Crawford, City Settle Water Rate Lawsuit

John Crawford

The City of Sierra Madre and John Crawford have reached a settlement on Crawford’s lawsuit over the City’s Ordinance 1312, increasing water rates, filed May 6th, 2011.   In the suit, Crawford alleged that the actions taken by the City to increase the water rates were contrary to law because they violated the California constitution as amended by Prop. 218.  He asked the Court to invalidate the increase (Ordinance 1312), to declare the City’s actions unlawful, unconstitutional and thus void, that the Court maintain jurisdiction to effectuate the action, that he be awarded costs, attorney’s fees and expenses regarding the lawsuit, and such other relief the Court deemed proper.

The two parties have reached a settlement without the case going to trial.  Interpretations of that settlement vary, though, according to who’s doing the talking.  On Crawford’s blog, Sierra Madre Tattler, today’s headline is “Water Rate Lawsuit: The City Caves and Settles.”  In the article, Crawford states that “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 ( is any guide, I was very successful.”

Crawford continued: “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…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.”

According to City Manager Aguilar: “Nothing that was requested in the original lawsuit was granted through the settlement…When it comes down to all they were requesting (in the settlement) was all we had already done in the past, it was a prudent decision.”  Aguilar noted that to fight the suit rather than settle would have cost money.  She was unable to provide a figure for how much the cost of responding to and settling the lawsuit has cost the City, stating that she would not have all the invoices for about two more months.

The City issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

City Agrees to a Non-Monetary Settlement in Local Lawsuit

In early May of 2011, Plaintiff John Crawford filed a lawsuit in hopes of invalidating the City’s recent water rate increase. In June, the City responded to the lawsuit challenging the complaint; and shortly thereafter the plaintiff approached the City seeking a non-monetary settlement.

The City was very confident it would prevail in court; however, the City Council decided to accept Mr. John Crawford’s settlement offer and the case was officially dismissed on July 29th. The City Council agreed to accept the settlement offer, basing their decision upon what they felt was best for the City’s residents and water customers, noting that further judicial proceedings would result in additional legal fees. In exchange for the dismissal, the City agreed that in the event the City was to consider a water rate increase, before May 1, 2014, the City would continue to provide water customers with a Fact Sheet, similar to one it provided during the last rate increase process, as well as information regarding low income discounts, which is always available at City Hall and the Public Library. The City expressly denied that it breached any duty or obligation, and maintains it fully complied with the Proposition 218 rate increase process.

Mayor John Buchanan stated, “The informational piece requested in this settlement is information that we provided in the past, and we agreed to provide it again because it will assist residents in making informed decisions. We would have agreed to do this without a lawsuit. Although I believe there was no basis for this lawsuit, this resolution ends the matter at no cost to residents.”