|Michael had no comment|
in opposition to this Prop 218 challenge to its tiered water rate system was Michael Colantuono. The world's self-proclaimed expert on such things. And damned if he didn't lose. Bodes well for our possible Prop 218 challenge in a couple of months ... So does this mean none of us should pay our next tiered water bill? Because it's illegal? ... We now have just so very many questions to ask at that meeting on water rates next Wednesday. Like how can the City raise our tiered water rates when tiers have been ruled unconstitutional? Oh, and won't Teresa of Barstow and the consultant be busy! I'll stop now.)
Tiered water rates violate law, judge rules - San Juan taxpayers group sued, charging a 2010 rate increase was illegal.
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO – San Juan Capistrano's tiered water-rate system is illegal, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The city must abandon the system, approved three years ago by the City Council, and restructure the rates so they comply with the state Constitution, an order issued in Santa Ana by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Munoz said.
City spokeswoman Cathy Salcedo issued a statement saying city officials "are very disappointed and are reviewing the decision with our attorneys."
"Given how proud the city is of our conservation-rates program, and how important such rates are for all Californians, we will consider how to respond to this decision in a way that serves our water customers and residents, the city and all who care about a well-managed water supply for California," the statement said.
The Capistrano Taxpayers Association sued the city in August 2012, alleging the rate system was illegal because it violates Proposition 218, an initiative approved by voters in 1996 that requires government fees be set in accordance to cost.
Cities across California use tiered water-rate structures that charge residents higher rates as their water use increases to try to deter people from wasting water. San Juan Capistrano has used such a system since 1991, but the City Council increased rates in 2010. The Capistrano Taxpayers Association said the reasons for that increase were arbitrary.
Munoz agreed, saying he found no evidence to support the rates. He ordered the city to pay the taxpayer association's legal fees.
Munoz heard arguments July 29 from the group's lawyer, Benjamin Benumof, and Michael Colantuono, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing the city.
"This court finds that the city failed to carry its burden of establishing credible evidence that the rate increases were proportional to the costs of providing water services to its customers," Munoz wrote.
"City refers to the administrative record as providing the proof on which the new rates were based, but the court could not find any specific financial cost date ... to support the substantial rate increase."
Munoz also ruled the city violates the Constitution by charging ratepayers for recycled water "that they do not actually use and that is not immediately available to them."
Colantuono learned of the ruling late Wednesday and had no immediate comment.
San Juan Capistrano resident Jim Reardon, who filed the lawsuit with fellow association member John Perry, said he was pleased with the ruling.
"Being in the water business is really a business to provide a service. It's not a business to do social engineering," said Reardon, a member of the Capistrano Unified School board of trustees. "What the city of San Juan Capistrano has tried to do is, through its water-rate structure, change the behavior of people in the town regarding their utility services and to pick winners and losers."
The lawsuit also alleged the city violated the law by increasing rates to pay for a bond that was never issued, but Munoz said the city didn't violate the law because the money went to water supply infrastructure and service.
San Juan Capistrano's illegal water rates
Water rates (per cubic feet)
Construction and fire lines
Source: City of San Juan Capistrano
(Mod: With our City about to raise water rates based on a tiered system of billing, well, the timing of this just couldn't have been much better. Talk about a potential monkey wrench. It just might change something. Enjoy the moment.)