The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the city’s Department of Water and Power participate in the “Light Up Navajo” program, a regional effort to bring power to thousands of Navajo families.

“The goal of Light Up Navajo is to bring power, water, mobile, internet to all citizens of the Navajo Nation … these mutually beneficial goals include LADWP’s own linemen and women to train, to travel to the Navajo Nation … to give (them) expertise,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who introduced the motion and is a member of the Wyandotte Nation and chair of the Los Angeles City Council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice and River Committee. “It’s a jobs program for them and it’s a jobs program for us.”

The LADWP would be the second California utility, after the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, to participate in the program and bring power to the Navajo Nation, which spans 27,000 square miles across Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

About 15,000 Navajo families don’t have access to power infrastructure, O’Farrell said in the motion. The Light Up Navajo program began in 2019 as a partnership between the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the American Public Power Association. So far, it has delivered power to more than 900 families during two phases of work. The third phase is set to start in spring 2022.

Los Angeles purchased “inexpensive but dirty” power from a Navajo facility for 40 years, since the 1970s, before divesting, according to O’Farrell. That facility has since closed.

“Los Angeles ended a 40-year agreement back in 2014 with the Navajo Nation, where we purchased dirty coal to power up the city of Los Angeles, providing only modest financial benefit to the Navajo Nation while polluting the air and the earth around the nation, again for 40 years,” O’Farrell said before Tuesday’s vote.

He added that the city is working on a new power purchase agreement with the Navajo Nation for 100% renewable energy, but the agreement is still being worked out and is expected to come before the City Council early next year.

“This historic partnership exemplifies the city’s commitment to environmental justice,” Councilman Paul Krekorian, who seconded O’Farrell’s motion, said after the motion was introduced on July 30.

“Regrettably, the city’s historical legacy sometimes involved environmentally destructive policies that were insensitive to the needs of local communities, including Native Americans. Through `Light Up Navajo,’ the LADWP will bring electricity, economic opportunity and hope to severely underserved communities in the Navajo Nation.”

O’Farrell and Krekorian — along with LADWP General Manager Martin Adams and Board of Water and Power Commission President Cynthia McClain-Hill — traveled to the Navajo Nation to discuss the program and other opportunities for partnership with Navajo leadership.

“We thank council members Mitch O’Farrell and Paul Krekorian for reaching out to the Navajo Nation and witnessing firsthand the success of `Light Up Navajo,”’ Navajo President Jonathan Nez said after the motion was introduced. “The Navajo Nation looks forward to a long-term relationship with the city of Los Angeles and the Navajo People.”

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