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Eight L.A. City Councilmembers Give Up Potential Control Of DWP -- Bowing To Mayor Villaraigosa, Powerful DWP Union

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Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 6:40 PM
click to enlarge City Councilman Paul Krekorian changed his position on DWP power play since last week
  • City Councilman Paul Krekorian changed his position on DWP power play since last week

Updated throughout. Originally posted at 2:34 p.m.

Jesus, guys -- we thought the vote would at least be close.

Then again, we should have known. Caving to a long history of bullish pressure from the Department of Water and Power this morning -- and the man who has aligned himself as its not-so-secret ally, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- eight of 15 L.A. City Councilmembers voted against giving themselves the power to fire top DWP officials by a two-thirds vote.

The measure would have appeared on the March 8 ballot, at which point the citizens of Los Angeles could have had their say.

Last week, there was at least an illusion of firm council stance. Ten councilmembers approved the potential DWP crackdown, which would have been enough to pass it --

That is, if the mayor hadn't vetoed that baby right back into the womb.

Today, he's proud to see his minions back in line. Says spokesperson Sarah Hamilton:

"The mayor agrees with the council that we need to look at reforming the city commission system, but we should not amend the city charter in a piecemeal fashion out of anger over a single incident.''

The single incident she speaks of is an overestimated "necessary" 28 percent rate hike to our DWP bills, which the mayor advocated pushing through in April, alongside those in charge of his DWP cash cow. It was soon discovered that the DWP had a $73.5 million surplus.

The councilmembers who voted 'Yes' before but 'No' this morning are: Dennis Zine, Herb Wesson and Paul Krekorian. The ones who didn't bend: Tony Cardenas, Paul Koretz, Tom LaBonge, Bernard Parks, Jan Perry, Bill Rosendahl and Greig Smith.

Did the mayor talk them into having his back, after they had already settled on securing more power over the DWP -- or at least letting the voters decide? If not, we want to know what changed since Dec. 7.

We're going to do our best to talk to the shifters, once this afternoon's City Council meeting is out of session. Check back soon for a full report. Until then, catch up on the tumultuous history of failed DWP accountability:

Reform At Corrupt L.A. Department Of Water And Power Takes Another Step Backward, With Help Of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

DWP Oversight Office Watered Down, Barely Moved Toward Ballot After L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti And Seven Other Councilmembers Crumble To DWP Intimidation

And get a load of this: Villaraigosa, with fearless timing, nominated his pick for DWP general manager yesterday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, City Councilman Herb Wesson (remember, he's one of the 'Yes'/'No' floppers) said to the council, directly after meeting nominee Ron Nichols, that he was sure he'd serve "nonpolitically."

To quote Mariah Carey (shameless, we know), it's like they're bathing in Windex.

Update, 5 p.m.: Herb Wesson's spokesman, Ed Johnson, tells us why Wesson flip-flopped: "He was always inclined to go in that direction; he did not vote that way on the previous vote in order to keep the measure alive." (In other words, he predicted the mayor's veto.)

In the end, though, Johnson says Wesson "agreed with those who felt that it would create an even more political environment; it would blur accountability. If everybody's in charge, then no one's in charge."

Only problem is, we're stuck with Villaraigosa in charge -- and it's possible that D'Arcy be able to bribe the next candidate just as easily. A little more difficult for the DWP would be getting all 15 councilmembers on its side.

"The biggest disappointment is that the mayor, who is behind all this, had ample opportunity to make his feelings known," says our go-to DWP expert (he heads the citizens' DWP Committee) and Neighborhood Councilmember Jack Humphreville. "The motions were introduced April 7. ... The only time the mayor came to action is when [DWP union head Brian] D'Arcy, the mayor's largest campaign contributor, voiced some issues in early November."

Dennis Zine spokesperson Jessica Tarman says in an e-mail: The councilman has been "torn" because he's not happy with the "revolving door of general managers."

However, he ultimately fell into the 'No' camp because "as a Charter Reform Commissioner, he did not want to change the governance structure in a piecemeal manner and did not want to contribute to the politicization of the DWP."

Humphreville says he observed Zine consulting with D'Arcy at the Dec. 9 discussion of this measure. Former LA Daily News editor Ron Kaye posted a video of Councilwoman Jan Perry pleading to Zine to support the measure (and throwing sly punches at D'Arcy) during that same meeting:

Paul Krekorian's rep says that no intimidation from the mayor or the DWP played a part in Krekorian's change of heart. He also points out that the councilman is all about transparency at the DWP, and "stood up against" the rate hike earlier this year (like most of the council).

Here's Krekorian's explanation, via e-mail:

"Everyone agrees that the DWP is running amok and that real reform is needed. However, making the general manager respond to 15 more political offices is not the best route to change. That is why I will continue to push for much needed reform in five areas: 1) More transparency, 2) greater accountability, 3) Stability, 4) a ratepayer advocate to protect Angelenos, and 5) Trustworthiness. This measure did not achieve those goals and we ultimately do better."

Krekorian is usually a favorite of the neighborhood councils. Humphreville confirms. He says he has no idea why the councilman flipped so last-minute, but that in his experience, Krekorian almost always does his homework.

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