Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers will not be charged the higher summer water rates that sparked a flood of complaints last year, the City Council decided Tuesday.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to extend winter rates until a citizens panel can draft a permanent and more equitable system.
The rate structure adopted last year to promote conservation imposed two tiers: a high rate for customers who use more than twice the median amount of water, and a lower rate for users of smaller amounts. The rate does not change from winter to summer for lesser users, but it increases 28% for heavy users.
Last summer, City Hall was deluged by complaints from heavy water users after they began to receive bimonthly summer bills ranging from $500 to $900. The most calls and letters came from the San Fernando Valley, where lots tend to be larger and summers hotter.
Although the council agreed unanimously to extend the winter rates while a more equitable system is devised, they were bitterly divided over how that system will work.
Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the northwest Valley, proposed that the city do away with the two-tier system and instead adopt a flat-rate structure that charges the same amount for each gallon, regardless of how much water is used.
"Everybody should pay the same rate, if they can afford it," Bernson said. He said that the two-tier system forces Valley residents to pay more than their fair share.
The proposal was defeated 10 to 4, with a majority arguing that a flat-rate system does not provide an incentive for water conservation. Voting in favor of a flat-rate system were Councilmen Bernson, Joel Wachs, Zev Yaroslavsky and John Ferraro, all of whom represent parts of the Valley.
Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who represents the Hollywood area, said that a flat-rate system would force those who use less water to subsidize those who use more.
DWP officials estimate that the city will lose $7 million in revenues by extending the lower winter rates through the summer.
Under the old summer rates, customers who used more than twice the median paid $2.98 per billing unit. A unit is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons. Those who used less paid $1.80 per unit.
Under current winter rates, those using more than twice the median pay $2.33 per billing unit. Those using less pay $1.80. The median customer in Los Angeles uses about 10,500 gallons a month during the summer.