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3.6% Water Rate Hike Approved; DWP Told to Bring Pay Into Line : Utility: The action ends four months of rancorous debate. The council also moves to end salary disparities between employees of the utility and city workers.


Ending four months of rancorous debate, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday narrowly approved a 3.6% water rate increase but demanded that the Department of Water and Power bring its employee salaries in line with the rest of city government.

The measure, passed in an 8-7 vote, includes a "sunset" clause so that the increase will expire in a year. It also gives the DWP until September to develop a plan to revamp its rate structure to provide incentives for water conservation and penalties for excessive use.

In addition, the council unanimously approved an amendment by Councilman Marvin Braude instructing the city's Executive Employee Relations Committee to develop bargaining instructions to eliminate salary disparities between the DWP's 11,752 employees--who are represented by various unions--and those employed in other city departments.

Braude said DWP salaries may be higher than those paid to other city employees doing comparable work. He did not provide specifics.

Mike Moore, executive assistant to DWP General Manager Dan Waters, said that although the utility was pleased with the council's rate hike action, "even with this increase we'll face cutbacks."

The utility, which had originally sought an 11% increase, has said it must cut $175 million from its capital, maintenance and operations budgets to cover losses in surplus funds.

As for the pay disparities, Waters said through a spokeswoman, "We will be happy to cooperate in any study the council wants us to do." However, he added that there are legitimate reasons some DWP employees receive more money. For example, a DWP tree trimmer may be more likely than a city employee to work near power lines, he said.

Even with the rate increase, the average homeowner's bill would actually drop by about $1.74 per two-month billing period, to $24.73 from $26.47, utility officials said. The decrease is because the department is purchasing less water from the Metropolitan Water District, reducing charges normally passed on to consumers.

"Hopefully, this is the last chapter in a very, very sad story in our history," said Councilwoman Joy Picus, who voted against the increase proposal that had deeply divided the council.

She added: "I hope . . . we have seen an end to bloated budgets filled with consultants and public relations people, filled with fabulous multicolored brochures, filled with stylish dinners, filled with the all the things . . . that require an 11% rate increase."

In addition to Picus, council members Ernani Bernardi, Hal Bernson, Nate Holden, Joel Wachs, Rita Walters and Zev Yaroslavsky voted against the rate hike measure.

Council members Braude, Richard Alatorre, John Ferraro, Joan Milke Flores, Ruth Galanter, Mike Hernandez, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Woo voted for it.

The measure now goes to Mayor Tom Bradley for final action.

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