LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Several of the biggest commercial customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) met Tuesday with the new general manager for an update on proposed reforms for the utility.
KNX 1070’s Claudia Peschiutta reports DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards and Mayor Eric Garcetti said that while progress was being made with customer billing and other issues, the utility still needs to take more steps toward becoming more efficient.
Edwards – a former Anaheim city manager who previously worked at the DWP for 24 years – was unanimously confirmed in February as the first woman to hold the top post at the nation’s largest municipal utility with 8,800 employees.
Representatives from some of DWP’s largest customers including Neutrogena, AEG, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center took part in the meeting at the mayor’s office at 200 North Spring Street in downtown L.A., according to the Los Angeles Times.
Renee Watkinson represents 3.5 million square feet of office space in Century City. For months her clients had not received their DWP bills; when they did, the bills showed late charges.
“The bills are complicated, they’ve added a lot of additional fees and tariffs without explanation. It’s taken us hours, days to go through a bill and to process it,” Watkinson said.
During the roll out of the DWP’s new billing system last fall, as many as 70,000 bills were either incorrect or sent out late.
Edwards acknowledged some of the biggest concerns of DWP customers about complex billing practices, customer call waiting times and “estimated readings” of power meters are already being addressed by the utility.
“Our early response efforts are in the ‘big bite’ range – adding meter raters, adding customer service reps – but there is a punchlist of a couple hundred items that need to be fixed,” she said.
About 50 new customer service reps are being trained to address customer service complaints, while the DWP hopes to eliminate its “estimated billing” practice by May.
While Edwards did not offer any timeline to resolve the issues, Garcetti said that a “period of months” was likely not acceptable.
“I can tell you, I certainly feel a sense of urgency about this,” said Garcetti.
“We’re very aware that this is happening to customers,” Edwards said. “It’s not an acceptable business practice.”
Mayor Garcetti outlined efforts to cut costs within the utility, citing the new labor contract with a 3-year salary freeze and a new pension structure.
“I’m determined not just to fix what’s wrong, but to go a step beyond that,” Mayor Garcetti said.
Other priorities include the continued “greening” of the power supply, which could lead to rate hikes.
But the first priority is to restore customer confidence, according to Edwards.
“There is always upward pressure on rates,” Edwards said. “But the reason I started with the customer service discussion and the billing system is it’s very important we get our house in order first.”