San Juan Capistrano Explores Options After Tiered Water Rates Ruled Unconstitutional; Hear Gustavo Talk About It!

Ah, horse ... water
Ah, horse ... water
Photo by flickr user tubblesnap

UPDATE, APRIL 21, 12:47 P.M.: San Juan Capistrano city officials are analyzing the appellate ruling and the City Council will consider its options shortly, according to Tom Bokosky, the city's human resources manager. Options could include another appeal or a request to have the three-member appeals panel opinion "unpublished,'' meaning it would no longer be considered precedent. Meanwhile, Mike Hensley, an attorney who represented Capistrano Taxpayers Association members who sued the city over its tiered water rate structure, disagrees with Gov. Brown that the ruling puts "a straitjacket" on local governments. "There's a lot of studies that show tiered systems do not promote conservation," Hensley told City News Service.

Added his co-counsel Benjamin Benumof: "I think it's actually a win for conservation, too. ... The court inferred there are ways to promote conservation goals and at the same time have a cost-based structure. They're not mutually exclusive." But attorney Kelly Salt, who represented the League of California cities, the Association of California Water Agencies and the California State Association of Counties in the suit, claims it is extraordinarily difficult for water providers to establish costs. "The costs of water are not just (reflected in) the purchasing the water," Salt told City News Service. "It's managing a water resource not just for today, but for tomorrow and future generations."

ORIGINAL POST, APRIL 21, 7:01 A.M.: A state appeals court's ruling Monday that a tiered water rate structure used by San Juan Capistrano is unconstitutional not only complicates conservation in that city but all cities.

That drew the wrath of Governor Jerry Brown, who issued a statement saying the 4th District Court of Appeal decision puts "a straitjacket on local government at a time when maximum flexibility is needed. My policy is and will continue to be: employ every method possible to ensure water is conserved across California."

The court actually upheld an Orange County Superior Court that sided with a group of San Juan Capistrano residents who sued the city for charging arbitrarily high fees via its tiered rate structure.

"The water agency here did not try to calculate the cost of actually providing water at its various tier levels, it merely allocated all its costs among the price tier levels, based not on costs, but on pre-determined usage budgets," reads the court's ruling, which was written by Judge William Bedsworth and concurred with by judges Eileen Moore and David Thompson.

In other words, tiered prices tied to the actual cost of providing water would be legal, according to the decision.

Up to 80 percent of water providers have some kind of tiered rate system in California, where Brown recently called on them to cut usage by 25 percent amid the historic drought.

Hear Mexican-in-Chief Gustavo Arellano's wacky take on all of this in his weekly KCRW "Orange County Line" commentary here.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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