Los Angeles Business Journal

Will DWP’s New General Manager Fit the Bill?

OP-ED By GARY TOEBBEN, MARY LESLIE and STUART WALDMAN Monday, April 25, 2011

The announcement by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s new general manager, Ron Nichols, that he is reducing DWP’s budget by nearly a half-billion dollars is a refreshing, welcome piece of news. We should applaud Nichols for his courage, innovation and tenacity in beginning to address the challenges that have plagued DWP for years.

As we know all too well, DWP has at times been an insular organization, with public and elected officials calling into question whether the best interests of its customers are being served. This was especially apparent last year when the agency attempted to impose a significant rate hike on customers without clearly articulating the need or providing a transparent process.     

The transformation that Nichols is spearheading should be viewed with optimism. We are encouraged that he has spent the first weeks of his tenure focused on tightening the agency’s belt and introducing cost-saving changes within the DWP. In just three months, he has tackled some very tough issues, shaken up the system, and appears to be charting a course for the DWP that will be more transparent and responsive to customers.

Fundamental issues

As Nichols continues this transformation, we encourage him to address the fundamental and long-term issues that threaten the viability of the DWP – maintaining the reliability of its aging infrastructure; providing continued access to power at reasonable rates; and ensuring the agency is positioned to meet a significant number of government mandates, including a recent one signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that calls for 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. Nichols’ challenge, of course, will be to deliver confidence in the organization’s ability to meet the needs and demands of DWP customers, and to do so in a transparent manner.

Additionally, we hope he’ll be afforded the ability to make further organizational changes as deemed necessary for the betterment of the department.  

His no-nonsense and direct approach these first 100 days on the job gives us a sense of hope that he is exactly what this agency needs to best serve DWP’s customers and the city of Los Angeles. Now the hard work truly begins as he moves to balance mandates and utility rates.  

Gary Toebben is president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Mary Leslie is president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Business Council. Stuart Waldman is president and chief executive of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.