Glendale forecast 2012: Utility issues may dominate agenda

With a proposed water rate increase, a financial review of a controversial money transfer and a possible smart meter opt-out policy under review, Glendale Water & Power will likely steal the spotlight at City Hall in 2012.

As the issues unfold, a new leader will be at the city’s helm beginning this week. Scott Ochoa, former city manager of Monrovia, will replace Jim Starbird, who retired in December.

By the end of the month, proposed water rate hikes once again will come before the City Council. The change would split the water rate for residential customers into tiers and raise the rate incrementally over four years. The council may also have to weigh issuing a $60 million bond for capital improvements.

Glendale Water & Power officials have also said they may be asking for electricity rate changes.

New meters that digitally measure electricity and water use will continue to be a hot issue, as well. In 2011, the city completed the installation of 120,000 smart meters, which measure usage in near-real time.

The new technology prompted a small group of customers to protest the meters over fears that radiofrequency waves were harmful, despite findings that they meet Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

Utility officials may present an opt-out plan to be considered by the City Council after the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utility companies, makes a ruling on the matter in January.

Another utility issue that the city faces is a controversial transfer of millions in water revenues to help pay for general public services — a practice that the city attorney’s office determined put Glendale at risk of legal challenges. Opponents likened it to a back-door tax, claiming that water rate increases were driven by the transfer. Officials say the hike is needed to pay for deferred capital improvements.

Another loss the city faces is the elimination of its Redevelopment Agency due to a state law meant to redirect property tax revenues from the city to the state. The city will be grappling with the fallout from the loss of its redevelopment income throughout the year, since it uses the money to spur new development and build affordable housing projects.

Also on the business front, the city may revisit outdoor dining fees that skyrocketed to $650 from $50. Restaurants have said that the increase was too much. Elected officials who approved the jump said they didn’t realize it would be applied to all restaurants, no matter the size of their outdoor dining area.

Restaurants also may be affected by an upcoming Glendale Unified decision that could change how some students eat lunch. In February, school officials are expected to rule on possibly changing the Crescenta Valley High School open lunch policy, which allows students to leave campus during lunch break.

Some parents want the campus to be closed immediately, while others are pushing for the status quo.

The district will continue to identify major infrastructure projects to be funded by Measure S, the $270-million bond that voters approved in April.

Staff writers Mark Kellam and Megan O'Neil contributed to this report.

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