City Councilman Joel Wachs asked Friday for changes in a proposed new water rate structure to help San Fernando Valley residents--who would otherwise see their water bills soar while people in cooler parts of the city pay less.
Wachs presented a plan at the council meeting that would make Valley residents eligible for discounts of up to 20% if they can prove they made a strong effort to conserve water. The plan would allow a 10% discount for those living in a "hotter climate" and another 10% for those with large properties.
"It will not only benefit Valley users, but others with big properties," Wachs said in an interview after Friday's meeting. The proposal was referred to a council committee overseeing water rate restructuring and is scheduled for a hearing Oct. 7.
The Wachs proposal was a response to Mayor Tom Bradley's Blue-Ribbon Committee on Water Rates, which in July recommended a new rate structure that would require residential customers who use the most water to pay a higher rate.
Under the committee plan, residents who use more than 4,200 cubic feet of water per month would pay the higher rate. About 29% of the city's residential water users consume more than that, but 69% of those heavy users are Valley residents.
Wachs' proposal would doubly benefit Valley residents who often have larger yards and hotter summer temperatures.
"The Valley seems to be bearing a large proportion of the increase, without considering that some people have large amounts of property that must be watered," said Heather Dalmont, an aide to Wachs. "You may have many people in the Valley with low incomes and large properties who shouldn't be forced to see their fruit trees die. . . . The inequities need to be corrected."
The Wachs proposal would also require the department to come before the council anytime it seeks a major water purchase.
Wachs, who has clashed with the DWP for years over rate policy, is preparing to run for mayor next year. He has begun raising campaign funds and is also developing a strategy targeting voters in the Valley with issues such as high water rates.
Wachs acknowledged that his plan would raise less money than the blue-ribbon committee plan, but neither he nor the DWP was able to estimate how much. He said his plan might require raising the rates on other users, including commercial customers. By spreading the pain of rate hikes around, the result should be "only fractional" increases in everyone's water bills, Wachs said.
Because his plan contains no specifics and does not define what constitutes a hotter climate, DWP officials said there could be serious problems in implementation.
"This gets you into some equity problems," said Gerald Gewe, DWP engineer of water resources. "What is the difference between living on one side of Mulholland and living on the other? Wherever the boundaries are, somebody is going to be left outside the boundary and they are going to be very angry."
Gewe predicted the department would be flooded with lawsuits over water rates if Wachs' plan is adopted.
"We're a litigious society," Gewe said. "If people feel like their neighbor is getting a break they aren't getting, then they take it to court."
Times staff writer John Schwada contributed to this report