A Mar Vista resident who helped lead the fight for a ratepayer advocate for the 1.2 million customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is calling on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to appoint someone to lead the watchdog component of the department on an interim basis.
The ratepayer advocate will serve as a watchdog for consumers and is part of Measure I, a DWP transformation initiative that was passed by a plurality of the voters in the March 8 municipal election.
Chuck Ray, a member of DWP’s ratepayer advisory committee who helped craft the language for the ballot proposition and who has worked with various members of the City Council on improving the nation’s second-largest utility, told The Argonaut that he has asked Villaraigosa in a letter to choose an interim executive director for the Office of Public Accountability before Nov. 2, when the utility will be requesting a rate increase.
“There a few things that I am recommending that the mayor do as soon as possible,” Ray, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council, explained. “One, I think that he should assist the citizens commission in choosing the office’s executive director, so that the current rate request can be presented in a reasonable form.
“Two, I think he should consider someone from the neighborhood councils as the interim director,” Ray continued. “This interim person can objectively point out to the council which rates they need to consider.”
Villaraigosa announced June 29 the creation of a citizens commission by the City Council, a provision that was included in Measure I.
“The City Council’s actions to establish the citizens committee for the appointment of the executive director of the Office of Public Accountability is another critical step towards guaranteeing that the DWP practices responsible spending while also upholding its commitment to cost-effective, environmentally responsible and reliable energy,” the mayor said in a statement.
Former Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Mark Redick agrees with Ray’s proposals. Redick has been a staunch critic of the DWP, especially after an audit by City Controller Wendy Greuel revealed last summer that the utility could have transferred $73.5 million to the city’s coffers without a rate increase. The DWP had demanded the increase for months and had withheld millions of dollars from the city before the council passed its rate hike.
Redick is skeptical that Villaraigosa will accept Ray’s suggestions and pointed out that the mayor opposed the ballot initiative.
“I have to question his willingness to take any action on this because of his past decision to place obstacles in front of the voters and therefore in front of the will of the people,” he asserted.
Redick supports Ray’s idea of having members of neighborhood councils involved in the citizens commission, as well as being candidates for the interim ratepayer advocate.
“Neighborhood councils have some very well-qualified board members who have solid business expertise and are largely people of integrity,” the former Del Rey president said.
Villaraigosa’s statement suggested that he is now on board with Measure I and he indicated that he would work with two members of the council who, along with City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, have actively and publicly pushed for the internal reforms.
“As the largest municipally owned utility in the country, LADWP has a unique responsibility to provide high-quality and affordable water and power to its residents,” the mayor said. “Angelenos themselves are the utility’s most important stakeholders, and they deserve a ratepayer advocate to ensure that any change at the DWP is in their best interest. I look forward to working with Council President (Eric) Garcetti and Councilwoman (Jan) Perry to appoint members of the committee.”
Despite Villaraigosa’s comments, Redick remains dubious and wondered if the mayor was motivated by the public’s embrace of the ballot measure as well as its criticism of the DWP.
“Is the mayor trying to get in front of this issue or away from an oncoming train?” he asked. “The mayor was a stalwart opponent of (Measure I) and sided with the utility on this issue.”
Ray continues to insist, as he did before the election, that the executive director position not be one of the mayor’s or council’s allies. “One of the reasons that these reforms were passed was to stop the politics and stop the finger-pointing between the elected officials and the DWP,” he said.
While he also recognized that Villaraigosa opposed Measure I, Ray believes that seeing the proposition pass made the mayor reconsider his position.
“I think 78 percent of the voters helped him change his mind,” he quipped.
Sarah Hamilton, a Villaraigosa spokeswoman, did not return email requests for comment on Ray’s proposals.