The news about L.A. just gets worse and worse.
Gangsters are running wild in the San Fernando Valley and so are racists and anti-Semites; the political wannabes have so corrupted the electoral process, a Republican might even stand a chance; the city budget is so phony it almost certainly will have to be revised before it takes effect July 1 — which may explain why the City Council hardly bothered to discuss it.
But if you’re looking for a reason to get so mad you might actually do something, nothing quite tops Scandal Central: The Department of Water and Power, now or at any time during the last 100 years.
This is a saga of how ratepayers’ money is squandered, why rates keep soaring, why service stinks, how insiders get rich, why the DWP union gets lucrative sweetheart contracts and virtually runs the show and how Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has put the wolves in charge of the henhouse.
The latest chapter involves the notorious DWP figure Raman Raj, who was booted out of the utility a few years back after serving as onetime DWP head David Freeman’s right-hand man. He might just as easily have been described as the right-hand man of Brian D’Arcy, the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers which represents nearly all 8,000 DWP workers including most managers.
Don’t feel sorry about Raj After being dumped, he started representing a long list of companies that contract with the DWP and just like magic he’s back six years later in a top job at the DWP being paid the handsome sum of a quarter of a million dollars.
An article by David Zahniser in the Times Saturday raises serious questions about just what Raj is up to in his new role.
On Friday, the council rejected one contract for a firm Raj represented last year, mainly because they weren’t told about the connection. Another firm Raj represented is facing a possible lawsuit for its role in a 2005 outage that cut power to half the city.
DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras says the evidence shows the company shares in the blame and he expressed dismay that its link to Raj, now chief operating officer, was not disclosed to the board.
But not to worry. You can take DWP General Manager David Nahai’s word for it that there’s a “Chinese wall” around Raj to prevent any conflict of interest or collusion. You can also take Nahai’s word for it that his plan to turn toilet water into drinking water in Valley and East L.A. is good for you, and that sharply higher water and power rates will really get spent to make your life better.
You can believe anything you want. It’s a free country. But what I believe is that we’re being ripped off and that if we don’t do something about it now, it’s going to get completely out of control in the years ahead.
The Times focused its story on the “revolving door between city government and businesses that seek lucrative public contracts.”
But a little research would have shown just how much deeper and broader the connections are to the mayor and L.A’s insider culture that flourishes in a sea of corruption protected by its control of all the power from the city to state government.
Googling would have shown what was going on just a few years back when Raj was still inside the DWP pulling strings for the IBEW. That’s something Jeffrey Anderson at the L.A. Weekly did in 2005 and 2006j. He reported how Raj and his boss David Freeman had ceded management authority to D’Arcy and the union back in the late 1990s and provided the union with $12 million without any accountability.
Knowing a good thing when they saw one, Freeman and Raj played important roles in supporting and fund-raising for Villaraigosa to help him get elected. So did David Nahai.
Their rewards were substantial.
Freeman is now the president of the Harbor Commission, which like the DWP and the airports are proprietary agencies that operate with a great deal of independence and award billions of dollars in contracts a year. They are the mother’s milk of city politics for politicians, bureaucrats and commissioners because they are awash in money from contractors and lobbyists.
Raj is back on the job at DWP and Nahai, a lawyer without any experience for the job, is in charge of the utility. Their mission in part is to mend the relationship with D’Arcy and the union which became contentious during the Hahn Administration, a healing that was no doubt aided by Villaraigosa at the start of his term as mayor when he went along with a massive pay raise for DWP workers.
You can see what a small world it is. Politicians, bureaucrats, private companies, lucrative contracts, political contributions. One hand stroking the other. Millions of dollars disappearing without public benefit. Legal and ethical problems arising and disappearing with the help near total political control.
It’s all one big happy family. They all come out winners even when they lose their jobs. Everybody’s a winner – except we the people who pay the bills and get the kind of services you’d expect after so much money is skimmed from the top.