The Los Angeles City Council today unanimously approved Mayor Eric Garcetti's four appointees to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners. The board sets policy for the Department of Water and Power, the city-owned electricity and water company, and votes on utility rates, renewable energy projects, and pension tiers for DWP employees.
"This is a historic appointment for all of you," Councilman Paul Krekorian told the nominees before the council's 15-0 vote. "This is a historic moment in our city and your leadership of our utility at this critical moment."
He said the appointees are coming aboard during a "really challenging moment" involving "almost a complete infrastructure replacement ... rate challenges," and, he hopes, a "changing" relationship with DWP employees.
Pacific Palisades resident and former congressman Mel Levine, Sherman Oaks public relations executive Jill Banks Barad, lawyer and Hancock Park resident William Funderburk and Michael Fleming, a Los Feliz resident and executive director of the David Bohnett Foundation, join Christina Noonan on the board.
Noonan, who handles real estate services at investment firm Jones Lang LaSalle, was the only board member that Garcetti decided to keep. She has been a commissioner since 2010.
Garcetti announced the overhaul of the board last month amid heated talks over a labor contract covering 90 percent of employees at the city-owned utility.
With members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, close to voting on the proposed employment contract, the new board members will be wading into the midst of reform efforts meant to address growing labor costs and a much-criticized disparity in salaries between LADWP workers and other city employees.
Some of those efforts include closer inspection of side labor agreements, which often fly under the radar but can prove costly for the utility. Krekorian asked that the City Council get a chance to look at them before commissioners approve them.
The panel will also oversee an expensive, but required transition to renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. City leaders recently signed off on two deals that would eliminate coal energy from LADWP's portfolio, but specifics on how that energy would be replaced are still being worked out. The utility also recently launched a program to buy solar power from third parties.
Relationships between the council and the board have been tense at times, according to Krekorian, particularly during a "showdown" a few years ago over a proposed rate hike and the transfer of $73.5 million from the utility to the city.
He questioned the prospective commissioners on how they would handle their relationship with the City Council, particularly as utility rates are expected to increase over the next few years, and how they would treat the advice and requests of the ratepayer advocate, who represents LADWP customers and assesses how they might be affected by the utility's actions.
Levine responded that he did not follow previous battles, but asserted that "cooperative and collaborative work is essential" between the two bodies.
Overall, council members expressed optimism about the new board, particularly in the appointment of Barad, who Councilman Bob Blumenfield praised and Krekorian described as "a voice of the neighborhoods and voice of neighborhood councils."
Barad, who founded the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, said the local advisory panels "were the ones who really pushed for a ratepayer advocate."
"I certainly would pledge, and my colleagues, too, to work closely with the ratepayer advocate, but I don't think the ratepayer advocate should work in a vacuum," she said.
Barad added the "ratepayer advocate hears from not only the community, but the business community as well, because DWP touches every pocketbook in L.A., businesses and the residents."
She also emphasized greater transparency at the utility.
"We must be able to look inside DWP," she said.