Out of the blue at Tuesday’s Department of Water and Power Commission meeting, Board President Nick Patsaouras threw out a revolutionary idea: What if the ratepayers had an advocate for their interests inside the utility they own?
Patsaouras who has been around City Hall politics since the early Tom Bradley years has grown increasingly and publicly concerned about DWP’s disconnect from the people — an arrogance that has made General Manager David Nahai a target of increasing criticism from Neighborhood Council members and many others.
In proposing to put a motion for the Ratepayers’ Advocate position on the commission agenda for its next meeting on Oct. 7, Patsaouras offered a long list of reasons from transparency to better communication with the public and community engagement, according to community activists who were present.
Nahai was clearly caught off guard.
He questioned where the money would come from to pay such an advocate — as if there isn’t some room among the 8,000 or 9,000 DWP employees or among the deadwood dumped on the DWP by the rest of City Hall.
And he suggested stalling a decision by sending the motion to the Energy & Environment
Committee to study for six weeks or so. He offered to talk further with Patsaouras in private but in the end the commission rallied behind the idea and Nahai finally agreed to work on the proposal.
Members of the DWP Oversight Committee, who come from Neighborhood Councils all over the city, jumped on the Ratepayers’ Advocate idea and stepped up their own efforts to get the DWP to also create an Ombudsman who would have the independence to provide another voice for the public inside the utility.
Soledad Garcia, head of the Oversight Committee, detailed what the Ombudsman’s responsibilies would be and how it was an important goal for Neighborhood Councils who are still angry over Nahai’s insistence that the year-old memorandum of understanding with NCs be interpreted strictly to the letter and not become an opening for a genuine public involvement.
Oversight Committee members Dan Wiseman and Candido Marez backed her up and differentiated between an Ombudsman and
a Ratepayers’ Advocate.
For the thousands of people who have struggled for years to make the city better in the face of official resistance, it’s important to take note of how persistent and well-organized efforts of a broad-based group of community activists can begin to make a difference.
The problem isn’t the people who hold power in the city as much as the people of the city don’t have any power. And that will only change when community groups across the city look beyond their narrow issues and join together to change the political culture of L.A. and the dynamics of power.