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Rate meeting angers residents

Format of the gathering stifled dissent, some attendees say.

June 14, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

For at least half the roughly 25 people who showed up to a community meeting Thursday night on proposed electricity rate increases, it wasn't just the thought of ballooning bills that had them fuming, it was how the meeting was run.

For starters, there was a police officer standing in the back of the room — not exactly a welcoming environment for dissent, they said. And when residents wanted to ask questions, officials requested they do so in small groups broken up by topic — diluting the reach of contrary opinions, critics claimed.

Officials said the break-out groups were for the sake of efficiency, noting that previous meetings had been held "captive" by a handful of critics and their grandstanding. The police officer was in response to rowdy residents at the first of six outreach meetings last week, said Steve Lins, the chief assistant general manager of power and support services for Glendale Water & Power.

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Critics weren't having it.

"It's like me telling my friend 'Oh, come have a cup of coffee with me, but you know, my friend, the policeman, is here,'" said resident Julio Escobar, who wasn't the only one who felt uncomfortable with the presence of the officer, who remained silent throughout.

"It's overkill," Escobar added.

Others complained that by breaking up into groups, they couldn't hear what their neighbors had to say.

City Manager Scott Ochoa invited residents who wanted to speak in a larger group to talk to him, but most of the detractors simply talked among themselves in the Boy Scouts of America office after a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation.

Glendale Water & Power officials have proposed five years of increases in the following order — 8% the first year, then 7%, 5%, 2% and 2% in subsequent years — in addition to a $60-million bond issuance to cover capital improvement projects and the increased costs of federal and state regulations that require more cyber security and more power generated by renewable energy resources.

Eric Campbell, finance administrator at the utility, said without the increases, the electric side of Glendale Water & Power will become insolvent by 2017.

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