Last month, Controller Ron Galperin released a blistering audit of two trusts at the Department of Water and Power. For the first time, the audit provided up-close look at the workings of IBEW Local 18, the powerful and secretive union that represents DWP workers.
The DWP and the union have been jointly running the two trusts — the Joint Training Institute and Joint Safety Institute — for more than a decade, at a cost to utility ratepayers (that's you!) of $4 million a year. The trusts were established to operate safety seminars, but it appears that over time they became like a clubhouse for top-level union executives and DWP administrators.
Galperin fought hard for more than a year to get access to the records, even going to court for the right to conduct the audit. Along with the audit, he released reams of credit card data, which showed JTI/JSI administrators spending lavishly on trips, meals and gas reimbursements. There's nothing illegal about it — it's just a bit unseemly.
We now know a lot more than we used to about the operations of IBEW Local 18 and its leader, Brian D'Arcy. One of the most interesting things we know is where he and his DWP buddies liked to eat. Here are their 15 favorite restaurants, ranked by how much ratepayer money was spent at each establishment over the five-year audit period.
15. Mi Casita, Sunland
Sunland isn't just the place for gut-busting hoagies and Big Jim's chicken-fried steaks. (More on that later.) Mi Casita, located right next door to Corsica Deli, offers flautas, taquitos and shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. There's also homemade flan and a wide selection of margaritas. Nine visits, $581.
Because you gotta stay healthy somehow. Fourteen visits, $600.
13. Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse, Lombard, Ill.
In August 2012, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers held its conference in Chicago. The JTI and JSI sent five guys, and they made it a point to check out Harry Caray's Italian Restaurant in Lombard. Known for its wide variety of "quality aged steak options," Harry Caray's is also home to the Holy Cow! Burger Bar, featuring three beef options: sirloin, wagyu and tallgrass grass-fed. There's also some gluten-free stuff if you really want it, but obviously you're not going to drive all the way to Lombard for a plate of kale. After a meal here, you'll feel just like the DWP's corroded pipes — ready to burst! Five visits (in five days), $809.
12. Big Jim's Family Restaurant, Sun Valley
This is like a more expensive Denny's. It's where you go when you've been to Corsica Deli too many times, and you want to class it up slightly. Big Jim's is well known for its chicken-fried steaks, plus it offers big, greasy burgers and big, greasy Mexican dishes. Right off the 5 freeway, it's a great place to go if you're a truck driver. Also a good bet if you work at the Valley Generating Station, which is just a mile away. Eleven visits, $836.
11. Taix French Restaurant, Echo Park
We're surprised this didn't rank higher. Like Chi Dynasty, Taix is close to Brian D'Arcy's home in Silver Lake, and we had heard it's one of his favorite haunts. Taix dates back to the 1920s, and has been in its current location on Sunset Boulevard for more than 50 years. Like most of the DWP guys' favorite places, it's not straining for relevance, serving up classics such as duck à l'orange and coq au vin like it's still 1965. In 11 visits, they spent $963.
10. Red Fish Grill, New Orleans
Among the duties of the JTI/JSI trustees was attending the 2011 conference of the International Federation of Employee Benefit Plans. Sounds like a bunch of boring seminars, until you realize it was held in the Big Easy. Evidently they couldn't go to K-Paul's every night, so their second option was Red Fish Grill, on Bourbon Street, where you can wash down your alligator boudin balls with a cold Abita beer. DWP officials liked it so much they also stopped in during the Electric Power Research Institute conference. They spent $999 on seven visits.
9. Corsica Delicatessan, Sunland
This is a short drive from the DWP's Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, which is also the headquarters of the two training institutes. Home of "the Beast" — a sandwich with three-quarters of a pound of meat — Corsica has been around since 1970. By now it should be clear that these guys love their cured meats, health consequences be damned. They made 14 visits, spending $1,058 of ratepayer money.
8. Chi Dynasty, Los Feliz
Why limit your palate to old-fashioned American food when you can try old-fashioned Chinese food. Chi Dynasty has been around since 1983 — which makes it one of the newest restaurants on this list. It's sort of the white-tablecloth version of Pei Wei — kung pao beef, orange chicken, honey-glazed pork and, for the vegetarians, "mushroom delight." It's a short drive from D'Arcy's house in Silver Lake. On eight visits, DWP officials spent $1,255.
7. Eastside Market, Chinatown
Forget it, Jake, it's ratepayer money. Eastside Market is just a few blocks from DWP headquarters, but something tells us these guys don't walk there. The most popular item on the menu is the #7 — hot roast beef and pastrami and provolone. These sandwiches are the kind you wouldn't want to eat without a fistful of napkins and a companion who knows CPR. Good thing the DWP offers an unbeatable medical package. DWP officials spent $1,638 there in 11 visits.
6. Erick Schat's Bakkery, Bishop
The DWP is an empire that stretches far and wide, all the way out to the Eastern Sierras. The utility has an office in Bishop, in the Owens Valley, which has been supplying L.A. with water for more than 100 years. So where do DWP officials hang out when they're not busy robbing the locals of their precious fluids? Erick Schat's Bakkery. Located on Highway 395, Schat's is the place to go for Dutch pastries of all shapes and sizes. Great if you're on an all-gluten diet. DWP officials visited 17 times, spending $1,890. That's a lot of glaze!
5. Cafe Current, Downtown L.A.
This one makes sense — it's the cafeteria in the basement of the DWP headquarters. As cafeteria food goes, it's top-notch. At the nearby courthouse, jurors are often told to check it out on their lunch breaks. Back in 2010, it was briefly closed to the public, but it's open now. You do have to pass through security, though. Officials went there 24 times, spending $2,690.
4. Prime Steakhouse, Ventura
In June 2011, the JTI and JSI pulled out all the stops for their "Safety Summit," a three-day extravaganza in Oxnard. They booked 19 rooms at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort and rented conference space for two days, dropping a cool $25,000. The auditors noted there was no real reason they couldn't have held this summit at their own offices in Sunland. (What killjoys.) The capstone of this event came on June 29, when the trusts spent $4,061 at Prime Steakhouse in Ventura. To the high life!
3. Taylor's Steak House, Koreatown
Like a lot of restaurants on this list, Taylor's Steak House features old-fashioned, old-man food. It's the kind of place your granddad would have gone to before his cardiologist made him stop. Taylor's has been around since 1953, and features a wide range of steaks, plus a surf-and-turf entree and a bacon-wrapped scallop appetizer. It's just six blocks from IBEW Local 18 headquarters, on West Second Street, with dim lighting and naugahyde booths that make it perfect for conducting union business. DWP officials spent $4,966 there in 25 visits. D'Arcy was spotted there just last month, telling CBS2 reporter David Goldstein to "Get out of my face, please."
2. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, New Orleans
If you're a DWP union honcho, a trip to New Orleans for an electric power conference is all the excuse you need to check out K-Paul's. Located in the French Quarter and founded by chef Paul Prudhomme, K-Paul's is known for steep prices and generous portions. On just three visits to the restaurant, in 2011 and 2012, DWP officials managed to spend $5,239.
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1. Lulu's Restaurant, Van Nuys
Lulu's, pictured above, is a family-friendly restaurant offering comfort food, such as meatloaf and broiled chicken. It has a banquet room for meetings, and it does catering. According to the JTI/JSI credit card data, Lulu's was the go-to spot for training sessions in 2012 and 2013. In those two years alone, union officials made 78 visits to Lulu's, racking up $32,921 in expenses. Asked if the union folks still come around, an employee who answered the phone said, "We don't talk about our customers."
Brian D'Arcy did not respond to a request for comment.