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Council Votes to Keep SDG&E; in S. Laguna

Times Staff Writer

The Laguna Beach City Council decided Tuesday to keep San Diego Gas & Electric as the utility for the city’s newly annexed South Laguna area.

Some South Laguna residents had asked the council to consider changing to Southern California Edison because SDG&E; charges higher rates.

Tuesday night, however, more than half the 20 residents who spoke at the meeting said they would prefer to stay with SDG&E; because its rates recently have gone down. They also said they did not want to see the utility service-area issue wind up in the courts.

By unanimous vote, the five-member council agreed with those arguments. “I think we ought to leave well enough alone,” Councilman Robert F. Gentry said.

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Since South Laguna was annexed in December, city officials have discussed changing utility companies for the new residents so that all of Laguna Beach would be served by one electric company.

City Council members noted Tuesday night that at the time of the annexation last fall, they were interested in changing utility companies because the average monthly bill for SDG&E; customers at that time was 40% more than the Edison average.

Representatives from both utility companies spoke at the meeting. “It’s anybody’s guess whose rates are going to be higher one day and whose will be higher another day,” said Gerry Boudreau, an attorney for SDG&E.; He urged the council not to seek a change in utility companies.

City Manager Kenneth C. Frank had recommended that the council ask Edison to petition the state Public Utilities Commission to allow Edison to serve South Laguna. But only a handful of South Laguna residents spoke Tuesday night in favor of Frank’s recommendation.

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Laguna Beach Mayor Dan Kenney said that the city had received hundreds of postcards regarding a proposed utility change but that they were “pretty much split” on the issue.

Bob Beck, a vice president for Edison in Orange County, said after the council meeting that he was “disappointed.” He said Edison would not unilaterally request a service-district change because the company believes that it should be requested by the city.

Beck added that Edison would have supported Laguna Beach’s request if the council had directed a proposed service change.

The average monthly bill for SDG&E; customers is $52.78, and the average for Edison customers is $41.24, based on 469 kilowatt hours of electricity, utility officials said.

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On Monday, SDG&E; announced that it had asked the PUC to approve a $30-million annual rate cut and to eliminate a $4.80 monthly customer charge, which went into effect Jan. 1. If the PUC grants the reductions, Orange County customers would experience about a 5% decrease in their bills, for a monthly average of $50.12.

SDG&E; serves San Diego County and about 70,000 customers in south Orange County, including 2,000 in South Laguna.

On Tuesday night, Frank conceded that Laguna Beach’s chances of winning PUC approval for a utility service-district change were not very high. He said that the odds were no better than “10 to 25%" that the PUC would agree.

PUC spokesmen have said that the commission has approved service-territory changes in the past, but those involved cities that wanted to provide their own service or utilities agreeing that a change would be more convenient.

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