Several groups have gathered at Los Angeles City Hall today to call for the firing of an official watchdog charged with fighting for the interests of Department of Water and Power customers.
Representatives of Consumer Watchdog and other groups say the utility’s official “ratepayer advocate,” Fred Pickel, has not been working on the side of utility customers. As a result, they have launched a campaign to oust him.
Participants of the planned rally at City Hall will urge that Pickel’s five-year contract, which has expired, not be renewed. They will call for a new ratepayer advocated be chosen. Pickel currently is serving as the advocate on a month-to-month basis.
Liza Tucker with the Consumer Watchdog says Pickel “has taken every opportunity to support LADWP while disregarding ratepayers and providing dismal customer service.”
Tucker said Pickel has instead backed raises for LADWP employees and was not critical enough of a costly refurbishment of natural gas plants that amounted to more than $2 billion.
The groups also blame Pickel for not doing enough to advocate for DWP customers’ interests on a tunnel project to move water from the Delta that project could add to costs for customers.
Pickel responded to the criticism, saying that he has fought for lower rates for customers and that the Consumer Watchdog launches an effort to get him fired “about once a year, in the fall.”
He also said that he has long pushed against LADWP rate hikes, including in 2012, when he first assumed office. At the time, a power rate increase did go through, but after he questioned LADWP’s plans for building water infrastructure, the water rate hike proposal was withdrawn. That saved LADWP customers $50 million per year, he said.
The groups also blame Pickel for not doing enough to advocate for DWP customers’ interests on a tunnel project to move water from the Delta, saying that project could add to costs for customers.
Pickel said that while his office’s analysis showed that “not everybody likes” the costs of the Delta tunnel project, his office deemed the cost increases for the project to be “affordable,” which means that he found them to be below 5 percent per year.
Tucker also accused Pickel of not questioning money from LADWP coffers being transferred the city’s general fund.
“It’s time to can Pickel,” she said.
Other groups expected to take part in the rally include Union de Vecinos, Restore the Delta, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Concerned Citizens of Compton and the Sierra Club Angeles Water Committee.
Elizabeth Chou has reported on Los Angeles City Hall government and politics since 2013, first with City News Service, and now the Los Angeles Daily News since the end of 2016. She is a native of the Los Angeles area, and formerly a San Gabriel Valley girl. She now resides in the "other Valley" and is enjoying exploring her new San Fernando environs. She previously worked at Eastern Group Publications, covering Montebello, Monterey Park, City of Commerce, and Vernon.