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Board OKs drought plan

February 13, 2008|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

The Metropolitan Water District board Tuesday approved a much-disputed drought plan despite protests from officials in some southeastern Los Angeles County cities who complained that low-income residents would be penalized with higher rates.

Using a weighted voting system that is keyed to property valuation and not population, the 37-member board voted 176,523 to 14,265 to support the plan.

The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego and the Municipal Water District of Orange County were among those voting for the plan after a brief discussion.

"No" votes were cast by Long Beach and the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District, which serves 2 million people in cities along the Long Beach and San Gabriel River freeway corridors. They suggested that they might challenge the vote in court.

The cities of Commerce, Huntington Park, Norwalk and South Gate and four state legislators had asked for a 60-day delay so that local officials could study the plan's effect more closely.

Southeastern Los Angeles County cities could be hit with $37.2 million in penalties within a 12-month period, Assemblyman Hector de la Torre (D-South Gate) -- chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee-- wrote in a letter Friday to MWD board Chairman Timothy Brick.

"The plan, while intending to conserve water during shortages, ultimately provides those who can afford to pay the steep penalties with as much water as they want, and places severe financial hardship on ratepayers who cannot afford the high price of water," De la Torre wrote.

South Gate Mayor W.H. DeWitt and Signal Hill Councilman Larry Forester spoke to the board Monday in favor of a 60-day postponement.

Los Angeles and San Diego officials have strongly backed the plan, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa described it Monday as "the most fair and equitable option I have seen for dealing with a possible water shortage." Orange County officials supported it after requesting a softening of the penalty rate structure.

MWD General Manager Jeff Kightlinger defended the decision not to delay the vote.

"We've sat and worked with folks for eight months," he said. "The plan does not treat anyone disproportionately. . . . It's time to move on and address the more important issues."

If current water shortages worsen, the plan would determine the amount of imported water that the MWD would deliver to its 26 member cities and districts serving 18 million people in six counties.

--

deborah.schoch@latimes.com

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