Water rate increase necessary, Public Works says

Citing a depleted reserve fund, deferred maintenance projects, 55 vacant staff positions and net revenue losses each of the last five years, Los Angeles County granted permission last week by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to increase water rates on Malibu- and Topanga-area customers beginning next year. 

“We’ve been able to hold the water rates down since 2006, but we can’t hold them anymore,” said Bob Spencer, chief of public affairs for Los Angeles County Public Works. 

With a list of costly housekeeping chores to catch up on, officials said the only option they were left with was a 25-percent water rate increase for Malibu- and Topanga-area customers over the next five years to collect an estimated $4.6 million in added revenue. 


Public Works officials testified before the board on Nov. 27 that an internal audit of the district revealed they were spending more money than they were bringing in. 

“We have expenditures that are higher than our revenues, so we need to close our gap,” a Dist. 29 representative told the board. “If we don’t do that, the district will eventually run out of money.” 

With added revenue, officials are looking to replenish a dwindled 90-day emergency reserve fund. They also said the district lost money by encouraging customers to conserve water. 

“The average annual demand in District 29 dropped by 27 percent between 2007 and 2011,” Spencer said in an email to The Malibu Times

The increase marks the first hike since 2006, when rates went up 8 percent for District 29 customers. For each of the first two years, District 29 will impose a 5.4 percent rate increase. The following three years customers will pay a 5.2 percent rate increase each year. 

Malibu Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal is skeptical about the motives behind these increases. 

“I’m disappointed that they increased the rates without letting us know exactly where the money will be going. I fear that it will go down a big hole never to be seen again,” Rosenthal said. 

Debbi Stone, who owns the Trancas Canyon Nursery, was surprised that revenue loss was the reasoning behind the increases, but said she had not thought about what, if any, repercussions the increase will have on her monthly costs in maintaining the nursery. 

“I do know that my highest bill has been about $500, which, considering what we do here, I just generally didn’t think it was that high,” Stone said. 

If more than half of the 7,700 District 29 customers had submitted letters of protest, the Board of Supervisors would not have implemented the increase plan. But they received just 169 letters protest letters. 

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 27, Malibu resident Allison Ray complained of insufficient notice. She said she first saw a public hearing notice in a local newspaper on Nov. 15. 

“We didn’t have much time to get these letters in,” Ray said. 

Rosenthal also said it seemed impossible to get half of Malibu and Topanga water-users to write protest letters. 

“I think the fact that half of the people needed to write the letter is absolutely ridiculous. That’s a very high bar to reach,” she said. “I don’t think that they did a great job advertising or communicating about the meeting and exactly what it would mean. But I also know how difficult it is to get the word out to people in Malibu.” 

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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