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City Council's Water Rate Plan: All Wet : Complex new revisions in user fees that only a true guzzler could love

March 12, 1995

Mobile, Ala., gets nearly 65 inches of precipitation a year. Houston averages nearly 45, Seattle almost 39 and Portland just an inch less. Los Angeles isn't even in the race: It gets less than 15.

Forget Southern California's great rainstorms of 1995; we all know that this year is far from the norm. In fact, among 68 reporting stations nationwide used by the National Climactic Data Center, only seven regions receive less annual precipitation than Southern California. Even Salt Lake City is wetter, receiving more than 16 inches a year.

So, the guiding philosophy here in what is essentially a desert city ought to be mindfulness of the ever-present possibility of drought and a commitment to erring on the side of conservation. If it's right to have a gas-guzzler tax for cars with poor mileage, then water guzzlers in this thirsty metropolis ought to pay more, too.

That is exactly what the commissioners of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power decided in December of 1992, and we supported them. What was eventually created was a two-tiered water rate system that rewarded those who used less water by giving them lower rates. Only those who used more than twice the city's median amount of water had to pay the higher rate.

Now, unfortunately, the L.A. City Council is failing to exercise leadership for the rest of Southern California on this issue. Maybe council members--and the water users who lobbied them--think that it has rained so much lately that we've floated into Alabama.

The 15-member council voted 8 to 4 last week to scrap the current system in favor of one that is unusually complicated and would give water rate breaks to people in 24 ZIP codes in the San Fernando Valley and South and East Los Angeles. Because the proposed change did not receive the necessary 12 votes, the council will have to vote again this week.

The only good thing that can be said about this plan is that the breaks would go to some large families with small incomes, not just to people with swimming pools, hot tubs and large lots designed to resemble stands of Brazilian rain forest.

The proposed policy resembles federal tax law in its complexity, creating five categories for lot sizes, eight for household sizes and three for climate (cool, moderate and hot).

The upshot is that a lot of heavy users with large lots in hot areas would pay less than they do now and some smaller users would see their bills rise. Think of it as having to pay more at the pump for your economy vehicle to help out the fellow who was forced to buy that luxury car. Can't the City Council do better than this?

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