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Consumer Advocates Want L.A. Officials To Oust Independent DWP Watchdog

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http://mynewsla.com/government/2015/11/12/consumer-advocates-want-l-a-officials-to-oust-independent-dwp-watchdog/

Consumer advocates called Thursday for the replacement of the independent watchdog of the Department of Water and Power, saying he has failed to properly advocate for the utility’s customers.

Representatives of Consumer Watchdog sent a letter urging Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer to fire DWP ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel, saying “his failure to speak out for ratepayers during these last years of scandal makes clear he should be replaced with a true consumer advocate immediately.”

The consumer advocates pointed to Pickel’s history as an energy consultant who worked closely with Enron and on the side of utilities, rather than customers.

Pickel countered that Consumer Watchdog’s letter “isn’t a balanced perspective of my bio,” saying he has worked for many publicly owned utilities, often to reduce energy costs.

“A huge amount of my practice is supporting people who buy energy for consumers,” he told City News Service.

Pickel also responded to Consumer Watchdog’s accusation that he declined to meet with them, saying because of a pending lawsuit, he asked for questions in writing first. He added that he has so far not received any written questions.

Consumer Watchdog’s letter came as the group pressed city leaders to significantly revise a settlement deal aimed at resolving inaccurate bills that resulted in some DWP customers overpaying for services and others paying less than what was owed.

Consumer Watchdog advocates Jamie Court and Liza Tucker contend the agreement gives DWP officials too much power in deciding how much to refund or back charge customers.

Under the existing settlement terms, “ratepayers are being asked to give up broad, significant legal rights against DWP,” Tucker and Court contended, referring to provisions that ask customers to give up their ability to challenge or litigate prior to knowing how much they would be refunded, or if they would actually owe DWP.

“While some ratepayers will receive refunds, many have or will receive notices that state they owe back bills and have underpaid on their account,” they said.

Attorneys are expected to submit revised settlement terms to a judge by Tuesday. The judge declined to accept the deal in two previous hearings, and requested about a dozen revisions during the most recent hearing.

The consumer advocates also invited Garcetti and Feuer to a lunch with overbilled ratepayers to discuss the deal, suggesting that they meet a day before Thanksgiving.

—City News Service