A lot more is at stake in LA these days than just electricity rate hikes and closed parks and libraries.
Our system of government itself has been corrupted to the point of dysfunction. That’s why the city is running massive deficits and facing the threat of bankruptcy, why workers facing layoffs are being transferred and getting huge pay raises, why City Hall costs too much and delivers too little from crumbling streets and sidewalks to green energy.
It didn’t just happen overnight. The cancer of corruption has been eating away at City Hall a long time with unions, developers, contractors, consultants and their campaign cash holding almost all the power, and the people almost none.
The administration of Antonio Villaraigosa has accelerated this trend by using slogans as symbols in place of real policies — a million trees, mayoral takeover of the schools, the carbon surcharge to close coal power plants to name a few examples — and intimidation in place of persuasion to coerce commissioners and bureaucrats into docile obedience to his self-serving political agenda.
Commissioners are supposed to be citizen watchdogs on the operations of all city departments but they have become mere lapdogs with rare exceptions like Jane Usher and Nick Patsaouras who resigned as heads of Planning and DWP rather than do the mayor’s bidding when they knew what they were ordered to do was wrong.
None of the four DWP Commission members had such qualms last Thursday when they approved massive rate hikes without even considering the Council-ordered report by PA Consulting which called for major changes in policy to achieve transparency, effective management and coherent green energy policies.
They didn’t even have copies of the report on their desks when they rubber-stamped the mayor’s ill-conceived “carbon surcharge” policy. They didn’t even consider the recommendations of the DWP citizens committees when they proposed gutting efforts to create an independent Rate Payer Advocate by putting it under Controller Wendy Greuel, who owes her political career to the IBEW as much as to her personal charm.
As they did when the commission approved a 2,000 percent increase in the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor surcharge six months ago, the City Council on Tuesday repudiated the DWP Commission’s approval of an 800 percent increase, and did so unanimously.
In the space of eight days, the mayor had gone from proclaiming a 20 to 30 percent rate increase — which he falsely claimed was just a $2.50 a month increase — as necessary to raise nearly $700 million extra annually to replace DWP’s coal-burning plants with solar and wind energy.
He ignored the fact that the DWP’s five-year plan contains no provision to reduce the utility’s reliance on coal for 45 percent of its energy, the only reason its rates are 16 percent lower than other utilities.
By Thursday, the commission changed the story. It based its action not on replacing coal but on avoiding a credit rating downgrade due to the “under-collection” of $130 million in revenue when natural gas prices soared three years ago — a fraction of the revenue it had declared surplus and turned over to the general fund during that time.
By Tuesday, the mayor was resorting to the desperate argument that the city will go bankrupt if rates aren’t raised high enough to keep paying $220 million a year — 8 percent of all electricity revenue — to the general fund.
The shifting argument, the dishonesty of DWP officials, the lack of transparency cost him dearly politically and in terms of credibility.
City Hall is now in chaos.
Early retirement with sweetened pensions for 2,400 workers, threatened layoffs of 4,000 others have left nearly every department outside the DWP, Harbor, Airport and LAPD into confusion with gaps in skills and experiences and uncertainty about which services to protect and how to provide them.
We are nine months into the fiscal and still have a budget deficit of more than $200 million with much bigger deficits looming in the years ahead.
It’s clear nobody at City Hall has a clue about what to do. They are only making matters worse.
The commitment the Council made Tuesday in defying the mayor’s bullying tactics and promising to bring the shadowy policies of the DWP into the light of day is the first step on the long road to cleaning up the corruption at City Hall.
Citizen commissioners should take heed, starting with the DWP Commission.
In their acquiescence to the mayor’s coercion, they have failed to fulfill their duty to provide oversight on the DWP. They have been called out by the public and the Council, their actions denounced.
The honorable thing would be to resign immediately. And so should every other commissioner who has succumbed to pressure from the mayor or others to put special interests ahead of public interests.
It’s my belief that few would still be serving if they put honor ahead of position.
Department managers and other high-ranking bureaucrats have the same moral obligation to stand up in public and private for what is right for the city even in the face of threats to fire them.
It’s asking a lot of people to put themselves at risk for the common good of the city and its people. But if those in high positions don’t make a stand for what’s best for the city, what do the think the rabble, of which I’m proud to be part of, to do?