War Declared: People vs. DWP -- No Rate Hikes Without Total Transparency, Clear Plans, IBEW Givebacks

If ever there was something to go to war about in the shocking mismanagement of city affairs, it's the Department of Water & Power.

It's time to put the public in charge of this renegade agency, the nation's largest municipally-owned utility.

For a century, the DWP has operated as a law unto itself, unaccountable to no one. From the theft of Owens Valley water, to the land grab of the San Fernando Valley, through back room deals and sweetheart contracts and its refusal to "green" its power supply, the DWP has been run as if it were a privately-owned business beyond the reach of the people or political leaders.

It is the source of the Chinatown story, the darkest chapter in LA's history that has become a never ending story.

Over more than a decade now, bully boy union leader Brian D'Arcy has taken charge of the DWP as if he were chairman of the board and principal shareholder, blackmailing city officials into approving stupendous contracts under threat of strikes that would shut down the water and power systems, under threat of destroying their careers with the millions of campaign cash at his disposal.

He thrived on the DWP's reliance on coal-burning power plants because it meant lots of high-salaried jobs for IBEW workers. He insisted that all power sources be DWP-owned power plants because it meant lots of jobs for his union members. He squelched efforts to develop wind and solar energy resources because it meant fewer or no jobs for IBEW workers.

He constructed a system of work rules that guaranteed vast amounts of overtime whether or not there was urgent work to be done. He protected workers loyal to the union and destroyed those with loyalty to the public interest. He has corrupted the Civil Service system by having promotional jobs filled by "bid", not a competitive examination as is done in the rest of the City. He treated general managers, commissioners and elected officials as if they were his hirelings.

The result is a power grid that has deteriorated and is breaking down, wage structures that are far above the industry average and 40 percent higher than other city workers doing comparable work and the worst renewable energy record of any utility in California.

Measure B for 400 megawatts of rooftop solar was D'Arcy's creation and it was the union's money that drove the $1.6 million campaign for it that failed in the face of the push-back by ordinary citizens with virtually no money spent in opposition.

What was wrong with it then is what's wrong with it now -- it requires the DWP to own and maintain all major rooftop solar installations in the city to create even more IBEW jobs even though it dramatically increases costs to the public, stifles the growing private solar industry and slows the achievement of significant amounts of solar since DWP has no substantive experience in the field.

Yet, the mayor and Council are moving forward on virtually the same plan as Measure B because it is the price they are willing to pay to get solar power, or more accurately the price they are willing to let the public pay.

The DWP is desperate for more revenue to close contracts for wind and solar just to meet the 20 percent by 2010 goal mandated by the legislature under AB32 four years ago. That's right, DWP waited until the last minute to meet the mandate which says a lot about the management and the leadership of the "greenest big city mayor" in America.

Now the mayor wants to start a monthly $2.50 surcharge that will rapidly escalate, supposedly to replace power plants that burn the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, with plants that burn another fossil fuel, natural gas. The plants are immensely costly, still dirty, if less so than coal and have a life expectancy of 70 years -- eliminating the possibility LA will be able to take, advantage of expected major advances in green technology for most of a century.

That's small change compared to the
20 percent power rate hike the DWP wants to impose by April 1 by eliminating the 4 percent cap on pass-through surcharges for fluctuations in the price of fuel.

Once the cap on the ECAF (Energy Cost Adjustment Factor)  is lifted, you can be certain your rates will soar even more than the 60 percent they will have gone up by 2011 under our current mayor.

The 60 percent is the same percentage the mayor has increased the transfer of DWP's "surplus" electricity revenue to the general fund. It's even more than the 30 percent he has increased gross pay at the DWP, if that's any consolation.

Soaring wages on top of already inflated salaries, soaring rates, soaring revenue to the general fund from the 10 percent electricity tax and 8 percent revenue transfer, lack of renewable energy, deteriorating infrastructure --- the costs are spectacular and rates will continue to go up and up, undoubtedly doubling or tripling.

Power rates are going up everywhere. They have to because we must reduce our pollution and we must reduce our dependency on foreign fuel.

The question is value for our money, solid plans that achieve important goals, lower costs, increased efficiency, an end to featherbedding and sweetheart contracts, complete transparency, tough enforcement of breaches of contract by consultants and contractors.

Cleaning up the DWP scandal.has become the battle cry for a better city. We must demand accountability, break the political power of the IBEW, require managerial competence, solid planning and transparency -- all these changes are necessary before we move forward and consider how we raise rates.

Rate structures are as much about fairness to all and pressure to conserve as they are the need to modernize our power system.

If you're not prepared to fight over what's going on at the DWP, you might as well give up and let them do whatever they want or get out of town as so many have done.

The DWP is the city's cash cow, the engine that drives its corruption.

The mayor and council are preparing to take huge chunks of DWP revenue to buy jobs and subsidize economic development. It is a utility, not an economic development agency. Ample power does provide for economic development by its nature, not by giveaways of public money to insiders.

This is a fight that residents and the business community cannot afford to lose. It's one thing to pay more to get something that's good for us all. It's another thing to pay more and get nothing at all.



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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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