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Angeles County | Community News File / Northridge

9 Years Later, Sewer Rate Controversy Continues

July 21, 1998

An engineer with a PhD in fluid dynamics, Shahram Kharaghani, once had the misfortune to be assigned a project that was supposed to last one year.

Nearly nine years later, Kharaghani is still toiling over the city's sewer rate structure, seemingly unable to extricate himself from an issue so complex and controversial that even last year's overhaul of sewer rates in the city has not put the matter to rest.

Sewer rates have come to symbolize general discontent with city government. Neither the bureau's cost cutting, nor its tinkering with rates, nor its cleanup of Santa Monica Bay have spared it from political criticism.

Today the City Council will meet in Northridge to debate the sewer system yet again. Councilmen Joel Wachs and Hal Bernson plan to use the meeting as a forum. Bernson is seeking additional changes to the rate structure. Wachs is pushing for an outside audit of the sewer utility, which he calls wasteful and inefficient.

The sewer-rate controversy originates in drastic rate hikes in the late 1980s that more than quintupled costs for city residents, according to Ann Giagni, the utility's director of financial management.

Most other U.S. cities have passed similar increases, and Los Angeles sanitation officials contend that the city still charges less on average for sewer service than most major cities.

In Los Angeles, a whopping $2.2 billion has been spent since a 1987 court order calling for improvements to the Hyperion Treatment Plant. The improvements decreased the plant's pollution discharged into Santa Monica Bay by 90%, but that didn't stop the controversy. In 1996, the utility was slapped with a class-action lawsuit from ratepayers that drags on to this day.

Kharaghani, one of the bureaucrats at the center of the controversy, is scheduled to speak at today's meeting.

"I have not tried to create a perfect system. You can't," he said. "My job is to create the best and fairest system. That's what I've tried to do."

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