City Hall (File photo)

Water rates will jump 9 percent this year and, unless City Council intervenes, 9 percent in each of the following four years, for a 53.9 percent total increase over five years.

Council embraced the “compromise” option, voting 6-0 to decline the most intensive option, which would have brought rates up nearly 78 percent over five years.

City Hall got more than 4,500 protests of the water rate increases, said City Clerk Sarah Gorman, noting that they’d counted liberally without scrutinizing for duplicate protests or protests from people not officially impacted by the rate increase.

About 11,000 official protests would have to have been submitted before the end of the meeting in order to overturn a decision about the rate hikes.

Several council members made clear that council could choose to lower rates in the coming years.

Without the changes to the status quo, water rates would have increased 13 percent over the next five years — 2.5 percent inflation increases each year — and the Water Fund would have gone into the red by fiscal year 2016-17, city officials have said.

The compromise option will keep the Water Fund in the black and allow for some capital improvement projects to the city’s aging water infrastructure, they said.

The most costly option would have provided even more cash for the improvement projects.

More than two dozen people testified about the rate increases, many arguing that they were too steep. Some claimed that current residents shouldn’t be footing the bill for infrastructure improvements that would benefit Santa Monicans for years to come. They called for a bond, which would spread the cost out over time.

Others argued that new developments are contributing to the city’s need to import more water from the Metropolitan Water District.

Councilmember Ted Winterer supported the idea of considering a bond in the fourth or fifth year of the rate increases to pay for additional upgrades.

“It’d be great to have the coolest technology in the county or wherever,” he said of the most costly option, “but I don’t think it’s essential to any of our water conservation efforts or any of our long-range goals.”

He suggested that some of the improvements could be funded through grants.

Councilmember Pam O’Connor refuted the development argument, claiming that the real development boom occurred in the middle of the last century.

Water rates were last adjusted in 2008 and, prior to last night’s increases, Santa Monica had some of the lowest rates in the region, according to city officials.

Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich and Tony Vazquez suggested that increases should have been enacted earlier at lower rates.

Himmelrich, who voted against moving the 78-percent hike forward last year, said she believes Santa Monicans are underpaying for water.

“It’s not that I don’t think we should be paying more money for water,” Himmelrich said. “I think that we should. What I don’t think is that we can shock the system of the people who are the consumers of our water in the way that we proposed to do last week. I think that we need to give people more warning.”

These water rate hikes, it should be noted, are separate from the penalties residents and businesses will incur later this year if they can’t cut back on their water usage.

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