Judge still hasn't decided if group can include all Paso water customers in lawsuit

A judge told both sides of a North County civil suit today that he is still waiting to determine whether Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles can include all of Paso Robles' water and sewer customers in its lawsuit against the city.

Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman continued the case until June.

Filed in 2009, the lawsuit is separate from the Concerned Citizens' recent protests against a new proposed rate plan to pay for the city's share of the Nacimiento Water Project.

Instead, it alleges the city violated state law when it raised water and sewer rates in 2002 and 2004.

In light of the California Supreme Court hearing the appeal of a similar case, Ardon vs. City of Los Angeles, Tangeman decided to wait until the decision was made there.

Superior Court Judge Roger Picquet made the same decision in fall 2009.

The Los Angeles case originally ruled that individual plaintiffs arguing against a utility tax couldn't file on behalf of all the taxpayers.

In July 2009, Picquet wasn't swayed to allow the class action status, but he ruled to give the plaintiffs' attorney Paul Heidenreich another chance to clarify his argument. That part has now been postponed until the Ardon appeal is determined.

The outcome of the Ardon appeal could be key, attorneys have said. However, City Attorney Iris Yang previously told The Tribune there are differences still - including that the charges in question aren't considered a tax.

A judge has yet to make a determination on that point.

If the lawsuit succeeds in court under class action status, it would wipe millions of dollars from the city's water fund, city officials said.

If it fails to achieve class action status, Picquet has said, it would represent only the four Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles members who filed claims if they win the suit.

-Tonya Strickland