YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Is DWP's Valley rate cut fishy, or is it bait?

October 31, 2007|Steve Lopez

My question answered itself Tuesday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley.

Should the area get a summer break on electricity rates because it's hotter there than in other parts of the city, as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has proposed?

"I think it's a great idea," said former actress Collette Matthews at the Studio City library, the third consecutive library patron to endorse the idea in a five-minute span.

But would a break for the Valley be fair to people on the other side of the hill?

"Aren't they richer over there?" asked Sean Macaulay, a screenwriter who was working out at the Sherman Oaks-Van Nuys Recreation Center.

Depends on where you mean by "over there." I'm guessing Pico-Union loses a wage war with Woodland Hills. Maybe we could balance things out a little by charging Valley residents more for Laker tickets.

"I'd love them to cut the rate," said Brett Lowry, a Van Nuys resident and junior high basketball coach who was throwing up some hook shots at an outdoor court. "They're charging too much."

Actually, we pay less for water and power than many surrounding areas. But don't take that to mean you can ever trust the DWP to spend your money wisely, or that you shouldn't suspect there's politics at play in every move the agency makes.

In fact, this Valley rate reduction smells a little fishy. I'm not suggesting Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who endorses the change and just appointed a new DWP boss who seems pretty sharp, is trying to lower his girlfriend's electricity bill in the Valley. Nor would I suggest he's trying to nail down more of the Valley vote in consideration of a possible run for governor one day.

But a cynic might wonder if the Valley reduction is a way to distract attention from the fact that the DWP, just weeks after a power-outage debacle that left thousands without lights for days, wants to raise overall rates. Instead of carping about that, we're all sniping about the two-climate pricing system.

Across the city, there would be incentives for conservation in the proposed rate structure, and I have no beef with that. But in the Valley, customers could potentially catch a bigger break than other customers, as they already do on water rates.

It was the same argument on water. It's hot, so the Valley uses a lot of it, so let's cut them a break.

Is it just me, or does that strike you as somewhat counterintuitive?

I love the Valley. Some of my best friends and most faithful readers live there.

But should I help them pay to water their half-acre lawns, or keep their air conditioners running through the night? By the heat-index argument, we should all be sending checks to everyone living in Bakersfield and Hemet.

If that's the way it's going to work, maybe I should get a break on the price of gasoline because I live on a hill, and that cuts down on my mileage?

But the fact is, nobody forced me to live in hilly Silver Lake, just as no one ordered 1.3 million people to live in the steamy San Fernando Valley.

L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti expressed concern that the Valley's electricity break proposal could mean "working-class folks in one part of the city subsidizing wealthier folks in another."

A bigger problem, I'd say, is that L.A. doesn't have just two climates. It has dozens of microclimates, with lots of differences even in the Valley.

In Silver Lake, my high temperatures are often closer to Valley highs than Metropolitan L.A. highs.

Where's my power rate break?

It's typically way hotter at the Watts Towers than at the Getty Center.

Shouldn't South L.A. get a break?

Attorney Richard Close, who headed the Valley secession effort that was voted down exactly five years ago next week, unsurprisingly supports the break on power rates. Close told me Tuesday morning that it gradually gets hotter -- no surprise -- when he drives home to Sherman Oaks from his office near the beach in Santa Monica.

Yeah, but it doesn't instantly go from 70 to 95 when he crosses Mulholland Drive, which would be the dividing line under the DWP proposal.

Come to think of it, any city big enough to have a 25-degree temperature difference probably should be cut in two, and Close assured me secession will be back on the ballot one day. It's still underrepresented politically, he said, and still pays more in taxes than it gets in services.

I'm hoping secession does get another shot, if only so I could go back to the porn set where I interviewed actors five years ago to get their thoughts on whether the Valley should secede. Let's just say there was some confusion about the difference between the words "secede" and "succeed."

Once that was settled, there were some questions.

"Secede from who?" asked one actor.

I recall very bright, hot stage lighting. Those electricity bills must be sky high.

Wait a minute.

Is someone at City Hall carrying water for the porn industry?

Los Angeles Times Articles