In a few months, folks in Long Beach will see a 12% increase on their water bill.
The Long Beach Water Commission on Thursday morning, June 13, unanimously approved the hike to offset increases in water supply costs and invest in infrastructure. The increase is expected to raise the average single family residence’s monthly bill by about $5.46.
Sewer rates did not go up.
The hike will go into effect Oct. 1 and allow the Water Department to invest in the local pumping system, making Long Beach less reliant on importing water, department officials said.
“Probably the most important piece of this,” Water Commission President Gloria Cordero said, “is maintaining the integrity of our water system.
“We need to upgrade our infrastructure and be less dependent on purchasing water,” Cordero added. “In order to do that, we need to have reserves locally and be able to pump them.”
The vote came after a heated public comment period during which 10 people argued against the hike, citing concerns that the increase was directly correlated with Measure M — which Long Beach voters passed last summer — allowing the city to transfer surplus Water Department revenues back to the city’s general fund.
Water rates in the city have varied in recent years, primarily because of a lawsuit the city settled in 2017, over its long-standing practice of transferring surplus utility revenue to the general fund. In that lawsuit, plaintiffs argued the process was double taxation that voters did not approve.
In June 2017, the Water Commission raised rates by 4%, but months later lowered them by 4.2% because of the litigation.
When Measure M passed last year, the Water Commission shortly followed that with a 7.2% rate increase. At the time, Water Department General Manager Chris Garner said the increase returned rates to where they were before the settlement.
“We all know this is a tax,” Ian Patton, spokesman for Long Beach Reform Coalition, said at Thursday’s meeting.
Patton, echoing the sentiments of the other speakers, said the reason rates were being raised was to supply more revenue to the city.
“The Water Department is perfectly able to pay for its own costs and we are handing it over to City Hall,” he said. “Because city hall cannot handle its own budget.”
Patton pointed to his water bill, at the lectern, and asked commissioners, “Where is the ‘City Hall transfer charge?’”
Commissioner Robert Shannon said the board was not denying that Measure M has impacted the Water Department.
“It was a very active campaign and the citizens of Long Beach passed that measure,” he said. “This is a democracy, and adhering to the rule of law, we have to follow what the public has indicated is the right course.”