ALPERN AT LARGE -- Quite a few things struck me as I watched the special City Council meeting on Channel 35 at 2 am last Friday evening/Saturday morning. This meeting, which was run by the chairs of the Budget/Finance and Energy/Environment Committees, addressed the newly-proposed LADWP contract that has the highlight of a three-year salary freeze...but with a LADWP-imposed deadline of September 1.
And it also appears that there's a threatened strike out there by the LADWP, to boot.
So why was I watching this critical meeting at 2 in the morning on Channel 35, instead of being there in person? Well, like so many of us, it's because I work during the day, and this 10 a.m. meeting isn't accessible to me unless I quit work and--as with jury duty--lose a day's pay. So while this special, open-to-the-public meeting was a good start, it was ONLY a good start.
POINT #1: The relative lack of notice for this meeting, and the virtual lack of any neighborhood council access to the proposed contract prior to this meeting MUST dampen any feelings of "transparency" in this process...although I give credit to Council President Wesson and the rest of the Council for going farther in their openness on this issue than they've ever done in the past.
The NC Budget Advocates in conjunction with the LAANC (Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhood Councils,) will be holding a Town Hall Meeting Monday night at 7 P.M. in room 350 at City Hall. Sadly, this meeting might be over by the time you read this.
This is a truer example of a meeting to include the public than that held last Friday morning, and the purpose of the meeting is for us, the ratepayers and stakeholders, to have OUR say in the DWP contract negotiations.
The City Council, as with the Board of Airport Commissioners and the Board of the LADWP, all have an obnoxious habit of meeting during the daytime...which clearly and unquestionably poses an obstacle to those City residents who have to make the Hobson's choice of representing their communities versus feeding their families.
If the City of Los Angeles decides that it really means business to public transparency and access to government, evening meetings must be held (like they do in Culver City and Santa Monica, with meetings sometimes lasting well beyond midnight). As it was, only retirees, those with unusual or very flexible work hours, and those without jobs are able to attend and offer general comment to the City Council.
POINT #2: Our LADWP is far, far, far removed from public scrutiny, and our new Mayor is trying to end that. So for Jill Barad Banks, who did speak on behalf of concerned neighborhood councils unhappy with the rushed LADWP contract process, it's noted she just got appointed by the Mayor to be on the LADWP Board--and it's hoped that one of her first achievements can be to have more critical meetings scheduled in the evenings.
Furthermore, Ms. Banks and the new LADWP must expand the current LADWP Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) to include greater access of proposed LADWP contracts to Neighborhood Councils (which ARE part of City government, whether the City Council recognizes it or not) for review and to provide input.
As our new Mayor Garcetti did with the Board of Airport Commissioners, I commend him for shaking up the LADWP status quo with his new selections to the LADWP Board. Ratepayers, taxpayers, commuters--they've all been treated like lower lifeforms for decades by LA City government, and that now must change.
POINT #3: Another conclusion from what I saw, and what I read in the LA Times, is that Ron Galperin has done in four weeks as City Controller what Wendy Greuel never did during her entire term in office--he analyzed both base salary and actual DWP employee earnings.
That difference between the base and actual earnings was a whopping 16.6% in the first half of 2013, compared to only 9-10% for bonus earnings for fire, police and other LA City employees.
This is critical information that a Controller is supposed to provide, as well as highlighting the percentage of DWP employees with actual earnings of over $50,000 (over 50%, which was higher than for all other City employee subsets--even fire and police).
So if Wendy Greuel wishes to run for County Supervisor or anything else in the City or County of Los Angeles, that's her prerogative...but I'd say we should all just say NO to her as a politician around these parts.
(And thanks, Ron--keep hanging out with the new Mayor and City Attorney and let's get some accountable, transparent and legal government around here, OK?)
POINT #4: The LADWP is only half-right when it proclaims our rates need to go up, but the need to raise those rates would be much less if LADWP employees stopped accessing ratepayer revenue like it was their own personal ATM machine.
As reported by the Times, $77.3 million in extra bonus/overtime pay for the LADWP was paid out in the first half of 2013. If projected to an annual level, that amount is approximately $140 million--how much of our City's budgetary and/or infrastructure deficit would that figure have paid for?
Furthermore, what's up with the newly-publicized, nightmarish policy to allow higher wages for LADWP employees get when private contractors get hired by the utility? What sort of socialist hell has the former Mayor and City Council, Brian D'Arcy and the IBEW helped create for our City with these sort of hidden, inappropriate rules that allow taxpayer/ratepayer/public funds to be so inappropriately misspent?
There will certainly be savings from the proposed contract with its three-year pay freeze, but Mayor Garcetti is fiscally and morally correct in demanding the contract be accepted ONLY as the floor in a much larger, more comprehensive agreement--these otherwise glaring pay inequities should not be allowed for the future.
The Mayor is right, and the City Council is wrong (and hopefully not just bought out, as they've been for years) in allowing this proposed LADWP contract to be approved as is in such a rushed manner.
The LADWP is clearly helping itself to current and ongoing ready-made raises and should be stopped--otherwise, a true pay freeze is NOT in the form of a pay freeze, but would instead be in the form of a 5-10% pay CUT.
Yet the handwringing of the City Council is one that does NOT bode well for an electorate which wants better taxpayer/ratepayer representation--so I'll respectfully disagree with my fellow CityWatch contributor Joseph Mailander and advise the Mayor to stand firm and tough against the IBEW bullies.
It should be reminded to everyone--both Downtown and in all corners of the City--that the next Mayoral and City Council elections, as with the recent round of elections, will occur during a portion of the election cycle that favors more conservative and tax-opposing voters. It's therefore to be remembered that Wendy Greuel LOST because she adhered to the influence of Brian D'Arcy and his IBEW bullyboys, and this critical decision will NOT be forgotten by those voters.
POINT #5: The issue raised last Friday that there will be a huge turnover of LADWP employees over the next four years--during a timeframe of enormous DWP infrastructure replacement and repair. How do we address this turnover?
Well, let's not forget about the example of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's, which built so much of our city, state and nation on the cheap and with lasting effects and benefits to this very day. It certainly IS possible for infrastructure to be built on the cheap, and in a durable fashion that benefits the population for decades to come.
We can and must find a way to reach out to young individuals, even at the high school level, who need NOT be paid high salaries while learning the skills needed to both train long-term employees and build our huge infrastructure deficit in an extremely cost-effective manner.
By paying a low/internship wage (with medical and other benefits to their families), we can have a future workforce blessed with good jobs, good skills, and good benefits...but NOT with the entitled attitude so prevalent among so many in the LADWP workforce today.
POINT #6: It's time for the rest of us need to do what WE can to save money on our big 21st Century infrastructure upgrade/renewal, and not just to demand sacrifice from the LADWP. With the proper use of better communications with the NC's, we can change or end the practice of limiting hours of construction to non-peak commuting times--particularly if expanding the hours of major jobs can save us all money and aggravation in the long run.
For example, it was difficult for my Mar Vista Community Council to allow the placement of the critical and large Scattergood-Olympic power line during peak commuting hours, but if the cost and construction time is cut dramatically, then it will have been worth it (so long as the LADWP communicates well and works efficiently for the sake of the community).
Furthermore, notifying potentially-impacted employers would also allow them to provide greater flexibility in work hours to accommodate construction impacts. We must ask employers to change their work hours and to adaptable to temporary change during key projects and construction.
POINT #7: Councilmember LaBonge accurately pointed out during the special City Council meeting that NC reps will NOT be in labor negotiations to address the specific details of the IBEW/LADWP contract, and that only City Councilmembers will be present in those closed-door sessions.
So maybe the time is NOW for Neighborhood Councils or some other major City power to create another charter amendment to correct the LADWP-dominated imbalance of power against the ratepayers/taxpayers, in light of the one-sided influence that the IBEW and other public sector unions have in fundraising for political campaigns?
There have been some very bad decisions made by the old City Council that has Los Angeles marching in the footsteps of Detroit, Stockton and San Bernardino.
With the new City Council approving the stunningly-oversized Hollywood Millennium project before an adjacent earthquake fault was announced, it's not inappropriate to have the City Council (which certainly will be asking taxpayers and ratepayers to cough up more money for transportation/infrastructure upgrades in the years to come) to avoiding the rushed decision-making of the past, and NOT approve this LADWP contract until all the facts and long-term unintended consequences are made clear.
POINT #8: But if the IBEW and LADWP really, really, REALLY want to strike, and will demand a Council vote by September 1st in light of all these recent stunning revelations coming from the City Controller and the L.A. Times, then it will be a watershed moment (like we're seeing in San Francisco with the past and future threatened BART strikes) for our new City Council and Mayor.
This watershed moment will be needed to avoid shoving California towards the example of the once pro-union state of Wisconsin into limiting--if-not banning--the ability of public sector unions to strike, if allowing them to exist at all. It's one thing when Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Republican majority of the Wisconsin Legislature disallows public union influence, but will the time come nigh for Democrats to have to make that decision as well?
Should the LADWP strike, would the Mayor and Governor be forced to call in the National Guard to avoid chaos? Would we have to all fend for ourselves for our power and water? And would public sentiment then lead to mass firings within the LADWP?
POINT #9: From what I saw, so very late at night on Channel 35, it was quite evident that the City Council should, like the Mayor and the rest of us, thank the LADWP and IBEW for what it has offered to date...but the City Council, and the rest of us, should back the Mayor and demand a few more no-brainer concessions so that the ratepayers (and taxpayers) can be treated with as much respect as the LADWP workers have been granted for many years.
Councilmembers Krekorian, Wesson, Fuentes and the other City Councilmembers would do well to emulate the Mayor in his resoluteness against this latest IBEW power play, and ensure that the Council's respect and consideration for others not begin and end within the Council's private dealings with Brian D'Arcy and the IBEW.
POINT #10: It is Eric Garcetti who is Mayor of our City, not Brian D'Arcy.
It is the City Council, not the IBEW and LADWP, who are ultimately responsible for the infrastructure, ratepayers and residents of the City of Los Angeles.
And it is we, the citizenry of the City of Los Angeles, who elect our Mayor and City Council to represent our collective best interests. Let's not forget that.
Vol 11 Issue 67
Pub: Aug 20, 2013