First, any response to City Management must be prefaced with a reiteration of my outrage at their willful misconduct in using Charter Section 1502 in a manner which harms the citizens of Long Beach.
I think 1502 demands that the Gas Department act as a public utility and protect the citizens by tying gas prices to prevailing rates in Southern California. Any legal opinion to the contrary is simply trying to weasel around the intent of Section 1502. In fact, the Gas Department has been run in a manner not in keeping with our trust, and needs major changes to the way it does business. We need to establish clear guidelines so that it fulfills its mission. There needs to be present vigilance in the form of a citizen's oversight board, and the council must lead the way in this restructuring.
If what the city manager is telling us is all the truth, then this is good news. However, I would like a definition of "reasonable" as used in the context of acceptable payment to avoid shutoff and what "good credit history" means. I am suspicious of why they gave only February and March shutoff statistics. Where are December and January? They do not address the fact that our utility and city management had done nothing to prepare for such a crisis and had no mitigation measures in place. It would seem to me that any response by city management should begin with an apology for their poor performance. If Long Beach Energy was run for its ratepayers, wouldn't it keep reserves to cushion the impact of a sudden rate hike? Thirty day advance warning of any change in rates should be an expectation of a utility. (Sixty days as the Apartment Owner Association has asked for, would be even better.)
Put in context, the city's efforts are but a small gesture compared to what they could and should have done. Remember we were hit three times harder in some months than other area gas consumers.
Yes, the Sate Lands Commission rebates do lower these unreasonable rates some. Lowering the price of April gas as a way of applying this rebate seems to me a continuation of the city's poorly thought-out policies. How am I supposed to get this rebate-- turn my thermostat back up? Instead, I would like to know exactly how much this rebate is in each month and have it credited to my bill. Many in our community could use that refund to avoid shutoff and reconnect fees.
Nationally, we have a crisis. Energy bills have risen 150 billion dollars this year. Tens of thousands of working families, elderly, and those living on fixed incomes, face heating bills they cannot pay. Over a dozen states have passed laws against disconnects in wintertime or placed moratoriums on disconnects. Many of these protections will end in April and many people will be unable to pay.
The Federal Government recognized this last year when it raised the budget of its LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) program from 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion. This program is directed to assist those most fragile in our communities. While virtually every utility in the country was advising their customers of the program last fall, Long Beach Energy instead of doing the same was busy illegally campaigning against Prop. J. Long Beach has done nothing to help people use this Federal program. You have to go to Whittier to sign up if you live in Long Beach.
Private Utilities have state PUC's that regulate them, set guidelines for cutoffs, and in many cases direct them to set aside funds for similar purposes to LIHEAP. Long Beach Energy is exempt from these regulations and has no such programs. At the same time, the city management is moving millions of dollars from Long Beach Energy operating and reserve funds to the General Fund.
Why don't we talk about the real issue, 1502? Where is the councilperson who is going to agendize the discussion that all of us want them to have? Or are they discussing it behind closed doors. Are the City Manager and the City Attorney advising the council not to take the issue up in public session? Doesn't anyone on the council understand how important this discussion is and their responsibilities as the stewards of our public utilities?