So that customers can make an informed decision regarding whether or not to oppose a rate increase, the City must provide customers at least 45 days before the hearing on the water increase with written notice of the amount of, and the reasons for, the increase. That way, customers can make an informed decision regarding whether to approve or reject a water rate increase. The City in its usual and cavalier way chose to ignore those requirements.
While the City sent residents a "bare bones" notice regarding the water rate increase in May of 2010, it did not provide information regarding the actual reasons for the water rate increase until only weeks before the hearing in violation of Proposition 218. To this day, many residents still believe that the water rate increase was necessary for capital improvements and repairs.
As explained in great detail in the petition and writ I filed upon initiating the lawsuit, the City's primary reasons for increasing our water rates was to satisfy a myriad of bond obligations and prop up the City's bond rating. Approximately, 1,600 customers filed written protests -- almost the majority required to defeat the water rate increase. How many customers would have filed protests had they known the City's real purpose in raising water rates?
And, while we all like to believe that everyone in Sierra Madre is affluent, in point of fact, there are many low income families in our town. The City's Ordinance adopting the water rate increase contained a discount for such families, but neither the notice that was sent to customers back in May 2010 or the Ordinance itself explains precisely how a low income family would determine if they qualified for such a discount, or even how to apply for one.
My lawsuit was intended to shine a light on the City's allegedly illegal conduct in violating Proposition 218. If the extensive coverage of the lawsuit in the local newspapers, newspapers throughout California, along with this blog (sierramadretattler.blogspot.com) is any guide, I was very successful.
Most importantly, my purposes in litigating were to force a recalcitrant City to comply with Proposition 218's notice requirements and to ensure that low income families receive a discount for the water they consume. The settlement entered into with the City accomplishes those purposes with respect to future water rate increases that will be proposed by this City Council. More specifically, the settlement requires that this City Council provide the residents with written notices containing real information regarding the reasons for future water rate increases as well as the detailed information necessary for families to determine if they qualify for a low income discount and how to apply for it at least 45 days before the hearing on the future rate increase.
While my lawsuit, if successful, would have forced the City to conduct another hearing on the water rate increase approved in January of this year, ironically, it would have had no impact on these future water rate increases. And apparently there will be more. At the City Council meeting, where the water rate increase was approved, then Council Member and now Mayor John Buchanan stated that "there will be another Prop 218 process" (i.e., another water rate increase). Accordingly, and notwithstanding the spin you will hear from City Hall, this is a great result for myself and every other water customer.
Finally, what it boils down to is this: The City was sued for violating the law. The City settled the lawsuit by agreeing to take measures, which we believe are required for compliance with the law. If this isn't a litigation victory, then perhaps such things don't exist.
In closing, I want to thank all of my supporters, and especially my attorney Kurt Zimmerman.