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L.A. City Council fails to override Villaraigosa veto of DWP ballot measure

December 15, 2010 | 12:28 pm

The Los Angeles City Council failed Wednesday to override Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s veto of a ballot measure that would have given council members the power to fire the leadership of the Department of Water and Power.

Seven council members voted to override Villaraigosa’s veto, three votes shy of the number needed to overturn it.  Eight lawmakers voted to uphold the veto.

The vote culminated a months-long battle about control of the embattled utility, which some council members view as an out-of-control agency.

The proposal — which had been drafted to be placed on the ballot for municipal elections in March — would have given the council the power to remove the top executive and the commissioners of the DWP, the nation’s largest municipally owned utility. Under current law, the mayor selects the DWP leadership subject to council approval, but the council has no authority to remove the mayoral appointees.

Already on the March 8 citywide ballot is a council-backed measure to create a ratepayer advocate to look out for the public’s interest.

During debate Wednesday, supporters of the plan to give the council authority to fire DWP leadership said the measure was needed to reform a giant agency that had lost the public trust and operated in a secretive manner.

The measure is needed “for us to represent the best interests of our constituents,”  said Councilwoman Jan Perry, adding that the council merited  “a seat at the table” with the DWP. Annual  electricity rate increases were likely in coming years to pay for a gradual shift away from coal to renewable energy sources such as wind and power, Perry noted.

But Council President Eric Garcetti said the measure would only cloud the issue of who is responsible for the DWP.

“I believe that accountability comes when you can blame one person for what’s gone wrong,” said Garcetti, who voted against overriding the mayoral veto.

The proposal was defeated one day after Villaraigosa, who has the sole power to fire the DWP’s top executive and five commissioners, selected Ron Nichols, a Seattle-based energy consultant, to run the agency. If approved by the council, Nichols would be the DWP’s sixth general manager since 2007.

Wednesday’s vote was only the latest in a series of reversals and mixed signals on the proposal from council members.

Councilmembers Dennis Zine and Herb Wesson voted against it last month but for it on Dec. 7. On Wednesday, they voted against it again.

Zine said Friday that he voted to send the measure to the ballot because “it was the right thing to do.” But on Wednesday, he withdrew his support, saying that council members had not done a good enough job scrutinizing Villaraigosa’s nominees to run the DWP.

“Many of us have shirked our responsibility by not vetting those commissioners and not reviewing those general managers,” said Zine, who heads the council’s personnel  committee.

Wesson said he only voted for the measure last week in a bid to give fellow councilmembers time to reach a compromise with Villaraigosa.

Councilman Greig Smith, who voted to override the veto, has repeatedly argued that Villaraigosa has destabilized the DWP, which has had a series of five general managers and four board presidents since 2006. “We’ve had a churning going on there and they’re always political people,” said Smith.

Councilman Paul Krekorian previously voted for the measure multiple times, and on Wednesday he described the DWP as an agency that had been “running amok.” But he nonetheless voted against overturning the mayoral veto, saying the goal was to “depoliticize” the DWP.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell and David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

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