REGION : Cost to Culver City of Proposed Utility Consortium Sparks Debate


The grand vision of the Southern California Cities Consortium was to band together a number of municipalities to negotiate lower power rates from utility companies. But the consortium hasn't gotten off the ground yet and is already embroiled in a battle over one city footing its bills.

If formed, the group's first mission will be to negotiate with Southern California Edison for a 25% reduction in each city's electric rates. Later, when California's electric industry is deregulated, as appears likely, the cities will bargain with power providers statewide for the best prices.

But Culver City, which is spearheading the effort to form the consortium and so far is its sole official member, has spent an estimated $4,000 in consortium expenses since the group first met in September. Most of the money has been spent for clerical and administrative staff.

Last week, Councilman Edward Wolkowitz voiced concern about the city's spending at a meeting where he reported the city manager's $4,000 estimate.

"Four thousand dollars is a lot of pennies. . . . How many pennies have the other cities put on the table?" asked Wolkowitz, who criticized his colleagues for allowing the city to be the sole financial backer of the authority. "It's not fair."

But Mayor Albert Vera and Councilman James D. Boulgarides, who are organizing the consortium, argued that the city's money has been well spent.

"If you start picking on pennies, you'll never get anywhere," said Vera.

Indeed, Vera himself has spent much of his own money to make the joint-powers authority a reality. For the past four months, he has hosted buffet dinners at consortium meetings, held every other week at Joe Petrelli's Steakhouse in Culver City.

Boulgarides also pointed out that professional services for the consortium--primarily legal counseling and advice from investment bankers--have not cost the city anything. Since last fall, the consortium has been contacted by many private companies offering their services, presumably in hopes of eventually getting some of the consortium's business.

Nevertheless, Wolkowitz argued that the cities involved in forming the consortium should have offered--or been requested--to split the $4,000 spent so far by Culver City.

Despite concerns about the consortium's costs, Culver City's council members voted unanimously to make their city the first of about 10 municipalities to join the joint-powers authority.

The mayors of several other cities that have helped Culver City lay the groundwork for the consortium were expected, by next week, to seek approval from their councils to join the group.

At least five cities must sign the joint-powers agreement before the consortium can become active.

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