Glendale Water & Power survey gets low turnout

Glendale Water & Power commissioners this week said they were dissatisfied with the number of people reached by an online survey aimed at helping utility officials redesign customer bills.

Several commissioners said during their meeting on Monday that the survey didn't represent a wide cross-section of the public, and thus couldn't be relied upon to represent popular opinion.

“I feel like your average online user doesn't represent the public,” said Commissioner Armen Adjemian, noting that in addition to the Internet, Glendale Water & Power may also want to try phone surveys.

Since December, the online survey has logged just 210 respondents, most of whom said they liked the overall look of the current bill, but preferred some tweaks. They also said they would like to see better definitions for the charges and their water use reported in gallons, rather than acre feet.

Commission President Zanku Armenian said the survey's results could be used on an anecdotal level, but he wouldn't base a bill redesign on them.

Glendale Water & Power spokeswoman Atineh Haroutunian said the survey was meant to gauge how customers felt about bill changes. The utility plans to continue the survey and to host focus groups after new designs are selected by an internal committee made up of utility officials, she said.

Armenian suggested focus groups take place before the designs are selected.

Glendale Water & Power plans to revamp its bill in the coming months after asking the City Council to update utility rates. The council recently voted to raise and redesign water rates over the next four years, a move that irked some residents and business customers.

Officials want to make sure all rate changes are in place before finalizing a new bill, said Ned Bassin, assistant general manager of customer and support services.

“The bill will probably become simpler than it was,” he said.

Survey respondents also asked that their bills show average daily use, and that historical comparison data be given in numbers, rather than graphs. Once Glendale's smart-meter portal is complete online, residents will be able to track their water and energy use in near-real time.

Smart meters, which automatically transmit usage data, have been controversial, with some opponents claiming that their radio frequency emissions make them sick.

Earlier this year, the City Council approved a smart-meter opt-out policy for those who don't want the digital meters. Those who opt out will be charged up to $56 a month to have the meters checked manually.

Commissioner Hugh Yao said streamlining the bill is a good step for now, but he predicted paper bills will be relics of the past. Even as other commissioners said a broad range of customers won't go online to take the survey, Yao said the utility business is becoming an online industry.

“This bill eventually will become obsolete,” he said.

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