On Jan. 22, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire issued a tentative ruling stating that the City of Davis’ current and future water rates to pay for the Woodland-Davis Surface Water Project are legal and fair.
The Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services (YRAPUS) and John Munn filed a lawsuit against the City of Davis in January 2013 alleging that the City’s wastewater and water rates were in violation of Proposition 218, which states that a ratepayer cannot be charged more than the cost of supplying water to their property.
A final ruling on the water rates will occur after a 15-day period to allow the plaintiffs and the city to comment on the tentative decision. Other areas of the lawsuit will be settled in the spring.
Michael Harrington, the attorney for the plaintiffs (YRAPUS), said they appreciated the court’s hard work in analyzing the rates.
“We are disappointed with the ruling but the city attorney acted very professionally in trying the case,” Harrington said. “We are now awaiting the court’s decision.”
Davis City Council members were pleased with the tentative ruling because it allows the city to move forward with the Surface Water project.
Measure I, passed in March 2013, allowed the City of Davis to raise water rates to fund this project, which will supply Woodland and Davis with drinking water from the Sacramento River. It will cost the City of Davis $106 million, with a combined $245 million for both cities. The first of the rate increases became effective on May 1, 2013.
“I am very happy our City has prevailed in court. It is now time for our community to move past the continued attempts to derail this critical project, and onto the important work of bringing a sustainable supply of clean water to Davis,” said councilmember Dan Wolk in an email. “We will continue to collaborate with our partners on making sure the project is built on time, on budget and with as much outside funding as possible to minimize the impact to ratepayers.”
Mayor Joe Krovoza stated that the City Council took the advice of the city’s Water Advisory Committee to ensure the new rates were legal and fair.
“This means our joint project with Woodland will proceed to bring Davis a clean, environmentally sound and fiscally responsible long-term surface water supply,” Krovoza said.
Dianna Jensen, from the Water Advisory Committee and a principal civil engineer for the City of Davis, said the aim of the surface water project is to provide water supply reliability and improved water quality.
“The conjunctive use of surface water with groundwater to meet customer demands will result in an improvement in source water quality, substantially reducing the hardness of the water to customers,” Jensen said.
Harrington said that the opponents of the water rate increase submitted signatures on Jan. 23 for an initiative in the upcoming June 2014 election. This initiative aims to place a measure on the ballot to allow citizens to vote on the water rates that will pay for the construction and operation of the surface water project.
This initiative, if approved by the voters, would repeal these rates and return them to the rates prior to May 1, 2013, Harrington said.
As of Jan. 28, the initiative has been taken to the Yolo County Elections office to verify the signatures. According to state law, 1,161 valid signatures are needed to place the initiative on the ballot.
The total number of signatures collected is 2,233, said Tom Stanionis, the chief of staff at the Yolo Elections office.
Zoe Mirabile, the City of Davis city clerk, said that the next step is getting the signatures back from the county by mid-February if it is to be considered for the June 2014 election.
“By Feb. 11, the City [of Davis] has to take action to call the [June 2014] election, so the initiative has to meet that deadline to be on the ballot,” Mirabile said.
Harrington said he expects this to be a great political challenge for the Davis residents.
“We started this water referendum together as a team in August 2011,” Harrington said. “We want the people of Davis to vote as to whether they think these rates are fair or appropriate.”
Members of the group stated that their aim is to fight for safe, affordable, sufficient water provided by a public utility for Davis residents.
The issues the lawsuit addresses about the City of Davis paying for its water use still need to be addressed, Jensen said. Maguire stated in his tentative ruling that a pretrial conference is scheduled for March 7 to discuss those issues.