A ballot measure for the 2016 November general election, which would allow water districts to restore tiered rates, has been submitted to the state Attorney General’s office. Water districts would have the authority to use their rates to encourage and motivate water conservation.
The proposed measure would overturn the recent California Appeals Court decision upholding limitations on using tiered water rates. The appellate decision upheld the U.S. District Court’s decision in the case “Capistrano Taxpayers Association v. the City of San Juan Capistrano.”
In April, the Appeals Court’s decision invalidated the city’s rate structure because it did not comply with Proposition 218. While the court upheld the right of imposing a tiered rate structure, Prop 218, which state voters approved in 1996, requires special districts and government agencies to charge fees based on the cost of providing the service.
The lower court found no connection between San Juan Capistrano’s higher rates and the cost to provide the water. But the opinion was clear in that the idea of tiered rates is legal as long as it complies with Prop 218.
On Monday, Dec. 14, the Association of California Water Agencies, the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities® filed a proposed constitutional amendment with the AG’s office to create a new, optional funding method for local agencies.
Supporters of the measure argue, “Effective local management of water supplies includes authorizing local agencies to design rates to encourage water conservation and discourage excessive use of water … This measure establishes an alternative funding method that authorizes local agencies to set rates for customers to encourage water conservation, prevent waste and discourage excessive use of water.”
But they do address the courts’ findings that a connection between the cost of service and customer’s benefit cannot be ignored. “The manner in which the costs are allocated to a fee payer shall bear a fair or reasonable relationship to the fee payer’s burden on or benefits received from the water service or sewer service,” the measure’s proponents say.
AG’s staff will prepare the circulating title and summary, then submit the proposed measure to the Secretary of State’s office. This should occur near the mid-February 2016. At that point, it will be ready to circulate for signatures to qualify it for the ballot.
Since this measure proposes to modify the State Constitution, it will require 585,407 signatures, which is equal to at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for the governor at the last gubernatorial election.
“We have filed this measure in the hopes of advancing the discussions toward a viable policy solution in 2016. We will make a determination if we plan to proceed with this measure or some other policy solution in the coming months,” according to the release from the proponents.