Mayor lobbies state to derail ‘rip-off’
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa lobbied state legislators Wednesday against what he termed a “rip-off” of Los Angeles residents by state officials, making his plea during a trip to the state Capitol that also renewed buzz about whether he will run for governor in 2010.
Villaraigosa said he has secured commitments from legislative leaders to oppose a preliminary recommendation by the Public Utilities Commission that he believes would hurt customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility.
The mayor said the PUC’s proposal to implement a provision of AB 32, the state initiative to reduce greenhouse gases, could allow private electric companies and their customers to benefit from money collected by the DWP from city customers.
“I am a big supporter of AB 32, but the PUC proposal to rip off L.A. taxpayers and redirect ratepayer money to private utilities is a power grab that we will not accept,” Villaraigosa said between meetings with state legislators.
The mayor said that he was concerned that the recommendation could require the DWP to pay up to $750 million a year for pollution credits to cover its carbon emissions and that the money could end up being used to benefit investor-owned utilities that cause less pollution. The DWP is heavily dependent on dirty-burning fuels such as coal.
PUC spokeswoman Nancy Ryan said the agency has proposed a framework of a system, but it is up to the California Air Resources Board to decide what to adopt. The final system may allow the DWP to get pollution credits for free, she said. If there is a cost, it could return some of the money to the DWP, she said.
Commission President Michael Peevey said it was “premature” for Los Angeles officials to complain because guidelines have not been finalized.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Sen. Alex Padilla, both Los Angeles Democrats, said they agreed with the mayor that it would be better to let the DWP spend its money on developing cleaner energy sources.
Villaraigosa’s visit to more than a dozen state legislators also included a pitch for Los Angeles to receive its fair share of billions of dollars in state bond money for transportation and housing projects.
And the mayor urged legislators not to hurt cities as they consider addressing a possible $16.5-billion state budget shortfall next year.
“I understand that this is the most significant budget crisis in California history, but it’s not just a spending issue, but a revenue issue as well,” Villaraigosa said.
“Cuts in education . . . and other critical services are just unacceptable while not raising revenue as well,” he said.
The mayor was scheduled to cap his day with a fundraiser for his 2009 reelection campaign at a Sacramento restaurant. The event was organized by some of California’s political elite, including Nunez.
While making a pitch for another four years at the city’s helm, Villaraigosa said in an interview that he is not ruling out a campaign for governor.
“It would be an honor to be governor of California,” Villaraigosa said. “And anyone who would dismiss that opportunity out of hand would either be disingenuous or shortsighted about the challenges facing our state. But I am focused on being mayor.”
Villaraigosa’s visit to Sacramento comes a week after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom traveled to the capital and said he was not ruling out a run for governor, and only days after state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown raised the possibility for himself.
Villaraigosa’s message to supporters of his mayoral campaign is that he wants to continue the work he began since being elected mayor in 2005.
Other hosts of the $1,000-a-person fundraiser at Ella Dining Room and Bar included lobbyist Darius Anderson, former Assemblyman Rusty Areias and Bob White, who was chief of staff to former Gov. Pete Wilson.