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.