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L.A. council deadlocks on bid for more control over DWP chief

A planned ballot measure to give the council power to fire the department's general manager will remain in limbo until Dec. 7, when members return from a two-week break.

November 25, 2010|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times

A divided Los Angeles City Council threw up a last-minute roadblock to a planned ballot measure that would give council members the power to fire the top executive at the Department of Water and Power.

The 15-member council failed to get the eight votes required to put the proposal on the March 8 ballot after Councilman Jose Huizar said officials were "overreacting" to recent frustrations with the DWP.

Under the City Charter, the mayor nominates a general manager to run the DWP. Although the council has the power to confirm or reject that nominee, it lacks the ability to remove the person after he or she has the job.

"Giving the council more say over that general manager is going to make the situation even more political," Huizar said. "The DWP played games with us. And now we're playing games with the DWP."

With one member absent, the council deadlocked 7 to 7 on the proposal, which, if passed by voters, would also have allowed the council to remove Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's appointees from the five-member DWP commission.

Because neither side could get a majority, the proposal will remain in limbo until Dec. 7, when the council returns from a two-week break.

The proposed ballot measure is one of 11 planned for the municipal election. And it coincides with Villaraigosa's effort to recruit a new executive for the top job at the DWP — the utility's sixth since mid-2007.

Councilman Paul Krekorian voted for the measure but said he feared that giving additional power to the council could make it more difficult to lure someone to the post.

Wednesday's ballot proposal is one of several responses by the council to a nasty fight with the DWP over electricity rates last spring. During that standoff, the department threatened to withhold $73.5 million from the city's budget, pushing Los Angeles to the financial brink.

Council members reacted by demanding to review a much greater number of decisions by the DWP commission. On Wednesday, the council kicked one of those decisions — a proposal to reduce the size of the agency's rebates for solar panels — back to the commission for more work.

The council also responded to the rate hike fight by proposing a ballot measure that would give members the power to remove DWP commissioners and the utility's top executive by a two-thirds vote. Although that plan received eight votes last week, Councilman Richard Alarcon said he and his colleagues have been lobbied by the mayor to abandon it.

That change of direction irritated backers of the plan, who said the council would embarrass itself by capitulating to political pressure. "If we vote this down today, we look like a bunch of politicians," said Councilman Tony Cardenas.

Alarcon disagreed, saying the council has found plenty of other ways to embarrass itself.

Supporters of the ballot plan were Cardenas and council members Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Tom LaBonge, Bernard C. Parks, Jan Perry and Bill Rosendahl. Opposing it were Alarcon, Huizar, Janice Hahn, Ed Reyes, Herb Wesson, Dennis Zine and council President Eric Garcetti.

Councilman Greig Smith, who favored the plan last week, was absent.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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