The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-1 yesterday to reappoint Fred Pickel, former La Brea Hancock resident and Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council board member, to another five-year term as the ratepayer advocate for the LA Department of Water and Power.
The only opposition to Pickel’s reappointment came from CD5 Council Member Paul Koretz, who wanted Pickel to undergo a performance review before being awarded another term as the executive director of the Office of Public Accountability, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The debate about Pickel’s performance stemmed from varying expectations of the role of the ratepayer. According to the Times:
Tony Wilkinson, who headed a selection committee that recommended Pickel for a second term, credited him with having the technical expertise to effectively “fact check” the utility. Pickel, a former energy consultant with an MIT doctorate in engineering and economic systems analysis, has written reports scrutinizing rates, outages and utility budgets in his six years on the job.
Former DWP Commissioner William Funderburk said Pickel had produced “objective, market-informed advice” that quietly saved money for L.A. ratepayers, weighing in on disputes over dust mitigation in the Owens Valley and a lawsuit against PricewaterhouseCoopers over the disastrous rollout of a new billing system.
When Funderburk prodded the utility to adopt a new system to track whether all ratepayers were being treated fairly and equitably, Pickel was “indispensable” in winning support with his measured analysis of the plan, he said.
“If we had had a grandstander, if we had had a cheerleader, if we had someone who was working for press quotes over doing the work,” it would not have happened, Funderburk said.
Funderburk is also a resident of the La Brea Hancock neighborhood, and also served for many years on the GWNC board.
“Fred has done a very good job as the rate payer advocate,” said Jack Humphreville, a Windsor Square resident who also serves as the GWNC’s liaison to the LADWP and on the city’s Neighborhood Council Budget Committee. “Fred saved us a pot-load of money by lowering the DWP’s rate request from 8 to 3.8% percent. He and his staff know more about rate making than the DWP.”
Humphreville noted that Pickel is operating under difficult circumstances with different constituencies whose varying objectives can sometimes oppose each other.
“He has to work with the DWP; the City Council; the environmental community who doesn’t care about cost; and then he has the rate payers who are very concerned about cost,” explained Humphreville. “I think he has done an excellent job in the past and is very well respected by the DWP board of commissioners, the City Council and the environmental community.”
Humphreville added that he’d like to see Pickel look more closely at the transfers the DWP makes to the City budget, which Humphreville considers underwriting for items the city should be pay for with its own budget.
Finally, Pickel explained to the Buzz that his reappointment still has one more step before it’s complete.
“The approval of the Mayor is required as well, which will hopefully transpire by the middle of next week,” he said.