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DWP board president says he plans to resign

December 7, 2010 | 11:36 am

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's top appointee at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Tuesday he would step down from his post at the end of the year, the latest example of churn in an agency that has experienced frequent leadership turnover since the mayor has been in office.

DWP Commission President Lee Kanon Alpert said the volunteer post had forced him to spend huge amounts of time away from his law practice and his family.

"I just can't any longer continue to do it," Alpert told the audience at the board's regular meeting.

Fighting back tears as he spoke, Alpert thanked Villaraigosa, the City Council and Brian D'Arcy, the head of the powerful DWP employee union. "We have worked exceedingly well together," he said, referring to D'Arcy.

The announcement comes as the utility is considering a plan to raise electricity rates by an average of 5% to 8% each of the next five years. The departure also follows a period of upheaval for the nation's largest municipally-owned utility as it attempts to meet the mayor's lofty environmental goals by dramatically expanding its use of renewable energy.

The agency has had five top executives in the last three and a half years and has lacked a permanent general manager since October 2009. Meanwhile, the five-member DWP commission, whose members are chosen by Villaraigosa, has had four board presidents since 2006.

Alpert was at the center of a nasty fight over electricity rates last spring, one that nearly pushed the city to the financial brink as the DWP threatened to withhold $73.5 million from the budget that pays for police officers, firefighters and basic services. In one extraordinary night meeting in March, members of the City Council warned the DWP commission that ratepayers could not afford Villaraigosa's proposed rate hike and implored the panel to approve an alternative plan that would give Villaraigosa three-fourths of what he wanted.

Instead, the panel abruptly took a break and went into rooms behind the meeting chamber where Villaraigosa's three top aides were already assembled. After phone calls between the mayor, Alpert and Villaraigosa chief of staff Jeff Carr, the panel reconvened and approved a rate hike that was closer to the mayor's in size, according to two people familiar with the sequence of events.

That decision spurred several members of the council to complain that Villaraigosa's DWP commissioners lack the ability to turn down the mayor's wishes, even when such a move is in the interest of the department.

“That clearly was something that only could have occurred in a situation where there’s no independence, where they felt they had to do what the mayor said," Councilman Paul Koretz said.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall