The first community meeting about proposed water rate increases shifted to a public backlash against so-called "overdevelopment" in Glendale's downtown on Wednesday at the Sparr Heights Senior Center.
After city officials laid out their plan to hike rates by a compounded 21.8% systemwide over four years, residents complained about the roughly two dozen apartment buildings in the works, voicing fears that new tenants in the more than 3,800 units will put additional pressure on the city's already tight water supply and aging pipes.
The criticisms prompted City Manager Scott Ochoa to take center stage and counter the development condemnation. When he said he didn't believe there was overdevelopment, a loud "whoa" swept the crowd of about 20 people.
"I've never heard so many lies in my life — that there's no overdevelopment, that everything's good," resident Ron MacNair said after the meeting. "Ask Mr. Ochoa and there are no problems. We're here in paradise."
Glendale Water & Power General Manager Steve Zurn tried to comfort the crowd when he noted that the city's water infrastructure can handle the new apartment complexes, and if a new pipe or meters need to be installed because of new construction, developers have to pay for that.
City officials are reviewing a new development-impact fee to build up water-infrastructure funding, Zurn added. The city already charges developers parks and library fees. Those were recently more than doubled from $7,000 per unit to $18,000 per unit to end a years-long subsidy to encourage downtown development.
Some Glendale pipes may be old, Zurn said, but they are not "crumbling" as described by residents, some of whom said they felt duped because utility officials for years have been describing the pipes as deteriorated when they've asked City Council to approve past water rate increases and bond issuances.
The utility put so much money into improving its storage capacity — including revamping the Chevy Chase and Diederich reservoirs — without the council greenlighting funding sources that the water side ended up $21 million in the red in 2012. It is now $10.2 million in the hole, according to a city report.
"That's where we let you down," Ochoa said.
Officials also said the new tenants won't impact Glendale's water supply, most of which is purchased from an independent supplier that provides water to many Southern California cities.
Residents said after the meeting that they also felt disappointed when officials described why the water-rate increases are needed just two years after the council upped rates. Officials are proposing four years of water-rate bumps to fix mistakes made by a consultant when designing the 2012 rates, which undercharge some customers and overcharge others.
"The consultant that we had made a boneheaded mistake," Ochoa said.
The consultant, Willdan Financial Services, used monthly instead of bimonthly data and underestimated the number of fire lines.
While residents were pleased to hear that city officials are exploring legal remedies to the rate mess, some questioned why officials didn't oversee the consultant's work and catch the problem before the rates were implemented.
In addition to the general increases — which will differ depending on water use, customer type and meter size — residents also were upset about a proposed drought charge, which would add between 76 cents and $3.07 to monthly bills depending on drought severity in order to buoy Glendale Water & Power's revenues as more customers conserve.
Under the proposed plan, monthly water bills for average single-family residences, five-unit multifamily complexes and commercial customers could increase by $17.98, $46.04 and $16.67, respectively, by fiscal year 2017-18.
"I'm bare budget now," said resident Ron Allen. "If you're bare budget now, how much more can they squeeze out of us?"
Additional community meetings are scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on June 18, at the Pacific Edison Community Room, 501 S. Pacific Ave. and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on June 19, at the Boy Scouts of America, 1325 Grandview Ave.
The council is slated to vote on the proposed rates July 22.