Council gets ‘secret’ solar report


One day after The Times revealed that Los Angeles officials had secretly received a report warning that a solar power plan on the March 3 ballot was “extremely risky,” the official who secured the analysis delivered it to the City Council.

In envelopes stamped “confidential,” Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, the council’s top policy advisor, distributed a copy of a Nov. 4 memo he wrote to Council President Eric Garcetti listing 13 warnings about the solar plan.

The measure, which calls for putting solar panels on rooftops and parking lots across the city, had been strongly supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.


Foes of the proposal, known as Measure B, have criticized Miller and Garcetti for not making the analysis public. Both men countered that the information was informal and, in some cases, inaccurate.

Nine council members said Friday that they did not receive the Nov. 4 analysis before they agreed to put the solar measure on the ballot. The analysis, issued three days before the vote, warned that the Department of Water and Power had underestimated the cost of the program, lacked the ability to carry it out and could saddle ratepayers with higher electricity bills.

“I really wish that I would have had the information,” said Councilman Herb Wesson. “Now I’m not suggesting that it would have changed my support, or my level of support, but an extra question or two may have popped in my mind.”

City Controller Laura Chick said she began asking officials in Miller’s office about the consultant’s findings on Dec. 1. As recently as Thursday, Miller said he did not have it, Chick said.

“It was very clear to me by their response that they did not want me to have it, that they did not want it available,” she said.

Chick received the information Friday from Miller. “What this looks like is that there was expert advice requested at a cost to the taxpayers, the advice was rejected and no one wanted the public to know there was this other opinion because it hurts their case.”

On Monday, Miller’s office sent a letter rejecting The Times’ request for the consultant’s findings. Miller’s attorney said the information was exempt from the state’s public records law because it would reveal the “deliberative process” between the council and Miller’s office.

By Friday afternoon, Miller had widely distributed the consultant’s information, including a 26-page PowerPoint presentation. In his letter to council members, Miller said the consultant had failed to consider federal tax credits when it estimated the cost of the program at $3.5 billion. Miller vouched for the DWP’s estimate of $1.5 billion and said rate hikes were not inevitable under the program.

On Friday, Garcetti said the analysis was “quick and dirty,” completed in just a few days before the vote. “They raised good questions, and that’s why I asked them,” he said. “And I wasn’t going to vote for that until we got the answers, but we did.”

Miller sent Garcetti the consultant’s findings in an e-mail on Nov. 4 offering to keep the information secret from other council members. In the memo, Miller said the analysts, P.A. Consulting Group, estimated that some ratepayer surcharges could triple.

Garcetti said he later authorized Miller to tell his colleagues. Still, the information never reached H. David Nahai, the DWP general manager, who said he had been kept “completely in the dark” about the consultant’s report. Nahai disagreed with the findings, saying he saw no basis for calling the solar plan risky.

“I’ve now had a chance to read through the report,” he said.

“I hesitate to call it a report, because it really is a very brief and rather superficial treatment of the subject.”

Nahai said his department intends to come up with its own outside analysis at some point before the March 3 election.

Still, opponents of the solar plan said the consultant’s analysis should have been made part of the public record.

Because the findings were kept secret, foes of Measure B were unable to use them for the ballot argument against the plan, said Jack Humphreville, who signed the ballot argument against the plan.

“I think the whole thing just stinks,” he said. “Nobody had any information.”



Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.