Lawsuit challenging Paso Robles water rate hikes closer to resolution

A lawsuit challenging Paso Robles’ water and sewer rate increases in 2002 and 2004 could move closer to resolution this month.

The suit was filed in 2009 but has been stalled since then. Paso Robles resident John Borst and two others seek a 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. He alleges that the city violated Proposition 218 by imposing the fee increases without first letting citizens have a say.

Proposition 218 is 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 are also petitioners in the suit. Previous petitioner William Taylor is no longer part of the case, City Attorney Iris Yang said.

On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford said he would like to wait on his verdict until the Court of Appeal decides a separate but related case also brought by Borst.

Borst, organizer for Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, previously challenged the most recent water rate structure adopted by Paso Robles. He claimed that because a portion of the city’s water rate increases would pay for Paso Robles’ share in the Nacimiento Water Project, the fees should have been considered a special tax requiring voter approval, instead of going forward as a fee on a water bill.

But in October 2010, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Martin Tangemen ruled that the increases were lawful as a fee.Those rate hikes then began appearing on Paso Robles users’ water bills in January.

Borst resubmitted his case, which at the time presented new arguments, but Crawford later dismissed it.Borst is now seeking to appeal Crawford’s decision with the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Because the city and Borst agreed to waive oral argument at the court of appeal next week, it’s likely that the appellate decision will be issued within the next few weeks, Yang said.