Antonio Villaraigosa committed one of the worst political blunders imaginable on Tuesday, costing himself, his mythical green energy plan and the Department of Water and Power what little credibility they had.
It gives credence to gadfly John Walsh’s ravings that the mayor is sick or drugged. Maybe he’s just out of touch and surrounded by mediocrities above him pulling his strings and below him doing his bidding.
It’s Measure B all over again, except this time the magnitude of the boondoggle and blundering deserves BBB, like the city’s bond rating that has fallen under his ineffective leadership as fast as the budget deficit has grown.
Now, in an amazing miscalculation to drive desperately needed cash into the general fund, he tried to bill a $684 million electricity rate hike that would raise bills 20 to 30 percent as a $2.50 surcharge to replace billions of dollars in dirty coal-burning plants with wind and solar power. He coerced the DWP Commission to unanimously back his plan no questions asked even in the face of the certainty power bills would double and triple in the years ahead.
Even more incredibly, on Tuesday, he resorted to trying to blackmail the City Council into going along by warning the city faced bankruptcy if it doesn’t get the DWP’s full $220 million transfer of “surplus” electricity revenue on top of its 10 percent utility tax.
It backfired into one of the greatest political blunders LA has seen in ages.
In a City Hall that is bankrupt of leadership, the mere mention of the possibility that LA could have to file for bankruptcy is the ultimate taboo.
The Council voted unanimously 15-0 to take jurisdiction over the rate hike plan but not until one after another took shots at the mayor, his staff, the DWP management and the total lack of honesty, transparency and planning.
It was historic — if even for a moment since some rate hikes are inevitable. But for the first time there is reason to hope that this rogue agency will be brought under some semblance of control and accountability.
Tony Cardenas went so far as to directly accuse Interim General Manager David Freeman of outright lying to the Council nearly a decade ago when he previously serve as GM about the cost of cleaning up the mess in Owens Valley the DWP had caused by stealing its water and turning it into a dust bowl.
Freeman, who now wants to pave the area with 80 square miles of solar panels at an unspecified cost in the billions, had claimed mitigation of the damage would cost $150 million when his own consultant’s report said it would cost three times that. The actual cost, Cardenas noted, has been $450 million.
Anyone who ever verified Freeman’s glib musings could find hundreds of similar lies, deceits and obfuscations.
DWP CFO Jeff Peltola and CEO Raj Raman also felt the sting of hostile questioning by the Council over their long-standing pattern of false and misleading statements.
Raman tripped up offering a lame excuse on why the DWP Board didn’t act three weeks ago and Peltola for misleading the Council by assuring it two months ago that the DWP would make its full transfer payment and not leave it $73 million short as it did.
At every junction, the DWP management under Freeman and the DWP Board were exposed for disregarding the PA Consulting reports recommendations as the company’s three representatives stood their ground in response to questions that showed there is no plan to get rid of coal plants and other lies the mayor has told.
The mayor’s briefing paper and the heavy-handed comments of Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo, the PR man who has become the administration’s financial wizard, were the bombshells that removed any doubt that Jan Perry would prevail in her effort to take jurisdiction. She hold a committee hearing Thursday to determine what the next steps are.
The Council completely repudiated the mayor and the cornerstone of his strategy to save his political career with a phony green energy plan that united the business community which warned of massive job losses and residents who warned that electricity would become unaffordable for tens of thousands of people.
Only the environmentalists who support green at any price and the IBEW that supports their paychecks and union treasury no matter what it costs everybody else were on the mayor’s side.
How someone who once had as much promise as Antonio Villaraigosa could become so out of touch, so irrelevant is an astonishing turn of events.
Everything he does now will be tainted more than ever by the suspicion that he’s trying to deceive the public and serve one special interest or another at public expense.
He is a badly weakened mayor who was held in contempt by a City Council that for too long went along for a ride on his bandwagon. He is a crippled lame duck without the ability or credibility to provide leadership..