LOCAL L.A. Now

Garcetti says 'mandate' to reform DWP goes beyond recent billing woes

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday that he was bent on writing “a new chapter” for the Department of Water and Power with the help of its new leader Marcie Edwards -– a task that goes beyond cleaning up its woebegone billing system, he argued.

In electing him mayor, “Los Angeles voters really gave me a mandate to reform the DWP,” Garcetti told a roomful of business leaders and reporters Tuesday. Even his own father -- onetime Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti -- had complained to him about being on hold with the agency for more than 40 minutes, the mayor said.

“I’m determined not just to fix what’s wrong, but to go a step beyond that,” Garcetti said, pledging to make the department an example of public integrity and transparency.

In a brief media session before Garcetti and Edwards met privately with representatives from businesses such as AEG, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Neutrogena, the mayor and the new utility chief said they wanted to rebuild customer confidence in the agency.

The department came under fire recently when a new computer system sent inflated bills to some customers. It also faces questions about how two nonprofit trusts have spent more than $40 million.

Those controversies could make it harder for the agency to seek rate increases in the future. Garcetti said that the city had to restore confidence in the DWP before it could ask Angelenos to pay more. If necessary, however, “I’m confident that Marcie will be able to make that case,” he said.

Edwards, marking her ninth day on the job, said she was still assessing whether rate increases were needed but noted that “there is always upward pressure on rates” due to fuel costs and other factors.

To handle the immediate frustrations of customers with billing problems, the agency has hired 49 new customer service representatives who will be in place by April, according to the department. It has also created a callback system so that customers don’t have to stay on hold while awaiting help.

When asked how long it would take to fix the billing system, Edwards said DWP staff members were still going through the issues and no timetable was available yet. The mayor added, however, that “a period of months, in the plural, without significant progress” would be unacceptable.

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eEmily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesemily

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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