Rate meeting angers residents

For at least half the roughly 25 people who showed up to a community meeting Thursday night on proposed electricity rate increases, it wasn't just the thought of ballooning bills that had them fuming, it was how the meeting was run.

For starters, there was a police officer standing in the back of the room — not exactly a welcoming environment for dissent, they said. And when residents wanted to ask questions, officials requested they do so in small groups broken up by topic — diluting the reach of contrary opinions, critics claimed.

Officials said the break-out groups were for the sake of efficiency, noting that previous meetings had been held "captive" by a handful of critics and their grandstanding. The police officer was in response to rowdy residents at the first of six outreach meetings last week, said Steve Lins, the chief assistant general manager of power and support services for Glendale Water & Power.

Critics weren't having it.

"It's like me telling my friend 'Oh, come have a cup of coffee with me, but you know, my friend, the policeman, is here,'" said resident Julio Escobar, who wasn't the only one who felt uncomfortable with the presence of the officer, who remained silent throughout.

"It's overkill," Escobar added.

Others complained that by breaking up into groups, they couldn't hear what their neighbors had to say.

City Manager Scott Ochoa invited residents who wanted to speak in a larger group to talk to him, but most of the detractors simply talked among themselves in the Boy Scouts of America office after a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation.

Glendale Water & Power officials have proposed five years of increases in the following order — 8% the first year, then 7%, 5%, 2% and 2% in subsequent years — in addition to a $60-million bond issuance to cover capital improvement projects and the increased costs of federal and state regulations that require more cyber security and more power generated by renewable energy resources.

Eric Campbell, finance administrator at the utility, said without the increases, the electric side of Glendale Water & Power will become insolvent by 2017.

If that's the case, residents said, officials should stop a $21-million transfer from the electric side of the utility to the city's General Fund, which provides funding for library, parks and other general services. City Council members have said they plan to keep the transfer in place to continue the levels of service the public has come to expect in Glendale, but several residents Thursday night called the transfer a backdoor tax.

Officials have not been mentioning the transfer during community meetings because they consider it a required cost of service.

The Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury recommended in March that the city hold a special election asking voters to decide the fate of the transfer, but this week the City Council rejected that finding, contending it was political and based on faulty assumptions.

Campbell said the need for such a large rate jump comes after nearly five years of no electricity rate increases. The better approach would have been smaller incremental increases year-to-year, he added.

"Hindsight is always 20/20," said resident Brian Ellis. "Two percent a year would have been better off than jamming this down our throats."

Even with the increases, Glendale Water & Power still is on the lower end of the scale in terms of rate charges in the region, falling behind Burbank in monthly residential, small commercial and commercial bills, according to the utility.

The City Council is set to review the proposed changes in August.


There are two more community meetings scheduled:

• 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 26, Glendale Youth Center, 211 W. Chestnut St., Suite 302

• 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 27, Pacific Edison Community Center, 501 S. Pacific Ave.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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