility rates.

But City Council President Herb Wesson buried this constructive measure in the bowels of City Hall, never to be discussed again, including by Mayor Eric Garcetti who promised us that he would reform DWP.  

In December of 2015, the charter mandated Industrial, Economic, and Administrative Survey recommended reforming the governance of DWP to limit the political interference by City Hall in its operations, management, and finances.  But Navigant, the consulting firm that was retained by the Controller, the Mayor, and the Herb Wesson led City Council, did not outline any specific reforms other than to form a “committee to examine governance reforms for the LADWP, with the explicit task of reporting on its findings and recommending a measure for the 2017 ballot.”

Unfortunately, this Governance Committee will consist of City Hall insiders, including “representatives from the Mayor’s office, City Council Energy & Environment Committee, CAO, CLA, Controller, City Attorney, Office of Public Accountability, Board of Water and Power Commissioners, the general manager of LADWP, and a representative from labor.”

But who is representing the Ratepayers, the “working slobs” who are paying the bills and being fleeced for over $1 billion a year by City Hall and its cronies?

While the Governance Committee that consists of City Hall insiders will claim to be working in the best interests of the Ratepayers, rest assured that our Elected Elite will try to game the new system of governance to their advantage at our expense, especially when it comes to using us as an ATM.

However, Ratepayers need to be an integral part of this process if the findings of the Governance Committee are to have any credibility with Angelenos who do not trust the Department and the hot air know-it-alls at City Hall.  Furthermore, the Governance Committee needs to conduct its business in an open and transparent manner and not behind closed doors as is so often the case at City Hall, especially when it comes to issues involving our wallets.

Any recommendation by the Governance Committee must also include a requirement that the Department provide Ratepayers with timely information that is consistent with investor owned utilities such as Southern California Edison.  This would include not only financial information and operating statistics, but a comprehensive letter written to Ratepayers discussing the Department’s operations and financials.

Ratepayers must also insist on transparency on all discussions between City Hall and the Department.  This would require that all conversations and meetings be documented in writing and agreed to by both parties, subject to the penalty of perjury, and be made available to the public on the web within 48 hours.  These “ex parte” rules would also apply to any conversations between City Hall and the IBEW, the Department’s domineering union.

The Governance Committee needs to allow the DWP to establish its own Personnel Department and rules, freeing it from the City and its overly restrictive civil service regulations that do not give this 9,000 person organization with almost $5 billion in annual revenues the necessary flexibility to operate in an efficient manner.

The Governance Committee should support a more robust and independent Ratepayers Advocate that has the resources to analyze the operations and finances of the Department on a timely basis to make sure DWP is hitting its operating and financial metrics.  The Ratepayers Advocate must also have the resources to improve its outreach to the Ratepayers and other DWP stakeholders, including those who occupy City Hall.

The Governance Committee should also consider direct Ratepayer participation.  This would include allowing Ratepayers to vote on any rate increase that exceeds the rate of inflation and/or permitting the Ratepayers to elect the Board of Directors as is the case with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

One of City Hall’s major goals would be to legitimize the 8% Transfer Fee from the Power System that is currently the subject of a viable class action lawsuit.  This year, it is expected to be in the range of $275 million.  But rather than agree to continue this less than transparent tax, Ratepayers should approve its gradual phase out over a ten year period.

Over the next five years, DWP is anticipating spending between $15 and $20 billion transforming the Department.  This includes getting off coal, developing sources of local water, meeting numerous unfunded environmental mandates, and repairing and maintaining its aging water and power infrastructure.

The key to this successful transition is excellent management that is allowed to operate an efficient, well-funded, flexible organization without undue interference from City Hall.

We cannot afford to have the politically ambitious duo of Eric Garcetti and Herb Wesson bury the reform of our Department of Water and Power in the bowels of City Hall yet again.

Cross-posted at LAWatchDog.