The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power already has a pretty awful reputation among its own constituents.
Hand-in-hand with City Hall politicians, DWP officials have more than once tried to dupe ratepayers into unwarranted bill hikes — despite a fat surplus at the department, and despite the fact that its knuckle-dragging employees enjoy the hottest public-employee benefits in town.
But as of 2012, the people of Los Angeles aren't the only ones who claim to have been bullied by the big bad DWP:
In a new lawsuit, tbe San Diego County Water Authority alleges that the DWP is part of a “secret society” of water officials who run the Metropolitan Water District — aka, half the entire SoCal water supply — behind closed doors.
Of course, the biggest beef that San Diego has with the MWD's alleged “shadow government” is that San Diego doesn't happen to be one of the cool kids behind said door.
“San Diego is excluded from the secret society” and is “discriminated against by the society and its membership,” says Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager at the San Diego County Water Authority.
The authority claims that the MWD's constant rate hikes are unevenly distributed between counties, favoring the O.C. and L.A.
And, because San Diego doesn't have a dog in the V.I.P. room, the water district's pending cost increases could end up shaking its southernmost ratepayers down for “as much as $217 million annually by 2021,” San Diego alleges.
Oh, well. Sucks for them, right?
(And for the record, MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger denied the accusations to CBS LA, dismissing them as “either paranoia or just trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.”)
But here's the red flag for DWP-watchers: At a heated hearing on Monday night, Cushman says that L.A. DWP official David Pettijohn stood up in support of a new round of rate hikes.
“I don't know how any water agency could advocate for rate increases,” says Cushman. (We've contacted Pettijohn and the DWP for comment. Also, waiting on the MWD to post its own video of the hearing to its website.)
Cushman gripes that “given all the concerns” with skyrocketing costs at the SoCal water supplier, “L.A. should have been there right beside us. But instead, the L.A. DWP was there at head of parade.”
One possible explanation: San Diego claims that the MWD has approved multiple subsidy agreements with the L.A. DWP.
Again, that would only be a plus for Angelenos. Dogged DWP gadfly Jack Humphreville says he hasn't heard much about the allegations, but says it appears that “any sketchiness is at San Diego's expense.”
Aww. Poor Sandy Eggo. All dried up in the bowels of SoCal, too brain-bleached to weasel its way into the apparent gentlemen's club running America's largest and most powerful water fountain.
Still, if DWP officials are behaving this slimy, their behavior might speak to the greater culture at the department. Cushman says he will mail the Weekly copies of internal emails and other documents that allegedly reveal the following:
The members of the group have made their objectives explicit, referring to themselves as the “Secret Society” and the “Anti-San Diego Coalition,” among other monikers.
The impetus for the Secret Society was to preserve a discriminatory water rate structure and improve financial advantages its ringleaders enjoy under MWD water rates, including a rich package of financial subsidies they receive from MWD for their own local water supply projects. The records show the group routinely has been able to dictate outcomes to MWD's Board of Directors. …
The documents – kept secret by the group until disclosure was forced through Public Records Act requests – paint a disturbing picture of how decisions are made on major programs and projects that impact the lives of 19 million Californians who depend upon MWD for all or part of their water supplies. MWD has an annual budget of $1.8 billion and serves a six-county region with an annual economy valued at greater than $1 trillion.
Which kind of makes this all of our problem. So yeah, stay tuned as we get to the bottom of the DWP's role in this high-stakes playground game.