High bills cause protest

CITY HALL — More than 100 residents held signs and marched around City Hall and the Glendale Water & Power building Sunday in protest of utility costs that they argued are too high.

Some complained that their bimonthly bills had jumped more than $100 from last year's totals and others claimed that high salaries for Glendale workers had influenced fees from the city's utility.

Speakers at the politically charged rally, which was attended by a handful of City Council hopefuls, called for changes in leadership positions because of rates they said were too expensive.

“Our government does not have the right to abuse the citizens in this way,” said Artur Babayan, a Glendale Community College student and organizer of the event.

City Manager Jim Starbird, who made a brief stop at City Hall to gauge the atmosphere of the protest from a nearby parking structure argued that many of the concerns were unfounded. Glendale Water & Power's electricity rates, which ranked among the highest in a recent study of five comparable cities, have been reduced by 6% this year, Starbird said.

Although water rates have gone up 12.4%, Glendale's combined fees for water, electricity, trash collection and sewage were the lowest in a comparison of five other Southern California cities prepared by officials.

That study showed that the total combined utility expenses for a Los Angeles single-family household were $222.70, while the Glendale fees totaled $173.86 for the same measure.

As far as electricity costs were concerned, Starbird did not deny they were high, but argued this year's decrease is part of a five-year plan to lower rates.

“Electric rates are higher than we'd like them to be, depending on which category of customer you're looking at and that's why [Glendale Water & Power's] strategy is to reduce rates to be within 35% lower than [Southern California Edison],” Starbird said.

Southern California Edison's prices are among the highest in the Los Angeles area, he said.

Protesters frequently railed against the city and the impacts that its fees have on residents.

“The economy's really bad right now that people can't afford to pay high rates for electricity,” Glendale resident Lara Gueyikian said.

Gueyikian said her bimonthly bill had been about $90 last year, but rose to about $115 in February.

“I barely use stuff in my house for electricity and I don't know why it's so high,” she said.

Resident Richard Dickinson addressed the crowd, which had assembled in Parcher Plaza behind Glendale Water & Power after marching around the complex of city buildings.

Glendale was using millions in revenues from the utility to pay for employee salaries, a practice that doesn't happen in other cites, he complained.

“I'm here because I don't like the direction of Glendale,” he said, calling for changes on the council.

Starbird confirmed that the money does support city workers, but argued that other cities have more taxes than Glendale that allow them to pay for similar positions.

Glendale receives only 13 cents of each dollar in property taxes, while neighboring Burbank and Pasadena each receive 20% of their residents' property taxes, Starbird said.

The city also doesn't benefit from business license tax revenues, which are common in other parts of Los Angeles County, he said.

City law allows officials to use up to 25% of Glendale Water & Power's revenues, but they currently use just 11%, he said.

Critics argued that employee salaries were too high and those costs were a drain on resources, but Starbird countered that although a new report has not yet been put together, an upcoming analysis will show that Glendale's salaries are on par with the average of county cities.

?ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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