Approximately 50 people turned out last Thursday night to hear from the newly formed energy advocate coalition RePower LA about the current problems facing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and how the city can move towards a clean-energy future.
RePower LA is a coalition comprised of Los Angeles community organizations, environmentalists, labor, small businesses and faith-based leaders. Among its members are Greenpeace, Sierra Club, North American School for Green Technology, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Venice Youth Build.
After hearing from Evan Gillespie of the Sierra Club talk about the city’s dependence on dirty coal (39 percent, according to Gillespie), RePowerLA Director Jessica Goodheart spoke about the coalition’s plans to rebuild the DWP for the 21st century.
Goodheart said RePower LA has a vision that will make the DWP "a greener utility that collaborates with communities in Los Angeles and creates good career-path jobs."
She said the coalition is currently working on developing a policy proposal that they hope will "get the DWP to increase its investment in energy efficiency." That proposal would entail creating energy upgrades in homes and businesses that in turn would lower energy bills and provide jobs to LA residents by hiring them to undertake the new upgrades.
These upgrades would include replacing old lighting fixtures, installing cooling roofs and more efficient air conditioning.
Goodheart said it would be in the interest of the DWP to invest in these building upgrades because it wouldn’t have to invest in infrastructure.
"Some 30 to 40 percent of the LADWP workforce is at or near retirement age," she noted. "They need to create a pool of workers to fill those positions and we want to make sure those jobs go to people in the community that need them."
She went on to speak of the current 18-month Utility Pre-craft Training Program – a joint initiative of the DWP and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 chapter that currently employs 35 people recruited from LA’s high unemployment communities.
Trainee Saul Felomino was also present to speak of how much his life has changed in the six months since he was hired to take part in the program. He spoke of the sense of accomplishment he has achieved by “going out and doing something for the community,” and the opportunity to follow a career path.
Goodheart said she hoped that continuing this program would allow other workers to be hired and that they would become the ones to start the building upgrades.
However, Goodheart acknowledged that it would be the DWP that would have to pay for the upgrades and fund the program. “It makes sense for them to spend money to help us conserve energy and put people to work,” she said.
Eric Weiser, deputy director of communications and the energy liaison for Councilman Paul Koretz of the 5th council district said Koretz supports RePower LA’s campaign. “Councilman Koretz looks forward to the progress this program will hopefully make and he realizes how important this is to the environment, the people of Los Angeles and the city.”
Despite these words, attendee Spike Lewis of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal pointed out that the LADWP currently has its own financial difficulties and it is also in the midst of a hiring freeze, meaning at this stage there would be no possibility of continuing the training program and hiring more people.
Israel Rojas, a liaison to the LADWP from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office told the attendees, “It’s an important first step to get everyone educated and to advocate for programs like this.”
However, while he noted that RePower LA’s program would indeed benefit the DWP by lowering energy use and encouraging more environmental sustainability, he did hint that the utility would have to raise its rates to implement RePower LA’s program.
“The DWP is already having to apply for about $1 billion for water quality issues. We wish we didn’t have to deal with this,” he said, “but there are new federal regulations.”
He went on to state that the program would be difficult to implement “if we keep our bills low. We have to acknowledge that there are costs associated with that. It would be great if we had 10 or $20 million [for the program] but times are tough for the DWP too.”
Nonetheless, a panel discussion comprising Eli Lipman from the Palms Neighborhood Council, Kathy Seal of the Sierra Club, Gus Corona, senior assistant business manager of IBEW local 18 and two members of Venice Youth Build focused more on the benefits that such a program could do for the city’s low-income, unemployed youth.
Both Oscar Hernandez and Jessica Melton of Venice Youth Build, an organization that provides 12-month job training and education programs to unemployed youth or high school dropouts, said they were excited about the possibility of a training program through the DWP.
Melton said she would love to get a good paying job and being involved in something that is environmentally friendly is something she would love to be involved in.
Despite the obvious challenges facing RePower LA, the organization is committed to getting the word out about its program, and drumming up support. A second town hall was held in the San Fernando Valley on Nov. 5 and a third will be held on Thursday at the Juanita Tate Elementary School in the South Bay, at 123 W. 59th St. Los Angeles, 90033 from 6-8 p.m.
For more on RePower LA, visit www.repowerla.org