Confused and frustrated by a whopping increase in their sewer fees, an overflow crowd of La Crescenta and Montrose residents turned out for a community protest meeting last week that left them with little hope of change.
Nothing the water board director said could have appeased them. The more than 250 residents hadn't come to listen to William T. O'Neil. They wanted to be heard.
Their voice was unanimous: They don't like the 138% increase in their sewer charges. They think it is unfair.
The Crescenta Valley County Water District in September raised bimonthly sewer fees for all single-family houses in the upper middle-class communities from $16.80 to $40. Owners of multiple dwelling units and commercial property received similar increases.
Directors said the flat fee is needed to pay the district's estimated $8-million share of improvements at the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in Los Angeles, mandated by federal and state directives.
District directors have been barraged with complaints since bills with the new rates were mailed in October. Many residents have spoken at previous public meetings, some demanding that the district develop a usage fee rather than levy a flat rate, obtain some sort of state or federal funding or grant reduced rates to low-income users.
District officials said they are considering the alternatives but have not found an acceptable solution.
With nothing new to report, officials had said they would not attend last Thursday's protest meeting, organized by a group of residents led by Marjorie Falloure.
However, O'Neil, immediate past district president, chose to attend the meeting anyway. His presence at the front of the multipurpose room at Crescenta Valley High School acted as a lightning rod for the tempers of a peeved audience.
The white-haired director, who has served on the board since 1956, listened for more than 90 minutes while residents blamed the sewer charge on overbuilt communities and overcrowded houses and questioned the scope and cost of work at the Hyperion plant.
One angry resident threatened to recall the whole board and chastised the district for failing to properly plan for the sewer costs.
O'Neil said he was not surprised by the emotion. "We had a pretty good idea that there was a lot of distress out there," O'Neil said.
"There were a lot of my friends and neighbors down there scowling at me. But to hear some of them, you would think we were taking the food right out of their mouths."
Still, O'Neil said, he is "not very optimistic" about finding a more acceptable solution.
"I would dearly love to see those good people get some relief. But I just don't know how to do that equitably."
Several residents said they will pursue getting state or federal funding without the district's help. They plan to hold another meeting March 1.