Wednesday, July 29, 2015

State Supreme Court rules tiered water pricing is unconstitutional

Sacramento Bee/Dale Kasler, 7/23/15.  "California Supreme Court won't budge on water rates."

Image result for wasting water picture
If no tiered price incentive, cost
going up, let others conserve water.
Image result for picture of Jerry Brown
"In a setback to California water regulators’ conservation efforts, the state Supreme Court has kept intact a ruling that makes it harder for municipalities to impose tiered pricing to discourage heavy water use.  ... Gov. Jerry Brown, who has ordered a 25 percent cutback in urban water use, had said the ruling represents a potential 'straitjacket' for regulators.  
....  In April, the 4th District Court of Appeal struck down a water-pricing system used by San Juan Capistrano that charged customers considerably more per-gallon for heavier water use.  ... What was particularly alarming to state officials was that the Court of Appeal 'published' its decision, extending its impact to the whole state.

The ruling has already had an effect on some water agencies. ... Sacramento Suburban Water District said it thinks its tiered pricing complies with the court ruling.“There is justification for tiered rates in general,” said Rob Roscoe, general manager of Sacramento Suburban, which serves parts of northeastern Sacramento County. 'You’ve got to tie it back to your cost of service.'"

Related article -  The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago, 4/21/15. "California cities fret over tiered water rates after court decision." Now, leaders there are taking stock after a state appellate court ruled Monday that San Juan Capistrano’s four-tiered system is unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the three-justice 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the Orange County city’s method violated Proposition 218, a 1996 ballot measure establishing that municipalities cannot impose fees for services that exceed the actual cost. .... Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities, said the opinion demonstrates how the ballot initiative could prevent government from responding to a crisis such as the current drought, now in its fourth year and showing no signs of abating. The measure was sold to voters as a way 'to protect the people from their government,' he said. “It is now being used to prevent government from protecting the people’s water resources.”   Read article.

"The court said the structure violated Proposition 218, a 1996 statewide ballot measure that said municipalities can’t charge fees that exceed the cost of providing a service.
What was particularly alarming to state officials was that the Court of Appeal “published” its decision, extending its impact to the whole state."
That little tidbit has a lot of ramifications for municipal entities that have loaded up their fee structures to plug holes in their budget, not just the water districts. It may be time to revisit the fire inspection fee that impacts every business in town.  

Jim Wagner, Chair, Pacifica BACPAC

Note photographs:  Jerry Brown by Hector Amezcua from a  Sacramento Bee File, article 4/20/15. Green lawn,  (iStock) from This sold house, "11 ways to save water.."

Posted by Kathy Meeh
Read more here:


Tom Clifford said...

Interesting we have had a tier system for years. we also pay a monthly fee for the delivery system. I think they owe us some money back. said...

@TomClifford makes a great point.
Pacifica actually has a reverse-tier system.

We're under a State of California mandate to reduce water usage but the Public subsidizes the worst water wasters.

Sec. 6-6.408. - Strength factors.

The strength factor for a user shall be:

(a) For car washes, 0.9;
(b) For cleaners, 1.2;
(c) For laundromats, 0.75;
(d) For restaurants with functioning grease traps, 1.2;
(e) For restaurants without functioning grease traps, 1.8;
(f) For gymnasiums, 0.9; and
(g) For any other use, 1.0.

Anonymous said...

water district has 4 rates. $2.72 base to $15.83. They will owe a lot of refund money plus interest.

Anonymous said...

When Arrnold was doing his thing in Sacramento you liberals were screaming from the rooftops.
When Jerry Brown does it you cheer him

Pot Kettle Black

Fortune cookie Kathy said...

1204 "kettle black", some of us are trying to find some meaning in your comment???
(There must be some unidentified meaning, other than an alleged insult. Got words?)

Anonymous said...

Kathy, I think he's reporting an emergency. Someone screaming from a rooftop with dirty pots and kettles. Help the man!!!!

The Local Libertarian said...

This country is afflicted with self-righteousness. That is a very dangerous affliction to cure.

Anonymous said...

1:31 We all know when you post anon Bray!

Anonymous said...

pot calling the kettle black is a term for hypocrisy!

Otherwise both the pot and Kettle are black

and don't try to turn this into a race post

Anonymous said...

@309 Apparently not.

Anonymous said...

Very funny now that you've turned this into a racist post.

Anonymous said...

Really, the fire inspection fee? The fire inspection fee has already been reduced significantly. Went from $150 to $90 or 95. Instead of grandstanding for the business vote by supporting cuts to reasonable fees this city needs, effort would be better spent making sure the fee is applied fairly to all businesses including the individual artist studios in the publicly subsidized Sanchez Art Center. End that and any other exceptions.

Anonymous said...

Golly, maybe some smart public interest lawyer will find a way to extend the scope of this Appellate Court opinion to another matter of broad interest and significance--like cities habitually looting sewer funds and then raising the rates because they gave themselves the power to do so. Like Pacifica "plugging holes in its budget" with monies collected and intended for sewer repair and improvement. I mean as incendiary as fire inspection fees may or may not be to the business community, they are of little importance to most taxpayers and, in Pacifica, these fees are a minor source of city revenue. However, when it comes to sewer fees, our City Council has given itself an unlimited credit card linked directly to the property owner's pocketbook. I'd like to see THAT credit card cancelled. And, yeah, I know it's the only thing keeping this mock-city afloat.

Todd Bray said...

This PAC or Super Pac is not valid. You have to be registered and disclose how much money you raise, and from who.

Anonymous said...

Bray, are you talking about WAGPAC?

Anonymous said...

NNCWD may not even qualify as a "municipal agency," and thus this ruling may not impact their rate structure at all. FWIW, the first tier is so cheap that it's much less than what NNCWD pays SF for the water in the first place. i suspect that if they settled on a single tier for all use, that allowed enough to cover water purchase, distribution operation costs and capital improvement projects, it'd be somewhere around the current third tier rate.

Todd Bray said...


Yes that WAGPAC or what ever you call it.

Tom Clifford said...

Anonymous 8:36
The N.C.C.W.D. is a Municipal Agency (note the use of County in its name) Its board members are elected by the public. It is not a privately held business. We also pay a separate Supply & distribution charge of $26.32 each billing cycle. How much if any of that charge is set aside for capital improvements is a question for N.C.C.W.D. but it is clear that as we move up the tiers we are paying more for the water then we by law should.

Anonymous said...

Todd, I'd call it a grudge.

Anonymous said...


We also pay a separate Supply & distribution charge of $26.32 each billing cycle. How much if any of that charge is set aside for capital improvements is a question for N.C.C.W.D. but it is clear that as we move up the tiers we are paying more for the water then we by law should

I think I read that $26.32 is to rebuild the transmission pipes between Hetch Hetchy and Crystal Springs, or the Water temple area.

I know they fixed a part of the pipe down off Crystal Springs Road.