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Santa Monica Council Moves Forward with Water Rate Hike Plan

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 18, 2014 -- While nobody expressed excitement about it, the majority of the City Council on Tuesday voted to move forward with a plan to raise Santa Monica’s water rate by nearly 80 percent over the next five years.

The actual rate hike could be lower. A public hearing will take place February 24, after which the council will vote to finalize the increase. 

Council members could approve a smaller increase, and they asked staff on Tuesday to continue exploring how this could be done and not negatively affect the City’s water program.

“I’m not a very big fan of the motion … I’m hoping between now and February 24, we can brainstorm a little bit more and hopefully get more information coming back to us,” Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez said.

City staff has recommended a five-year hike plan that would increase the rate by 9 percent in the 2014-15 fiscal year and another 13 percent each year after that for the next four years.

This plan is based on a report from consultant Kennedy/Jenks that determined it was the best method for Santa Monica “with the most financial stability” as it works toward the council’s goal of having a self-sufficient water supply by 2020.

The city currently receives a significant amount of water from the Metropolitan Water District.

Five council members voted in favor of moving forward with staff’s proposal. Sue Himmelrich was the lone opposition vote and Terry O’Day left the meeting early.

Himmelrich did not specify the reason for her vote, but she asked staff several questions about whether there were other ways the City could bring money into its water program “that wouldn't be so much on the back of the people who live here.” 

Staff responded that other options has been explored, and guaranteed sources of funding do not exist.

Mayor Kevin McKeown said Santa Monica has been able to maintain its independence as a City because it has its own water supply, and that involves sacrifices. He spoke with his trademark pun usage to get this point across.

“What we’re facing here is a real sobering look at what it costs to truly be free, to be independent, … We have local water that we own, that we can pull out of the ground, and if we want to suck it up, we’ve got to suck it up and pay for it,” McKeown said.

Two other proposals were put forward, although staff said neither would bring in the revenue the City needed. 

One plan would increase the rate by just 2.5 percent, in line with the consumer price index. With the other one, the rate would go up 9 percent each year for five years.

Had the council voted for either of those options, it could only vote to finalize the increase by that amount or lower in February. It could not raise the rate further. 

By choosing the option with the highest rate on Tuesday, the council has the flexibility to finalize that amount in February, or go with something lower.

Councilmember Ted Winterer said it was unfortunate the rate would have to go up at all, but he said the City should not wait so long to do this, so the amount could increase more gradually.

He said, “There’s got to be a better way going forward to smooth out these rate hikes so we don’t go through these periods … and the rate hikes would seem less precipitous.”

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