Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday appointed a five-member board for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that is packed with environmental advocates who vowed to accelerate the agency's move toward cleaner sources of energy, including solar and wind power.
Villaraigosa said the appointments, announced at a Griffith Park nursery that provides free trees to DWP customers, reflect his commitment to a "cleaner and greener" city.
The appointees, who must be approved by the City Council, include Mary Nichols, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment; David Nahai, a member of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board; and William Burke, chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Villaraigosa also appointed Nick Patsaouras, the owner of an engineering company, and Edith Ramirez, a business attorney, to the water and power board, which oversees the largest municipal utility in the nation.
"We can and must make the department more responsive to environmental concerns," Villaraigosa said. "We can and must transform the DWP from a municipal utility dependent upon burning coal into a leader in green power."
The appointees voiced support for Villaraigosa's goal of having 20% of the DWP's energy production come from renewable sources, including wind, geothermal and solar power, by the year 2010 -- up from 3% this year.
The 2010 deadline is an acceleration of the department's current plan to reach 20% by the year 2017, a goal that agency officials reluctantly agreed to under pressure from the City Council.
"Its performance with respect to renewables in the past hasn't been up to the potential that can be fulfilled," said Nahai, an attorney who also is vice chairman of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.
"I think it's doable," said Burke, who is president of the company that operates the L.A. Marathon, serves on the California Coastal Commission and is the husband of Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.
Nichols, who headed the California Resources Agency under Gov. Gray Davis, is expected to become board chairwoman. She said the department must boost its energy conservation efforts and described its current clean-energy efforts as "haphazard."
Patsaouras, a former member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, said he would require the DWP staff to provide quarterly reports on its effort to expand its renewable-energy portfolio.
Patsaouras disputed the idea that more clean energy sources would mean higher electric rates, and he promised that rate proposals would no longer be sprung on the public when it was too late for a consumer challenge.
The appointees said they would be fiscal watchdogs of the agency, which has an annual budget of $4.3 billion and has long been criticized for excessive spending.
"We have to change the culture of the DWP, of waste, inefficiency and lack of accountability," Patsaouras said.
The mayor also called on his appointees to improve relations with the Owens Valley, which has battled the agency in court for many years over water diversions to Los Angeles.
Local environmental groups hailed the appointments.
"From a public interest perspective, this is the most promising board of commissioners assembled in decades," said Rhonda Mills, a director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.
However, by appointing board members who have positions on panels that regulate DWP activities, Villaraigosa may have created the potential for conflicts of interest.
The DWP has been fined for air pollution violations by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which Burke chairs. It has had to obtain permits from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, on which Nahai serves. And the DWP contributed up to $112,000 annually to the Los Angeles Marathon, a for-profit operation that Burke heads.
Villaraigosa said attorneys have stated that the appointments pose no legal problems, and Burke and Nahai said they would remove themselves from any votes that posed conflicts.
Burke said air pollution fines are imposed by the AQMD's enforcement staff, not by its board.
One controversy the mayor is hoping his appointees can avoid is the pending five-year contract for DWP employees that could increase their salaries by up to 34%. Villaraigosa urged the current DWP board, which was appointed by then-Mayor James K. Hahn, to act on the contract and refer it to the City Council for final action. The board meets today on the contract.
Villaraigosa has criticized the contract as too expensive, but he said Monday that he would not urge the council to reject it.
"This matter was negotiated by the previous administration," he said. "I think it's important that this current commission move this along -- move it along to the council for the council to make that determination."