The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday night delayed a vote on increasing its water rates by a month following a request from the West Hollywood City Council.
The Beverly Hills City Council will now consider the rate hike at its Dec. 5 meeting. If approved, the increase would go into effect in yearly increments over the next five years. The water bill for a single family home would increase by approximately $6 per month in the first year, with an overall increase of $30 per month by the end of the five years.
West Hollywood City Councilmember Lauren Meister appeared before the Beverly Hills Council requesting the delay to allow West Hollywood City Halll staffer members time to examine a just received report regarding the 25% surcharge that Beverly Hills imposes on its water customers in West Hollywood.
Residents in the western portion of West Hollywood – the Norma Triangle and West Hollywood West neighborhoods, plus the portion of the West Hollywood North neighborhood that lies west of Hancock Avenue – get their water from the city of Beverly Hills. Residents in other areas of West Hollywood get their water from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LA DWP).
Beverly Hills began providing water to those areas in 1928 when it purchased the Sherman Water Company, which provided water to the then-unincorporated west side of what was to become West Hollywood. To pay for the cost of purchasing the Sherman Water Company, Beverly Hills imposed the 25% surcharge.
However, Meister argued that the cost of extending service into West Hollywood should have been paid off after 90 years.
Meister told the Beverly Hills City Council that West Hollywood began requesting information regarding this 25% surcharge about 18 months ago. At one point a Beverly Hills city staff member told West Hollywood residents the 25% surcharge was now going into the Beverly Hills general fund to pay for fire and police services.
Finally, on Monday afternoon, West Hollywood City Hall staffers received a detailed report prepared by HF & H Consultants with a breakdown of the costs, Meister said. Consequently, Meister requested a delay to give West Hollywood city staff time to study the report.
“We need to understand why this surcharge exists and what it is funding,” Meister told the Beverly Hills Council. “We have gone from repaying a 90-year-old investment to paying into your general fund for police and fire. It’s a bit baffling, and we really need time to review your study and understand what’s going on.”
Meister requested a delay of at least 60 days, something Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse was inclined to grant.
However, Beverly Hills Councilmember Robert Wunderlich favored a mere 30-day delay, saying the city had revenue projections based on the water hike going into effect in January 2018.
Beverly Hills city ordinances state that the rate increase cannot take effect until 30 days after the City Council gives its final approval. A vote is not final until the Council votes on the matter twice.
Thus, if the Beverly Hills City Council votes for the water hike at its Dec. 5 meeting and holds the “second reading” at its Dec. 19 meeting, the rate hike can go into effect on Jan. 19. If the council were to grant the 60-day delay, that would leave the Beverly Hills Council considering the item in early January and, if approved, the hike could not take effect until mid-February.
A Beverly Hills City Hall staffer said the rate hike increase was projected to add about $2 million in revenue in its first year. So, each month the hike is delayed would cost the city about $166,000.
The Beverly Hills Council voted 3-2 for the 30-day delay. Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember John Mirisch voted against it, favoring the 60-day delay.
Mirisch said the 25% surcharge felt like a money grab and that West Hollywood deserved the 60 days to study the report.
“We treat our residents and West Hollywood residents like ATM machines,” said Mirisch. “My guess is that’s going to continue to happen, but I strenuously continue to oppose that.”
Although the council only gave West Hollywood the 30 days to study the report, it did promise the water hike would be the first item on the agenda at its Dec. 5 meeting.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the water rate hike hearing did not begin until 11:15 p.m., more than four hours after the start of the Beverly Hills City Council meeting (which always starts at 7 p.m.).
While Meister was the primary speaker who stayed the four hours to speak against the rate hike, several other West Hollywood residents also stayed to speak against it.
“There is a lot of unclarity about this 25% surcharge, and until that is dissected and explained in a proper manner, I think for West Hollywood customers, there should be a hold on rate increases,” said Patrick Shandrick, who lives in West Hollywood West.
“That’s a big water increase, the 25% surcharge is substantial, so I applaud a (delay to study the report),” said Rich Cohen, president of the Doheny Plaza Homeowners Association.
A Beverly Hills City Hall staffer said they had received 53 letters or emails opposing the rate increase, 48 of which were from non-Beverly Hills residents. Presumably, those 48 opposing emails came from West Hollywood residents.