Community leaders demand an end to utility shut-offs at LADWP Headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles.  (Courtesy photo)

Residents and community organizations from across Los Angeles, specifically in South L.A., have diligently shared their stories about experiencing high LADWP bills, utility debt, and utility shutoffs to LADWP Board of Commissioners and staff, seeking an equitable solution to long-standing inequities.

On Tuesday, November 8, the Board passed a motion ensuring that families enrolled in low-income assistance programs do not need to worry about having their water or power shutoff and extending shutoff protections to all customers during extreme weather events.

The motion also sets the stage for targeting other vulnerable customers like those facing systemic enrollment barriers to assistance programs and compounding health and climate impacts by exploring the feasibility of protections for small commercial customers, CalEnviroScreen-designated disadvantaged communities, and residents in master-metered multifamily buildings. Advocates consider the LADWP Board’s action as a major win for community members and a big relief moving into the holiday season.

Long-time SCOPE member and South L.A. Resident, Deborah Bell Holt, has worked passionately on bringing light to the burden of utility debt and shutoffs on her community.

“Ending shut offs will be pivotal not only to me, but thousands of other people in my community! My business never got started back since the pandemic, and I’ve been struggling ever since. Had my business not ended I would’ve been on time and not had this struggle, but it did and my family needs as much help as we can get,” said Bell Holt.

Deborah Bell Holt (Shae Hammond)

LADWP data show that pre-pandemic shutoffs disproportionately affected Black, Latinx, and low-income ratepayers. Neighborhoods like South L.A., which is home to predominantly low-income and working-class Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities, are particularly vulnerable.

Both before the pandemic and now, South L.A. has the highest rate of residential customers in arrears, 30% in Feb. 2020 and 33% in Aug. 2022, and the second-highest total amount of residential arrears, $19.4M in Feb. 2020 and $46.1M in Aug. 2022. Nearly all of South L.A. ranks within the highest 25% of overall scores in CalEnviroScreen 4.0, with the majority in the top 10%. LADWP data show that these communities face shutoffs three times longer in duration.

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Robin Line is a SCOPE member and South L.A. resident who has faced utility shutoffs and is committed to ensuring that no one else in her community experiences disconnections.

“It’s a start in the right direction, however, I feel like we shouldn’t have to qualify (be already enrolled in one of their assistance programs) to receive the benefit. This is not a trade off! Going without water to drink and electricity for our livelihood is cruel and inhuman.”

Line wants to see all customers protected from shutoffs and she encourages proper customer service outreach. “We need to reach out to all our community members, especially our seniors who are disabled! Our communities need accessible information and assistance regarding utility shut offs programs. It would be really cool to see a special committee for these problem areas that way they are doing targeted work within our communities,” she said.

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