See bottom of article for update….
Sierra Madre resident John Crawford announced on his website today that he has filed suit against the City of Sierra Madre in relation to the recent increase in water rates. According to Crawford “A “Verified Petition For Writ Of Mandate And Complaint For Declaratory Relief” was filed with the Superior Court of the State of California last Friday, May 6, 2011. With myself as the petitioner.”
We have not seen a copy of the lawsuit, but in a demand letter sent to City Manager Elaine Aguilar in January, Crawford and former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman who Crawford says he has retained as legal counsel in the matter, gave the following reasons why they feel that the City needed to rescind the water rate increase ordinance, passed on January 11, 2011.
I. The Notice That Was Sent To Owners Did Not Satisfy Proposition 218’s Constitutionally Mandated Notice Requirements
A. The Notice Did Not Contain the Amount of the Proposed Rate Increase as Required by Proposition 218
B. The Notice Did Not Contain The Reason For the Proposed Rate Increase as Required By Proposition 218
C. The City Failed to Send Notices For Every Hearing on the Proposed Rate Increase and Revised Rate Increase as Required By Proposition 218
II. The City’s Failures To Notify The Non-English Speaking Residents Of Sierra Madre Of The Proposed Rate Increase And The Revised Rate Increase Constitutes Violations Of The Due Process Clauses Of The Federal and California Constitutions.
III. The City Intends to Use Revenue From The Revised Fee Increase for Non-Water Service Related Purposes
The City had originally proposed to increase rates by more than 15% the first year with additional increases for four more years. At its July 27, 2010 meeting, the City backed off after receiving 1719 valid signatures protesting the increase. Though the number was short of the 1847 required to halt the rate increase, Council decided to adopt a policy of education with the community, hosting a series of “walk and talks” and workshops. When the City again took action to increase the rates, they modified the increase so that the increase was spread out, with lower initial increases, approximately 7.5% the first two years. In doing so, they purposely adjusted rates so that the new increase would not exceed the increase that they had originally proposed, allowing them to proceed without a new Prop. 218 notification to the ratepayers. If the second proposed increase had collected more money than the first, it would have triggered another Prop. 218 notification, and the City would have been required to notify residents that they had the right to protest the increase again.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office website, “In general, the intent of Proposition 218 is to ensure that all taxes and most charges on property owners are subject to voter approval. In addition, Proposition 218 seeks to curb some perceived abuses in the use of assessments and property-related fees, specifically the use of these revenue-raising tools to pay for general governmental services rather than property-related services.”
5:45pm update – Just spoke with Elaine Aguilar, she said that as of 5:30pm, the City had not been served with a lawsuit, and since she has not seen what was filed, she can’t comment on it. I then said “But when you’ve seen the lawsuit, you’re going to tell me you can’t comment on it because it’s pending legislation” and she corrected me that it will be pending litigation, and agreed that that would be the case. The only comments that will come out of City Hall will be repetition of any comments that are relevant that had been said prior to the litigation.
I had sent Ms. Aguilar and Sandy Levin (of Colantuano and Levin, the City’s legal firm) a series of questions earlier in the day, and I asked Elaine about two of those that I thought she might be able to answer without having seen the suit, that being “Does the City’s contract with C&L include compensation for any of the time that will be incurred on this suit, or will all expenses related to this suit be additional expenses? and What will C&L’s (hourly?) rates be for the suit?” She stated that she couldn’t really respond to that because there was the possibility that the City Council might choose to have a different law firm represent them, but not knowing what the law suit is she couldn’t say. I asked about JPIA (Joint Powers Insurance Authority), which insures the City and which in past lawsuits has chosen to settle rather than defend the City, and she said that again, without having seen the lawsuit she couldn’t comment. She said depending on the suit that was filed, it might not even be something that JPIA would even be a part of.