On March 29, the City of Davis was served an amended lawsuit over the city’s water rates.
The new suit alleges that the city’s wastewater and water rates are in violation of Proposition 218, which states that a ratepayer cannot be charged more than the cost of supplying water to their property. Additionally, the lawsuit states that the City of Davis has not been charging itself for its water and wastewater usage.
The plaintiffs, Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services (YRAPUS) and John Munn, the former president of the Yolo County Taxpayers Association, are represented by former Davis City Council member Michael Harrington.
“We’re going after them for the wastewater rates because they treat themselves like they do water,” Harrington said. “The rates, we think, are illegal and in fact, the city knows it.”
The plaintiffs believe the wastewater rates are illegal because monthly fees are based on potable water usage rather than the actual amount of water that enters the city’s wastewater system. Wastewater rates are calculated from November to February because that is when the least irrigation takes place.
A press release from the City of Davis stated that “the city firmly believes the water and sewer rates are legally valid and the lawsuit is without merit. This is based on legal analysis by statewide experts on rate structure legalities.”
Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz said that the city doesn’t know what other aspects of the lawsuit were changed in the amended suit.
The city sent a response to Harrington and the plaintiffs, denying every allegation made against them regarding the water and wastewater rates.
“As part of our research into the rate structure, we uncovered problems with the wastewater treatment rates,” Harrington said. “We became convinced that the rate structure doesn’t comply with [Prop.] 218.”
The amended lawsuit retains the original allegations regarding the city’s water rates to be in violation of Prop. 218.
YRAPUS filed the original lawsuit in January and city officials answered and acknowledged not paying for their water consumption.
The city’s statement in response to the original lawsuit said “the city does not separately account for water used at city facilities, [but] the city also does not charge the water division rent for its use of city park space where some wells are located, and the reimbursement of other city services and facilities is overdue for reconciliation and an update.”
Interim Public Works Director Bob Clarke said the city has already budgeted its water consumption for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
As a result of Measure I, water rates are expected to increase starting May 1. Measure I was approved by the Davis City Council on March 19. The lawsuit states further rate increases will be in violation of Prop. 218.
Measure I will raise water rates over the next five years to pay for Davis’ share of the $245 million Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency surface water project. By 2018, water rates are expected to triple.
In light of the rate increases, the City of Davis has created an effort to help residents reduce their water consumption.
“Rates are going to increase and we want to give an added incentive for people to conserve,” Stachowicz said.
The city teamed up with San Francisco-based WaterSmart Software to create a program with which residents can monitor their water consumption. Residents can sign up on the city’s website to view their water usage online and receive water reports by email.
“The residents of Davis are eager to do their part to conserve water,” said City Manager Steve Pinkerton. “WaterSmart Software has provided us with a cost-effective way to do just that. With WaterSmart, water customers in Davis can track their water use, compare their usage to similar households and learn about simple ways they can do their part to conserve.”
The city is moving forward with the rate increases and implementing new programs related to water consumption.
“It is unfortunate that the Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services group are not satisfied with the outcome of the Measure I election. Based on the Measure I vote, the city has a duty to move forward and meet the city’s future water needs,” the city stated in a press release. “The city will vigilantly defend itself and the ratepayers against this lawsuit. Regretfully, the Davis ratepayers will bear the cost of defending this lawsuit.”
PAAYAL ZAVERI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.