This demand also requested that the City remedy its violation of the Due Process clauses of our Federal and State Constitutions as well. The question here being the City's unfortunate assumption that their Prop 218 mandated notice on the Water Rate increase needed to have only been published in English. Which is just about as bad as it gets as far as the Feds and Sacramento are concerned. You can only wonder how a City Council that repeatedly asks for political correctness when their concerns are involved could have been so egregiously slack about that sort of thing when the rights of others are violated.
While this step was in no way legally required, we went this extra mile so that the City Council would have one more opportunity to accede to reason on the water rate hike. It remains our fervent hope that they will listen to us so that it won't take a Court of Law to force them to comply with the California Constitution.
Think of this as both an intervention and an attempt to keep the noted anti-Prop 218 law firm of Colantuano & Levin from spending our money to further an agenda that may have precious little to do with Sierra Madre. Something that John Buchanan and Joe Mosca seem all too willing to enable. It is important to note that all three parties mentioned here share a strong connection to the League of California Cities, also a rather adamant Prop 218 opponent.
An answer to our Administrative Claim has been requested, and we are now awaiting a reply. When - or if - something shows up in the Maundry mailbox, I will update you here on The Tattler. But just so you know, we fully expect City Hall, our City Attorney and their 4 complicit bosses to reject our request, at which time we will be forced to file a lawsuit with the appropriate California Court.
Kurt and I are confident that if this matter does end up before a judge the water ratepayers of Sierra Madre will emerge victorious. More than 1,600 people signed water rate protests last Spring, and their will must be both honored and defended. That is our intention.
The case we could be putting forward soon is not without legal worth. Notwithstanding our pricey City Attorney's comments to the contrary, our legal arguments are meritorious. In a case in Northern California a Court decided in favor of arguments similar to those in my letter to Elaine Aguilar, ruling in favor of the ratepayers and against their errant city government.
We have also been notified by no less than the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that it "remains interested in our case for possible amicus involvement." Which means they are now considering filing a "friend of the court" legal brief in support of our water rate challenge. Their involvement in our cause is very important when you consider that it was the Jarvis people who actually wrote Proposition 218, and have used it to successfully challenge many similar rate increases in cases filed throughout California.
This is, of course, in direct contradiction to the obvious disinformation spread by the Sierra Madre Patch and on Joe Mosca's Facebook page a few weeks back.
Here are the reasons why the City's many failures to follow the law in this matter will result in their defeat should their continuing irresponsibility cause this matter to go to Court.
1) The Notice Sent To Owners Did Not Satisfy Proposition 218's Constitutionally Mandated Noticing Requirements. That the information City Hall mailed to property owners made no sense almost goes without saying. There was nothing about the amount of the fee or charge increase they were looking to receive. The most important question here was exactly how much more people be would charged, and there was nothing included making any additional costs to the ratepayers clear. Also there was nothing about the real reasons for raising our water rates. All things that are among the minimal requirements for Proposition 218 compliance.
Especially interesting here is how the City attempted to disguise the primary reason for the water rate increase, which was repairing Sierra Madre's bond rating. Instead we were treated to vast gouts of disinformation on the state of the City's water infrastructure, especially old and worn out pipes. Not that there aren't problems with these things, after all the City has been neglecting them for decades. They just weren't the reason why the City Council wanted to raise our rates. It was always about bond debt. As was made abundantly clear here on this blog when we published City Manager Elaine Aguilar's now famous letter to Earl Richey confessing to just that very thing. (Click here for a related article that quotes heavily from this letter.)
One other serious deficiency in City Hall's Prop 218 mandated water rate increase process was that they neglected to send out notices for all the hearings on the proposed rate increase as is Constitutionally required. There were several City Council hearings on the water rate increase, with topics as wide ranging as billing tiers to the actual percentages of the increased rates themselves. But only one was accompanied by a legally required notice, and that one was sadly inadequate.
As most now know, this was one fouled up and legally deficient mess from the very beginning. A process so poorly conceived that you almost have to wonder if it was deliberate.
2) Discrimination Against Non-English Speaking Sierra Madreans. The one Proposition 218 mandated 45 day notice that we did get was only sent out in English. This meant that the City guaranteed that every non-English speaking ratepayer would remain unaware of the water rate increase. This is in direct violation of each non-English speaking property owner's due process rights as Americans. It was an unfortunate omission that could very well be taken as an inadvertant admission of bias by City Hall.
What the City must now do to avoid a lawsuit on this matter.
Immediately repeal the water rate increase ordinance. This is a non-negotiable demand. Thereafter, should the City Council decide to raise water rates again, they will need to conduct a public hearing on their rate increase no less than 45 days after mailing a legally adequate, written notice of the rate increase to the owner of each identified parcel.
Each and every notice would be required to include:
a) Sufficient information for each property owner to estimate their proposed rate increase, including, and with all possible clarity, a precise explanation of how to apply any tier-rate pricing formula.
b) An accurate and complete description of the reasons for the proposed rate increase including, without any limitations, exactly how the revenue from the proposed rate increase is to be spent. We will need to see some actual truth this time around.
c) A definition of the term "low income" including precise income qualifications so that property owners can figure out if they are entitled to such a discount.
d) A translation of the English text into Spanish and other non-English languages spoken in Sierra Madre so that everyone can participate in the process as equals.
All things that the City Council should have done when they attempted to raise rates the first time, but did not.
Why the G4 believes themselves to be blissfully above the law in this matter remains a mystery. If it takes a trip to Court to prove to them that they need to follow the law like the rest of us, then myself and the many others who have stood up to defend our Constitutionally guaranteed rights in this matter will be more than glad to send them there.
People fought and died in wars to defend just the kinds of rights we are talking about here today. We will have failed as Americans should we allow the likes of this Gang of 4 to take them away from us. That is something we must not allow them to do.
The line in the sand has now been clearly drawn. Let's hope these people can finally find it in themselves to make a right decision. There is precious little time left.