A Top Priority: Fairness and Equality in Services and Operations

   By William Funderburk, Vice President, Los Angeles Board of Water & Power Commissioners


When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power made its case to its 1.4 million customers for its latest rate proposal, staff made more than 80 presentations to many customers in Los Angeles. In these discussions, LADWP emphasized its commitment to providing clean and reliable water and power to all customers while maintaining competitive rates.  LADWP leaders and staff explained – with transparency – the Department’s goals and its need for funding to accelerate the replacement of rapidly aging infrastructure, meet mandates to green our grid and expand local water supplies, and improve customer service.  In the process, LADWP also received useful and important feedback from ratepayers of all customer sectors.  Ultimately, the rate proposal was approved in March 2016, strongly supported by many elected officials and customers.

But the work only began there. Approval of the rate proposal comes with several expectations, including meeting specific milestones and benchmarks that clearly define LADWP’s organizational goals and objectives. These key performance indicators will increase LADWP’s efficiency and goals of transparency with the ratepayers. While reporting on benchmarks and achievements is common among many public agencies and utilities, LADWP is going a step further by establishing the Equity Metrics Data Initiative (EMDI)—a first for any utility in the nation. The EMDI is consistent with the Mayor’s various executive directives on gender equity, workforce and affordable housing as well as the City Council’s recently-adopted instructions on LADWP reform related to low income seniors, equitable clean energy solutions and low income customer response. The initiative will also enable the Department to weave Equity throughout the enterprise, and embed it as a cornerstone of LADWP management and Board best practices.

“Equity,” which is defined as “fairness, impartiality and justice,” is essential in all of LADWP’s operations. As a core component of this principle, the Department adopted data-driven metrics that track, measure and report on how LADWP’s programs and services are provided to all of its customers. As the largest municipal utility in the nation, LADWP has made a firm commitment to ensure that LADWP’s services and operations reach all customers fairly and to vastly enhance customer engagement and service.

The Board of Water and Commissioners, where I serve as Vice President, adopted this initiative in August 2016, following many discussions with stakeholders and a preliminary community meeting in July. In October, staff hosted another meeting with a broad range of community stakeholders to fine-tune the metrics. In November the DWP Advocacy group, which consists of Neighborhood Council leaders, was briefed.  Further Neighborhood Council briefings are expected.  At the December 6th Board meeting, the Board adopted the four major categories of the Equity Metrics, covering 15 key specific metrics that will be benchmarked and monitored. LADWP derived these 15 equity metrics from a menu of 50 equity metrics, the balance of which may be addressed in the next several years by the Commission.

1. Water and Power Infrastructure Investment. LADWP already collects considerable data on service reliability.  However, to assure every customer and community in Los Angeles that LADWP is providing them with a safe, consistent supply of water and power, geographic data must be collected about water and power reliability, infrastructure improvement projects, and maintenance services.  This category of metrics will track: the Power System Reliability Program, which details the replacement of critical power infrastructure like power poles, transformers and cables; the Water System and the replacement of mainlines, trunk lines and other water infrastructure; the likelihood of power failure and the duration of outages that occur, which will ensure that LADWP remains among the most reliable; and feedback about the quality of drinking water. 

2. Customer Incentive Programs and Services. LADWP offers many programs to customers to help them save on their bills. The Equity Metrics Data Initiative will collect data and evaluate the equity of impacts of the following programs in geographic regions of the city, among socioeconomic subgroups and among multi family, affordable and single family housing ratepayers: Commercial Direct Install Program, Low Income and Lifeline Programs, Electric Vehicle infrastructure, Refrigerator Exchange Program, Home Energy Improvement Program, Turf Removal Rebates, Tree Canopy Program, and the Rain Barrel, Cistern and Water Tank Rebates.

3. Procurement. LADWP will expand its existing data collection process for contracts and contractors to include more granular data that will provide information about the equity of contract allocation according to several metrics including: the number and dollar value of contracts awarded to women-owned, minority-owned, disabled veteran-owned and LGBT-owned businesses; business locations; industry category, etc.  Equity in procurement can increase LADWP’s efficiency by encouraging increased competition among vendors.

4. Employment. LADWP will expand its existing data collection framework to include information that will evaluate the equity of training and hiring practices according to the following metrics: gender, ethnic background, disabled veteran status, date of hire, residential location, educational level, etc.

When dynamics are observed that disproportionately or adversely affect particular communities or groups of ratepayers, LADWP will be able to make adjustments that improve fairness and equity throughout its service area for everyone they serve.

LADWP will report on the first set of EMDI findings in February 2017. The Department will continue to fine-tune the metrics and later add more to be monitored, to help ensure equitable service delivery and access to its programs and services. We should all stay engaged and supportive of LADWP’s commitment to transparency and accountability as it advances equity for all of its customers and communities.  This is a vital and transformative initiative that will be achieved amidst LADWP’s consistent success in keeping our water running and our lights on, safely and reliably, for all of us.