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Proposed San Diego sewer rate spike for single-family homes is scheduled for September council vote

Reverse osmosis filters are stacked at the Pure Water demonstration facility in San Diego in November 2019.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The first hike since 2012 would raise single-family rates 17 percent next year and 31 percent over four years. The proposal would reduce sewer rates for most businesses, condominiums and apartments.

Sewer rates for San Diegans in single-family homes would increase about 17 percent next year and a total of 31 percent over the next four years under a revised rate proposal scheduled for a Sept. 21 City Council vote.

The proposal would reduce sewer rates for most businesses, condominiums and apartments based on two comprehensive studies indicating that those customers have been paying too much while those in single-family homes haven’t been paying enough.

The council voted unanimously July 20 to schedule a final vote on the proposal this fall, despite concerns about the impact on single-family homeowners.

The rate changes, which affect all 2.2 million city sewer customers, would take effect Jan. 1.

City officials said more revenue is needed to pay for the Pure Water sewage recycling system and to take a more proactive approach to upgrading and repairing San Diego’s aging sewer infrastructure.

The rate spike for single-family customers is being blamed on the city not conducting a sewer rate study for more than 14 years; such studies typically are conducted every three to five years.

The longer timeline allowed the rates to get much more out of whack than they could have with a shorter timeline, officials said.

San Diego hasn’t raised sewer rates since 2012, primarily because the last set of increases were arguably too large because they were approved just before the sharp economic downturn that began in 2008, officials said.

Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said he is optimistic that returning to a shorter timeline will make future increases minimal and more in line with inflation. He said he empathizes with single-family customers but added that San Diego must veer from a long history of underfunding vital city services.

City officials proposed even larger increases for single-family homes in March, but they revised the proposal downward this summer after the city’s independent budget analyst got a second opinion from an outside consultant.

Legally mandated second opinion could give single-family home customers modest reprieve

The initial proposal would have increased single-family rates 18.1 percent next year, while the second-opinion study said a 13.4 percent spike would be adequate. The final proposal would increase single-family rates about 17 percent.

If the council adopts the rate increases Sept. 21, a typical single-family homeowner would see the monthly bill increase from $40.52 to $47.64 next year. The bill would then climb to $49.58 in January 2023, $51.53 in January 2024 and $53.07 in January 2025.

The increase to $47.64 would move San Diego from third-lowest among sewer agencies in the county to the middle of the pack.

For businesses, the March proposal would have shrunk rates 5.8 percent next year. The revised proposal would reduce them 5 percent.

For condos and apartments, the March proposal would have shrunk rates 13.1 percent, while the revised proposal would reduce them 12.1 percent.

All combined, the proposal would increase sewer rates about 5 percent overall.

City officials have been holding public forums to alert sewer customers of the plans. An online forum for City Council District 2 (which includes Ocean Beach and Point Loma) is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 29. To register, visit sdutilityrates.com.

Councilman Joe LaCava said it’s important to emphasize the varying impacts on customer classes and not characterize the increases as simply 5 percent overall.

Low-income customers can apply for the city’s “help to others” assistance program, the first donation program in the county to help poor people pay their water and sewer bills.

Former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana criticized the city for not considering climate change when calculating its sewer rates. She said single-family customers with gardens should be given more credit on their sewer rates because plants and trees reduce the “heat island” effect.

Officials from the Otay Water District are lobbying San Diego to charge residents in the southern part of the city less than those in the north because they have access to separate sewage treatment plants.

City officials say they plan to analyze water rates next year, with possible rate increases in 2023.


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