City Council’s Decision to Increase Sewer Rates on L.A. Residents Sparks Debate

Elgin Nelson

      The Los Angeles City Council is considering introducing a series of sewer rate hikes over the next four years to fund maintenance and upgrades of the city’s infrastructure. The city’s sanitation bureau’s proposal suggests implementing seven rate increases between October 2024 and July 2028, starting with a 22% hike.

      For instance, a typical single-family home currently billed at $75.40 bi-monthly could see rates rise to $92.08 in October and reach $155.48 by July 2028. Households qualifying for low-income discounts will maintain their reduced rates despite the hikes. 

      Despite reservations from business communities fearing disproportionate impacts on landlords, the City Council approved the increases in an 11 to 4 vote. 

      Councilman Kevin De León expressed skepticism about the process for seeking the rate increases. “This sounds like a jam job,” he said.

      The hikes are driven by the need to cover escalating construction and material costs, compounded by a 24% rise in labor expenses anticipated over five years due to a new salary agreement for city workers. The last adjustment in sewer rates was in 2020, which was paused due to the pandemic. 

      Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, leading the city’s Energy and Environment Committee, advocated for the fee hikes. “The last increase occurred in 2020, with further deliberations halted due to COVID-19.” 

      “Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place,” said Yaroslavsky, who called the raise “not insignificant.” 

      The charges, defined as property user fees under Proposition 218, will proceed ~~unless~~ if a majority of the city’s parcel owners do not object. The plan outlines significant increases for all property types, including multi-unit residential buildings. Officials stress that the revenue generated will solely fund sewer-related costs, including essential infrastructure repairs and compliance with bond reliability assessments. 

      Concerns regarding the transparency and necessity of the rate increases were voiced prior to the council’s decision, as well as worries about the financial pressures on the city’s general fund and the potential impact on landlords, especially those with rent-stabilized properties unable to pass on increased costs to tenants. 

Anna Ortega, assistant general manager at the city’s Housing Department, sought to ease concerns about the effect on landlords. Ortega cited Housing Department research showing that of the income a landlord receives annually from tenants, about 35% goes into operating expenses for the property. 

      Of that 35%, about 1.5% goes to sewer costs. “What I’m trying to say is that the utility percent, even though it’s going up — it’s a small percent of the operating expenses and of the operating income,” she said. 

      Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., called the fee hikes “rushed” and accused officials of failing to do enough public outreach. “This is the wrong way to do something that increases rates so drastically,” he said.

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