It is the soul of LA, the shimmering lights and hopes of the city and the dark side of its “Chinatown” past — and present.
Writer Yasha Levine in an article on Alternet.org today and excerpted on OurLA.org captures the origins of this story from the theft of the water in Owens Valley a century ago that turned the spectacular beauty of the area into a dust bowl to the DWP’s plan now to cover the lake bed with 80 square miles of solar panels, the largest such installation in the world.
“L.A.’s New Scheme to Plunder Owens Valley Water, This Time with Solar Panels” reads the headline. “L.A. has sold the idea of enriching the residents of the Owens river valley before, while ripping them off in the dark. Will the residents buy into it.”
The story links back to an article at SierraWave.net about the visit to Owens Valley in January of David Freeman, interim general manager of the DWP, a post assigned him after he served as Harbor Commission president and deputy mayor for energy and the environment.
Freeman is the darling of environmentalists, the apostle of solar energy — and a profiteer in clean energy like the mayor’s behind-the-scenes political operative Ari Swiller and others who have found Antonio Villaraigosa an easy mark for their hustles.
With his cowboy hat and sweet-talking good old boy southern malarkey, Freeman was resurrected by the mayor with the help of his business partner, Swiller.
It’s dirty little power games these clean energy advocates and investors play.
Apart from his connections, Freeman has the credibility to get away with
lying through his teeth, telling whoppers so big and so smoothly that he is one of the greatest con men in a city filled with con artists. It’s that quality that got him fired by Mayor Richard Riordan a decade ago as DWP general manager. It’s that quality that allowed him to preserve his reputation despite wasting tens of millions of dollars on green energy without actually generating any.
Back in January, Freeman brought his act to what he regarded as easy marks in the Owens Valley.
About 200 people came to a Methodist Church to hear his pitch to pave the dust bowl with solar panels and make them all rich, according to SierraWave.net
“He made them laugh and he made some mad,” reported Bennett Kessler, describing Freeman as being “viewed as a man with the personal power to push projects through and
manipulate people in the way.”
The next day before the County Board of supervisors, Freeman used “the same country charm … found mostly a positive response until Supervisor Susan Cash laid out the colonial
failures of DWP to treat the Owens Valley as an equal, to treat people
and the land with respect,” Kessler reported..
Cash seized on a comment by Freeman regarding his refusal to release DWP land around Inyo that strangles its economic development, saying, “You closed that door. More conversations need to be had. This
is not pristine land here.”
She challenged him on DWP’s failure to live up to its 20-year-old agreement to restore the area to its “pristine” past and other issues, “I feel like you’re bringing me flowers and won’t show up for the
rest of the dates.”
Finally, she threw in Freeman’s face that he had told KABC that DWP owns Inyo
lock, stock and barrel. “Don’t you see that’s offensive?” said Cash.
Freeman denied saying it. Cash called his hand on the lie. “I saw you
say it on television,” she said.
Freeman reached for an excuse.
“I was making a joke.” That didn’t fly with Cash. “The internet words
‘epic fail’ come to mind,” she said. “Some people don’t like our
style,” Freeman said.
Freeman is a liar who will say anything to get his way and with the bottomless pit of DWP ratepayer money and the political clout of LA, he will undoubtedly be able to pay off the folks in Inyo to let the DWP plunder them again. It’s why he fits in so well as part of the mayor’s team.
This is an administration that thinks only of its own political, and
in some cases economic, advantage without regard to the public
interest, without regard to the quality of life in the city, without
regard to the future.
It’s why the irritating David Nahai was
fired and the seductive Freeman was brought in.
The mayor tries
to portray himself as the green mayor of the “greenest city in America”
when he actually has done precious little to deserve the title,
initiated not a single major green energy project — until now.
the mayor and the DWP are desperate.
LA has the dirtiest
coal-burning power portfolio in America, a rotting infrastructure for
water and power, the least renewable energy of any major utility in the
state, and rates that have been rising rapidly despite its advantages to
keep them low.
It’s biggest problem, apart from a long history
of sweetheart deals with contractors and mismanagement, is its labor
costs. DWP workers are paid 30 to 40 percent more than other city
workers for comparable jobs, paid 20 percent more than other utility’s
workers for most jobs. That’s why the infrastructure is rotting and
there’s so little green energy.
The desperation comes from the
state mandate for utilities to generate 20 percent of the city’s energy
by the end of this year, and by the mayor’s boast to reach 40 percent
and get rid of the coal-burning power plants by 2020/
When you’ve bankrupted the city to the point basic services are being
slashed and you’re selling off the city’s assets to your friends at a
fire sale, you need to do something to save your political career. If
you’re in that position, your name is Antonio Villaraigosa.
So he has bet his career on David Freeman’s ability to sell the City
Council, which lives in fear of seeing their own careers go up in the
smoke of their gross financial mismanagement, on approving spectacularly
higher rates for decades to come without a ratepayer rebellion.
Billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars, are needed but there
is no plan, no long-term methodical approach on how to rebuild the
infrastructure and generate clean power and provide clean water.
There is only desperation and a plan to just get through this year and
possibly next — just like there is no plan to get through the budget
crisis beyond this year and next.
The mayor wants every ratepayer to cough up just $2.50 a month to
generate all of $30 million a year to replace the dirty coal-burning
plants. At that rate it would take most of a century to get the job done
– at which Freeman says with poetic flourish the planet will be dead
because LA didn’t go solar fast enough without regard to cost or
Of course, the $2.50 surcharge will soon by $5 and then $10 and then
whatever it takes to save himself and keep up the myth of his
The DWP has its own plan for the next year. It’s called the ECAF (Energy
Cost Adjustment Factor) and is supposed to allow for quick increases in
rates to reflect fluctuations in gas and coal prices. The ECAF is now
limited to 1 percent per quarter and Council approval isn’t needed.
Back in September, the DWP tried to increase the ECAF to 20 percent per
quarter but Council members panicked at the prospect of public outrage
and squelched that.
So now the DWP has come back with a new plan to impose and 8 percent
ECAF increase on April 1 as part of an overall 20 percent increase in
the next 12 months, a 33 percent increase over the past two years that
amounts to $700 million a year in extra revenue, $130 million of which
will go directly into the general fund to help bail the city out of its
There is no plan beyond next year — at least none that the public, the
ratepayers are allowed to know.
Given the DWP and City Hall’s desperation, there is no doubt this is
just the beginning, the years ahead will be worse for the public with
rates doubling and tripling by 2020.
Contracts to buy solar and wind energy are stacked up waiting for the
DWP to find the money to pay for them to meet the 2010 goal of 20
percent renewable energy goal.
The DWP is paying premium open market prices for this energy and doesn’t
own it although officials justified their rooftop solar energy plan
under Measure B — a plan that would have required all $3 billion in
solar being owned and maintained by the DWP and its union, IBEW Local
Voters saw through the costly lie and rejected Measure B but the mayor
has so little respect for the people, he has greenlighted the same plan
anyway because IBEW bully boss Brian D’Arcy provides much of the
campaign cash that keeps him and the Council in office.
So his future, the DWP’s future, the city’s future, is in the trembling
hands of none other than David Freeman.
Unfortunately, Freeman is the problem, not the solution.
He took over as interim GM with the promise that a qualified utility
manager would take over within six months. The six months is up because
nobody qualified will take the job since they are well aware that
Freeman’s next post is going to be president of the DWP Commission or
once again Deputy Mayor for energy and the environment.
Why would anyone take over a utility with as many problems as the DWP, a
utility that has lost the confidence of the people, when they would
facing constant interference from Freeman and the politicians and a
union that has all the power?
The Chinatown story was about the rape of the land and water from the
Owens, land we still own and water we still use, the theft of the entire
San Fernando Valley to store the water in natural underground caverns
and for real estate developments that made billionaires of insiders.
Chinatown II is about the rape of Los Angeles itself to enrich a new
group of insiders, to protect politicians who have failed us in every
way. If we don’t resist this assault, it won’t matter much whatever else