LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Mayor Eric Garcetti is defending the work of an independent watchdog of the Department of Water and Power (DWP) who critics say has failed to properly advocate for the utility’s customers.
Speaking on a special edition of KNX 1070’s “Ask The Mayor” on Thursday, Garcetti said he supports DWP ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel.
Representatives of consumer advocacy group Consumer Watchdog sent a letter (PDF) urging Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer to fire 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 group also pointed out Pickel has worked as an energy consultant for Enron.
Pickel’s position was created by voters four years ago to analyze L.A.’s water and power rates.
During Thursday’s radio show, Garcetti signaled his support for Pickel.
“I think that he’s had some very tough people that are working with him who really do hold fire to the feet of the Department of Water and Power,” said Garcetti. “I wanted somebody in there who could actually stand up for all the ratepayers and give a second opinion for the Department.”
DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards, who joined Garcetti on “Ask The Mayor”, also defended the ratepayer advocate.
“As much as I’m sure I like him personally, he’s been a huge thorn, and I realize that’s his job,” Edwards said. “He’s been doing that very well.”
Pickel was not immediately available for comment.
The demand 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 say the deal 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.