Goldberg bill takes DWP side over schools’

first_imgSACRAMENTO – Wading into a heated legal fight on the side of the Department of Water and Power, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg – a possible candidate for LAUSD superintendent – has drafted a bill that would wipe out the school district’s claim that it’s being overcharged millions of dollars for utility services. The bill would allow the DWP and other municipal utilities to continue charging a disputed fee that school districts and other local public agencies claim is illegal. Goldberg, a former teacher and school board member, said she is intervening to end the legal dispute in the belief that current law does not entitle public agencies to pay lower rates for utility services than private parties. “If, in fact, as a matter of public policy, we want public utilities to subsidize public entities like schools, I would vote for that and we should straight-up do a bill suggesting that,” Goldberg said. Other agencies involved in the suit include Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Transportation Agency and the Los Angeles Community College District. Total damages, including compensation for overcharges, triple damages and interest, could total more than $600 million for DWP. Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office is pursuing a separate case on similar grounds on behalf of a dozen state agencies including California State University, Northridge; UCLA; the Department of Motor Vehicles; and the California Highway Patrol. That complaint, which goes to trial in San Bernardino County in June, seeks actual and punitive damages that could total $90 million. At the center of the suits is a 1988 state law intended to clarify an overbilling dispute between the San Marcos schools and water district. The law set guidelines for imposing such fees and allows public agencies to negotiate the amount of the fees. But the school districts and other public agencies are interpreting various provisions of the law to argue that the DWP has been illegally imposing the fee since the law passed. In proposing her legislation, Goldberg argues that the original law never intended to allow public agencies to avoid paying their fair share of costs. Her bill clarifies the definition of the fee to say that it can be charged to public agencies, as long as the amount is not higher than what other customers are charged. And if the schools and other public agencies don’t have to pay the fee, she notes, the rates for all DWP customers would have to rise to make up for the lost revenue. Former Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a similar bill Goldberg authored in 2003. Goldberg said officials with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office previously made it clear they weren’t interested in the bill, but she asked again recently and they said they would take a look at it. A spokesman for the governor said the administration has no position on the bill at this time. DWP officials declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Lockyer’s office said officials had not finished reviewing the legislation, but their greatest concern is making sure it does not relate to past allegations of overcharges. “We don’t want any bill to be used by DWP to try and escape liability for the years of overcharges to state and local agencies,” said AG spokesman Tom Dresslar. Goldberg said she believes the bill makes clear that it is effective on a going-forward basis, and is not a comment on existing law or an attempt to influence the lawsuit. She also noted that the bill would not cost the LAUSD or other agencies anything extra, but would simply require them to continue paying the same fees that they, and the DWP’s private customers, have for years. Harrison Sheppard, (916) 446-6723 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant “But to try to say that was the intent of the original … legislation, and spend a lot of time and money suing each other over this is what my bill is trying to stop.” The schools and several other public agencies argue in a 4-year-old lawsuit that state law exempts them from such “capital facilities fees” – surcharges aimed at defraying the cost of certain projects – and say the DWP has charged them more than their proportionate share. At stake are potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in fees that L.A. Unified and other public agencies have been paying to DWP for more than a decade. “We think that (the bill) is absolutely nonsensical, inconsistent with appropriate public policy and could cost us in excess of $10 million a year out of our budget,” said Los Angeles Unified School District general counsel Kevin Reed. “That is money that would be going to kids, but instead will be going to DWP, one of the most profitable utility companies anywhere in the nation.” last_img

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