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Economy

Ron Nichols, DWP General Manager, Defends $23,000 And $1,300 Surprise Bills and Turnoff Threats to Customers Caused by His Staff

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Tue, Apr 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM

click to enlarge DWP general manager Ron Nichols: the customer is always wrong. - VIA DAILY BREEZE
  • Via Daily Breeze
  • DWP general manager Ron Nichols: the customer is always wrong.
Ron Nichols is getting off to an ugly start as chief of DWP, the widely hated utility monopoly, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

KNBC-4's Ana Garcia reports that general manager Ron Nichols allowed his underlings to send out $23,000 and $1,300 surprise bills to shocked Los Angeles residents who had no idea they were "undercharged" by DWP for months and even years.

DWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo in a press release called these shakedowns "delayed bills." Anybody ever see the movie Brazil?

As KNBC-4 award-winning investigative reporter Garcia reported on Monday, this is what happened to a well-known San Fernando Valley neighborhood activist blindsided by the incompetent billing department at DWP:

click to enlarge DWP customer trying to get a straight answer.
  • DWP customer trying to get a straight answer.

Matt Epstein, owner of Sweet Harts, installed a new electric meter when his Sherman Oaks ice cream and candy shop opened two years ago.

He regularly paid his DWP bills, but in March he received a bill for $23,000 and a warning that his service would be cut off if he didn't pay.

The DWP suggested that he make up the shortfall by paying $1,000 a month for 23 months. The explanation? He had been under-billed for 23 months.

"I just about fell off my chair," Epstein said. "I was very surprised and very upset."

What justifies ugly warnings from Nichols' nasty crew that folks' electricity will be turned off if they don't cough up a small fortune?

The DWP should eat such costs, not put the press on people who for months have been duly paying bills royally screwed up by Nichols' underlings.

Where are many of these folks going to get the money?

Why does the DWP have a huge reserve fund -- yet squeezes folks when the DWP is entirely at fault?

How is the woman below going to pay her ugly surprise bill?

Do Ramallo and Nichols think Angelenos keep $1,000 nest eggs just in case DWP is incompetent?

Ana Garcia reports:

Tracie Fritts Pandy, who lives downtown, also had a new meter installed. A year and a half later, she was slammed with a $1,300 electric bill right after New Year's.

The timing was especially difficult for Pandi, who had lost her job and whose daughter had recently died.

"I want an explanation as to why they allowed this to happen," Pandy said.

The DWP apologized to Pandy and offered her a payment extension, according to a statement sent to NBC LA last week by Joseph Ramallo, a DWP spokesman.

"This customer experienced an extraordinary delay in billing and was not offered all potential payment options," the statement said. "In this case, we fell short."

Fell short?

Nichols is acting like an autocratic fool, saying the DWP makes very few billing errors, that more than 99 percent of DWP bills are correct.

But this isn't third grade. Nichols is not getting gold stars for the number of right answers.

Nichols' wildly rich utility monopoly, sitting on tens of millions of dollars in extra revenues thanks to steady rate hikes, should eat the cost of its own screw-ups.

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