Bill Boyarsky
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Hot times at the DWP: Baking journalists, snappish mayor

Maybe Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made the reporters wait in the blazing hot Department of Water and Power plaza for a half hour Monday because he wanted to prove there is enough sunshine to make Los Angeles a solar- powered city. Or maybe he just wanted to stick it to the journalists because they annoy him.

Whatever the reason for the delay in his news conference, it sure was poor strategy for a mayor who had hopelessly gummed up his announcement of a DWP rate increase last week and then, with help of Councilman Richard Alarcon, was trying to recoup his losses by announcing he was reducing his request.

Reporters sought the small amount of shade. Enterprising Pete Demetriou of KNX talked the DWP security guards into bringing out a case of bottled water. Finally the mayor, looking cool in a black blazer, stepped out of the DWP building at the Civic Center into the sunlight.

Last week he had announced electricity rate increases of up to 28 percent over the next year. The reasons for this were unclear. Neither the mayor or the DWP could explain how the money would be spent, except to say it much of it would be for that vague but noble cause called “Green.” Business protested as did ratepayer groups. I wrote that this was a clueless request for the middle of the Great Recession with financially- strapped homeowners already under siege from foreclosures and unemployment. The plan promised creation of thousands of “green” jobs but didn’t say what they were.
A few days later, I got this e-mail from Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo:

“Mr. Boyarsky,
I would be happy to answer your questions / brief you on this if you'd like.
Your analysis on LA Observed was not exactly accurate.”

I e-mailed him my phone number and said that I would enjoy talking to him, but Szabo never called. So hearing of the mayoral press conference, I figured I’d better head downtown and get the Villaraigosa side of the story.

He announced he had adopted a compromise plan proposed by Alarcon. Instead of increases of up to 28 percent, Villaraigosa would go for a one- time 6 percent increase for residential customers and between 5.7% to 7.1 per cent for businesses. The increases would be spread out over two years. He gave a reason: The cost of coal, oil and natural gas needed for city power plants was rising faster than revenues. Costs exceed revenues by $125 million a year and the gap will grow, the mayor said.

The rest of the plan remains muddy. Future increases will “move Los Angeles toward greener, cleaner sources of power…We all know our future lies in the green economy,” he said.

But what does he mean by the “green economy?” Is it making and installing solar panels or manufacturing electric-powered cars? Is the city going to subsidize such jobs? Specifically what kind of help would be given low- income homeowners to pay higher rates or install solar systems?

The journalists asked their questions. The mayor was snappish in some of his replies. Maybe the heat was getting to him, too.

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