City Council meeting on DWP reform held at Mar Vista Park

Several ratepayers from all over the city spoke up in support of City Council efforts to rein in the Department of Water and Power at the second of six hearings on reforming the agency held on Tuesday, September 7th at Mar Vista Park.

Council members have proposed creating a position to represent ratepayer interests at the utility and other changes in its management and policies, following a prolonged conflict over rate hikes earlier this year. About 50 DWP customers attended the hearing to give input on the proposals and offer their own suggestions.

City Council President Eric Garcetti and members Jan Perry, Janice Hahn and Bill Rosendahl led the hearing, which also included discussion of plans to alter the makeup of the DWP Board of Commissioners and impose new financial rules on the utility.

"It's clear the DWP is an agency in great need of fundamental reform," Garcetti said as he opened the nearly two-hour hearing.

Though the hearing was mostly calm, there were flashes of anger by residents complaining of high electricity and water bills. Many speakers offered detailed suggestions to reform the agency.

Chuck Ray of Mar Vista told the council members that they had to have a framework to build the ballot measure. He offered a seven point outline for this purpose.

One of several speakers to say a ratepayer advocate must be independent of the DWP and political pressure was Jack Humphrieville who writes regularly for the City Watch blog. He pointed out that the DWP Committee and the LA Neighborhood Council Coalition (LANCC) have both unanimously approved a five page term sheet with specific proposals for enhancing the governance of the DWP.

No representatives of DWP spoke at the hearing.

Controversy about DWP rates boiled over last spring when the agency demanded a rate increase that council members and most of the public felt was too high. DWP officials threatened to withhold a $73.5 million transfer to the city's general fund unless they were granted an increase in the Energy Cost Adjustment Factor.

Council members have proposed creating an independent ratepayer advocate through a City Charter amendment on the March 2011 ballot, while DWP officials are working on a plan to make a ratepayer advocate part of the City Administrative Office. Chuck Ray of Mar Vista represents neighborhood councils on the Advisory Panel set up to plan for the DWP’s version of an Office of the Ratepayer Advocate.

Other proposals call for forcing the agency to release its budget earlier in the year, to help avoid surprises as the city prepares its own spending plan.

Four more hearings throughout the city are scheduled, with the next to be held in Council District 8 on Sept. 23 at the Constituent Center, 8475 S. Vermont Avenue.

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