A light goes on at the DWP

After funneling $40 million in ratepayer money to two vaguely defined and publicly unaccountable nonprofits over the past 10 years, the Board of Water and Power Commissioners on Tuesday finally said: No more.

The newly appointed commission voted to cut funding for the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute until City Controller Ron Galperin completes an audit detailing how the shadowy nonprofits spent all those public dollars and what they have to show for it.

It’s about time.

The Los Angeles Times reported in September that the DWP could provide little detail on how the institutes had spent the $40 million. The nonprofits are co-run by managers of the department and of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents most of the utility’s workforce. Given that it’s ratepayer dollars being spent, you’d think an accounting would be readily available.

But two months later, the board of commissioners — which controls the purse-strings of the utility — still cannot get the information it is looking for. DWP General Manager Ron Nichols, who answers to the commissioners, serves on the Board of Trustees overseeing the institutes. But apparently even he doesn’t have the financial documents and says he cannot “compel” the nonprofits to release them.

Nichols has defended the joint management-labor institutes, which were created more than a decade ago after a contentious round of layoffs. They say the nonprofits serve an important role by advising DWP managers on safety and training issues. Perhaps that’s a valid use of ratepayer money. It’s possible the institutes actually save ratepayers money in the long run by helping prevent costly accidents. Or perhaps the institutes serve as slush funds for powerful IBEW union leaders, padding their coffers in exchange for labor peace. Who knows? Certainly not the ratepayers or commissioners.


The lack of transparency is unacceptable. Obfuscation only erodes public trust and helps explain why there’s so much controversy whenever the DWP wants to raise rates.

Voters this year sent a powerful message to the DWP. Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected, in part, because the IBEW spent millions backing his opponent, and he arrived at City Hall with a mandate to reform the department. Galperin, who ran as a political outsider, says he is eager to root out bad business. Perhaps together they can help close the door on an era in which no one thought twice about spending $40 million without the slightest bit of public accountability.