New Utilities Commission Proposed

Eduardo Landa

Long Beach officials are looking into combining the Water Department and Gas & Oil Department into one utilities department.

For over a century the Long Beach Oil & Gas Department and Long Beach Water Department have been operating as two separate entities.

On March 29, the Long Beach Water Commission unanimously voted to support the consolidation of the two departments.

“Our City Council over the years has asked us to continue to review our processes and services to find ways to eliminate duplications, create efficiencies and find cost savings,” said City Manager Patrick H. West.

In a press release by the city, Robert Shannon, president of the Board of Water Commissioners said that Long Beach is the only city in California that “operates separate municipal utilities” that are managed separately, as opposed to other cities who operate separate municipal utilities but are managed together.

The next step will be for Mayor Robert Garcia to meet with the city’s Charter Amendment Committee in order to include an amendment to the Long Beach City Charter, which is required in order for the proposal to take effect. Then the mayor would meet with the City Council in order to be able to put the proposal on the November ballot for a public vote.

The consolidation of the two departments has been discussed for a long time, but there was always the issue of someone having to lose power. Now, however, everyone in the city’s leadership is on the same page when it comes to this issue, which is why the consolidation is being proposed.

Both departments have a lot of similarities such as their budget size of about $100 million each and the number of employees with the water department having about 250, while the Gas & Oil Department has about 230.

One of the concerns of merging the two departments is job losses, however city officials have said that there will be no short-term job cuts and any future cuts will be to jobs that are too similar to others. According to the press release, employees will be able to learn new job skills when the two departments merge.

Also, the merger will have no effect to the general fund as the “legal restrictions of the utilities fund are unchanged.”

According to Gas & Oil Director Robert Dowell, the merger could lead to better customer service. Speaking to the Grunion, Dowell said that customers will be able to call the same department for both water and gas issues. This would save customers from having to call two different phone numbers in order to address each utility issue they might be having.

If approved, the new Long Beach Utilities Commission will be in charge of rate adjustments for gas, water and sewer services.

The city will still be determined to protect the environment. In doing so, the Gas and Oil Department will also be changed to the Energy Resources Department and will be in charge of oil operations, as the consolidation will only affect the gas utility operations.

“The Energy Resources Department will continue to reinforce incorporating technological developments to improve efficiencies and reduce emissions and other environmental impacts,” Dowell said.

If the voters approve the measure the plan is to have the consolidation start early next year. Once the new Long Beach Utilities Commission is put in place the city manager will have a say in who the general manager of the new department will be. The commission will then vote to approve.



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