Consumer Watchdog Calls On LA City Council President To Appoint Consumer Advocate To Find Next Ratepayer Advocate, Says Pickel Failed LADWP Customers

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Santa Monica, CA—Consumer Watchdog today urged City Council President Herb Wesson to name a consumer advocate to the citizens’ committee that will nominate the next ratepayer advocate at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. DWP’s first ratepayer advocate, Fred Pickel, is a power industry insider and former consultant to Enron who has failed ratepayers by consistently putting DWP’s interests above consumers, said the group.

“Los Angeles ratepayers have endured billing scandals, rate hikes, and salary spikes at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power without the benefit of a ratepayer advocate to represent their interests,” Consumer Watchdog wrote Wesson in a letter. “It’s an appalling situation that needs to be remedied and you have a pivotal role.”

For the letter, see here.

“Consumer Watchdog urges you to nominate an experienced consumer advocate who defends the interests of ratepayers to the Citizens’ Committee deciding whether to reappoint Mr. Fred Pickel as the Executive Director for the Office of Public Accountability at the DWP.

“His contract expired in mid-February this year, but he does not deserve reappointment based on his record of not speaking out to defend hapless ratepayers who endure horrific customer service at DWP, unreasonable rate hikes, and have been erroneously overcharged thousands of dollars on their bills and forced into payment plans by DWP or terminated for non-payment. During DWP’s worst hours, Mr. Pickel was nowhere to be found.

“Mr. Pickel has worked as a consultant defending energy companies, including for Enron, the power pirate that manipulated electric rates into the stratosphere during the energy crisis. Mr. Pickel was part of the Enron conspiracy that defrauded Californians by writing a report on Enron’s behalf cheerleading for electricity deregulation and a Western regional market that ultimately cost Californians up to $45 billion.

“Mr. Pickel claims that the recently approved settlement in a class-action lawsuit over DWP’s billing SNAFU provides “reasonable restitution,” when the agreement gives the DWP all the power to determine what customers are owed with no independent third-party review for accuracy, and no way to intervene on their behalf.

“On Mr. Pickel’s watch, the country’s largest municipal utility botched the roll out of a new billing software system that mis-billed ratepayers at least $67.5 million dollars. Instead of being part of the solution, Mr. Pickel is part of the problem dogging the utility when it comes to customer service and the refunding or crediting of wronged customers.

“Mr. Pickel also authored the ballot summary for a Los Angeles ballot measure, Measure RRR, that would have, among other things, allowed the utility to sign contracts for power and water and raise rates without approval from the City Council. That would have allowed the DWP to spend billions of dollars without critical oversight and provided cover for elected officials to sidestep any responsibility for its mistakes.

“Mr. Pickel failed to disclose in the summary that he had written in a large raise for himself. In 2015, the City paid Mr. Pickel $276,000– $39,000 more than Mayor Eric Garcetti. If the ballot measure had passed, Mr. Pickel would have automatically gotten another 5-year contract at $280,000 a year.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti has named two people to the Citizens’ Committee—Tony Wilkinson, chair of the DWP MOU Committee who represents the DWP to neighborhood councils, and Blanca de la Cruz who directs the sustainable housing program at the state-created California Housing Partnership Corporation. Councilwoman Nury Martinez, Chair of the Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee, has named one person—Elva Yanez, director of the Prevention Institute, a nonprofit devoted to solving complex health and social issues. Wesson is still to name two more people to the Committee. None of the three has worked as a ratepayer advocate.

“For the Office of Public Accountability to be a success, it is time to put ratepayers before the interests of the DWP itself. The City of LA needs an advocate, not simply an analyst, let alone an analyst that has favored the utility and its insiders at every turn,” Consumer Watchdog wrote Wesson.

For more on the DWP, see:

LADWP Customer Bill Of Rights Nothing But Paper Without Overhaul Of Utility Bureaucracy And Independent Ratepayer Voice To Hold DWP Accountable

Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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