LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power may see significant changes under a ballot measure proposal introduced by a city council member.
Councilman Felipe Fuentes introduced the motion Friday, which would put a measure before voters this year to restructure LADWP.
"The utility, as it's currently structured, is failing the ratepayer," said Fuentes, chair of the Council's Energy and Environment Committee.
Fuentes said the city charter diffuses oversight of the utility among LADWP's part time board, the city council and the mayor.
"No single city entity is responsible for actively managing the utility," he said.
Fuentes' proposal would ask voters to approve a full-time, professional board to oversee the department; elimination of civil service requirement to improve hiring efficiency; and placing a cap on the annual transfer of part of LADWP's revenues to the city's general fund.
His measure would also reduce interference from the City Council and mayor in board decisions and authorize the board to hire its own legal and analytical staff to provide independent analysis of utility operations.
The motion asks the City Attorney and City Administrative Officer to prepare language for needed City Charter and Administrative Code. Changes to the City Charter require voter approval.
Mel Levine, president of the utility's board, said he very much likes the proposal's thrust of making LADWP more independent and less politicized. But the devil is the details, he added.
By Levine's count, the public water and power utility has 20 bosses. He included the five board members and the 15 council members, who approve the majority of decisions made concerning DWP.
That figure fails to mention the mayor, city controller and city administrative officer, who also have a say in how the public utility is run, he said.
"All 20 don't resist calling the shots for DWP and that is no way to run a railroad," Levine said.
The utility's objectives – to provide reliable water and power – are non-political, he said.
"It's important for the utility to have some political accountability, but it's on the behest of too many people on too many issues," he said.
Many questions remain as to how the changes would be structured, Levine said.
Those questions include whether the board should be elected or appointed and at what point the City Council should have some say if the board goes way off track, he said.
LADWP General Manager Marcie Edwards called the motion a positive step toward furthering many of the reforms the Department has already begun to initiate under the leadership of Mayor Eric Garcetti.
It is consistent with the shortcomings DWP's board and management "have already identified, particularly the limitations of a civil service system, an inefficient procurement process, and decentralized decision-making authority," Edwards said in a statement.
Edwards cautioned that work on changing the public utility's governance structure not interfere with progress on its rate increase proposal, which she called vital to investing in rapidly aging infrastructure, expansion of the local water supply and meeting regulatory mandates to transition to cleaner power sources.
The proposal for a more autonomous board closely mirrors the Department's original governance structure under the 1925 City Charter, according to Fuente's staff.
Back then, the board had more authority to act without City Council and Mayoral approval. In the following decades, charter amendments removed that independence and gave more control to the City Council.
In recent years, several independent reports have called for the development of an alternative governance structure at DWP. Most recently, Navigant Consulting recommended in a 600-page report that the City pursue governance change.
Levine said he thinks the City Council might be amenable to limiting its own power, because it would also remove their responsibility for approving rate changes.
"Today's action sets the stage for an open and public conversation about how best to operate the department in the most efficient and transparent manner," said Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, who seconded the motion along with Councilman Mitch O'Farrell.