Mayor nominates ally for DWP post

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Making a move that had been expected for weeks, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday he had nominated one of his close allies, attorney H. David Nahai, to run the city’s Department of Water and Power.

The City Council still must vote to confirm Nahai, who spent two years as a Villaraigosa appointee on the five-member, volunteer Board of Water and Power Commissioners, which oversees the DWP.

As he stood next to the mayor, Nahai vowed to put the utility at the forefront in the development of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

“I see the bright promise of greening this utility . . . and having Los Angeles become the center, and the leader, for renewable energy,” he said.

Nahai said he would assemble a DWP management team to specifically focus on renewable energy.

And he promised to develop a “water contingency plan” within 30 days to help the utility respond to the statewide drought.

That plan will offer ways to impose higher rates on the biggest water users to encourage conservation, he said.

“I believe we have to start to plan for a long dry spell,” he said.

Nahai, 54, had made no secret of his desire to run the nation’s largest municipal utility, which is seeking a package of water and electrical rate hikes even as it expands its reliance on alternative energy sources.

The Benedict Canyon resident stepped down as DWP commission president three weeks ago to bolster his chances of getting the job.

Villaraigosa bypassed a nationwide job search, instead selecting someone who is viewed as a loyal backer of his DWP policy goals -- particularly its push to make renewable energy sources 20% of its portfolio by 2010.

Standing outside the DWP headquarters, Villaraigosa said he knew enough about Nahai to make his choice.

“I’ve had the opportunity to see him up front every single day,” Villaraigosa said.

Council President Eric Garcetti, who serves on the committee that will review Nahai’s nomination, said he wanted to ensure that the new general manager could provide more accountability from the DWP.

“This department has talked a good game in the past, but fallen short in hitting its own deadlines and goals -- whether it’s repairing our circuitry or making hires,” Garcetti said.

Born in Tehran and raised in England, Nahai has spent a decade on the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

He was named by Villaraigosa to the DWP post only days after DWP General Manager Ron Deaton announced that he was retiring from the city after 42 years.

Deaton had been the city’s highest-paid executive, receiving $345,000 a year.

The mayor’s decision comes at a time of change for the DWP.

The utility is seeking three electrical rate hikes -- 2.9% on Jan. 1, 2.9% on July 1 and 2.7% on July 1, 2009 -- as well as two consecutive water rate hikes of 3.1%.

The agency is also pursuing a complicated rate restructuring, which is designed to charge a higher rate to households that use significantly more power.

The DWP provides water and electricity to 3.8 million households and businesses.

Nahai’s nomination has the backing of several key environmentalists, who have lobbied the mayor’s office and at least two council members for his appointment.

Former DWP chief S. David Freeman, a Villaraigosa ally who is considered one of the city’s leading environmentalists, said Nahai would restore the utility to its “glory days.”

“We finally have got the mayor’s vision, and the general manager’s ability, on the same page,” said Freeman, who is Villaraigosa’s president of the city’s Harbor Commission.