DWP bills jacked up by rising charges for city services: Susan Shelley

It’s summer in the Valley, and that screaming sound you hear is the whole neighborhood opening the DWP bill at the same time.

Higher and higher it goes. Last year, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council approved a five-year rate increase for water and electricity, but there’s another charge on the DWP bill that’s headed up: the sanitation charge.

LADWP bills include the L.A. Bureau of Sanitation’s charges for trash pickup and sewer service. And these charges are a lot higher than they used to be.

Back in 2003, the trash fee, also known as the solid resources fee, was $6 per month for a single-family home. By 2005, it was $10 per month, then raised to $11 in fiscal year 2006.

That’s when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised city residents that higher trash fees would pay for the hiring of 1,000 new police officers. “Every new dollar residents pay for trash pickup will be used to put more officers on the streets,” Villaraigosa said in a press release.

The trash fee for a single-family home went up to $18 per month in 2007 and $26 in 2008.

Then, as the City Council debated yet another hike in the fee, City Councilman Greig Smith admitted that the trash fees were not really paying for more police officers on the streets. “The council and mayor led people to believe that this was only to pay for police,” Smith said. “That was never the case.”

Smith said the city had previously been “subsidizing” the cost of trash pickup and had simply decided to bill residents for the full cost. “You’ve been getting a gift from this city for 50 years,” he told taxpayers.

With this new burst of frankness, the City Council raised the trash fee for a single-family home to $36.32 per month.

The sanitation department is also responsible for sewer service charges, and the complex calculations for this fee make a nuclear bomb look like a grade-school science project.

On July 1 of each year, the city calculates your average daily winter water use (WWU) by selecting the billing period from the previous winter that had the lowest daily water consumption, measured in hundreds of cubic feet (HCF) per day. Factoring in a “dry winter compensation factor” (DWCF), they arrive at your Average Daily Sewage Volume (ADSV), then multiply that by the current sewer service charge (SSC), then multiply that by the number of days in the current billing cycle.


Under an ordinance passed by the city in 2012, the sewer service rate goes up every year. On July 1, it jumped from $4.51 per HCF (748 gallons) to $4.80. Next July 1, it will go up again to $5.11.

According to the brochure sent out annually by the sanitation department, the extra revenue from these rate hikes for sewer service is used “to increase system reliability and production of renewable and economic power.”

It’s not immediately clear how higher sewer charges produce “economic power,” unless that’s just another way of saying the city wants your money and it has the power to take it.

Sometimes there are billing errors, and if you’d like to be a proactive consumer, you can check your WWU, DWCF, ADSV, and SSC per HCF per day for any mistakes. Or you could just do what more and more Angelenos are doing: wait in line at one of the local DWP offices to pay part of your bill and plead to keep the lights on. If you drive by a DWP office and see a line of people out the door and around the block, you can bet they’re not there to get a look at the latest iPhone.

L.A. residents aren’t the only ones who are sick of their DWP bills. In January, Inyo County was notified of a 400 percent increase in cost of a lease for a landfill in Bishop on property owned by LADWP. County officials were so ticked off that they began procedures to “condemn” the land and take it away from the DWP through eminent domain.

The DWP contends that Inyo County does a rotten job of managing landfills and this poses a risk to water quality.

So the lease that was $4,900 per year will go up to $22,637 per year, and that will raise trash pickup costs for every city that uses the landfill, including Los Angeles.

No wonder the sanitation charges keep going up. Flushing all that money is just murder on the pipes.

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at

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