Over the Hill

Paso ghosts chime in on water rates

Two ghosts haunt the Paso Robles Library/City Hall building. They are the spirits of Ignacy Jan Paderewski and a 9-foot-tall California grizzly bear.

Paderewski was a classical piano superstar in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He became a part-time Paso Robles resident after the local hot springs and mud baths cured the pains in his overworked arms and hands in 1914.

The grizzly bear was seen in the 1770s easing his arthritic rear paws in the main Paso Robles hot spring.

The pair met Dec. 22, 2003, when an earthquake reopened the main spring in the library parking lot and released their imprisoned spirits. They now spend endless hours reading everything in the Library and City Hall. They call each other Cal and Iggy.

Early Tuesday morning, Cal said, “You know that John Borst who fights water-rate increases? Well, the judge threw out Borst’s latest case last week. He was trying to sue the City Council to block its latest attempt to increase water rates.”

“What were the judge’s grounds?” asked Iggy. “I was once premier of Poland, you know.”

Cal said: “Borst was still insisting the city’s water charges are really a tax, even though another judge ruled against that last year. That judge ruled that the city’s water charges are fees, not taxes and don’t need elections. So then last week, another judge acknowledged the previous judge’s ruling and disallowed Borst’s latest suit.”

“City officials may now get a few measures of rest,” said Iggy. “They can charge the higher rate in 2012. It will help pay for the 4,000 acre-feet of water the city is obligated to buy each year from the Nacimiento pipeline. It will also help build the required multimillion-dollar water treatment plant. But don’t sound triumphant trumpets yet: Another lawsuit lurks in the wings.”

“Yeah,” said Cal, “Borst and three other people filed a class-action lawsuit in 2009. It’s scheduled for a hearing in January. They accuse the city of improperly raising water and sewer rates in 2002 and 2004. They are suing to force the city to return the alleged overcharges to all water and sewer customers.”

“The figure $8 million has been mentioned,” said Iggy. “And we know who’d have to pay it.”

“The water and sewer ratepayers, that’s who,” said Cal. “City Hall has no big pile of money. So, Mr. Borst and the other three are suing all Paso Roblans, including themselves.”

“Exactly,” said Iggy.

“That’s stupid,” said Cal.

“Precisely,” said Iggy.

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.