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L.A. Council committee postpones decision on sewer rate hikes

September 13, 2011 | 11:18 am

A Los Angeles City Council panel postponed a decision Tuesday on a five-year package of sewer rate increases, saying sanitation officials should first present a report on the condition of the city’s aging system of pipes.

The council’s Energy and Environment Committee agreed to revisit the rate hike proposal, one that would boost the bill of the average household by nearly 40%, in 30 days. In the interim, the Bureau of Sanitation will produce a report on the sewer system’s “hot spots” -- locations where pipe replacement is needed most desperately, said Councilwoman Jan Perry.

Tuesday was the committee’s fourth discussion of sewer rate hikes since May. Perry, who heads the committee, had predicted Monday that the panel would vote on the proposal. But on Tuesday, she said she was still trying to keep the increases at “the lowest level possible” and had not decided between two competing packages of increases.

Budget officials have recommended a five-year package of rate hikes that would cause the bill of the average household -– one that has three people -– to jump from $29.88 to $41.71. The Bureau of Sanitation countered with a 10-year plan, which would cause the bill of the average single-family home to go up 29% in five years and 77% in 10 years -– taking it to $52.99 as early as 2020.

The city has 6,700 miles of sewer pipes, nearly a third of them more than 80 years old. If the rates were increased, half the money would go toward pipe replacement and half would go toward the upgrades at the city’s waste-water treatment plants.

While Perry voiced misgivings about the magnitude of the increases, Councilman Richard Alarcon -– another member of the committee -- said the five-year plan wasn’t aggressive enough. He said the proposal should be retooled so that the city fixes a greater number of sewer pipes and creates more construction jobs.

The current five-year proposal would create 9,500 construction jobs, while the 10-year plan would create 10,800, according to Enrique Zaldivar, director of the Bureau of Sanitation.

“It’s our opportunity to create a bit of a stimulus program,” Alarcon said.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall