“Citizen boards and commissions
play a significant role in most city governments. These boards and commissions
serve as voices of city residents in local government.
to selected commissions as well as defining their prominent role in the city
executive director of the Appointed City Charter Commission.
By any measure, the
Charter approved by voters on
of reforming City Hall and creating a more democratic government is a dismal
Efforts to reform the city’s
constitution came in response to the grassroots secession movements that sprung
up in the
of City Hall’s failures to respond to the voices of the citizenry.
It was intended to empower
neighborhoods and strengthen the authority of the mayor while stripping the
City Council of its role as the governing body of the
But the goal of then Mayor Richard
Riordan and Valley civic leader David Fleming were derailed by the same
interests – developers, contractors, unions and the political manipulators of
city politics – who were responsible for policies that enriched them and driven
away the middle class heart of the city.
The new charter, in theory, was a
modest improvement over the old. In practice, it has made things worse.
Can anyone honestly say LA is
better off today than it was 10 years ago?
There’s still a 75-year backlog
of broken sidewalks and potholed streets, poverty has soared, the middle class
is still dwindling, Neighborhood Councils are powerless and largely ineffective
talking societies, crime is down but gangs still control vast areas, services
are being slashed even as taxes, rates and fees have soared – and Los Angeles
is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as a city.
Today’s exploration of what went
wrong is focused on the system of boards and commissions – particularly the
Board of Commissioners of the Department of Water and Power — which is
intended to be the public’s eyes and ears in City Hall, its watchdog on the
bureaucracy and a buffer between elected officials and the departments.
The reality is they are largely
appointed by the mayor and serve at his pleasure – a mayor who is given to giving
them marching orders, sending his staff to commission meetings to make sure
they deliver and brow-beating them when they defy him.
It’s noteworthy that only two
commissioners out of the hundreds of them – Jane Usher as President of the
Planning Commission and Nick Patsaouras as President of DWP Board – resigned in
recent years in protest against what they were being ordered to do.
The DWP is critically important
to all of us, the one agency that touches everyone in LA’s life every day.
It is the nation’s largest
municipal utility, yet it operates as if it were a private corporation. But unlike
private utilities it is not governed by the state Public Utilities Commission
or most state laws so the DWP Commission plays – or is supposed to play — a
vital role in protecting the public interest and balancing the competing
interests of business and residents, home owners and apartment dwellers.
That isn’t how it works.
The DWP has become City Hall’s
cash cow, turning over 18.8 percent of all its electricity revenue to support
the rest of city government.
It has allowed the infrastructure
of the power and water system to rot and has the least amount of clean energy
of any major electricity utility in the state even as rates have soared.
It is being used to redistribute
the wealth of the city’s residents by tripling the number of households on
sharply reduced low-income rates to 250,000 even as its tiered and geographic
rate structures favor one group and punish another.
It is virtually run by IBEW union
boss Brian D’Arcy who has managed to get 5.9 percent raises in good times and
raises of up to 4 percent in these bad times.
On Tuesday, the DWP board that is
supposed to be the public’s voice and protector unanimously approved a
five-year deal with D’Arcy that is a disgrace.
It gives DWP workers a lump sum
payment of 3.25 percent even though there’s deflation in the last year of
nearly 2 percent and guarantees them raises of at least 2 percent for the next
four years with as much as 2 percent more if there’s inflation.
These are workers who are paid as
much as 40 percent more than other city workers for similar functions as
clerks, accountants, managers and other comparable tasks.
And yet they are getting even
more money while other city workers including cops and firefighters are getting
nothing or losing income through furloughs and city services are being slashed
because of the elimination of 2,400 jobs through early retirement incentives
and the likelihood of several thousand more being laid off in the months ahead.
This deal with the devil was
described by DWP officials on Tuesday as a cost saving measure – a statement
that went unchallenged by the commissioners.
The doublethink logic is pure DWP,
typical of officials who for so long have operated in a culture where denial,
deflection and deceit are a way of life and honesty and integrity are punished.
Giving workers a lump sum payment
instead of a raise this year doesn’t add to their base pay so it doesn’t add
any more to the costs of pensions so in their minds of DWP officials. The same
logic was used to describe a 15 percent loss in the pension fund’s value as a
gain because it had fallen 20 percent before the stock market’s recovery.
The biggest among the many
problems with that is the DWP already is paying 30 cents on top of every dollar
of payroll into the pension fund and expects to be paying 70 cents of every
dollar of payroll into the pension fund within five years.
That doesn’t leave much for solar
and wind energy, new water main pipes or upgrades to the electrical grid
unless, of course, rates to the public skyrocket.
And that’s exactly what the DWP
wants, what the commission is set to approve and the City Council and mayor are
ready to sign off on.
Where in any of this are the “voices
of city residents” being heard?
The failure of the DWP Commission
to fulfill its duties as the public’s voice, its watchdog and protector, is why
Patsaouras and so many community activists are calling for creation of an
independent Rate Payer Advocate’s office.
Personally, I don’t think it goes
anywhere near far enough.
Charter reform has failed.
This isn’t a government at all
but a dictatorship of special interests. Only massive structural reform, the
creation of boroughs with elected and empowered local officials who come from
the community can finally bring some semblance of democracy to
And that’s only going to happen
of the community looks beyond that specific issues and problems that are so
troubling and see that the problem is the system itself – a system that is
setting the stage for real change because of its financial and moral bankruptcy.