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Suit Against Long Beach Gas Agency Will Proceed


A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has denied a motion by the city of Long Beach to kill a lawsuit brought by a group of residents fighting city gas rates.

Judge Charles W. McCoy Jr.'s decision last week allows litigation to proceed on the class-action suit, filed on behalf of Long Beach residents alleging that natural gas rate hikes imposed in December 2000 were excessive and illegal.

Natural gas rates in Long Beach climbed as much as 600% during last year's energy crisis, prompting consumer complaints about the city's 75-year-old gas agency. The rates have since come down near normal levels.

"They wouldn't have lowered the rates without our pressure," Ronald Noe, one of the plaintiffs, said Wednesday. The suit was filed last June by Citizens for Utility Reform.

The suit argues that the city's Gas Department collected $38 million in excess of prevailing local rates, violating the city's own charter rules designed to protect residents against excessive gas costs.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for gas company customers.

Noe said McCoy's ruling means "we've won the first round of the battle, but ...this is going to be a long, drawn-out process."

Carol Shaw, deputy Long Beach city attorney, defended last year's rate increases, calling them "reasonable and fair."

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