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DWP on the hot seat over outages

Four City Council members demand to know why the utility couldn't cope with the recent intense heat wave.

September 11, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Fresh off their three-week summer recess and still steamed over last week's power outages, members of the Los Angeles City Council on Monday called for the Department of Water and Power to provide more answers about what went wrong -- and to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Council President Eric Garcetti said he felt that the city-owned utility misled the council when, on three occasions, officials vowed that they were better prepared to handle another heat wave than the one that crippled the power grid last year.

Instead, Garcetti said he spent much of the Labor Day weekend scrambling to get answers for residents in Silver Lake and surrounding areas who lost their electricity.

"The department looked us square in the eye and said they were prepared," Garcetti said at a City Hall news conference.

The other council members at the news conference -- Wendy Greuel, Tom LaBonge and Jan Perry -- said they now would demand monthly reports from the DWP on its infrastructure. They also want to see the department beef up its staff, but none detailed how to pay for such an expansion.

The DWP has proposed a series of three rate hikes, beginning Jan. 1, to help pay for upgrading its aging power infrastructure. If implemented on the agency's schedule, the power rates would increase about 9%, which the agency says would still make its rates lower than those of such private utilities as Southern California Edison and many other municipal utilities.

More than 13,000 customers lost power on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, and more than 4,000 had no power on the holiday, according to the DWP, which blamed the problems on old transformers that blew up and on record demand at the end of a weeklong heat wave.

David Nahai, president of the DWP board, said he would welcome more oversight. He also said he did not believe DWP officials deliberately misled the council about the agency's preparations for another heat wave.

"I am willing to give them that benefit of the doubt that adequate steps had been taken," Nahai said.

"Having said that," he added, "I would be the first to say that the department has not done enough. We've now had two successive years of intense heat waves, and we have to accept that climate change is a reality. Our infrastructure is old and tired, and much of it is between 40 and 70 years old."

Nahai added that he hoped council members would be open to the proposed rate increases, saying they were crucial to making the infrastructure improvements.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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