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Water Rate System That Boosted Valley Bills to Be Reviewed


Mayor Richard Riordan said Wednesday that a citizens panel will be given 30 days to review the fairness of a new water rate system that has caused a consumer uproar in the San Fernando Valley.

Riordan made the pledge moments after the Los Angeles City Council unanimously urged that the Blue Ribbon Committee on Water Rate Restructuring be reconvened to review the new rate system.

The original blue-ribbon panel, which was involved in forming the new rate system, was appointed by former Mayor Tom Bradley. The new panel will be restructured by Riordan before it begins its review.

Annette Castro, Riordan's press secretary, said the mayor wants the committee to quickly reconvene to do its new work.

The new two-tiered water rate system, which includes higher rates for the biggest water users, took effect in February and has resulted in numerous bimonthly Department of Water and Power bills in the $700 to $900 range this summer.

"We've reached the stage where people's DWP bills are larger than their house payments," Councilman Hal Bernson said during Wednesday's sometimes biting debate. Bernson said his own DWP bill came to almost $800 recently.

"We have a pool, but we don't use it and we're not even home a lot," the lawmaker said.

The bigger DWP bills are being blamed on the fact that Valley homeowners generally have larger lots that require more watering, many have pools and the Valley is hotter than many other places in the Los Angeles basin.

Bernson urged the elimination of the system's higher rate tier. The rate in the second tier, which is nearly 75% higher than the lower tier rate, takes effect when a DWP customer exceeds twice the median amount of water usage.

The rate in the lower tier, applicable to the first 2,800 cubic feet of water a customer uses in a billing period, is $1.73 per 100 cubic feet in the summer months. The summer rate in the higher tier, applicable to water usage above 2,800 cubic feet, is $2.98 per 100 cubic feet. The median summer water usage is 1,400 cubic feet.

Rates and median usage amounts are lower in the winter months.

Councilwoman Laura Chick, who represents the southwest Valley, called it "insulting" that some of her colleagues were stereotyping complaints about the new rate system as "the rich Valley whining again."

Later, Bernson, who represents the northwest Valley, bristled at the anti-Valley sentiments he heard. "I'm getting tired of that," he said.

But several inner-city lawmakers strongly indicated Wednesday that they believe that the new rate system is fair because its impact falls most heavily on the more affluent Valley with its bigger thirst for water.

Councilman Mike Hernandez speculated that if the rates were changed to benefit Valley residential users, his Latino, inner-city constituents would have to pay the difference. "It would tell the inner city, we don't care," he said.

But Hernandez voted for the accelerated review of the new rate system, as did Westside Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Hollywood's Jackie Goldberg, who called the new system equitable.

"The sticker shock (over the new rates)," Galanter said, "is because the chickens have come home to roost."

Commenting on the "shocks" Valley lawmakers said their constituents had gotten from their water bills, Goldberg said the shock to her constituents came when "they found out they have been subsidizing those swimming pools and large lawns" in the Valley under the old rate system.

Valley-based lawmakers were not the only ones to complain. Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents a district that is about 40% in the Valley, said he also felt that the water rates needed to be reviewed.

"There's a problem," Yaroslavsky said. "This rate restructuring has turned out, for reasons beyond our control, to be a little more punitive than we expected."

Yaroslavsky also urged that the blue ribbon water panel report back in 30 days with its findings, not the 60 days originally recommended, a view subsequently adopted by Riordan.

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