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"The issue is not what she's done. It's what she hasn't done," Humphreville says. "She hasn't gone out there and raised hell."
Utility customers love to hate the DWP, especially in the Valley, where air-conditioning bills add up quickly. Disgruntled activists have long been convinced that rate hikes went straight into the pockets of Brian D'Arcy's overpaid workers. Humphreville was one of the early proponents of a ratepayer advocate, who could dig into the utility's books.
Those complaints went exactly nowhere until the DWP leadership made a strategic blunder and got into a nasty dispute with the council. After that episode, Garcetti started pushing for a ratepayer advocate, joined by colleagues who had grown frustrated with the difficulty of getting information from utility leadership.
It was easy to see why this was not in D'Arcy's interests. A ratepayer advocate might start to poke around, do salary surveys and conclude that DWP workers were, in fact, overpaid. So the union boss tried to kill it. He went to every council office to lobby against the idea.
Eventually, though, seeing the momentum behind the idea, D'Arcy offered a compromise. He would agree to the ratepayer advocate — if it were housed in the office of Controller Wendy Greuel. If she were running it, he would feel comfortable with it.
Greuel was not a fan of the ratepayer advocate plan, either. As controller, she had the power to audit the DWP. If anyone were to go poking around the department, it should be she, she argued. An advocate outside her office would, inevitably, dilute her power.
"We thought it was a good idea in the controller's office," Greuel says. "I'm the independent fiscal watchdog."
The mayor and council felt otherwise, largely because D'Arcy and Marvin Kropke, his close ally at IBEW Local 11, had spent $200,000 on an independent campaign to support Greuel in 2009.
Garcetti argues that putting the ratepayer advocate under Greuel's control would have "politicized that job."
"If you want an independent voice, it would be tough if you had independent expenditures from the union the ratepayer advocate needs to comment about," Garcetti says.
D'Arcy and Greuel lost that fight: The advocate was made independent. (D'Arcy did not return calls and emails seeking comment.)
Two years later, Fred Pickel, the ratepayer advocate, produced a report finding D'Arcy's workers make 26 percent more than similar workers at other utilities. Pickel also made a previously unspeakable suggestion: a 10 percent cut in labor costs.
That was bad for D'Arcy, but it didn't make Greuel look good, either. In all of her office's audits of the DWP, she had never made an issue of IBEW salaries.
"It was not transparent at all until this study was done," Pickel says. "It's something that needed to be taken into account."
Of course, no one took up Pickel's recommendation. As he toured council offices, he says, he was told, "Don't have high hopes."
Greuel would rather discuss just about anything other than Brian D'Arcy and the IBEW. She won't even mention his name if she can help it. When asked about the issue of IBEW salaries, she gives her practiced response: "That's someone separate and independent that has nothing to do with my campaign."
Pressed further, she says, "I have told him no, believe it or not, on many occasions. ... Whether you are a business leader or a labor leader, what you want in your mayor is someone who's going to be honest and fair, and that's all you can ask for."
The challenge for a labor leader is not getting pro-labor candidates elected. It's keeping them that way once they're in office. Eric Garcetti is as pro-labor as they come, but there's a reason City Hall union leaders are putting their money behind Greuel and not him: They don't feel they can trust him when the chips are down. An SEIU score sheet revealed by the L.A. Daily News and the L.A. Times gave Greuel a 4.5 out of 5 on the issue of collective bargaining — halfway between "pro-worker" and "strongly pro-worker." Garcetti got a 2.
In large part, that's because Garcetti was president of the City Council during the recession, which meant that he was responsible for laying off city workers. By that time, Greuel had left the council to become city controller, where she had only peripheral involvement in addressing the budget crisis. On one of the rare occasions on which she did weigh in, she wrote a letter arguing against layoffs.
"She was clean on a lot of these fights, where Eric wasn't," says former City Councilman Greig Smith.
But it also has to do with Garcetti's approach to politics. Both clever and ambitious, Garcetti is capable of leaving audiences with the impression that he agrees with them — without, at least in his mind, making a firm commitment.
The clearest example of this came on June 30, 2010. The city was set to lay off more than 230 employees at midnight. To the council's staunchest labor allies, this was an emergency on par with a natural disaster.
"Tomorrow the earthquake is coming," Councilwoman Janice Hahn said from the council dais. If the layoffs went forward, "It would be a very big tragedy to befall the city of Los Angeles."
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure the relationship of the IBEW and Wendy Greuel. They have put in over $500,000 for an independent campaign to support Wendy. Of course they expect a pay back in the years ahead.
LA Weekly has done a marvelous job covering this election. This story on D'Arcy is way ahead of anything the LA Times or Daily News has done on the election. I hope voters are going online to follow the campaign in the LA Weekly newspaper.
Funny thing is one a macro scale the right wing war on unions looks wrong but on the micro level of LA government the unions do have way to much power and influence resulting in these absurd double dipping pensions and high salaries etc etc.
But its a democratic show and all the realistic candidates are insiders and won't get elected without union support so how is anything going to change?
Final rant - lets make the fire department's only job fighting fires. Create a new department dedicated to saving little old ladies that fall down so instead of having 15 firefighters show up in 2 big trucks you have 2 guys in an ambulance show up - saving how many billions a year????
@ketchy . DWP rates in the Valley are sky high. They would be much lower if the City Hall politicians weren't in the back pocket of the union that represents the DWP workers. The article made it clear that Wendy Greuel is in the back pocket of the DWP union. She allows their lobbyist to have free access to her and her office. What more do we need to know?
A tough negotiator would achieve a fair deal for the workers but also the rate payers (voters) who own the DWP. Wendy is going to give them a huge raise to pay back their investment in her campaign, and that funding will be passed onto the city rate payers (voters). No thanks.
The article made it crystal clear. If you want a higher water and power bill, vote for Wendy.
This is corruption at its peak, it is ridiculous that the DWP bosses make more than the mayor, it is just criminal to hear of something like that. If we elect Wendy Gruel or Garcetti, we will have more of the same, maybe it is time to elect someone that is outside of this dirty politics pool, someone like Kevin James, someone who is going to make fair pension deals that eliminate special benefits and unnecessary health benefits that are currently increasing our city deficit. If anyone is passionate on restoring LA and interested in volunteering for Kevin James, visit volunteerforkevin.wordpress.com
Great article! Thank you for debunking the Greuel fiscal conservancy myth, and for shedding light on her comfortable relationship with the DWP
A must read piece, esp for anyone that's paid a DWP bill. Who sez journalism is on the wane? Good job connecting the dots here, Maddeus.
There's a rumor going around that when Garcetti didn't get the DWP endorsement, he started crying. Does anyone know if this is true? If so, please let me know....
Thanks for warning us about this Wendy Greuel. The last thing we need is another Mayor that's owned by the DWP union. Our rates out here in the Valley are already high enough. In fact they're ridiculously high for a utility that's owed by the taxpayers. Now I see why, so we can pick up that inflated salaries of the union bosses.
I won't be voting for Wendy Greuel or anyone who's owned by these public employee unions. We've stomped out their propositions in the past and plan on doing it again next month.
I doubt that he'll join that rat-pack.
And don't forget to kill Prop. A, Tony Villar's brilliant effort to pay for union pensions on the backs of the city's lowest classes.
@Fred_Ward What utility is going to give you lower rates than DWP? Everyone I know with SCE has higher rates than I pay with DWP.
Not Kevin James. And while you're at it, don't forget the kill the union-backed Prop. A., Villaraigosa's brilliant effort to put a tax increase on the back of the city's lowest classes.