True Reform at DWP?

When will we see true accountability at DWP?

Recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted for three supposed Department of Water & Power reforms:

  • Creating an Office of Public Accountability with a ratepayer advocate;
  • Requiring DWP’s budget to be submitted earlier, with a guarantee that “surplus” funds will come to the city of L.A. for general fund uses;
  • Granting the City Council the authority to remove the DWP’s  General Manager or DWP Commissioners with a two-thirds council vote.  The council could also override the mayor’s removal of the GM or commissioners with a two-thirds vote.

If the council approves the measures Dec. 7, they will appear on the March 8 ballot.  But here’s the deal: These reforms are hardly bold and they don’t begin to solve the numerous inherent problems at DWP.  In fact, the ballot measures are a cynical and opportunistic attempt to take advantage of near-universal public distrust of DWP.

The original job description for the new ratepayer advocate position promised real reform. It declared “the role of the OPA shall be to (1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of the department; (2) provide a centralized focus on ratepayer protection and consumer complaints; and (3) provide independent analysis of department actions, particularly as they relate to water and electricity rate actions. The OPA shall advocate against excessive rates and shall provide expert advice on rate actions and strategies which most economically accomplish the City’s policy goals and protect the department’s long-term interests.” But the role has been significantly watered down to the point of ambiguity.

From an environmental perspective, the measures almost completely miss the mark.  Of course greater accountability is needed at DWP, but giving the City Council the authority to fire the GM and the commissioners is not a solution.

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Actually, We Don’t Agree

Chevron's cynical ads spurred funny parody.

We’ve been bombarded with half-page Chevron ads in the Los Angeles Times for over a month and a half now. I guess with the current financial state of the Times, any ad is a good for them. At least Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s hokey-looking award announcements can’t fill up the entire front section.

The ubiquitous ads highlight common-sense advice about  energy policy with compelling stills of indigenous people, children and everyday people like you and me.  Then the “We Agree” tagline follows with signatures from Chevron’s CEO or some other corporate executive. (Who knew Karl Rove was moonlighting as a copywriter?)

The campaign spawned a brilliant parody from The Yes Men working with The Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch.  There’s even a contest for the public to come up with even funnier parody ads.

The spot featuring the little girl and the tag line “It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy” pisses me off the most.  After all, Chevron, along with Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco, bankrolled Proposition 26.  So I guess Chevron is behind the development of renewable energy as long as it is voluntary and maximizes shareholder profits.

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L.A. County Blazes a Plastic Trail

The county's ban on plastic bags will help take tons of harmful trash out of local waterways like the L.A. River

In an interesting twist, Los Angeles County is the new statewide leader on breaking Californians’ 19-billion-a-year addiction to single-use shopping bags.  The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 today to ban plastic and paper bags in unincorporated areas of the county and allow grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores to charge a dime for green paper bags.  The ordinance is the farthest-reaching bag ban ordinance in California and should result in a 600 million-bag-a-year reduction in the county.

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TEDx Tackles Plastics

Last weekend the Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a TEDx event in Santa Monica on the Not So Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The gathering was well attended by celebrities (Jackson Browne, Ben Lear, Daphne Zuniga and Ed Begley Jr.), explorers (Dr. Sylvia Earle, Charlie Moore, Fabien Cousteau and David De Rothschild) and numerous other environmental leaders fighting against the scourge of plastic pollution.

The well-produced evening beamed via webcast globally and included a blend of dramatic footage from plastic contaminated gyres (including a short film from the 5 Gyres expeditions from Marcus Ericsen and Anna Cummins), performances from Lear, Browne and others, and solutions-oriented talks from such Heal the Bay friends as Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, Lisa Boyle and Leslie Tamminen.

Attendees also saw the unveiling of an ad campaign from Leo Burnett that asks people to become citizens of the Crapola Islands (also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch) – the only nation we want to disappear.

Two speakers presented potential solutions that won’t have a positive impact on the global marine debris crisis.  Patrick Kenney of Green Harvest Technologies spoke about a green future with bioplastics.  Although there are many eco-advantages to bioplastics, especially in areas with effective composting programs, solving the plastic pollution problems in our oceans is not one of them.

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Taking Out the Trash

New trash limits for S.M. Bay may make this depressing scene a thing of the past.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve tough, new marine debris limits for Santa Monica Bay.  The limits, based on 11 similar trash Total Maximum Daily Loads in the Los Angeles region, give Santa Monica Bay watershed cities, Los Angeles County and land management agencies like State Parks, eight years to reduce the amount of trash going into the Bay to zero. Compliance  can be met by installing full capture mechanisms like trash screens and inserts or other state-approved devices.  All devices must be adequately designed, operated and maintained to meet state requirements.  Full adherence is mandated within eight years.

The action marks the last trash abatement measure required under the 1999 TMDL Consent Decree among Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the NRDC and the federal EPA. The vote truly marks a major water quality milestone. Congratulations to the Regional Water Board members for their groundbreaking leadership on trash abatement regulations.

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Split Vote for the Environment

California voters sent mixed messages on environment.

Election races outside of California yesterday either ignored environmental issues or focused on the scary specter of regulating greenhouse gases. In California, the oil industry’s efforts to overturn AB 32 failed in a landslide as voters embraced the potential of a green economy and bristled at the thought of Big Oil reversing environmental law.

Unfortunately, the environment suffered two big losses yesterday in the state: passage of Prop. 26 and the defeat of Prop 21. California voters made it clear that they don’t want any new taxes or fees.

Although voters smartly eliminated the state budget gridlock by moving to a simple majority approval, they made raising fees a lot harder with Prop 26. In essence, the Prop. 218 super-majority approach will be needed to raise nearly all fees.

Do oil companies dump millions on a campaign to prevent fees for environmental services like trash pickup and recycling, toxics pickup and recycling fees, and oil extraction regulation?  People do!

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