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DWP board hires Villaraigosa nominee pending L.A. City Council approval

December 20, 2010 | 11:47 am

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees at the Department of Water and Power voted Monday to hire Seattle-based utility consultant Ron Nichols as the agency’s newest general manager, the sixth since 2007.

The panel agreed to provide Nichols, who has worked in the water and power industry for three decades, a yearly salary of $345,000 plus $15,000 in moving expenses, DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said. In addition, he will receive a monthly housing allowance of $3,200 during his first year on the job.

The commission’s 5 to zero vote formally sends Nichols’ nomination to the City Council for a confirmation hearing and vote, which is expected in January.

The DWP, the nation’s largest municipally-owned utility, has been at odds with the Council during the last year over its electricity rates and environmental initiatives. A 20-year plan drafted by the agency, which places a major emphasis on renewable energy, would require electricity rate hikes of 5% to 8% in each of the next five years, followed by increases of 3% to 5% in each of the 15 years after that, utility officials said.

Nevertheless, environmental groups warned earlier this month that the utility is on the verge of backsliding on some of Villaraigosa promises, including his plan to wean the nation’s largest municipal utility off of coal by 2020.

“The Department faces large challenges, but with challenge comes opportunity,” Nichols said in a prepared statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to having the opportunity to work with Mayor Villaraigosa, members of the City Council, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners and the hardworking staff of the LADWP to rebuild the Department, restore its credibility with its customers and ensure its future success.”

During Monday’s special meeting, the commission also named Thomas Sayles, USC’s vice president for government and civic engagement, as its new president. Sayles is Villaraigosa’s fifth commission president since 2006, replacing departing board president Lee Kanon Alpert.

Sayles worked from 1994 to 2007 for Sempra Energy and its predecessor companies. He will become commission president in January 2011.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall