As expected, Garner Valley residents, who are customers of the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District, have filed a lawsuit opposing the board’s December decision to raise water rates.
On Dec. 20, 2018, the LHMWD adopted water rate increases for all of its customers — in Hemet, Valle Vista and Garner Valley. The district did recognize that the Garner Valley water supply is a separate water source and its costs are different from the water supplied to its other customers. Consequently, the actual increases were different between Garner Valley customers and the other LHMWD customers.
Besides the normal increase of costs to produce and serve water, the board and staff included in its rate increase for Garner Valley customers repayment of a loan of $1.7 million from 2002.
The legal action is directed toward this aspect of the rate increase. The suit claims several substantive errors and a procedural mistake in the decision to raise the Garner Valley rates.
First, the plaintiffs argue that LHMWD’s claim of a nearly two-decade-old loan has not been substantiated with any paperwork, loan papers or other. Secondly, they question the board’s fear that the district’s other 14,000 customers are expecting and claiming a repayment. This has never been demonstrated.
The procedural issue is based on Proposition 218 language for ratepayers to object and to oppose a rate increase. Since the district acknowledges that the water supply and, therefore, the costs of production and service to Garner Valley customers is separate and independent of the costs for the other LHMWD customers, the objections to a rate increase from the two different customer classes should be treated separately, they argue.
The Garner Valley attorneys argued that more than 212 of the 242 Garner Valley customers objected to the rate increase because of the inclusion of the $1.7 million. They say this should be a sufficient customer response to initiate a Prop 218 vote.
However, the LHMWD board combined all rate increase objections together. Therefore, more than 7,000 objections, roughly half of all customers, would have been necessary to revise the rate increase. The suit alleges this action diminished the Garner Valley ratepayers, where nearly 90 percent of customers expressed opposition.
The lawsuit asks the judge to negate the rate increase. The next court date is scheduled for April 30.