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L.A.'s 'jobs czar' may be Villaraigosa's pick to run DWP

Austin Beutner, who has been working to lure businesses to the city, may replace S. David Freeman, who is scheduled to step down in weeks as interim director of the utility, sources say.

March 29, 2010|By David Zahniser

The man chosen by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to be the city's "jobs czar" three months ago is in talks to take on an additional assignment: running the Department of Water and Power.

Villaraigosa is considering naming First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner as the DWP's interim general manager while the search continues for a permanent top executive, sources said Sunday.

The DWP's current interim executive, S. David Freeman, is scheduled to step down within weeks. He has been promoting the mayor's package of residential electric rate hikes, which range from 9% to 28% depending on a household's location and power usage.

A Villaraigosa spokeswoman did not respond to a request to comment. But an official familiar with the talks, who declined to be named because the deliberations are ongoing, said Beutner, 49, has not yet agreed to take the DWP job.

If Beutner does, he would keep his current post, working on ways of luring new businesses to the city. But he would also be asked to respond to executives who have voiced anger over the DWP's plan for boosting electric rates for businesses by 22%.

One business leader praised Beutner's business acumen but expressed concern that the DWP post could distract him from completing his economic initiatives, such as reducing the number of steps in the city's permitting process.

"He's supposed to be doing all these things to make the city business-friendly, and we're waiting for those to happen," said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. "It would probably be a step back for those reforms."

Unclear is what will happen to Freeman, who took the interim job six months ago. He was on vacation last week, just as council members balked at approving Villaraigosa's package of rate hikes, which are designed to help cover the fluctuating cost of fossil fuels, new conservation programs and renewable energy contracts.

Villaraigosa said that the additional money would help him meet his goal of securing 20% of the DWP's power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by Dec. 31.

Villaraigosa is also reviewing candidates for the top job at the Community Redevelopment Agency, which oversees efforts to revive struggling neighborhoods.

Two of the top candidates are the agency's interim executive, Cal Hollis, and Christine Essel, who was defeated in her Dec. 8 bid for a seat on the City Council.

Essel lost to then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian.

david.zahniser @latimes.com

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