Valley Residents Protest Two-Level DWP System

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Proposals to reduce Los Angeles DWP bills for families living on big lots and in hot climates--typically residents of the San Fernando Valley--were called insufficient by several speakers at a public hearing Wednesday night at Valley College.

More than 60 people attended the hearing, the first of eight such sessions by the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, including three in the Valley.

The rate revisions, announced in June, were designed especially to provide relief to Valley residents, following an outpouring of protests against a previous rate change.

To encourage water conservation, a two-level rate system was introduced last year, imposing higher bills on customers who used more than twice the median amount of water and a lower rate for more frugal users.

However, in the Valley, residents complained last summer to City Hall about their ballooning water and power bills, some of which approached or topped $1,000 for two-month periods.

"Try as they might to conserve water, they could not stay below the upper level of charges," said Ken Worthen, a member of the mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee on Water Rates that proposed the revisions.

The committee decided that the two-level system made it unreasonably difficult for many customers to stay within the lower level of usage, even when they were conscientious about conservation.

"We are not washing down our driveways with water," said Bert Bogash of Shadow Hills, "but it is not fair for us to subsidize the people who live at the beach."

The committee recommended in June that the existing two-level structure be retained but the method of calculating charges be modified. Under the proposal, three climate zones and four categories of lot sizes would influence how much each customer would be charged.

In addition, households with more than six people would be eligible to apply for an increased amount of water at the lower price.

Officials have estimated that under the revised rate schedule, nearly 63% of customers will have lower bills while about 32% will see an increase in their bills.

But several residents contended at the hearing that the proposed benefits to the households in the hot Valley amounted to a difference of less than 10% from the water price in cooler areas of the city. "It is ludicrous," said one speaker.

A number of people pleaded for fast action by the water board, which is scheduled to shape the final revisions in November.

Ted Lerchenmuller of Sunland said his water bills, which previously ran $80 to $90, jumped to $250 under the two-level system.

"The Valley is a desert area," he said. "If you look around, you'll see the area becoming very unsightly because people are not watering their grounds."

An Arleta resident, landscaper James Grumbach, said water bill for his half-acre lot almost equal his mortgage bill. He said he saves his bathwater and dishwater for plants and uses standard conservation methods. "But I feel penalized nevertheless--and I guess I just need a shoulder to cry on," he said.

Much of the resentment expressed Wednesday night was aimed at the sewer charges on DWP bills. Greater water usage triggers higher sewer use charges, on the theory that water entering a property must leave by the sewer system. Homeowners complain that this does not take into account the large amount of water that is soaked up by landscaping or evaporates from swimming pools.

Dennis Tito, president of the board, said the public works department sets sewer use rates and that subject could not be discussed at these hearings.

The next hearings in the Valley will be Oct. 11 at the DWP's Water and Power Aqueduct Filtration Plant, 13101 Sepulveda Blvd., Sylmar, and Oct. 27 at Parkman Middle School, 20800 Burbank Blvd., Woodland Hills. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m.

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