City of Palmdale wins fight against water rate increases

PALMDALE – In a unanimous decision Tuesday, a California appeals court ruled in favor of the City of Palmdale, giving the city a victory in its fight against the 300% or more increase in water rates adopted by the Palmdale Water District  in 2009 .

“This is great news for all Palmdale Water District ratepayers,” said Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy. “After two years of being subjected to exorbitant and illegal water rates, the Court of Appeals chastised the District for ‘lightly disregarding a clear constitutional mandate’.”

A panel of the California Second District Court of Appeals overturned an earlier judgment on March 16, 2010 by Judge Conrad. R Aragon. Writing the opinion, Justice Fred Woods stated that the District “has failed to carry its burden to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of Article XIII D [of the California Constitution] and the judgment must be reversed.” Concurring in the opinion were Presiding Justice Dennis M. Perluss and Associate Justice Laurie D. Zelon.

In its appeal, the City of Palmdale asserted that the trial court erred in finding the PWD had adopted a new water rate structure in conformity with the constitutional requirements of Proposition 218.  Palmdale has long asserted that the PWD violated Proposition 218, “The Right to Vote on Taxes Act,” in the California Constitution and is seeking to nullify and abolish the 300% or more increase in water rates adopted by the PWD in May of 2009.

After conducting an independent review of the record, the Appeals Court concluded that PWD failed to satisfy its burden to establish that its new water rate structure complied with the mandates of Proposition 218, including the proportionality requirement which specifies that no fee or charge imposed upon any person or parcel as an incident of property ownership shall exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel.

“We are very pleased with the court’s opinion and we will seek recovery of the costs of appeal as ordered by the court,” said Palmdale City Manager Steve Williams.  “We will also seek a refund of all the charges added by the illegal fee increase for the City.”

The City of Palmdale filed several lawsuits to stop imposition of the water rate increases. “These increases were enacted without regard to even minimal compliance with Prop. 218 and completely in derogation of the rights of the ratepayers, including the City, the school districts, farmers, individual homeowners and businesses,” Ditzhazy said.   “PWD’s increase was flawed and illegal on so many levels, and the City pointed this out at every opportunity.  PWD cannot charge a fee that exceeds the amount needed to provide the water; PWD cannot use the revenue from the fees for anything other than procurement of the water and the delivery thereof and the fee cannot exceed the proportional cost of rendering water service to the individual parcels.  PWD violated all these provisions of the California Constitution,” Ditzhazy added.

To deal with the hikes in water rates adopted by the PWD on May 13, 2009, the City began severely reducing the amount of water being applied to all City parks and landscaping located in the PWD service area in July 2009.