Councilman Calls B.S. On Mayor Villaraigosa's Utility Hikes

In a rare rebuke of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa by a Los Angeles City Council member, Valley representative Greig Smith characterized the mayor's recent plan to raise Department of Water and Power rates by as much as 28.4 percent as a disingenuous rush job.

In an open letter to constituents obtained by the Weekly (first reported by LAist), Smith said the rate-hike was rushed through the process as an urgent, deficit-busting measure even though it had been planned since last year. "Under the claim that it is an emergency, this proposal has been rushed without the sufficient public review that is required ... ," he writes. "The City Council asked DWP for information about this proposal in August 2009."

Smith also argues that the mayor's "carbon surcharge" plan would not have reduced L.A.'s reliance on coal-based energy, as Villaraigosa advertised.

"This proposal is anything but environmental," Smith writes. "While it sets aside money for renewable energy for the future, it does not reduce L.A.'s use of coal, the dirtiest, most environmentally damaging fuel we have. The only reduction in fossil fuels would be in the use of natural gas, which, although cleaner than coal, is vastly more expensive and accounts for a much smaller amount of our power generation."

The City Council this week voted in favor of a smaller rate hike (about .6 cents per kilowatt hour versus the .8 the mayor wanted as the first of four increases under his plan) and rejected for now Villaraigosa's "carbon surcharge" program.

The mayor's proposal smelled fishy from the start, and what was first billed as a $2.50 per customer monthly charge to help the city reduce coal-based energy by 20 percent, add thousands of union jobs to the DWP's already cash-rich payrolls, and subsidize solar panels for homes and businesses, turned out to be a nine to 28 percent hike for most energy users in L.A., according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times.

What's more, as bad press dogged Villaraigosa's proposal and the City Council began to rebel against it, the mayor came out and indicated what the plan was really about -- enriching the city's deficit-ridden coffers. After claiming the word bankruptcy isn't in his vocabulary, Villaraigosa turned around and said that if the council didn't help his hike package pass, the city could in fact go belly up.

In other words, the plan was simply another way of increasing taxes on a recession-plagued city so that Villaraigosa wouldn't have to lay off his pals in city unions and close departments to solve the looming, nearly $700 million L.A. deficit.

Smith wasn't buying it:

"During this crushing economic recession," he writes, "L.A.'s business leaders have told us emphatically that if they are faced with double-digit increases in electric rates right now, they would have to lay off employees or move some operations outside of L.A. Any jobs created at DWP through this proposal would create an additional huge financial burden on the City now and continue to expand pension costs at DWP in the future."

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