Paso Robles residents will not get millions in water and sewer refunds, judge rules

Group of residents claim fees on water and sewer services were unlawful in a class-action lawsuit

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comNovember 2, 2012 

The city of Paso Robles will not be required to refund millions of dollars in past water and sewer fees to residents, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled.

The decision this week comes against a group of residents who claimed such fees were unlawful.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009, has been stalled pending the outcome of several related suits. Paso Robles resident John Borst and two others sought the class-action refund totaling about $8 million for the city’s 10,000 water customers on previously established water and sewer rate hikes that customers already paid since 2002 and 2004.

He alleged that the city violated Proposition 218 by imposing the fee increases without first letting citizens have a say.

Proposition 218 was an initiative approved by California voters in 1996 that mandates a public review and majority protest process for water and sewer fees.

Residents Brooke Mayo and Teresa St. Clair were also petitioners in the suit. Previous petitioner William Taylor was no longer part of the case, City Attorney Iris Yang said.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford ruled on the basis that the plaintiffs didn’t follow the required procedure for seeking refunds or protesting the old rates. He also ruled that state law prohibits class-action claims for water and sewer fee refunds.

The plaintiffs are part of, or have been part of, the local group Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles.

The group was a player in the multiyear battle to establish the city’s most recent water rate hikes to help fund its share of the Nacimiento Water Project.

Concerned Citizens also prompted Paso Robles to present several new rate structures to residents.

Those actions, in part, ultimately led to less expensive water bills for some, years of litigation and delayed income for Paso Robles’ yet-to-be-built water treatment plant to make the lake water drinkable.

In October 2010, another judge also ruled that the most recent increases were also lawful as a fee, after Borst claimed they were not.

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