SOUTH GATE — To avoid a public outcry, the City Council has decided to move with caution on a proposed five-year, $20-million project that would improve the city's water system but also substantially increase user fees.
"We need more public input," Mayor Del Snavely said. "The people who will pay for these improvements need to know what their money is paying for."
Would Avoid Problem
The council is apparently trying to avoid the public relations debacle that resulted last year when residents accused city leaders of failing to adequately inform them of an attempted takeover of some of Southern California Edison Co.'s local service.
The council on Tuesday deferred voting on the water project, even in concept, preferring to start a publicity campaign to inform the 14,400 residential, commercial and industrial customers of the South Gate Municipal Water System.
The council has been wrestling with ways to cleanse and upgrade its water system for more than two years. Since 1985, chemical contamination has forced the closure of 5 of the 11 wells that supply most of the city's water. For years, the city has supplemented its supply with water purchased--at about twice the cost--from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
The pipes in the 60-year-old city system are rusted and are too small to carry an adequate water supply, according to engineering studies ordered by the city.
The five-member council had been asked by its administrative staff to consider approving the $20-million project in concept and to authorize the hiring of a financial consultant to develop a plan to finance the improvements.
"The $20 million scares me to death. How much price increase will this be?" asked Councilman Herb Cranton.
While administrators say they have not determined how much water bills will increase, the hike will be very substantial, said Rollie D. Berry, director of public works.
According to data gathered by the city staff from 17 surrounding cities, South Gate residents pay the lowest monthly water fee, which is $8.12. The highest fee, $19.05, was paid by customers of Suburban Water Company in Whittier.
"I'm a little reluctant to approve this without strong public support. We need hearings, publicity that relates to nothing but water," Councilman William H. DeWitt said.
The administrative staff is expected to present an outline of a publicity campaign at the council's next meeting, May 23, City Administrator Bruce Spragg said.
The proposed campaign would probably include community meetings, slide shows, city newsletters and possibly cable television spots, Spragg said.
Two engineering studies of the city's water concluded that the system is largely depreciated and in need of major capital improvements that would cost $33 million, Berry said.
The staff was recommending that major improvements start as soon as possible, and that the estimated $20 million cost be paid with money raised by the sale of certificates of participation, a municipal financing tool much like bonds, Berry said.
The major elements of the proposed program include:
Building $3.5-million in water treatment facilities that would allow officials to reopen the five contaminated wells. The wells were closed when tests showed that they exceeded the state Department of Health Services' recommended level for tetrachlorethylene, an industrial solvent used for degreasing.
Building a well and pumping station, at an estimated cost of $5.7 million, to meet the needs of residents and businesses on the west side of the city.
Replacing about 21 miles, or 17%, of the water distribution pipeline, which is inadequate to deliver a sufficient supply of water, according to city standards. This would cost an estimated $5 million.
Relining several miles of older pipe at an estimated cost of $2 million.
Nearly $4 million would be used to cover contingencies as well as move the city's water operations headquarters.
In the staff request, the council was asked to hire a financial management team made up of the La Mirada consulting firm of Management Services Institute Inc., the Los Angeles investment banking firm of Seidler-Fitzgerald Public Finance and the Newport Beach law firm of Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth, which would act as bond counsel.