The Valley rates


Residents of the San Fernando Valley are getting a sweet deal from the Department of Water and Power, but it’s got nothing to do with the new zone system being proposed for electricity billing. It’s fine that City Council members who represent other parts of Los Angeles want to study the zone plan separately from the rest of the DWP’s rate hike proposal, but they will find -- if they are honest with themselves -- that there is nothing outrageous about it.

Rates citywide would be divided into three tiers, with the price per kilowatt-hour going up after the ratepayer uses a threshold amount (350 kWh per month), and up again after a second threshold (1,050 kWh). That makes sense -- the capacity to generate and transmit electricity is limited, so power hogs should pay more for their wasteful ways.

But in the Valley, in the hot summer months only, those thresholds are set higher (500 kWh and 1,500 kWh), allowing residents north of Mulholland to suck up more energy at the lower prices than their counterparts to the south.


Valley residents have a practiced defense: “It’s hotter here.” And they’re right -- the California Public Utilities Commission puts them in a different zone because summer temperatures there average about 10 degrees higher than elsewhere in Los Angeles. The proposed zones will allow those residents to run their electricity-quaffing refrigerators for about the same amount it would cost in, say, Pico-Union. True, Valley residents chose to live where they do, knowing that the cost of keeping a livable indoor environment would be higher. Those costs -- for air conditioning, say -- will still be higher, even given the higher threshold that accounts for basic livability. The electricity zone system is fair.

So Valley residents might want to argue that the same it’s-hotter-here rationale applies to water consumption too. Nice try.

Valley residents say that their hotter zone and their (often) larger lots entitle them to more water to keep their grass green. To which the collective response from the rest of Los Angeles ought to be, “Rip out your lawn.” Daily life in 21st century Los Angeles may require a refrigerator. It does not require lush, thirsty landscaping, nor should it require residents south of Mulholland to underwrite wasteful water use on the Valley side of the Hollywood Hills.

The rub here is that a special break for water usage is already in place -- and has been for 15 years. It has nothing to do with fairness or livability but with special privilege offered in exchange for political support from Valley voters. That’s wrong, especially in an era of diminishing water supply. The council should get onboard with electricity zones but then should revisit the unfair and waste-inducing rate scheme for water.