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L.A. City Council offers proposals to exert more control over DWP

April 7, 2010 | 12:03 pm

In the midst of a standoff with the Department of Water and Power over proposed rate increases, members of the Los Angeles City Council plan to roll out a series of proposals to rein in the power of the public utility, which has long been criticized for its lack of transparency.

Councilman Greig Smith said members plan to introduce as many as eight motions Wednesday, including a change to the city charter that would allow the City Council to exert control over the utility’s budget.

“We want to see what they are spending their money on, we want to know what they’re doing. We don’t know, so we need to know that,” Smith said.

Other proposed charter changes, which would go before voters on the ballot next March, would allow the City Council to remove the department’s general manager and members of the DWP board, moves that are now under the purview of the mayor.

The interim DWP general manager, S. David Freeman, angered City Council members this week when he recommended that the DWP board abandon plans to transfer a promised $73.5 million in “surplus revenue” to the city’s cash-strapped treasury. Freeman said his recommendation was based on the fact that the City Council did not approve a rate increase last week that was needed to cover the agency’s bills. Freeman said the utility was losing money regularly due to higher fuel costs so there was no such available "surplus."

The City Council agreed last week to allow the DWP to increase bills by 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed. DWP board members rejected that, however, and said they wanted an increase of 0.7 cents per kilowatt hour instead. The council then vetoed that proposal.

Both proposals would have provided DWP with 0.5 cents per kilowatt hour to pay for the utility's existing financial obligations. Any additional money -- 0.1 cents under the council's proposal, 0.2 cents from the DWP board's proposal -- would have been directed toward new energy conservation and renewable power initiatives.

Smith said another proposal that was being introduced Wednesday would change the makeup of the five-member DWP board. Currently the mayor nominates the members and the council confirms them.

Under a plan advanced by Smith and others, two DWP board members would be appointed by the mayor, including one who is an expert in the utility field. Two other members would be named by the City Council, with one serving as a representative from the business community. A fifth would be chosen by neighborhood councils. Commissioners and the general manager could each be removed on a two-thirds vote of the council.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall