Given the amount of time and talk devoted to the Los Angeles DWP yesterday (and over the last few weeks, in a game of measure-muckifying see-saw), you'd think the L.A. City Council might have moved at least a smidgen closer to securing some sort of oversight for the DWP -- the money-hoarding, rate-hiking, politician-bullying public service turned private.
Nope. In fact, the whole thing seems to be moving backward.
Lee Alpert, the head of the board that oversees the DWP (albeit weakly), announced his resignation yesterday -- just as City Councilmembers voted 10-1 to let themselves remove any DWP manager or commissioner (such as Alpert) with a floor majority.
Then -- oh hell yes, there's more -- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa summoned all dark mayoral magic from within and vetoed that dirty power-equalizer of a measure to high heaven last night, giving himself (and all future Villaraigosas) back the sole ability to boot DWP heads from their posts. Unless the council fires back and vetoes the veto with over 10 votes, we Angelenos won't see the measure come voting day.
Jesus. We're almost hoping the council just lets Villaraigosa have his cake, if only in the name of not spending more time hashing out accountability measures for the DWP that are too watered-down to make a difference anyway. Plus, in terms of this particular initiative, what's the point of giving 15 special-interest-funded, reelection-obsessed perma-incumbents a say over who heads the corrupt roundtable of assholes a few doors down (ones they've been known to jump in bed with, no less)?
Still, says Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Councilmember and chair of the civilian DWP committee Jack Humphreville, it would be better than nothing. (He's also got a day job! www.recycler.com.)
"A half a loaf of bread is better that none," he says -- and if something so filthy went down within DWP management that even City Councilmembers could see it wasn't right, they'd at least equipped with some mechanism for change.
The other important DWP-related measure that did (just barely) make it onto the ballot is a mere skeleton of what it used to be. The Ratepayer Advocate, pushed by neighborhood councilmembers ("lunatics like me," says Humphreville) for months, is now defined with so many variables that it could end up just another expensive playtoy for DWP union head Brian D'Arcy. In case you and D'Arcy haven't had the pleasure of being introduced, he's the guy who strong-arms councilmembers into preserving fat DWP pensions and generally doesn't think you the ratepayer are "relevant" to the DWP.
The only councilmember who voted against the DWP measure yesterday was Jose Huizar -- ironic, considering Huizar was the one who introduced the other DWP-reigner, the Ratepayer's Advocate, in the first place. The sneering conservatives at the Mayor Sam news blog attribute this to his coziness with both Villaraigosa ("Papa Villar") and D'Arcy, who have been known to throw a tip into a candidate's campaign jar when they feel loved. (Huizar is up for a tight race against Rudy Martinez, a slick entrepreneur with a winning belly laugh, in March.)
Of the veto, the Los Angeles Times writes:
Critics of the proposal have warned that the ballot measure will make it more difficult to recruit a replacement for Interim DWP General Manager Austin Beutner, who is also the mayor's "jobs czar." Villaraigosa is attempting to find a new DWP general manager -- his sixth in 3½ years.
But we all know that's not the reason the mayor and his lone ass-kisser on council tried to throw this one out. Villaraigosa's veto statement reads:
"I am disapproving the proposed ballot language inasmuch as it seems to reform the governance of one city department before we have had an opportunity to take a comprehensive assessment of all city departments."
Humphreville thinks there's some validity to such technical concerns, but that -- once again -- D'Arcy and the DWP intimidation force are what ultimately drove the opposition.
Former LA Daily News editor Ron Kaye -- not quite as angry as usual on his Ron Kaye LA rant -- disagrees, though making sure we continue to know how much he hates the mayor.
In a previous post on the flimsy lot of DWP reform possibilities for 2011, he wrote:
"Creating a Rate Payer Advocate with limited authority and insufficient funding and grabbing power for themselves to remove DWP commissioners and general managers will not fix even a fraction of what is broken."
That, my friend, we can all agree on.
Alpert, the guy who just resigned amid the rubble, got misty-eyed during the announcement. He claims he doesn't see his family or the inside of his law firm enough anymore, and is forced to leave for personal reasons. Well, we'd be kind of personally frustrated, too, if we served in a designated "oversight" position whose frame of vision is confined to the gruesome gorilla hairs on the back of D'Arcy's neck.
"He put in three years," says Humphreville -- "You got to be crazy to do that." (Literally, crazy. The LA Daily News reports that the DWP spent $50,000 last year on a psychiatrist for the department heads. We couldn't make this stuff up.)
Villaraigosa put in a good word for Alpert, saying he had "diligently served as a steward of reform and modernization at the DWP.''
Reform? You mean, like giving the OK for the DWP to dump a proven-unnecessary 28 percent DWP fee hike on the backs of L.A. residents? (The council later bargained the number down, but not much.) We'd call that more re-gosa-form; indeed, says Humphreville, "Lee [Alpert] is a good guy, but he's the mayor's puppet."
What other time-wasters can the L.A. City Council conjure up in their attempt to pretend they have a handle on the burliest (and highest-paid) utility provider in the nation? Stay tuned, folks!
Update: Eight of the 10 L.A. City Councilmembers needed to brush off Villaraigosa's veto have confirmed they will once again vote 'Yes' for the 2011 ballot measure that would allow them to remove DWP heads. The vote will go down next Wednesday.
The remaining two who voted 'Yes' this week but now aren't for-sures: Councilmembers Dennis Zine and Herb Wesson. They have both flip-flopped on the issue in the past.
As of today, Zine is only saying, "We'll see what happens," and Wesson is nowhere to be found. So if you care about the ballot measure (which would kind of surprise us; it's not nearly as interesting as the Ratepayer's Advocate), those are your dudes. Stake 'em out and let 'em know!
One guy who does seem to care a lot about the measure: Councilman Greig Smith. He was quoted as telling his council brethren, "Don't knuckle under. Don't be afraid of this mayor -- he is not being reelected, he is gone. Stand up for the people in your district.'' Hot damn.
With reporting from City News Service.