L.A. City Council Tries To Rein In DWP

The City Council today will vote to put measures before the voters that seek to create more accountability and transparency at the Department of Water and Power, the oft-times opaque utility that has clashed with the council this year.

The initiatives, which would amend the city charter and go before voters in March, would create a "ratepayer advocate" and force the DWP to present its budget to the council earlier in the year to expose it to more scrutiny.

Council President Eric Garcetti has pushed the ratepayer advocate idea hard. "My goal is to empower a watchdog office with full-time independent oversight authority to ensure DWP is playing its straight with its customers and the public,'' Garcetti said.

It seems a little odd that these steps need to be taken to open the book on a utility that is owned by the city, but if this is what it takes, fine.

Earlier this year DWP fought for a rate hike of up to 28 percent, but met significant resistance from the City Council. Also, in early April the public utility refused to hand over $73.5 million in surplus to the city general fund, saying it couldn't without negatively affecting its bond rating. City Hall went into crisis mode -- the mayor suggested shutting down government two days a week -- and accused the utility of extorting the city council for the rate hike.

City Controller Wendy Greuel released a June audit asserting that the agency had the money and could have handed it over without risk to its bond rating. And the agency misled the city about the matter, Greuel charged.

Meanwhile, the utility is being led, on an interim basis, by friend-of-the-mayor and private equity maven Austin Beutner. He's busy cost-cutting.

The department has had numerous general managers in recent years, and finding a new one won't be easy. Answering to the new ratepayer advocate won't likely make the job more attractive.

DWP ran into more trouble earlier this year when TV news caught workers drinking, going to a strip club and napping on the job, burnishing the already stellar public image of public employees.

-With reporting from City News Service. Got news? Email us.


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