Voters appear to have rejected a ballot measure aimed at granting more autonomy to the scandal-plagued Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, one of the nation’s largest public utilities.
The tally for Measure RRR as of Wednesday afternoon was 52% against and 48% in favor, with 100% of precincts reporting, according to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder’s website. An undisclosed number of provisional ballots might still be outstanding making the results “semi-official,” according to county officials.
The measure would have added people with industry expertise to the DWP’s board and given it the ability to sign contracts without the approval of the City Council. It also would have allowed the department to hire employees without going through the city’s cumbersome civil service process. That provision was chiefly responsible for more than $1.6 million that poured into the No on RRR campaign from unions representing employees of other city departments and their political allies.
They claimed divorcing the city utility from the civil service system could result in coveted well-compensated jobs at the city department going to friends and relatives of current DWP employees, not the most qualified candidates. They also worried that employees of other city departments might no longer be able to easily transfer into desirable DWP jobs.
After being approved for the ballot by the City Council, and endorsed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and DWP administrators, there was no organized campaign to pass the measure.
Fred Pickel, the city’s ratepayer advocate, who also supported the measure, said backers might have believed a campaign was unnecessary because initial polling showed public support at about 57%. But the polling also showed voters were “persuadable,” Pickel said.
Pickel, who wrote the city’s official argument in favor of the ballot measure, was criticized for failing to mention that approval would have allowed him to be reappointed to a second five-year term in his $276,000-a-year job and raised his minimum office budget by more than $1 million per year.
Those details were also omitted from the one-paragraph summary voters saw next to the spot on the ballot where they checked yes or no. They were mentioned, briefly, in the thick pamphlet voters received by mail.
Opponents, while agreeing the utility needs reform, said that what appeared to be self-dealing and a lack of transparency in the ballot descriptions were emblematic of why voters didn’t trust the City Hall-backed measure
“DWP can’t be reformed from the inside out; it has to happen from the outside in,” said Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, which opposed the measure.