A proposed increase in sewer rates for the City of Los Angeles would raise monthly residential sewer bills by an average of about $1.75 each year for the next five years, members of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council were told last week.

The Los Angeles City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed increase Wednesday, February 2nd, in the downtown Los Angeles City Hall.

Representatives from the city Department of Public Works Bureau of Sanitation attended the Del Rey Neighborhood Council meeting Thursday, December 9th, as part of an outreach effort to inform communities about the proposed sewer rate increase.

Sam Alavi, city Department of Public Works civil engineering associate, said the average $1.75 a month hike would be “less than you pay for a Starbucks coffee.”

The typical single-family household currently pays $21.37 a month for its sewer service charge, Alavi said, adding that sewer rates would gradually increase each year, reaching about $30 a month by the end of the five-year period in 2008.

The increase would apply to industrial, commercial and residential customers.

The proposed increase is needed to allow the city to maintain its current level of service and to comply with terms of a recent settlement of a Santa Monica Baykeeper lawsuit, public works department officials say.

Under the lawsuit settlement agreement, the city agreed to cover $800,000 in cash penalties and carry out $8.5 million in supplemental environmental projects, Alavi said.

Steve Knight, Del Rey Neighborhood Council president, said the rate increase is needed to maintain the city sewer system, but that the Public Works Department should have taken the initiative to make improvements without the influence of a lawsuit.

“It’s necessary,” Knight said. “The system is old and (the rate increases) would come about anyway, but it’s sad that Public Works has to be motivated by a lawsuit.

“If it takes a nudge from a judge, then so be it.”

The wastewater system in Los Angeles serves more than four million residential, commercial and industrial users, and includes more than 6,500 miles of sewer pipelines, the Neighborhood Council members were told.

Alavi said the city faces many challenges, including a growing population, aging infrastructures with about 60 percent of the systems older than 50 years and limited resources.

The city has maintained steady sewer rates since 1992 with no significant increases, except for a three-percent rise last year, he said.

The Public Works Department has reduced the amount of fat, oil and grease spills and total spills since 2000, but there is still more work to be done, Alavi said.

The city would use the additional fees to improve sewer cleaning, rehabilitate aging sewers and construct new sewers, he said.

Sydni Bender, a Del Rey resident, said the sewer system maintenance has not been properly managed and now the city will need to fix basic problems from lack of maintenance.

“The ongoing maintenance should have been continuously done but it was neglected up to this point,” she said.

In other business, the Del Rey council considered holding a candidate forum at its February general meeting with the three Los Angeles City Council District 11 candidates.

The Neighborhood Council will set up an ad hoc committee for the forum, to be held at Playa del Rey Elementary School and include candidates Bill Rosen-dahl, Flora Gil Krisiloff and Angela Reddock.

Council members also expressed interest in sending members to a Los Angeles mayoral election debate Monday, February 7th.

“I think it would be a great opportunity perhaps, for some of our people to go and present questions, especially those that affect Del Rey and the city,” Knight said.