The Beverly Hills City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday night to increase its water rates, disregarding a plea to explain a 25% surcharge for its West Hollywood water customers in the process.
West Hollywood City Councilmember Lauren Meister, who appeared before the Beverly Hills Council requesting clarification about the surcharge, was disappointed by the vote, but vowed to continue to push for answers.
“We’re not letting go of this,” Meister told WEHOville after the vote.
The increase, which takes effect in mid-January, will be gradually implemented over the next five years. The water bill for a single-family home will increase by approximately $6 per month in the first year, with an overall increase of about $30 per month by the end of the five years.
Approximately 8,000 residents and businesses on the western end of West Hollywood will be affected, according to Oscar Delgado, West Hollywood’s director of public works. The area in question is bounded by Doheny Drive on the west, Sunset Boulevard on the north and Beverly Boulevard on the south. The eastern boundary varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood but goes as far east as Flores Street in some areas.
A report to the Beverly Hills City Council said the 25% surcharge for WeHo customers covers costs of police, fire and right-of-way maintenance related to water service, things Beverly Hills residents and businesses pay for through taxes.
However, Meister cited a study by financial consulting group NBS, which the City of West Hollywood commissioned, showing that WeHo customers use half as much water as Beverly Hills customers do.
That study showed WeHo residents use 86 gallons per day versus 173 gallons per day for Beverly Hills residents. For business customers, WeHo uses 893 gallons per day versus 2,046 gallons per day for Beverly Hills businesses.
“If West Hollywood customers were put into a separate class that reflected their consumption rate, we would be more fairly and accurately allocated costs,” Meister told the Beverly Hills Council.
She requested a 60-day continuance so West Hollywood and Beverly Hills city staffs could address the surcharge, or at least a 60-day delay in the increase for West Hollywood customers.
However, her request fell on deaf ears. The majority of the Beverly Hills Council seemed unconcerned about the surcharge. They were more concerned about losing money by delaying the rate increase. Shana Epstein, the Beverly Hills director of public works, said delaying the increase would cost the city $100,000 per month in anticipated revenue.
Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember John Mirisch cast the two dissenting votes against the increase. Bosse felt it was fair to give West Hollywood time to get the answers it wanted regarding the 25% surcharge, while Mirisch was against the rate increase in general, saying the City of Beverly Hills should be more fiscally responsible.
“When it comes to our residents, we are not shy to stick it to them and we’re not shy, obviously, to stick it to West Hollywood’s residents either,” said Mirisch. “It seems that local government thinks it’s alright, or proper, to treat residents like ATM machines because that’s what we do. I’m fed up with that.”
A Beverly Hills clerk reported the city had received a total of 95 letters or emails protesting the rate increase, 88 of them from West Hollywood residents and seven from Beverly Hills residents.
During the public comment period, several West Hollywood residents spoke against the rate increase.
Nina Parkinson called the increase “grossly unfair” and said Beverly Hills owes West Hollywood money back. Meanwhile, Patrick Shandrick suggested WeHo should get a rate decrease given the lower amount of water its residents use.
Kimberly Winick, secretary of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, said that Beverly Hills and Bel Air customers use substantially more water but WeHo was charged more.
“I certainly can’t believe that I’m getting a benefit for fire and police safety here in Beverly Hills when I’m on the other side of the line,” said Winick.
Rich Cohen, president of the Doheny Plaza Homeowners Association, said the 25% surcharge amounts to a tax.
“Charging us more for the same gallon of water is unfair,” said Cohen. “Without an opportunity [for West Hollywood residents] to vote, I hate to say this is taxation without representation.”
Jeff Wolfe, chair of Beverly Hills Public Works Commission, told the Beverly Hills Council that his commission supported the increase, but the issue of the WeHo surcharge never came up during the deliberations. Wolfe said he welcomed the chance for his commission to address it.
In 1928, Beverly Hills purchased the Sherman Water Company, which provided water to the then-unincorporated west side of what was to become West Hollywood. The 25% surcharge was originally implemented to cover the debt of that purchase.
Meister argued that debt should have been paid off years ago. Soon after she joined the West Hollywood City Council in 2015, Meister began pushing for answers about the surcharge. Two years later, she says she has still not gotten a satisfactory answer.
During deliberations, Beverly Hills Councilmember Julian Gold, who supported the rate increase, said that Beverly Hills replaces its water pipes every 50 years. He suggested that West Hollywood could make a capital contribution to the water infrastructure.
“The City of West Hollywood can take on some responsibility for this water enterprise and then also benefit its residents so that it’s not the residents’ responsibility to carry the surcharges but the city’s responsibility to carry those surcharges, much as the City of Beverly Hills carries the responsibities for its residents,” said Gold.