Laguna Beach OKs annual 6% sewer rate increases for 5 years

A spill response crew works to stop a sewage geyser near Aliso Creek in November 2019. Courtesy of city of Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach ratepayers will see their sewage user bills annually increase by six percent for the next five years to fund necessary improvements to the aging system.

For most single-family homes, the annual user charge will increase from $764.40 to $810.26 effective July 1. Additionally, their monthly sewer charges will hike from $63.70 to $67.52, according to a staff report.

Earlier this year, Laguna Beach agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine to settle a probe by state water regulators into the Thanksgiving 2019 sewage spill, which discharged 1.7 million gallons into the Pacific Ocean. State officials allowed the City to put half of this fine aside to pay for local wastewater system improvements.

With the higher fees collected, Laguna Beach officials say they plan to embark on $34.2 million in capital improvements over the next five years.

These include $13.1 million for the collection and lift stations, $10.6 million for the North Coast Interceptor and other transmission stations, $9.8 million for improvements to the Coastal Treatment plant, and about $700,000 for sewer reserve fund contributions.

Laguna Beach claims to have invested over $60 million into upgrading its sewer system since 2002.

Under Proposition 218 requirements, Laguna Beach mailed ballots in April to about 8,500 properties in its service area notifying them of the rate increases and allowing them a chance to protest. City officials only received 28 protest votes by the June 29 deadline.

Paul Merritt, a spokesperson for the Woods Cove Homeowners’ Association, said the residents of his 20-unit condominium protested the rates.

“The problem is the tax is way too high and disproportionate on certain groups,” Laguna Beach resident Paul Merritt said. I appreciate the staff’s comment on the residential increase but that does not clearly educate the council on why we filed a protest.

He was stunned to recently learn the owner of a neighboring condominium paid a sewer use rate that was more double the fee paid by an adjacent single-family home with landscaping, Merritt said.

Even with the approved rate increases, Laguna Beach sewer ratepayers’ annual charges will still be less than those served by the South Coast Water District, Seal Beach, and Oceanside, according to a staff report. Laguna Beach’s sewage rates still remain costlier than those of Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and San Clemente.

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