The council voted 9-4, on a first reading, to approve the rate increase proposed by the city-owned Department of Water and Power.
Representatives from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and other business interests told the council they supported the rate increase, which would affect residential and commercial customers.
DWP chief Ron Nichols told the council the increase was needed to fund nearly $600 million in upgrades to reservoirs to bring them in compliance with federal guidelines. Newly enacted Environmental Protection Agency guidelines require the DWP to cover its reservoirs or quit using them for drinking water.
If a majority of the 15-member City Council vote for the increase on a second reading next week, the average customer will see their water bill rise by about $5.67 per month. The new rates would take effect 30 days after a second vote and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signing the underlying ordinance.
The so-called water-quality improvement rate would account for $1.71 of the increase. The rest of the increase is attributed to the cost of imported water.
Council members Jan Perry, Mitchell Englander, Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine opposed the rate increases.
Perry said she could not go along with a rate increase until the City Council moves to support the department in reducing its employees' pension, health care and salary costs.
"This is not something that came up today. This is something that has been going on for years, and yet rate increases continue to accrue without any changes in the internal operation of the (DWP)," Perry said. "When the department and the City Council ask the ratepayers to absorb another increase, whether it's water or power, we have to be disciplined in demonstrating to the ratepayers that we have reduced our operational costs."
Koretz and Zine raised concern that the rates were being approved the day after the City Council approved Frederick Pickel to become the city's first ratepayer advocate charged with reviewing the DWP rate increase proposals. Pickel said Tuesday that he had looked at the proposal once, but had not had enough time to provide a recommendation to the council.
"I pledged to my community that I would not vote for a rate increase until the ratepayer advocate was on board. Technically he is, but I'm not sure coming on board the day before was what anybody had in mind," Koretz said.