Long Beach City Council on Tuesday (May 17th) took the first steps to introduce a measure to consider voters on ballots for the November general election – this time concerning a potential merger of the city’s water and gas departments.
Long Beach is the only major city in California to have two separately managed utilities – and officials have been considering merging them for years. Now this process is underway.
Consideration of the issue by the city council was prompted by a unanimous vote by the Long Beach Water Council of Commissioners, which asked the council to consider starting the process of merging the two departments last week.
As the association will require changes to the city’s charter, a vote-approved measure is required to hold the association. If the City Council unanimously approved the request to consider the association, now the issue will be considered by the city commission to amend the statute.
The Charter Amendments Committee, made up of all city councils and Mayor Robert Garcia, is holding two public hearings, one in mid-June and the other in mid-July, to assess public opinion on potential changes to the statute and the merger of utilities. Then on August 9 the City Council will decide on the placement of the measure in November.
Consolidation has long been considered for one main reason: gas and water departments serve the same customers. Residents and businesses in Signal Hill also receive gas from Long Beach.
“Many operations are duplicating,” Water Department General Manager Chris Garner said during a May 17 meeting. “The idea is that we combine the two under one roof and take advantage of this economies of scale.”
The gas department serves about 150,000 consumers and the water department serves about 90,000 consumers.
Gas and water utility bills have already been consolidated (along with sewage and garbage) and sent from a single office. The gas agency has more customers because meters are often counted individually in multi-unit complexes with a single water meter for the entire building.
In April 2020, the Water Department hired Bell Burnett and Edwards to conduct a study on potential consolidation.
“We believe it is reasonable to assume that coordinating water, sewer and gas projects will increase efficiency and reduce costs,” the study said, noting that the city could save $ 1 million on joint pipeline improvements, replacements and repairs. for this fiscal year.
Garner said none of the current employees of both departments will be fired if the union is approved by voters. Rather, he said, positions will be reduced over time due to natural vacancies and cuts.
If approved, the five-member water commission is likely to be renamed – though that has not yet been decided, Garner said.
“We need to think about how we can completely reconsider the role of this new department,” said Vice Mayor Rex Richardson. “I look forward to further discussion in the Committee on Amendments to the Statute.”