Thursday, July 23, 2015
High Court Leaves Ruling on Tiered Water Rates in Place
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling that struck down a city’s tiered water rates as a violation of the state constitutional right to vote on taxes remains statewide precedent after the state high court yesterday rejected a request to depublish the opinion.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, unanimously rejected requests by the State Water Resources Control Board and League of California Cities, among others, to block Div. Three’s opinion in Capistrano Taxpayers Association, Inc. v. City of San Juan Capistrano (2015) 235 Cal. App. 4th 1493 from being cited as precedent.
The request was opposed by a number of business and taxpayer’s groups, the California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Taxpayers Association, California Manufacturers & Technology Association, California Business Roundtable, California Building Industry Association, and California Business Properties Association.
The Court of Appeal held on April 20 that San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water rates are unconstitutional, potentially dealing a blow to agencies statewide that have used the pricing structure to encourage people to save water.
Div. Three upheld an Orange Superior Court judge’s decision that found that charging bigger water users incrementally higher rates violates Proposition 218, because the measure “requires public water agencies to calculate the actual costs of providing water at various levels of usage,” Justice William Bedsworth wrote.
“...While tiered, or inclined rates that go up progressively in relation to usage are perfectly consonant with [Proposition 218], the tiers must still correspond to the actual cost or providing service at a given of usage,” the jurist explained.
The ruling came shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown issued drought orders that called on local water agencies to implement tiered water pricing to help save water. About two-thirds of water districts in the state use tiered water pricing, The Associated Press reported, and the ruling was being closely watched to see how it might apply beyond San Juan Capistrano.
That city charged nearly four times as much per unit of water for the highest users to encourage conservation. Residents complained the higher rates were arbitrary and unfair.
San Juan Capistrano, which modified its rate structure after Superior Court Judge Gregory Munoz declared the previous plan invalid in 2013, did not seek review of the ruling. The governor said at the time of the ruling that state lawyers might challenge it, but the state, a non-party to the litigation, had to be content with seeking depublication.
Amicus briefs were filed in the case by the Association of California Water Agencies, League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Planning and Conservation League on behalf of the city, and by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation and Mesa Water District on behalf of the plaintiff.
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