Finally, three months after voters demanded total transparency in all aspects fo the Department of Water and Power operations and a Ratepayer Advocate to protect the public interest, the City Council will start to consider this mandate for action.
Councilwoman Jan Perry’s Energy and Environment Committee is considering reports today from the City Attorney’s office and the CAO/CLA about following through on creation of the Office of Public Accountability on the DWP and appointment of the Ratepayer Advocate.
That doesn’t mean anything will actually happen any time soon because the mayor and Council President Eric Garcetti — one of Perry’s main rivals in the 2013 mayoral sweepstakes — connived to water down the Charter Amendment voters approved on March 8 to the point it could easily become meaningless.
Charter Amendment I provided that the measure “become operative on July 1, 2011″ but in City Hall’s brave new world language of deceit that doesn’t mean what voters thought they meant.
In a letter to Perry’s committee Monday (OPA-CityAttorney.pdf), Chief Assistant City Attorney Pedro Echeverria ruled the Council could not even begin to consider appointing a citizens committee before July 1 and can take more or less as long as it likes to slowly “phase in” the OPA by appointing an executive director, adopting ordinances, developing a budget. He wrote:
“The measure did not prescribe that Office of Public Accountability (OPA) operations were to begin by that date. A phased in implementation is inherent and unavoidable to some extent anyway, since the citizens committee could not be formed before that date, the Executive Director could not be appointed for lack of the citizens committee, and the other OPA staff could not be appointed for lack of of their appointing authority, the Executive Director.”
For their part, the City Administrative Officer and Chief Legislative Analyst sent Perry a memo Friday (OPA-CAO-CLA.pdf)recommending the very people who watered down the OPA/Ratepayer Advocate measure — the mayor and Council President — should name the five members of the citizens committee who will appoint the OPA executive director.
Control is name of City Hall’s game — not reform, transparency or accountability — and despite the public’s demand for large doses of all three at the DWP, we are not likely much of anything except massive rate hikes, continued back room deals with favored contractors, more unjustified wage increases for IBEW workers and more transfers of city workers to the DWP payroll.
DWP watchdog Jack Humphreville took a charitable look at DWP General Manager Ron Nichols 51-page presentation Saturday to Perry’s committee and tallied up all the proposals for borrowing to fund improvements to the aging water and power systems and came up a total debt figure of $14.4 billion — nearly double the current debt burden.
DWP needs to regain the trust and confidence of the Ratepayers,” he concludes. “But the
longer DWP plays games, the more unpopular DWP will be with Angelenos,
not dissimilar to Pacific Gas & Electric’s relationship with its
“And to add to the lack of credible information, we
need to ask Eric Garcetti, the City Council President, ‘Where is our
well funded, empowered and truly independent Ratepayers Advocate to
oversee the operations, finances, and management of our Department of
Water and Power?’ “
The answer to that question is becoming clearer: The OPA/Ratepayer Advocate will be put in place well after the decisions are made on borrowing, rate hikes and everything else and they will be fully under control of the mayor and council.
There is one ray of hope for reform, transparency and accountability and that’s Proposition 26, the statewide “stop hidden taxes” measure voters approved in November.
It makes many government fees and charges subject to the same two-thirds approval of voters that taxes are.
Just as they have spun Charter Amendment I to preserve the mayor and councils power in the face of demands for reform, the CAO, CLA, City Attorney and DWP are working overtime to find ways to protect the nearly $300 million in ratepayer’s money that is transferred annually from electricity charges to the general fund as “surplus” revenue.
If it’s surplus, it’s not a charge based on the cost of providing service. It’s a tax hidden as a fee so it is subject to a vote of the public with a super-majority required for approval.
Let’s see City Attorney Carmen Trutanich restore his reputation as the people’s attorney by taking a public stand on that — or do we have to sue City Hall to get a small measure of justice.