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Council OKs Meters in Homes to Better Determine Sewer Fees : Public works: Sixty volunteers will have devices installed. Plan seeks to quell debate over fairness of service.

October 28, 1995|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As debate raged on over inequities in residential sewer fees, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to have meters installed at 60 homes throughout the city to see if some residents are paying too much.

Councilman Richard Alarcon proposed the meters--four in each of the 15 council districts--in hopes of quelling an ongoing debate over the fairness of the sewer service fee charged to homeowners.

Most homes have meters to measure the water entering a home, but the city cannot afford to install meters on every home to measure the waste water leaving the home. Because of this, the city cannot accurately calculate how much each home should pay to maintain and operate the city's massive sewer system.

Under the proposal, the city would ask 60 volunteers to pay the approximate $100 cost of installing the meters so that public works officials can get an accurate reading on how much waste water each house generates.

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The readings, taken over a one-year period, could then be used to see if the current formula used to calculate fees is accurate, said Alarcon, who represents parts of the northeast San Fernando Valley.

"I think it will give us a much better estimate than the guesses we've been having to make," he said.

Sewer fees are currently based on the amount of water taken in by each home. The city assumes that about 60% of the water used in each home exits through the sewer, either through washing clothes or flushing toilets.

But Valley residents and some of their council representatives say the assumption is often wrong, particularly for residents who own large lots and put most of their water into gardens and lawns.

In reaction, several Valley council members are supporting a new formula that is based on the water used during the rainy winter months, when residents are less likely to irrigate lawns and gardens.

The formula calculates the sewer fee based on the two previous winter months during which residents used the least amount of water. The formula assumes that 90% of the water ends up in the sewer.

According to a city report, the proposed change would reduce fees for many Valley and Westside residents who own large lots, while increasing fees for smaller homes in South and Central Los Angeles.

Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents parts of the East Valley and Malibu, said the proposed change would make the city's fee formula more equitable for all residents.

"It's clear that the people of our city felt that there is a great sense of unfairness in the current sewer service charge," he said.

But council members who represent areas that would face an increase have opposed the change, saying it is unfair to increase fees for many poor inner-city residents.

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