Every story needs a villain, and DWP General Manager David Nahai has achieved that status in the political story of L.A. in record time.
At least that’s what many members of neighborhood councils, community activists, DWP managers and media mavens who have encountered Nahai’s arrogance and glib glossing over of the truth are saying.
But that’s only the half full glass of water view of the millionaire real estate lawyer turned environmentalist.
Every story also needs a hero and David Nahai is definitely that if you read the hagiographic puff piece in L.A. magazine‘s July issue by Kevin Roderick, the expert in all things media in L.A., defender of the L.A. Times’ hack pack and public relations consultant.
Normally, I’d hold my nose and look the other way but given my passion for exposing the waste, inefficiency and corruption at the City Hall’s most powerful and insulated institution and Roderick’s holding himself as up the ultimate arbiter of all things journalistic, I cannot let this article headlined “Troubled Waters” go unnoticed.
Let’s start with the fact that the closest there is to a critical voice comes from a group out in Mojave worried about power lines. The rest is quotes that glorify and turns of phrase that befit a man who walks on water.
To Owens Valley victims of DWP’s pillage, Nahai is “the one Angeleno the locals trust” as “they are laughing easily with a natty figure who
is sporting a black turtleneck and an English boarding school accent
and hovering at the mayor’s shoulder.”
Nahai’s sermons are “persuasive stuff,” he’s “uncommonly engaged” in the details, he’s called “a Middle Eastern James Bond,” he scored “one of his early victories” by misusing (my word) the accidental death of a firefighter to justify rate hikes while he “deftly handled an unexpected media storm” and “stared down the critics…For Nahai, turning the agency into one of the environmental good guys is the fun part.”
And what fun it is. He has “broken ground” and “taken steps” to implement what he boasts is his
“bold and visionary plan” .for “making history” and “changing the direction of the city.”
Nahai is “enjoying his new life as a public figure…become a regular
on TV and radio, willing to play the part of the city’s environmental
conscience…All this makes him, at 55, the most watchable new player on
L.A.’s political scene.”
could go on with the uncritically observed telling of how Nahai’s
political flip-flops and opportunism and his ability to raise lots of
money from the wealthy Iranian Jewish committee brought him to
prominence but why belabor the obvious.
Better to mention
Roderick’s invoking the names of Jackson Browne and such literary icons
as Gore Vidal, Sartre and Camus but, amazingly, the name of the man who
actually runs the DWP, Brian D’Arcy, never appears.
the head of the DWP union, the IBEW, and 95 percent of the utility’s
workers take their orders from him, including most of the managers — a
source of political cash and campaign workers that he uses ruthlessly
to further his members’ interests and buy obedience from those who he
helps get elected.
That’s why DWP salaries are so outlandish and
rise 5 or 6 percent a year and why little happens at the utility
without his approval.
That is especially true of the
appointment of Nahai — a man without any experience as a manager or
expertise in the field — to the $310,000 a year post. He’s pals with
the boss, D’Arcy.
The closest Roderick comes to engaging D’Arcy
is this sentence: “When Nahai arrived, the International Brotherhood of
Local 18 sent out 30,000 DVDs that portrayed the agency as being in
In fact, it was a public relations effort by D’Arcy
to set the stage and the agenda for Nahai to hire 1,000 new IBEW members, ending efforts to hire contractors who work
cheaper and faster.
And public relations is what it’s all about,
especially when it comes to selling toilet-to-tap water for home use –
not just irrigation — in the San Fernando Valley .
“Betting on enlightenment, however, is seldom rewarded,” Roderick concludes. “Just in case,
Nahai has set aside $1.5 million for a public relations campaign…He opposes putting the recycling
question to a public vote, preferring to let elected officials–many of
whom are allies of the mayor–decide. He may be a purist, but he’s no
fool indeed. Nahai is smart, smart enough to hire pals of City Council
members on his payroll at six-figure salaries and to make recycled
water that has been repeatedly treated with chemicals sound like God’s
Of course, even a man like Roderick’s Nahai can’t
do everything all at once. Parts of the city were still without water
and power during the recent heat wave and the actual rebuilding of the
utility’s infrastructure will take a long time and depend on just how
much higher he can drive the rates.
But know your place and don’t go around raising hard questions like that. They get in the way of a good story.