An aging pipe burst and water gushed down Coldwater Canyon, causing disruption for a week as city officials demanded answers from Department of Water and Power officials to assuage angry residents.
“We have an aging infrastructure–the pipes underground are not getting
any younger,” explained the DWP official in charge of the water system. ” What we are doing is crossing our fingers
and hoping that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”
Crossed fingers hasn’t worked too well since that incident 16 years ago in September 1993. Another burst water main closed Coldwater Canyon again September and couple of other broken pipes elsewhere caused more disruption.
LA’s water and power infrastructure has gotten a lot older and more vulnerable to breaking down despite a series of rate increases that were supposed to fix the problems.
Breakdowns, massive pay raises and inflated salaries, management arrogance and lack of transparency, rejection of the Measure B solar energy plan by voters, illegal transfers of millions to the city general fund, resistance to creating a Ratepayer Advocate, City Council rejection of lifting the cap on energy surcharges — they are among the many factors that have shaken public confidence in the DWP and its leadership, and brought its credibility to an all-time low.
Yet, that isn’t stopping the mayor’s Energy Czar David Freeman and DWP officials from trying to orchestrate another solar energy plan that seems a lot like the one voters rejected in March.
The campaign started in earnest last Wednesday when Freeman, City Council aides and DWP got together with some 15 or 20 environmentalists and launched their hard-sell.
The next day, most of that group got together at City Hall with representatives of business and private sector labor, and DWP Committee President Soledad Garcia, DWP critic Jack Humphreville and me — key leaders of the extraordinary grassroots campaign that against all odds defeated Measure B.
Jeff Catalano of Councilwoman Jan Perry’s office opened the meeting by making it clear that the past sins of the DWP were off the table and so was the issue of unlimited rate increases from Energy Cost Adjustment Factor (ECAF) that the Council just unanimously rejected out of fear of a voter backlash that could prove dangerous to their own cushy positions.
Nonetheless, Freeman conveyed the mayor’s commitment to an open process (unlike the back room deal that Measure B represented and is now repudiated by everyone involved from the mayor, Council President Eric Garcetti, and IBEW boss Brian D’Arcy as if they hadn’t engineered it).
Humphreville, who wrote the anti-Measure B ballot argument, presented his list of a couple of dozen concerns about this latest solar plan: Blank check for billions from ratepayers, DWP ownership and installation of most rooftop solar at its inflated cost structure to expand IBEW Local 18 jobs, emphasis on low-efficiency renewables, refusal to contract for best prices.
They all sound a lot like the same concerns over Measure B.
There is one big difference: Freeman insists City Hall won’t make the same mistake again of putting this solar plan on the ballot and letting voters have a say about how their money is spent.
Instead, the DWP will hold a two-week series of six community meetings starting Wednesday. Workshops, they are called, where the public will be told what the DWP’s intentions are and then the City Council will be asked to give the green light, no serious questions asked.
The plan itself is something of a secret, according to DWP public relations chief Joe Ramallo, who arrived late at Thursday’s meeting and told the assembled environmentalists and activists that the actual plan is still a secret, a work in progress and will be refined after all citizen input is tabulated and collated.
But things didn’t go the way they were supposed. Soledad, Jack and I offered oft-discussed concerns, questions and criticisms.
But so did the environmentalists.
They were burned by Measure B thanks to their leaders preferring to be in bed with the mayor and his pals than actually achieving clean energy.
They clearly do not intend to be burned again when everybody wants clean energy but also want it at a price that people can afford in these hard times and want policies that serve the public interest rather than enriching the special interests that have prospered so long on City Hall’s corruption.
From the remarks of the various interests at the table, it was clear everyone wants a full private sector involvement and a minimum DWP role, a clear timeline and cost and rate impact analysis, assurances that DWP management is up to the task and the use of the most efficient technologies — those that produce the most energy at the lowest price.
Freeman, that good old smooth-talking Southerner, said at the outset he wanted a 99 percent consensus on how to go forward. He got what he wanted — sort of.
There was a clear consensus but it’s not the one the DWP or City Hall sought. We’re on the road to coming together as a city where we can find agreement on how to get the most clean energy at a pace and at a cost the public can afford.
That would be the victory we’re seeking when we fought Measure B. It would be a sign of hope, hope that City Hall has lost its clout, that we are waking up across class and political lines and taking back our city.
Personally, that would be a dream come true.