Gore joins LA mayor to urge city council to approve DWP rate hikes

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gestures during a debate at the Climate Summit for Mayors at the Copenhagen City Hall on December 16, 2009.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gestures during a debate at the Climate Summit for Mayors at the Copenhagen City Hall on December 16, 2009.
Anders Debel Hansen/AFP/Getty Images

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Former Vice President Al Gore Thursday announced his support for a proposed carbon reduction surcharge on power bills in the city of Los Angeles. The proposal’s drawn sharp criticism from both business and residential customers who say it’s a bad time to be raising rates.

The former vice president appeared via satellite from his Nashville office at a news conference organized by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“Mr. Mayor, I’m really proud to say that Los Angeles is not just talking, it is now acting," Gore said.

The winner of the Noble Peace prize for his work to raise awareness about climate change said "this plan will help create clean, renewable energy, create lots of good new jobs and grow L.A.’s green economy.”

The plan would take a portion of a power rate hike for customers of the Department of Water and Power and devote it to a trust fund for future wind and solar projects, including rooftop residential solar.

The rate hike with the surcharge would add 8 to 28 percent to customers' bills.

The D.W.P.’s Board of Commissioners has approved it, but the City Council’s reviewing the plan amid outrage from customers that the hike is too high and a lack of confidence that the city’s utility will properly spend the money.

“This is the single most significant vote the City Council’s ever taken to address the climate crisis by reducing the city’s overdependence on dirty fossil fuels," Mayor Villaraigosa said.

The mayor implored the council to support his carbon surcharge: "An affirmative vote will set the City of Angels on a path to a cleaner, greener future. A negative vote will revert the city to its dirty, coal consuming past.”

City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she supports cleaner fuel, but she distrusts another claim by the mayor – that without the rate hike and carbon reduction surcharge, the D.W.P. can’t afford to make good on a promised transfer of $73 million into the city’s general fund.

“They are using this as leverage." Perry said.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said without the full amount of the D.W.P’s annual transfer, L.A. could run out of cash by the end of the fiscal year in June.

“Obviously an additional $70 million hit to our problem will put us in an even more grave situation," he said.

A memo from the mayor’s office this week urged the city council to approve the rate increase that includes the carbon reduction surcharge, and warned of bankruptcy if it didn’t.

Villaraigosa distanced himself from the memo.

“There is no scenario, none that the city of Los Angeles will ever be in that situation," he said.

At the same time, the mayor demanded that the council approve the rate increase as proposed – with money set aside for green energy projects.

“I will not support any increase that doesn’t have a lock box for renewables."

The mayor seeks to place the city council in the position of either accepting the rate hike and carbon surcharge as he’s proposed it or risk placing the city in financial peril.

That’s got more than a few members of the council angry at the mayor.