Water Customers to Get $9 Million Rebate

By: 
Stephen Downing

A recent decision by the State Supreme Court to not hear the City of Long Beach appeal to a trial and appellate court decision that found Measure M to be unconstitutional resulted in the Board of Water Commissioners voting on March 30 to rebate the first $9 million of the total $30.8 million to be returned to the Water Department from the city.

Prior to the unanimous (4 of 4) vote in which the general manager recommended the $9 million be distributed equally among its approximate 86,500 residential and commercial customers ($100 per account) public comment during the teleconference was heard by the commissioners.

In addition to heated accusations of thievery by the city, most speakers questioned what the Water Department’s plans were for the remaining $21.8 million to be returned by the city over the next 180 days as well as asking why the department intended to keep the annual $9 million set-aside in the department budget.

Commission president Bob Shannon made it a priority when introducing the agenda item to state that, “The use of the term ‘one-time’ does not mean we won’t consider further rate relief.” He also emphasized that the court “did not require any of the money to be returned.”

The commission president added, “We’re just dealing with the amount of money we have in hand at this time, which is $9 million.

Later in the meeting staff provided the departments rational for keeping the annual $9 million in the Water Department budget by pointing to inflation, cost of water and infrastructure needs.

Why an Equal Distribution?

What was not addressed by the commission was comment made by a Long Beach businessman who identified himself on the teleconference as Chip Whalen.

Whalen argued that not only should the refund go to ratepayers but also the annual $9 million added to the department budget should be eliminated, based upon the fact that prior budgeting for infrastructure had already been considered.

Whalen also argued that, “The refund should go back to rate payers based on what they paid, not evenly.

He said, “We employ over 200 people in the city and operate two large facilities. Our monthly water bills range from $6,000 to $7,000 per month … therefore the money should be returned based on what people paid and not evenly across all rate payers.”

Whalen concluded his comments stating, “We will consider litigation if that’s not the way it is handled.”

Shannon thanked Whalen for his comments.

Whalen Ignored

During commission discussion prior to the unanimous vote to evenly distribute the $9 million to ratepayers, Whalen’s concerns or his threat of a lawsuit were not addressed.

Only four of five commissioners authorized by the City Charter were present for the discussion and vote.

Beachcomber Follow-up Questions

In a follow-up email to the Water Department after the meeting the Beachcomber asked, “Please provide comment as to why the GM or the commissioners did not consider distribution to rate payers of the $9 million on a proportionate as opposed to the equal distribution that was recommended and passed.”

The department’s spokesperson, Lauren Gold replied, “After considering all options, we determined that an equal credit was the quickest way to get the funds to customers.”

The Beachcomber also wrote in the email to Gold, “It was our take away from the meeting that nothing has yet been decided as to how the balance of funds due back from the city will be used by the Water Department – or distributed to the ratepayers – is that the position of the Water Department at this time?

Gold replied, “That is correct. The board plans to discuss those funds in a series of budget workshops starting on May 12.”

City Auditor Laura Doud Monitored the Meeting

When the public discussion during the teleconferenced meeting came to a conclusion, City Auditor Laura Doud, currently running for re-election, announced to the commission that she was monitoring the meeting.

Doud made no other comment or offered any advice as city auditor to the Water Commissioners.

Following the meeting the Beachcomber sent an email to City Auditor Doud and asked the following regarding the meeting and actions taken by the Water Commission:

1. The commission voted to refund the initial $9 million divided equally to the number of ratepayers as opposed to applying a formula that would distribute the money on a proportionate basis according to size of water use – and thus the cost to ratepayers. Do you believe that is fair or unfair to the ratepayer? Do you have any additional comment on this methodology?

2. What was your purpose for monitoring the meeting? Do you plan any action related to their decision? Do you have any comment as to the tone and discussion relative to the agenda item that dealt with the rebate?

3. In a statement from the city yesterday it was announced that the city was disappointed with the decision of the Supreme Court to let stand the decision of the Appellate Court in this matter. Do you agree that the court’s decision should be considered a disappointment or do you support the application of law that prohibited the aims of Measure M when proposed to the electorate?

Doud did not respond.

Mayor Robert Garcia asked about Commission Vacancy

Following the Water Commission meeting the Beachcomber sent an email to Mayor Robert Garcia’s chief of staff, James Ahumada asking: “The Beachcomber would like to inquire as to why the mayor has allowed the vacancy on the Board of Water Commissioners to remain so for more than 18 months.”

Ahumada responded: “There is currently one vacancy on the Water Commission. Commissioner Art Levine formally resigned from the commission via a resignation letter dated Sept. 23, 2021.

The City Council approved a new appointment to the commission on Oct. 12, 2021. That appointment was for Courtni Pugh. On Jan. 2, 2022, Courtni informed the commission that she could no longer serve due to work time commitments.

On Feb. 15, 2022, the City Council approved Gina Rushing Maguire to sit on the commission. Maguire is currently going through the onboarding process.

 

Stephen Downing is a resident of Long Beach and a retired LAPD deputy chief of police. stephen.beachcomber@gmail.com

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Comments

Is it Whalen, Waylen, or Wayland?

Thanks for covering this issue. I think the old term “the fix is in” describes the Water Board’s ignoring all comments that it received. I had to laugh when the Chair mentioned how important it is that customers participate in the budget process. That is not the reception I received. Whalen is the correct spelling.

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