As expected, DWP lawyers claimed Independence citizens did not come up with enough protests to forestall higher sewer rates, but locals say they believe they did and will keep up the fight.
Nina Weisman of Independence delivered more than 200 protest letters to the DWP Commissioners in Los Angeles yesterday. Weisman and many other citizens said DWP officials refused to reveal the most basic public information as they began the effort to gather protests under Proposition 218.
For months, DWP officials refused to reveal to citizens what list they would use to calculate Independence sewer customers. Proposition 218 says that 50% of land owners plus one must protest to put off rate increases. DWP proposed a 600% rate increase that many fixed-income customers say they cannot afford.
DWP’s Gene Coufal and attorney Stuart Hotchkiss wanted to immediately count the letters yesterday. Weisman said they claimed they could throw out 31 of the protests which, they said, left Independence with too few protests.
DWP attorneys insisted that their numbers are based on customer lists as allowed by a follow-up to Prop. 218. DWP refused to give citizens their list or any information after many earlier requests. DWP also refused to reveal to customers how they would calculate the number needed for protest. Citizens studied maps of the town and the sewer system to figure out how to protest. Handicapped by DWP hiding the facts, citizens struggled to get what they believed were more protests than needed.
DWP Interim Manager David Freeman was there at yesterday’s meeting when Weisman spoke. He said he had heard nothing of this issue and wanted more time to look into it. The sewer rates will come back to the Commission in two weeks.
Weisman asked that DWP show her which letters they felt should be thrown out. They refused but finally said they would send her something in the mail. Other Independence citizens who heard about DWP’s treatment of Weisman and Independence called the newsroom to say that DWP just wants to dump the whole sewer system on the tiny town in their “colony.” One resident said, “They remind me of the KGB.”
DWP spokesmen did not raise sewer rates for 30 years. Asked why there was not a more consistent management of the system, spokesmen said it was not something they kept track of until now. And, now they are negotiating with the local Community Service District to take over the sewer system.