|A confused water customer.|
As you know, this whole water overuse financial penalty mess has been immensely confusing for many people, and even the most sophisticated observers of this city's affairs have found the entire episode to be a little bit baffling. Which I guess explains the purpose of the following letter from our currently waterless Water Department. I am pretty certain they think this note is really clear and all, and that once you and everyone else gets a look at it things will seem all hunky dory again. People will stop complaining about being fined, or having City Hall recommended hired inspectors visit you at home to snoop around the place, and move on to happier issues.
This letter even comes with that always expected and important pat on the head for a job well done. Something many in town find essential in any communication they receive from the city. Most everybody wants to be good, and would feel inadequate if they were told that they are not.
So here is that letter. Having read through this it does seem fairly clear and to the point. There is just one critical matter that apparently gets passed over entirely. More on that in a minute.
The devil is in the details, as they say. Can anyone here explain how the assigning of individual water reduction goals actually works?
Oh heck, it might not matter anyway
The way you are charged for the use of water is based on a tiered water rate system. And according to a lawsuit brought about by a group of residents in San Juan Capistrano, tiered rates could be in violation of voter approved Proposition 218. Their lawsuit has already made it past the first level of judicial review, and now the 4th District Court of Appeals is about to weigh in with their decision. The results could be dramatic.
Here is how they describe it in today's edition of the Daily Republic (link):
Orange County case challenges legality of tiered water rates - A lawsuit in an Orange County city could change the way customers California-wide pay for water.
The suit alleges San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water-rate structure violates state law, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Under tiered systems, the more water a customer uses, the higher the rate. It’s a strategy water districts employ to encourage conservation.
A group of taxpayers argue the tiered structure violates Proposition 218, a 1996 state law that prohibits agencies from charging customers more than the “cost of service” provided.
A lower court decided in their favor, and an appeals court is expected to rule soon.
The residents argue that San Juan Capistrano charged arbitrary fees — especially in the highest tiers. The city’s 2010 rate schedule charged customers $2.47 per unit — 748 gallons — of water in the first tier and up to $9.05 per unit in the fourth, the newspaper said.
The city charged customers who used the most water more than the actual cost to deliver it, plaintiffs said.
“People were getting nailed,” said John Perry, a 79-year-old resident who helped create the taxpayer group. “They were having $500 or $600 water bills on Tier 2 and Tier 3. There were horror stories.”
At least two-thirds of California’s water providers, including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, use some form of the tiered rates that are at issue in the lawsuit, consultants and water lawyers said.
A 2014 study at the University of California, Riverside, estimated that tiered rate structures similar to the one used in San Juan Capistrano reduce water use over time by up to 15 percent.
A state superior court judge declared the city’s rate structure invalid in 2013. The city has flattened its tiers and tied charges more directly to water costs while it awaits a decision by the state’s 4th District Court of Appeal.
If the appellate court publishes an opinion upholding the previous ruling, many Californians could see changes to their bills either immediately, or during their water agency’s next rate-making cycle, lawyers said. Agencies could flatten their tiers, adopt uniform rates or simply wait to see if they get sued, they said.
That could prove interesting.
For the record, we did cover this story a little back in August of 2013 when it all began. Check out who San Juan Capistrano hired to defend their legally at-risk tiered water billing system. None other than Michael Colantuono himself (link).
I swear, that dude is everywhere!