Residents of the west side of West Hollywood will see their cost of water climb with rate hikes approved last week by the Beverly Hills City Council.
The Beverly Hills council voted to increase rates by five percent in November of this year with an additional five percent increase in March 2016 if needed. In addition, residents and businesses that have not achieved mandatory reductions in usage will find themselves levied with a penalty. The Beverly Hills Drinking Water Enterprise serves an area of West Hollywood whose approximate boundaries are Doheny Drive on the west, Sunset Boulevard on the north, Flores Street on the east and on Beverly Boulevard on south. The rest of the city is served by the L.A. Department of Water and Power (DWP).
The rate increases are intended, in part, to compensate for a decline in revenue because of drought conservation measures. “The City is projecting a revenue shortfall based on increasing costs to operate and maintain a reliable water supply and decreasing revenues due to conservation efforts,” said a staff report to the Beverly Hills City Council. The staff report projects a decline of $5.7 million in revenue because of conservation and an increase in expenses of $1 million, part of which will pay for the addition of a Water Resources Manager and other staffers.
The owner of a single-family home with three people who consumes an average of 33,000 gallons of water every two months currently would expect to be billed $261. With the November increase that bill will go to $274 and then to $288 in March. However the extra penalty levied for not meeting water reduction guidelines, which currently is in force, could increase that bimonthly bill to $416 for a homeowner who doesn’t cut his usage by 23 to 30 percent from its 2013 level.
Sam Baxter, West Hollywood’s assistant city manager, wrote a letter to the Beverly Hills City Council expressing WeHo’s objection to the rate increase.
“West Hollywood residents are already paying 8% more than Beverly Hills residents for the use of water,” Baxter’s letter said. “The proposed additional rate increase imposes an unfair burden on West Hollywood residents.
“The demographics of West Hollywood are unlike those of Beverly Hills. West Hollywood has a denser population with more multi-family dwellings. Comparatively West Hollywood residents do not use water for irrigation or ornamental landscapes but use more water for personal use.”
Baxter also cited steps West Hollywood is taking to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s order that water usage be reduced statewide by 25 percent because of the drought. He noted that the city bans watering turf or ornamental landscapes within 48 hours of rainfall, prohibits use of drinkable water to clean the air during construction projects and provides one-on-one outdoor landscaping advice to those residents served by the DWP.
Beverly Hills has been providing water to the area for decades. In 1928 it purchased the Sherman Water Company, which provided water to the then-unincorporated west side of what was to become West Hollywood. In 1948, Beverly Hills started receiving water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) http://www.mwdh2o.com/, which now serves the rest of West Hollywood. It also operates four groundwater production wells of its own which supply about 10 percent of its water supply.
West Hollywood City Councilmember Lauren Meister has followed the Beverly Hills Enterprises’s efforts to reduce water usage and raise fees in recent months, attending Beverly Hills City Council meetings to speak on the issue.
Meister said she didn’t think conservation by existing residents would solve the drought problem if the city did not stop approving new development projects that bring more people to West Hollywood and increase the overall consumption of water.
“So, if current customers have to continue to conserve water, and current customers’ rates keep rising, yet new, large developments with higher water usage are still being approved, does that mean we, the current customers, are basically subsidizing these projects?” Meister asked.
Meister noted that developers of new projects routinely receive a letter from the Beverly Hills Enterprise acknowledging that it will provide the project with water. But, Meister said, such letters really only indicate that the Enterprise will provide the pipes to supply the water and don’t address the impact of new construction on overall water use.