Why the rush on Measure B?

Today’s topic: Why did the city rush to put Measure B on the March 3 ballot before a full analysis of its cost and effect on rates was completed? Previously, Humphreville and Leonard debated the polarized political views on Measure B.

The DWP money train keeps rolling
Point: Jack Humphreville

Why Measure B was rushed to the ballot -- or why it’s even on the ballot -- is the billion-dollar question. Maybe even the $2-billion, $3-billion or $4-billion question. The City Council could have put a cost-effective, well-planned program into effect by holding proper public hearings and passing an ordinance. Why the City Council didn’t do that, we don’t know. All we can do is observe that old rule of politics: Follow the cash.

Obviously hoping for campaign contributions from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s domineering union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the City Council and the mayor railroaded Measure B through in just three weeks, despite the fact that this is the largest project in DWP history. Measure B had not even been vetted or approved by the DWP or its Board of Commissioners; the DWP hadn’t even prepared any feasibility, engineering or financial plans.

Importantly, the key is that Measure B changes the Los Angeles City Charter by effectively eliminating competitive bidding, third-party contractors and the skilled building trades from this solar plan, thereby granting the IBEW an exclusive, no-bid, sole-source monopoly on this multiyear, multibillion-dollar project. No wonder the IBEW and its political cronies are prepared to “invest” several million dollars to promote this ballot-box legislation.

As part of the slam-bam passage, City Council President Eric Garcetti and the mayor’s office covered up a report by PA Consulting last year that was highly critical of the solar program that would become Measure B. The report called the solar program “extremely risky.” The report also questioned the ability of DWP management to adequately take on this program. PA Consulting cast doubt on the DWP’s cost estimates and stated that parts of ratepayers’ bills could shoot up dramatically, and that an increase in the base rate would be needed.

And just this week, the charade continued with the PowerPoint presentation by the Huron Consulting Group, which reaches numerous conclusions based on many unknown assumptions. Huron states that our monthly rate would increase by about $1, which would raise about $50 million a year. That doesn’t even begin to cover what Measure B would cost.

But there are many other flaws in the Huron presentation. Is Huron, which does a lot of business with the city, unbiased? No. Did Huron review the city’s Industrial, Economic and Administrative Survey that was critical of the DWP management’s capabilities? No. Did Huron overestimate the benefits of the tax credits, especially given that this is a buyer’s market? Yes. Did Huron underestimate the installation and construction costs? Yes. These and many other questions can only be thoroughly answered when the mayor, the City Council, the DWP Board of Commissioners, the city controller, PA Consulting and the public see the full Huron report.

So when will the full report be available? March 4?

While PA and Huron differ on how much our rates will increase under Measure B, there is no question that ratepayers will be exposed to massive cost overruns. The lack of DWP management expertise on solar energy and the inexperienced, high-cost DWP construction work crews -- coupled with the DWP’s inability to rely on third-party contractors and skilled outside workers -- mean that cost overruns under Measure B are all but guaranteed. And who ends up paying? City Hall? Huron? This will be just like the tripling of our trash fees over the last few years: another ka-ching in our DWP bill.

No wonder they treat us like mushrooms. No wonder the DWP, City Hall and the IBEW do not want a ratepayers’ advocate. They want the money train to continue.

As City Controller Laura Chick said, Measure B “stinks.”

Jack Humphreville, the DWP ratepayers advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, wrote the ballot argument opposing Measure B.

A ‘rush’ that lasted two years
Counterpoint: Sarah Leonard

Thank you for the opportunity to address two important issues: Measure B’s accountability provisions -- which would protect and empower ratepayers -- and the so-called rush to the ballot.

Measure B contains unprecedented accountability and transparency requirements to inform and protect ratepayers. By putting this solar program on the ballot, L.A. residents are empowered to set the agenda of the DWP and mandate some of the strongest safeguards ever enacted to protect DWP ratepayers.

After Measure B is passed, the DWP must submit, within 90 days, its implementation plan to the City Council for review and ratification. This plan must include financial transparency, specific goals and a clear plan to install 400 megawatts of solar power by 2014. Measure B would also establish an independent citizen’s advisory committee to oversee its implementation. Measure B also requires that the city controller perform an independent audit of the solar program that would be released to the public. The City Council would provide recommendations on how to maximize performance, oversight and viability of the program to ensure its success.

These strong accountability measures completely fly in the face of the unfortunate scare tactics our opponents have concocted to alarm the public.

As for the “rush” to put Measure B on the ballot: Put simply, there was no rush. Over a two-year period, a broad group of city leaders, energy and utility experts, solar manufactures and others publicly developed, debated and studied renewable energy policies before settling on the plan outlined in Measure B. Energy experts and city leaders -- including former DWP General Manager S. David Freeman and IEBW leaders Marvin Kropke and Brian D’Arcy -- were frustrated that Los Angeles was not moving fast enough to take advantage of our most available source of power: sunlight.

They -- along with a host of others too many to list -- believed Los Angeles needed to take a bold step to meet our growing energy needs and ensure that our next generation would not need to rely on dirty, expensive fossil fuel power. At the time, residential solar programs were limited to people wealthy enough to install expensive systems, and commercial industrial installations were producing only a small amount of power.

In 2007, energy economist David Marcus and utility law expert Mark Joseph completed a study that looked into the feasibility of the DWP installing solar panels on large-scale commercial and industrial sites. That study concluded that over time, installing solar panels across the city on large sites would be feasible, effective and save the city money in the long run at a minimal upfront cost.

As has been reported in The Times, the basic concept of Measure B was presented to a meeting of environmental, business and community organizations not just a few months ago but in February 2008. Subsequent meetings with DWP officials further fleshed out the concept, and many of their suggested changes to the basic structure of Measure B were adopted. In the meantime, the proponents met with almost all of the members of the City Council and with the mayor to brief them on our progress.

Public hearings on Measure B were held, and they were well attended. The measure was also reviewed by numerous city departments, including the city attorney and the DWP. The City Council-mandated Huron report was presented in January, which confirmed that Measure B would result in a cost-effective program to bring solar energy to Los Angeles.

Measure B was anything but rushed. But even more important, the time to act on this important issue is now.

Sarah Leonard is a spokeswoman for the campaign supporting Measure B.