That makes him a great watchdog with a ferocious bark we hope is worse than his bite. But we’re never sure so we carefully go through a ritual of introducing him to visitors to establish their good will.
Unfortunately, our elected officials in Los Angeles and the commissioners they appoint to provide oversight are with rare exceptions more like lapdogs than watchdogs.
With that in mind and finding DWP General Manager David Nahai resistant to outside interference, a group of citizens took the law into their own hands Saturday and created the Department of Water and Power Committee.
These are well-informed and committed people led by Soledad Garcia. They are all members of the Neighborhood Councils’ DWP committee created through a memorandum of understanding with former General Manager Ron Deaton.
At the time, the MOU Committee was hailed as a great stride forward for genuine citizen participation in city government. But since Nahai took over, it became a great step backward with his insistence on sticking to the letter of the MOU, vehement resistance to creation of a Rate Payer Advocate and passion for endless rate hikes.
Nahai to be sure had good reasons for his attitude: He takes orders from DWP union boss Brian D’Arcy and is devoted to making the union richer and stronger so it can fund the election of the mayor and other friendly city officials. All that money Nahai raises will also help City Hall pay its bills what with a $110 million deficit already facing it.
But who needs a watchdog on the public payroll when Garcia and her 25 fellow activists are ready to take on that role for free.
For their formal installation as a committee independent of city government, they chose Philippe’s restaurant downtown and gave me the great honor of formally swearing them into office as citizen watchdogs.
Nick Patsaouras who resigned as president of the DWP Commission and decided to run for City Controller — a position that Laura Chick used so effectively to engage in many a dogfight against waste, mismanagement and corruption at City Hall — attended the event and offered his insight and encouragement.
I felt like I was at a French Dip version of the Boston Tea Party. The first shots in a revolution were being fired in the name of participatory democracy and the groundwork was being laid for citizen committees to form to provide oversight in every aspect of city government.
How else are we going to take back the city from special interests unless citizens do it on their own?
Armed with passion and the California Public Records Act, the DWP Committee has taken on the task of digging deep into the policies and practices of the publicly-owned utility and poring through the books to see where all that money goes.
The truth about City Hall’s dirty deals isn’t going to come out any other way.
So wake up all you people out there. An army of watchdogs is needed. Take a look once in a while at the City Council’s agendas and dig a little bit and you’ll there are a myriad of questions that come to mind.
Last week, for instance, the council approved nearly $400,000 in pay raises for the police chief and various members of their own staffs even as they squealed about how the city is going broke — George Bush’s fault, of course, not their own.
On Tuesday, the council will approve another slew of writeoffs for the costs of various public events despite declaring they weren’t going to do that anymore. And they’re set to put more so-called “technical” changes to the City Charter even ones that provide special benefits to only one person — which makes you wonder who that person is.
Then, there’s the solar power measure intended to reward D’Arcy’s political support with hundreds of new DWP employees at inflated salaries and bleed the business community and ratepayers to fund this sweetheart deal that will only slow the city’s progress toward clean energy.
The one that really caught my eye was the $1 million loan to the Mercado La Paloma across the Harbor Freeway from USC in Councilwoman Jan Perry’s district..
Operated by the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, the Mercado was created out of an old industrial building with public funds seven years ago. It has restaurants, shops and office space for non-profits like the ACORN Housing Corp. But it’s not exactly the poster child for economic development projects.
“The Mercado itself has operated on a deficit every year since opening,” according to the Chief Legislative Analyst’s report.
“The key to the Mercado’s success toward self-sufficiency is to implement several capital improvements in order to draw more visitors,” the report notes quoting economic development officials.
In all, $3.4 million is needed and the Mercado has raised $300,000 from the Weingart Foundation and been given $107,000 in federal funds by the city plus the proposed loan. That leaves it nearly $2 million short.
I don’t have a clue from the public documents whether the Mercado’s business plan is a blueprint for success or continued failure. For all I know, it’s providing such valuable services to the community it is worth whatever it costs.
What I do know is that the council will not give it the scrutiny needed to protect the public interest. This has all the earmarks of a politically-favored deal and that’s all that counts at City Hall.
It will ever be the same unless there’s a whole lot of watchdogs our there who have the politicians, bureaucrats and special interests wondering whether their bite is worse than their bark.