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San Juan City Attorney Addresses Water Rate Questions; We’re Not Impressed

The SJC Patch has printed a “FAQ” published by the City of San Juan Capistrano regarding the water rate litigation.  You can read it here at the Patch (we tried to find the original but could not do so on the City’s website, so we are relying on what the Patch has published).  In any event, we’re not impressed.  The questions seemed contrived and the answers all ring a little hollow.

For example, to the question “Why is the city continuing to bill its customers with tiered rates, since the judge said tiered rates are illegal?” the FAQ responds:

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregory Munoz did not rule that it is illegal for the city to adopt a tiered-rate structure. Judge Gregory Munoz did rule that the city failed to demonstrate from the record (i.e., the evidence before the City Council when it approved the most recent rate adjustments) that the tiered-water rates are proportional to the city’s cost of providing water to its customers.

The question is a bit of a straw man.  And the answer, while technically true, sounds like legal spin.  Judge Munoz did not rule that it was illegal for the city to adopt a tiered-rate structure, but he did rule that the tiered-rate structure the city did adopt was illegal, or to be specific, invalid and in violation of California Constitution.  In addition, framing the Judge’s decision as a failure to provide enough evidence in the record trivializes the decision and its impact.

What did Judge Munoz actually write?  Read it yourself from the Court order below:

How would the City Attorney respond to the slightly different question: “Why is the city continuing to bill its customers using the tiered rates that the judge determined are invalid and in violation of the California Constitution, in spite of the fact that the judge issued an order restraining the city from billing or collecting these fees?”  The city may have a perfectly legitimate answer to that question, but the City Attorney would have to answer it head-on instead of putting inaccurate words in the judge’s mouth and two-stepping around the real issue with clever legalese.

The sad thing is, we actually believe that the City ought to be able to continue to bill for water while the case is on appeal, and if the City loses its final appeal, it ought to have a reasonable amount of time to conduct a new cost and rate study.  It is absurd to suggest that the City must give away water for free while this case is working its way through the system.  Most court orders are stayed on appeal, unless a preliminary injunction is issued to prevent irreparable harm.  That would seem a reasonable approach in this case.

The City isn’t doing a very good job communicating its legal position with FAQs that trivialize the case and focus more on semantics instead of the merits.  The fact is in the Superior Court, San Juan Capistrano lost.  Not on a technicality or a failure to show enough evidence.  It lost because a sitting California Superior Court Judge declared the City’s water rates to be invalid and in violation of the California Constitution.  The same Judge issued a writ of mandate ordering San Juan to abandon its rate structure, and restraining San Juan from collecting water fees as currently imposed.  It is our humble opinion that the City Attorney would help his or her client by being a little more candid with the public about what’s going on here, and what’s at stake.

1 comment to San Juan City Attorney Addresses Water Rate Questions; We’re Not Impressed

  • MarkofSJC

    Thanks for the balanced, candid view. For reasons known only to the City, they’ve adopted an “Us vs. Them” attitude with it’s citizens, treating them like mushrooms. The big question is why???