LA Councilman Fuentes: Reinventing Himself or Still the ‘Worst Legislator in California’?

LOS ANGELES

EASTSIDER-Not that long ago, I wrote an article for CityWatch after the Audit Report was released on the DWP with the DWP recommendations for rate increases over the next five years. I suggested that the only place to stop the DWP Rate Increase avalanche headed our way was with the City’s Energy and Environment Committee. 

My theory was (and is) that all five of these committee members are up for re-election next year and they might be subject to pressure to back off of the transfer fees and utility tax that DWP gives to the City. Silly me. 

The Fuentes Cabal 

Shortly after my article appeared (and no, I am not so egotistical as to believe it had anything to do with his decision) the Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, Filipe Fuentes, announced he would not be running for re-election in Council District 7. Of course, the real reason that Mr. Fuentes announced his intention had a whole lot to do with the fact that most of his political allies and cronies in the Northeast San Fernando Valley are under investigation by the FBI and Grand Jury. This includes Congressman Tony Cardenas and his staffer Gabriela Marquez, as well as Fuentes staff member Tania Soto, CD 6 Councilmember Nury Martinez and her staffer Jim Dantona -- and last, but not least, Fuentes’ aunt and staffer Yolanda Fuentes Miranda. 

In spite of a nod back in 2010 from the LAWeekly as “The Worst Legislator In California,” the LA Times got it wrong as usual and endorsed Fuentes in 2013, fatuously claiming that he had “valuable background and experience in getting things done in the North Valley.” 

Right. I guess they meant “experience” like having almost half the bills he introduced in the legislature ghostwritten by those who bought him the seat. By the way, one of those was ghostwritten by the City Community Redevelopment Agency (remember them?) to expand the definition of ‘blight’ so the CRA could disenfranchise more poor people of color in the City.   

In defense of the LA Times, this was during the heyday of the Chicago Tribune ownership of the paper…so what else could we have expected? 

Anyway, Fuentes suddenly announced last month that he wouldn’t be running for re-election -- at age 44…during his first term…and with no explanation. What a guy. Well at least this should make the Sunland/Tujunga Neighborhood Council feel better after he kicked them out of their City offices. 

The Fuentes Governance Hijack 

There is a lot of good information in the Navigant IEA 2015 DWP Survey, particularly the some 51 pages of Volume 4, “Governance,” the result of a lot of time and money spent analyzing the Department. Even though it’s unlikely that anyone will read it, it contains a good analysis of a range of alternative governance structures including the pros and cons of each alternative. 

There is also a perfectly reasonable proposal in an LA Times article by two of the lead members of the LA2020 Commission, Mickey Kantor and Austin Beutner. Remember the 2020 Commission and Report -- the one Herb Wesson and the Council blessed with faint praise and then buried in a grave deeper than they dig at Forest Lawn? This is the Commission that recommended an independent Board to run DWP. 

The Commission suggested four steps: (1) cap the total amount of money that goes to the City; (2) use a portion of rate increases to help low-income customers; (3) separate the DWP hiring process from the LA City Civil Service System; and (4) establish an independently elected Commission, with subject matter expertise, that would appoint the General Manager and have complete control over rates and employee union contracts. 

But, oh no. Mr. Fuentes, that exemplar of self-serving politics, had just come up with his very own (four page) Motion for DWP Reform -- even as the matter was going in front of him as Chair of the Energy and Environment Committee (see Council File 16-0093 for the Motion.) Not only that, but that motion is also backed by another professional political operative, Council President Herb Wesson, and a fellow Committee member, Mitch O’Farrell.

The Fuentes-Wesson-O’Farrell motion essentially directs the City Attorney and CAO to come up with a November ballot measure based on their four page document. 

Are we to believe that this all comes along just as the E&E Committee is set to vote on the five-year DWP rate increases? C’mon, folks, give us a little credit for recognizing a political hijack when we see one -- in fact, that’s the title of a recent article by our own Jack Humphreville. 

So here we have the City Hall insiders once again diverting attention from the work they are bound to do -- voting on the DWP Rate Increase Plan in front of them – and employing a bait and switch operation to forestall any meaningful discussion by all of us on how to best change the governance of the Department of Water and Power. 

I shudder to think what’s in all of this for Mr. Fuentes personally, and what will come to light when it’s too late for us to do anything about it. 

I believe the timing of this sudden Motion is no coincidence, given that all five members of the Energy and Environment Committee are up for re-election next year -- well, except Fuentes. City Hall is usually incapable of moving with this kind of speed to run a Ballot Measure unless something really naughty is being contemplated by the pols. 

Is all this a cute way to take the heat off and have a 15-0 vote by the Council for a Ballot Measure so the Committee can say that they’re not the ones that did anything wrong? Will hearings be real and open discussions? Or will they be another giant kabuki dance with the usual guaranteed outcome? 

Remember this: No matter what smoke screens they put up, four of these five Committee Members are up for re-election next year. You should remind them that there are consequences for their actions. Call them on the details of the rate Increases, the transfer fees and the utility taxes -- not to mention pet projects. 

Demand openness and transparency, and (gasp) maybe even honesty in the Committee’s recommendation to the full Council. 

The Committee members are Fuentes (CD7), Cedillo (CD1), Blumenfeld (CD3), Koretz (CD5), and O’Farrell (CD13).

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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