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City to Reconsider Water-Rate Hike

January 23, 1991|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Diego City Council, which less than three months ago rejected a proposed 6% increase in water rates, Tuesday reversed field and began to resurrect the plan along with a pricing program designed to encourage water conservation.

The council told staff members to develop a water-pricing plan that would encourage users to conserve, either through a tiered pricing plan or seasonally adjusted rates.

"To me, the environmental thing to do is to make people pay for what they use," Councilwoman Judy McCarty said.

"You use more water, you get a bill that leads you to believe that you're making a very, very painful economic choice," Councilman Bruce Henderson said.

The council also asked staffers to determine if home water meters could be examined more often than bimonthly, in order to provide homeowners with quicker feedback about their water use.

In a separate vote, the council approved a $917,000 program to retrofit 50,000 homes built before 1981 with two low-flow shower heads, two toilet dams and dye tablets to detect leaks in toilets.

The city will hire a firm to deliver kits containing the devices to homes, visit homes to determine if they were installed and, if requested by homeowners, install them.

On Oct. 30, the council voted 5-3 to reject a 6% water-rate increase, saying that a price hike would be a slap in the face to consumers who had heeded Mayor Maureen O'Connor's call for voluntary water conservation. Between June and September, city residents cut their water use by an average 10.7%

The city increased water rates three times in the 1980s. The last hike, in 1987, brought the average monthly bill for a single-family homeowner to $16.80.

Tuesday's council discussion was intended to cover the $35.2 million in cuts to water infrastructure projects, water purchases and water conservation programs necessary over the next 18 months because of the council's failure to approve the price increases. But Henderson and McCarty quickly brought up the idea of re-examining price hikes and conservation incentives instead.

As she did last year, O'Connor questioned the tiered pricing structure, saying that it would not apply to commercial and industrial water users and would hurt residents of older neighborhoods, who use more water to irrigate their generally larger home lots. O'Connor also repeated the argument that residents who voluntarily conserved water should not be paid back with a rate increase.

"They did their part, and this is going to look like 'well thank you very much', " she said.

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