Archive for December, 2015

The issues of utility rate increases, homelessness, street paving and sidewalk repairs dominated 2015 on our local scene.

Has anyone seen reform at the DWP?

Mayor Garcetti was swept into office over two years ago, in part because of the blatant support for his opponent by Bryan D’Arcy, boss of  the DWP’s powerful IBEW Local 18 union.

His election raised hope for long-overdue reform at the largest municipal utility in the nation, one that has been so badly managed by City Hall appointees and corrupted by D’Arcy’s grip on elected officials.

It was false hope. His pick for the DWP’s GM, Marcie Edwards, did nothing to institute change; no one was fired for the IT atrocities that caused so much woe for many ratepayers – and has still not been resolved. She also sided with Bryan D’Arcy in the non profit audit controversy, showing contempt and disrespect for City Controller Ron Galperin, the only one in the city who has shown resolve in dealing with the incompetence and corruption at the utility.

Galperin has received no support from other elected officials.

Dr. Fred Pickel, the Ratepayer Advocate has been no help at all.  The only advocating he has done has been on behalf of DWP’s management.

Rates are going up, but cost control is absent.  Compensation at DWP should be frozen and the surplus transfer to the city should be ended, until infrastructure is upgraded.

It won’t happen because the City Council will bend to D’Arcy in the next round of wage negotiations.

Homelessness is much talked about, but the city only knows about promising big dollars to address the spreading crisis.  The number of homeless has grown by 12% since Garcetti took office.

A $100 million commitment for 2016’s budget will not go far if Garcetti and company pursue their pro-developer strategy that reduces affordable housing.  For every new unit created, there will likely be one eliminated. That’s not progress.

There is no commitment to attracting employers who offer middle-class jobs.  It’s all well and good to attract high-tech jobs, but most do not have the skills to fill those positions.  They are likely to employ as many outside the city as they do residents.

A lack of middle-class jobs will shift more people into the working class poor category.  These people will require rent subsidies to survive in an increasingly hot rental market, further undermining efforts to deal with homelessness.

The city finally made a commitment to repair streets and sidewalks, but it took a lawsuit. The settlement requires the city to invest $1.4 billion over the next 30 years to cover repairs.  That’s not as robust as it seems since costs will escalate over that span of time, due in part to contract awards that will likely favor well-connected labor unions. That’s business as usual in LA.

Only when all of these problems boil over and directly affect the everyday lives of a majority of residents will you see pushback and a voter revolt. Even then, I wonder if that will be enough to break the cycle of apathy that passes for participation.






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America’s Putin

Russian premier Vladimir Putin recently lavished praise on Donald Trump.

It came as no surprise to most.  Loose canons stick together.

There are some looser than these two, but I would be hard-pressed to name a more dangerous duo with the potential of controlling the two mightiest military powers in the world.

In a way, it does not seem logical for Putin to warm up to Trump.  Trump’s tough talk about making our rivals fear us should create tension between Russia and the US, especially when the former desires to reclaim its old glory.  Both nations would seem to be on a collision course with both of them in power.

So what is the nascent bond between them all about?

Plain and simple – hatred of President Obama.

Policies built on hate never end well.  Just look at  Germany in World War 2.

Perhaps only Bernie Sanders or Dr. Ben Carson would make an equally disturbing pairing with Vlad the Sociopath. The two of them rank near the top of the most-clueless-in-foreign-policy poll with the Donald.

There is a difference, though.  Carson and Sanders are passive-clueless.  That is, they would tend to not take decisive action in the international arena when  necessary.  Trump is active-clueless.  He would take action when none was called for. Either way, the results would not be pretty.

However, it’s a moot point.

None of the three will earn their party’s nomination.

They will continue to make noise, though, until either the money runs out or the public tires of them.

And Vlad will still find himself isolated and without a buddy.



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The so-called Ratepayer Advocate, the one charged with watching the backs of the LADWP’s captive customers, just announced that the utility’s proposed water rate increases are “fair and reasonable.”

No one doubts that billions of dollars in capital improvements and for developing processes will be necessary to maintain a reliable source of water and an efficient distribution system.  Taken out of context, we could nod our heads in agreement with that prospect and move on.


If Doctor Pickel were a true ratepayer advocate, he would have qualified his “just and reasonable” assessment.

Anyone can crunch numbers – and Pickel, if nothing else, is a good number cruncher, not to mention a subject matter expert in the field.

As an advocate, he had an obligation to emphasize what the utility has failed to do, which contributed to where we are today.

The Daily News reported that  DWP’s average monthly residential water bill was the fifth most expensive out of 13 peer utilities in California and Arizona, and the residential electric bill was the sixth most expensive out of nine agencies.

That’s squarely in the top half.

What do we have to show for it but aging infrastructure, Stone Age IT systems that create customer service havoc and a work force that is the highest paid in the city and 25% higher than peers in both public and private utilities.

Of course there is also the transfer of surplus electric power revenue from the DWP to the city’s general fund – running around $250 million per year. That’s money that could defray the rate increase.

In response to the recently released study of the DWP by Navigant Consulting, City Controller Ron Galperin criticized the utility about its lack of transparency and accountability, not to mention its politicization.

I would extend that criticism to Pickel.  He did not address the underlying reasons for why infrastructure investment has languished. He is fully aware of the points outlined earlier in this article.  To bless the rate increase while avoiding past and current practices that divert or reduce sources of funds is negligent.

He is clearly a deer in the headlights when facing City Hall.

No one ever said being a public advocate of any sort is easy.  Speaking frankly will subject you to the ire of officials.  It might even result in the loss of your appointment.

That’s the risk an advocate must take if the public’s interest  is to be served. If you are risk-averse, it is not the right career choice.

Pickel does not get it. He should offer to take a cut in pay and work for a real advocate, one who can energize the public.

Without public pressure, the status quo at the DWP will continue.



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I occasionally like to go off-topic and cover subjects or events outside of LA or California politics and government.

This week, I am compelled to do so.

The ISIL-inspired act of terrorism in San Bernardino, a city that can be considered part of the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles, within commuting distance of downtown, would make any other topic an escape from reality.

The loss of life and injuries cannot be described in any more words than have already be written and said.  I cannot begin to express my sadness and anger over the senseless murder of innocent people in the name of an ideology.

Instead, I’d rather focus on what events such as this exposes about us.

Our nation has been steadily transformed into a partisan society, conceptually not too different from the sectarian rivalry evident in the Middle East. Whether political or religious in nature, irreconcilable conflict is poison.

One only needs to follow sound bytes, Facebook posts and tweets from political leaders, and the people who elect them, concerning the string of mass murders in recent years to understand we are heading for our own version of destructive dysfunction.

Executions, like the event in San Bernardino, have riled up the pro-gun segment. After all, its supporters claim, it is terrorism or mental illness and not assault weapons responsible for the carnage. Ultra-liberals are in denial over the danger of radical Islam. Even our president cannot form the words to acknowledge its culpability. Neither side recognizes the merits of the others’ arguments.

The fact of the matter is, we allow the sale of military style weapons to almost anyone in the name of the Second Amendment.  We also permit too many to enter this country from regions where twisted fundamentalism thrives .

We should no more allow the sale of powerful weapons to the public than we should permit  entry to this country in numbers too great to properly vet.

Serious gun control is needed now.  Mere possession or sale of assault  or any semi-automatic weapons should be declared grounds for possible criminal prosecution. A period of amnesty should be granted for all to turn in these weapons – even reimbursing the owners who can provide proof of purchase; otherwise, allow them to surrender the weapons anonymously.

Likewise, all applicants for entry into the United States for any form of long-term stay need to be investigated in a manner that digs below the surface.  It is apparent that the current background checks are not enough.

Civil records, if they are available, don’t begin to tell the whole tale. An applicant for admission could be squeaky clean on the surface, with no traceable ties to militants. But it’s what in their hearts and minds that counts just as much. Persons who find liberal society a threat to their values are ticking time bombs who can be swayed by radical elements to create mayhem down the road.  Sophisticated questioning by FBI-trained personnel, including the use of polygraph tests, must be employed to uncover possible anti-Western leanings.

That could add months to the already long process refugees face, but we owe it to all of us living here.

The United States should be a country that assists those who need protection from despots and persecution, but they must prove themselves worthy of our trust and be in alignment with the facets of an open, liberal society.

We are not obligated to allow anyone the privilege of residency; we are obligated to protect those who are here.






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