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Commission formed to choose DWP ratepayer advocate

Mayor announces the five appointees and urges the utility to hold off on rate hikes until a ratepayer advocate is in place. DWP says increases of at least 5% a year are needed to meet environmental regulations.

August 13, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is shown in front of DWP headquarters in 2007. He recently announced the appointees to a citizen's commission that will choose the DWP ratepayer advocate.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is shown in front of DWP headquarters in 2007.… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles officials moved closer Friday to establishing a ratepayer advocate at the DWP, and asked that the city-owned utility hold off on rate hikes until the advocate has been appointed.

Earlier this summer, Department of Water and Power General Manager Ron Nichols said an annual increase of about 5% for water and electricity rates would be needed for the DWP to comply with new environmental requirements and protect its credit rating.

Nichols said he hoped the new rate structure could go into effect by November. But in a news release Friday announcing five appointees to a citizen's commission that will choose the ratepayer advocate, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that until the advocate is in place, "any action to increase rates is premature."

In March, voters passed a charter amendment to establish an Office of Public Accountability and a ratepayer advocate at the DWP to independently scrutinize rates at an agency that has seen frequent criticism from officials and residents despite providing some of the lowest power costs in Southern California. But the City Council has been slow to establish the commission.

In the meantime, the DWP hosted a series of community meetings around the city, asking customers to comment on the proposed rate hikes.

The 5% annual increase is the bare minimum the DWP needs to comply with regulations, according to Nichols. An increase of that size would not provide the utility enough money to pay for an array of other improvements that he says are badly needed.

Nichols said customers and lawmakers should decide whether to fund the additional improvements, which include better water and energy conservation and more rapid replacement of the city's aging pipelines and power poles.

The DWP will eventually present a rate proposal to utility commissioners and the City Council for consideration.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who heads the council's Energy and Environment Committee, said she hopes the commission will name a ratepayer advocate by the end of September.

"I think the process is doing pretty well," Perry said. "It's working at a fast clip."

The appointees to the commission, chosen by Perry, Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti, are:

• Jeff Jacobberger, a planner with Civic Enterprise Associates

•John Murray, a minority business advocate who is president of the Southern California Minority Business Development Council Inc.

• Sandra Itkoff, a financial advisor at Angeleno Group

• Rusty Millar, a member of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council

• Elaine Gaspard, a consultant and lender who once worked at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

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