Call for Fred Pickel, call for Fred Pickel — time to get your Office of Public Accountability and Rate Payer Advocate to do something more in the public interest than just taking home your $20,000 a month salary and figuring out how to justify massive water and power rate hikes.
A starting point, Fred, is the little San Diego Water Authority paid advertisement in the right-hand corner of this blog. Click on where it says “Get the Facts.” It will take you to a website filled with allegations about how the Metropolitan Water District operates as a secret government basically run by our own Department of Water and Power.
The heart of the allegations — growing out of a lawsuit against MWD and the 500 pages of emails obtained under public records act requests — are that the majority of the 26 member water agencies led by LA’s DWP formed what they call MWD’s “Secret Society” so they could set policy in the dark without regard to how high their own customers bills go as long as San Diego and some others pay more.
MWD charges are a straight pass-through to ratepayers — not even Jan Perry can stop these hikes like the energy cost adjustment factor that came to light two years ago and sparked calls for creating your job Fred.
What the “Secret Society” is accused of doing is holding 60 private meetings since it was formed three years ago to come up with rules that “systematically discriminate” against MWD’s largest customer, San Diego, which provides 25 percent of MWD revenue.
One rule by which much of the disparity in pricing is achieved involves charges for transporting water from non-MWD sources as San Diego does from the Colorado River and Imperial Valley — a $40 million slug to San Diego, a $40 million reduction to others.
Another rule involves rebates for finding new supplies of water that reduce the pressure on the Met, which our DWP has taken advantage of with toilet-to-tap recycling and other measures.
But that didn’t help San Diego get its rebate for the Carlsbad Desalination Project because the stealth MWD Board passed a last-minute rule requiring water agencies objecting to rate hikes forfeit their rebates.
“MWD and Water Authority staff had negotiated for 18 months the terms of an agreement under which MWD would provide subsidy for the Carlsbad Desalination Project,” according to SanDiego–MWD’s Shadow Government presentation. “Days before final MWD Board approval, last-minute surprise language surfaced to add a punitive provision to agreement Records show the Secret Society developed the language and secured approval of it by MWD¡¦s board.”
As LA’s Rate Payer Advocate, Fred, you might think it’s a good thing. to stick somebody else with the bill but is it a good policy, a transparent policy, to require that the DWP or any other agency sign off on higher rates as the price of getting rebates?
Water policy is complicated and I’m not the expert — you are, which is why we need you to dig deep into what’s going on with the MWD to make sure we are all not being ripped off, just less than San Diego.
That was the issue San Diego raised at the MWD Board meeting on Tuesday when it proposed requiring staff to come back with a long list of possible cuts in expenses to reduce the impact of planned rate hikes of 7.5 percent this year and 5 percent next year.
Surely, reducing costs is important when MWD already has jacked up its charges 75 percent in the last six years and will reach the 100 percent mark when these new hikes have taken full effect.
As DWP customers, we all know how our utility was among the last to push for water conservation and when it did during the recent drought, it did so with savage rate hikes that have stayed in effect.
Some of those wretched excesses at MWD include paying Ron Gastelum, the former MWD head $7,500 a month as a consultant and just a few dollars less a month to his former No. 2 at MWD Edward Means.
You have said repeatedly — although none of us have heard a peep from you since you were hired six weeks ago — that you are 100 percent committed to ”create greater transparency” in the hidden world of the DWP.
You might start with questioning why two superbly connected guys like Gastelum who is now with Cordoba Corp., the construction company that has made George Pla one of the city’s richest men from his humble origins with equally wealthy David Lizaragga at TELACU. a beneficiary of our community’s commitment to uplift the poor.
For his part, Means is doing quite well at the powerhouse Malcolm Pirnie consulting firm that has profited handsomely from our increasing concerns about the environment.
But take a look at how the vote went on the proposal to look at possible cost-savings: San Diego was joined in calling for fiscal responsibility by water agencies serving Beverly Hills, Glendale, Pasadena, San Marino, Compton, Long Beach, San Fernando and others while DWP directors and their allies wouldn’t even consider saving a single dollar.
With fiscal responsibility out of the way, the DWP moved forward with gusto to support paying more for less water from the Met — an issue we can only hope that has some importance to you, Fred, as our rate payer advocate.
I suppose greed and selfishness are good and legal today without regard to who gets hurt or to the long-term consequences of an escalating war among neighbors over our most precious resource.
None of us need a reminder that this is a desert and for years we’ve been drinking diluted concentrations of water contaminated with all kinds of deadly chemicals left behind by the defense and aerospace industries when they left us high and dry or that our rapidly arriving future includes recycled toilet water flowing in our taps.
There are probably a thousand dark secrets hidden in the DWP fortress, Fred, and this may not even top your list. But MWD’s rate hikes come up for a vote on April 10 and the least ratepayers can hope for is that the agency’s budget will be scrutinized thoroughly and the waste, inefficiencies and excesses cut to reduce the impact.
With 20 percent of the votes, DWP can change course and demand at least that much to keep LA ratepayers fully informed in a transparent manner and to protect from unjustified rate increases.
Isn’t that why we voted to create your position, Fred?