Long Beach wants to merge its gas and water departments; voters could decide in November

Long Beach voters could decide in November whether the city’s gas utility should be merged with its water and sewer services, a move that city officials said could create savings and improve customer service.

The City Council approved sending the issue to the city’s charter amendment committee, which will have to host two public meetings before meeting again to vote on whether to place the issue on the ballot later this year.

Water and sewer services are overseen by the Board of Water Commissioners and the city’s gas utility is currently housed in the Energy Resources Department. If the merger is approved, the two departments would be combined with the existing commission presiding over both services and taking on a new name.

Long Beach Water Department General Manager Chris Garner presented the idea to the council Tuesday night and cited a 2020 report examining the feasibility of merging the two utilities that projected combining them could result in savings of about $6.5 million by the fifth year of the merger.

“Obviously there is a lot of work to get to those cost savings but it’s very encouraging,” Garner said.

The issue was forwarded to the council by the Board of Water Commissioners last week who voted unanimously to ask the council to consider the amendment to help reduce redundancies across both departments like having to dig up streets twice to replace gas and water pipes.

Garner said Tuesday that any kind of savings would not come at the cost of current employee jobs. Instead, the department would work to eliminate jobs no longer needed as people retire or left positions for other employment opportunities.

He added that the efficiencies that the department projects could result in lower rates for customers. Garner has previously said that it would also provide more transparency for setting rates for gas service, something that is currently done outside of the public’s view.

The anticipated timeline could see those meetings held in June and July, with a deciding vote being cast Aug. 9. If the charter committee, which is made up of the City Council and the mayor, put it on the ballot it would need over 50% of the votes to be approved.

Long Beach voters are likely to have another charter amendment to decide in November. The city has pledged to craft a ballot measure to reform the city’s Civilian Police Complaint Commission this year.

The CPCC was a focus of city leaders in the wake of protests over the murder of George Floyd in 2020 that called for more transparency and accountability for police across the county. The CPCC has been saddled with accusations from past and current members that it is not providing the kind of accountability it was promised to deliver.

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