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L.A. City Council committee weighs creating utility ratepayer advocate

December 15, 2009 | 11:44 am
A Los Angeles City Council panel forged ahead today with plans for creating a new watchdog at the Department of Water and Power, despite vigorous objections from that agency’s top executive.

The council’s Energy and Environment Committee asked its staff to combine an array of proposals for a new position of ratepayer advocate to review issues such as rate hikes for electricity and water.

The DWP's general manager, S. David Freeman, urged the committee to take a different course, saying that a ratepayer advocate would impede his agency’s effort to move from dirty coal to renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
“We’re running a public business that requires action,” he said.

The vote came less than a week after council members approved a five-year package of pay raises for DWP employees. Although none of the members spoke against the plan, Councilman Tony Cardenas offered a somewhat cynical take, saying he suspected his colleagues were using the issue to gain higher office.

“There’s a handful of people who want to run to be mayor,” he said. “And this looks like the kind of thing that people can really ride on, and really try to go into the mayor’s office on -– being for the people, clamping down on the rates and getting more exposure.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry asked for information on ways of reconstituting the DWP’s five-member board -– a panel whose members are currently chosen by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And Councilman Richard Alarcon suggested that citizen distrust of the DWP helped doom the solar plan known as Measure B, which went down to defeat in March.

Alarcon said the DWP would put itself on the cutting edge of public policy by creating a ratepayer advocate -– an argument that did not sway Freeman.
“People on the cutting edge tend to bleed a lot,” he told the panel.

-- David Zahniser and Phil Willon at L.A. City Hall