The Long Beach Utilities Department headquarters at 1800 E. Wardlow Road. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Long Beach wants to create a new public utility commission to control its water and natural gas utilities, which currently operate separately. Voters will decide if that happens by voting on Measure BB this election.

The Long Beach Water Department oversees water and sewer service while the city’s Energy Resources Department administers natural gas delivery. The city wants to merge the two through Measure BB and put them under the umbrella of the new commission, a move that the city says could make repairs more efficient because of interdepartmental coordination and the consolidation of jobs.

Opponents of Measure BB allege that this is an attempt for the city to recoup the losses it was dealt by a recent court ruling that wiped away its ability to transfer funds from the Water Department’s budget to the general fund.

That lawsuit challenged Measure M, which was approved by voters in 2018 and allowed the city to charge fees to the department and then transfer about $9 million per year into the general fund where it could be used on any city service or program. State law limits the price customers pay for utilities to the actual cost of providing a service.

As a result, the city was forced to repay the department $30.8 million, which was refunded to customers.

Similar fees assessed to gas services were not part of the Measure M lawsuit and are allowed to continue because gas and electricity providers are exempt from state limitations. City officials have said that the merger of the two departments would not affect the amount transferred from the gas department, which was projected at $13.8 million this year.

A “yes” vote would allow the city to merge the departments and create the new commission. A “no” vote would keep the two departments separated.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.