LA WATCHDOG - The Office of Public Accountability (frequently referred to as the Ratepayer Advocate) is not widely known but is one of the most important departments in the City of Los Angeles. Its mission is to provide Angelenos with an independent analysis of the water and power rates levied by the Department of Water and Power. This propriety department serves every resident and business in the City and has annual revenues of $6.2 billion, an amount equal to 80% of the revenue of the City’s General Fund and over $1,500 for each resident of the City.
In March of 2011, 78% of the voters approved a charter amendment that established the Office of Public Accountability. A year later, Dr. Fred Pickel was appointed to be its Executive Director. He was reappointed in December 2018 for a five-year term which expires in December.
To find a replacement for Pickel, the City has formed a Citizens Committee that consists of five members, two of which are appointed by the Mayor, one of which is a member of a Neighborhood Council, and two of which are appointed by the Paul Krekorian, the President of the City Council, of which one has a business background. The final member is appointed by the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Katy Yaroslavsky.
To date, only Yaroslavsky has appointed a member. Why have Bass and Krekorian failed to appoint members, especially since the process to find a new Executive Director for this very important department cannot be rushed?
Over the past eleven years, Pickel and his two partners, Camden Collins and Grant Hoag, experts in power and water, respectively, have done an excellent job. They have earned the trust and confidence of DWP management, the Board of Commissioners, the City Council and the Mayor, and the Ratepayers and DWP skeptics. With their many years of experience in the utility industry, they are a trusted source of knowledge while at the same time keeping a low profile.
The Office has also benefitted Ratepayers by working with the management behind the scenes on multiple rate cases, focusing not on aspirational plans, but on actual expenses. This has saved Ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Office of Public Accountability will be front and center over the next decade as the Department implements its plans to be powered by 100% renewable energy and to recycle wastewater into water fit for human consumption. This will require a well-qualified Executive Director to help oversee the Department’s transformation at rates that are acceptable to Angelenos. This will not be an easy task and should be done with due deliberation and not left to the last minute by Bass and Krekorian.
Note: In early August, Pickel sent a memo to the Energy and Environment Committee indicting that it was “not reasonable” for the Department to fund the $300 million Silver Lake Master Plan that would convert the out of service reservoir into a public park.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)