Even as community groups citywide organize to fight Proposition B on the March 3 ballot, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has armed the campaign for his controversial solar energy plan with broad support from the environmental movement and access to millions of dollars from unions to fund it.
A key element of the mayor's strategy was the replacement late last week of former Department of Water and Power Board President Nick Patsaouras -- a ratepayer advocate who is challenging the City Hall political machine by running for City Controller -- with the highly-regarded Green LA Director Jonathan Parfrey.
Parfrey, 50, heads an environmental coalition housed at the Liberty Hill Foundation and is committed to the mayor's plan to have the city get 20 percent of its electricity from clean sources within two years. He has the backing of nearly all of the region's environmental group leaders.
Critics of Prop. B are not challenging the clean energy goal but do raise numerous questions about this plan from its vagueness to its high cost.
The plan was developed by the DWP's union, the IBEW, which represents all but the top echelon of its employees, and has long benefited from sweetheart contracts such as provisions that gave its members 6 percent raises just two months ago. The union is expected to pour millions of dollars into the Prop. B campaign because the measure gives most of the work of installing solar units to it rather than the private sector.
The City Council and mayor approved the ballot measure with little public discussion and without any study by the DWP or energy consultants, prompting the LA Times to editorialize that there was the "scent of a swindle" about it.
Members of the DWP Committee, a citizens group formed to serve as a watchdog on the utility, argue that rooftop solar panels are an obsolete and inefficient technology.
In addition, the plan requires a multi-billion dollar subsidy program that combined with the DWP's high payroll costs will drive already soaring utility rates even higher while discouraging the development of a solar energy industry in L.A.
Advocates argue it will create badly-need jobs during the economic crisis, provide cleaner energy and help the city move ahead of Southern California Edison and other utilities in providing solar power.
Prop. B is likely to be the centerpiece of the municipal primary campaign with the mayor and council incumbents facing what appears to be easy re-election campaigns. The only seriously contested contests are for Controller, City Attorney and the open Fifth District Council seat. .