PALMDALE – In August 2011, the City of Palmdale filed a claim seeking more than $3 million in financial reimbursement from the Palmdale Water District (PWD) from charges that were collected through the Water District’s rate hike, which began in July 2009. A press release issued Thursday said the City had yet to receive its reimbursement.
“The court had determined that the Palmdale Water District’s rate increases were unconstitutional and invalid, something the PWD has failed to comprehend,” said Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy. “The City of Palmdale has repeatedly attempted to convey that message to the PWD but to no avail. The PWD should do the right thing — immediately refund the overcharges to its customers.”
In addition to the reimbursement, the City of Palmdale is seeking compensation for the damages caused to City parks brought on by drastic water reductions forced on the City due to the increase in water rates.
In its ruling on the issue, the California Court of Appeals held that “… the PWD has failed to carry its burden to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of Article XIII D [California Constitution],” commonly known as Proposition 218 or “The Right to Vote on Taxes Act.”
Ditzhazy says refunds should be made to the City as well as rate payers, and the PWD should immediately return to the rate structure it had in place prior to its price hike in July 2009.
“The fig leaf approach that the PWD has attempted with its so-called ‘fix’ of one part of the wholly invalid rate increase and the paltry refund of about $9 to maybe a fifth of its ratepayers was laughable,” Ditzhazy added. “They seem to think that by putting a $10 or $20 dollar credit on some of our statements that it somehow remedies the problem. It doesn’t. Their rate hike was totally illegal and it needs to be totally dismantled and redone.”
At the request of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and attorney Jack Cohen, one of the drafters of Proposition 218, the Court of Appeals agreed to publish its opinion in order to provide guidance to other water districts and public entities on the application of Proposition 218.
Back in July 2009, the City of Palmdale began severely reducing the amount of water being applied to all City parks and landscaping located in the PWD service area in response to the extreme hikes in water rates. These reductions came in addition to previous water conservation efforts that were in place for more than a decade – efforts that already included reductions of between 15 and 30 percent in the two years prior to the rate hike.
To protect the more than $500 million dollar taxpayer investment in its parks, the City of Palmdale is embarking on a recycled water irrigation system which will take reclaimed water from the Palmdale Treatment Plant and bring it to the City’s parks, beginning first at McAdam Park on 30th St. East in the summer of 2012.
“We have the pipeline in place up to McAdam Park,” said Palmdale’s Director of Public Works Mike Mischel. “We will be retrofitting the park for recycled water irrigation. Once the treatment facility is fully operational, we will begin watering that park completely with recycled water, and then build infrastructure to reach our other parks and schools.”
“If after returning to the legal rates pre-July 2009, the Palmdale Water District intends to increase their rates, they should do so in full compliance with the law as outlined in the California Constitution,” Ditzhazy said.
(Information via press release from the City of Palmdale)