Bill Boyarsky
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The unfair Villaraigosa DWP rate increase

In proposing big increases in electricity bills, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa seems to ignore the terrible hardships the Great Recession is imposing on the working people of Los Angeles. The increase—really a tax hike—is, in fact, a highly regressive tax, hitting low-income people disproportionately. It’s just one more blow to residents suffering from one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. Just how are they supposed to pay their utility bills, which in some cases can be higher than their mortgage payments?

I’ve been reporting for Truthdig about the combination of rising unemployment and lack of medical care is causing great suffering. I have visited the California Employment Department office in Pacoima and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles.

In Pacoima, I talked to Alameda Holstein, who works for the Los Angeles City Department of Aging and is attach├ęd to the employment office to help find jobs for those 55 and older. “They are very desperate,” she said of the job seekers. ‘They have not been in this position before. They are very much humiliated. … Very well-educated people are coming to me.’” At. St John’s, the line of people awaiting medical care stretched a half a block or more.“I think [the problem] has expanded 20 percent this past month,” said Ingrid Hernandez, a staff member.

Department of Water and Power electricity bills would rise between 8.8 and 28.4 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times, in a plan that is supposed to encourage the use of renewable power, such as solar, and move the city away from coal-driven power plants.

It is unclear how this money would be spent. David Zahniser and Phil Willon reported in the Times that the money “would help pay for new environmental initiatives, including more aggressive conservation programs and a solar initiative designed to create 16,000 jobs.” What kind of jobs? The presence of union officials at the mayor’s side is a pretty good sign that they would be union jobs at the Department of Water and Power, whose employees are being spared the layoffs ripping through the rest of city government.
Villaraigosa said the Water and Power Department would hire “green doctors” to evaluate the energy efficiency of homes. The “doctor” would also help residents buy energy efficient lightbulbs and refrigerators. in my opinion, the guy at the hardware stores knows enough about energy efficient bulbs, and Costco will be glad to sell me an energy efficient refrigerator without the city’s help.

Villaraigosa said more increases will be needed in the future for him to reach his goal of obtaining 40 percent of the city’s power from renewable sources. Encouraging use of renewable sources is an admirable goal, but levying a tax/rate increase to reach it in the depths of this recession makes no sense. Especially when this tax will hit the poor the hardest. The sad fact is that only more prosperous Angelenos will be able to fork over $20,000 or so for a home solar system, or $8,500 for a do-it-yourself solar kit from Home Depot. The poor and the middle class, struggling to make ends meet and worrying about their jobs, will be just plain out of luck.

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