Council approves increase to San Diego water rates

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SAN DIEGO -- Water rates in San Diego will rise by more than 16 percent over the next two years under action taken Tuesday by the City Council.

The rate hike to customers starts at 9.8 percent beginning in January, with an additional 6.4 percent increase coming next July 1. The second increase is 0.5 percent less than originally proposed.

The hikes cover a combination of lower revenues as customers reduce consumption amid the drought, and higher expenses, according to city officials.

At places such as Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest, they fear the new water rates are going to mean less dough in their pockets.

"It's frustrating in that especially now the cost of living her in San Diego costs so much, we're going to but into guys' paychecks just to keep sales up," said Bronx Pizza Manager Mike Apostoli.

Halla Razak, the city's Public Utilities director, said the cost of imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District has gone from around $500 per acre-foot to $1,200 per acre-foot over the past decade. The new rates -- amounting to 1 cent per gallon -- will still be lower than the average of other local water agencies, she said.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the new funds will keep water reliable and safe, pay for replacement of aging pipes and invest in a system to recycle waste water into drinking water.

“Today's vote really is a critical vote for the future of our San Diego water supply,'' Faulconer said. “Simply put, today's vote is about infrastructure, and how we provide that infrastructure for our San Diego families and for our small businesses.''

Supporters of the increases said failing to approve them would delay the projects, force the city to spend $2 billion to upgrade the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment plant, and require Public Utilities to spend down its reserve accounts -- which would catch the eyes of credit rating agencies, making capital projects costlier.

Councilman David Alvarez, one of two dissenters in a 7-2 vote, said he understood the need for some increases, but argued the rate structure doesn't make sense because it doesn't take into account reductions in water use by customers in the face of the drought.

“What are they getting in return -- what is this message sent to them, that even though they've done the right thing they're going to see an increase in their water rate?'' Alvarez asked.

“That's true whether you consume a little bit of water, you conserve, you're attentive, you don't waste water, or whether you're wasteful and you use an excessive amount of water,'' Alvarez said. “No matter where you fall along that spectrum, today you're going to see the same water rate increase no matter where you are -- whether you save, or whether you waste.''

The other dissenter, Councilman Scott Sherman, said the handling of conservation puts the rate structure in “a terrible, terrible spiral.''

Razak said she'll bring further increases to the City Council over the next five years. The motion by Councilman Chris Cate to shave a half-percent off next July's increase would also reduce a planned July 2017 hike by 0.5 percent.

Council members Todd Gloria and Lorie Zapf also amended the staff recommendation by asking for a staff report on how the city could develop an assistance program for low-income customers, and veterans and seniors living on fixed incomes. The report, from Public Utilities and the city's Independent Budget Analyst's Office, will go before the council's Environment Committee early next year.

The action also includes higher rates for recycled water that is used for golf courses, landscaping and the like.

Representatives of the Otay Water District, which installed such a system in the 1990s and receives recycled water from San Diego, argued that their customers are going to be forced to subsidize the expansion of the so- called “purple pipes'' into northern areas of the city.

Mary Salas, the mayor of Chula Vista, said South Bay residents will have to pay $7.2 million more under the proposal than the cost of service because they've already paid for their system.

Lightner said Otay officials didn't have a problem with the recycled water rate structure until the increases were proposed.

Numerous organizations backed the proposed hikes, including the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, San Diego County Taxpayers Association and environmental groups interested in water recycling.

A residential customer whose monthly bill is now around $36 will see it rise to just over $39, according to a city report. Customers now paying $71 will see their bills go above $77.

16 comments

  • SHAME ON YOU CITY COUNCIL!

    Thank you Alvarez and Sherman for having the vision, courage, and conviction to do the right thing! Your vote today is hope that some day other city council members will do the right thing and remember the constituents that elected them to be wise stewards of our money.

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  • Scam!

    Bet there are siphons to pull monies into other illegal pet projects, raises, plush offices, fancy trips, parties, company cars…..

  • Jen Aguinaldo

    How about 16% cut to city salaries and building maintenance overhead next year? How about moving headquarters to smaller buildings? How about reducing office sizes? How about cutting transportation allowances 16% next year. You want the public to save water but the city does not want to reduce their overall costs to offset the lost revenue. If you have to use the reserves to offset lost revenue so be it. But to increase water rates for all equally (the WATER WASTERS and the WATER SAVERS) is unfair.

  • Paul Green

    How despicable….This is literally price gouging. San Diego GOV. is not getting what they want (budgeted for) and we the residents get penalized. Not sure who to blame for this one, us the voters for electing such schmucks or for the schmucks taking advantage of us. I know morally I need to save water and have by 30% compared to last year. What is wrong is that I make my sacrifices and I am rewarded with a larger bill……???? How about this…..?? SD government takes a pay cut for screwing this up. I have so much more to say and will……..Anyone behind me!?

    • Do

      Im with you. You ask the citizens to save and we do. Now you want to jack up the prices? I’m going back to watering my lawn. SD is crazy if you want us to put up with this BS

  • Sd taxpayer

    This makes me sick! These “people” are not representing us. They are representing themselves.

    They have no shame.

    I will remember these thieves who care little about San Diego and all about lining their pockets.

    You suck!!

  • Patrick

    This is a complete scam…. The water authority orchestrated this over ten years ago, the plan was to increase the rates no matter if folks conserve or the drought ends. There needs to be a federal investigation. They have increased rates without due process and with no public input. Recall the Mayor, and recall the City Council. This is the same fraud the ENRON did, and if you remember the politicians went along with the increase…..same thing is happening all over again. Time to file lawsuits against the City of San Diego, along with its elected politicians.

  • Bouffard Anacta

    Unbelievable! We have been trying to save water since the drought started. My lawn in my backyard is gone, we flushed the toilet if necessary, we turn our shower to soap and rinse only, we did all these sacrifices so we can save water, but in return this is our reward , raising the water hike. I guess since we going to pay for it might as well go back the way we normally use it.

  • Laura & Ted m.

    We’ve learned two lessons after today’s vote.

    1. You cannot trust the San Diego city Govt. They’re as corrupt as they come.

    2. There is never, ever a need to conserve water again. Doing so will just lead to increased rates.

    I’ve turned my automatic sprinklers back on to 100% and you should, as well.

    I absolutely detest this corrupt council.

    • Vuski

      I’m with you. I really don’t see a need to conserve anymore, be it water or electricity or any other utilities. Years ago when I applied for the water rebates for my front yard, a measely 360 square feet, to conserve water, and they refused me, saying that I didn’t qualify because i still didnt have enough “green” in the new landscape, which is totally drought-tolertant now. And now they decided to raise rates just because they wanted to. Well, I’m starting to “waste” water as I please.

  • Tracy Phillips

    Ridiculous – government just sticks it to us again! Forcing us to conserve water or get fined and now hiking the rates…such bull crap! Blood sucking government at it again!

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