As the mayor's office continued to argue for the need for Department of Water and Power rate hikes, the City Council on Wednesday approved motions that would put council control of the department before voters.

Councilman Greig Smith introduced the idea of a ballot initiative that, if approved, would wrest control of appointing the DWP board and its general manager from the mayor and give it to the council. The council also approved a proposal to put a ballot initiative that would let it — not the DWP board — approve rate hikes. “We need to take control back,'' Smith said.

The moves come in the wake of the DWP's refusal to transfer a promised $73.5 million to the city following the council's rejection of electricity rate hikes the cash-rich department had requested.

The city faces a nearly $700 million deficit July 1 and desperately needs the cash, although all this focus on a relatively small amount deflects attention from the real problems with the city budget — payroll, pensions and sweetheart union deals that included raises for many DWP employees this year.

The mayor and council are focusing on this DWP transfer like John McEnroe focused on a line call — without regard for the larger match at hand. The transfer will save the city from going broke May 5, as City Controller Wendy Greuel predicted, but it won't fix the budget mess for good.

Meanwhile, following the shameless shell game put on by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his attempts to get as much as 28 percent in rate hikes approved for the city's electricity customers, mayoral chief of staff Matt Szabo continued to call for rate hikes as the mayor's office dangled the possibility of a $20 million DWP transfer to the city's main coffers.

In other words, the mayor's office continues to put city employees and services in jeopardy so its most profitable department — Councilman Bernard Parks stated the DWP has $1 billion in cash on-hand — can get its indirect tax increase via utility customers. Szabo said the council's own proposal last week of a .5 cents per kilowatt hour rate increase still isn't enough.

“What the council approved before limited the department's flexibility too much, it wasn't acceptable,'' Szabo said. “The department is going to have to have the ability to adjust rates as costs rise and fall, and the prior proposal by the council didn't allow the department to do that.''

To those who think the DWP should bow down to elected officials and the democratic process, we have these words of wisdom for you: “Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.”

-With reporting from Weekly wire services. Got news? Email us.

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