Yesterday, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorney Laura Murray appeared before the California Supreme Court in Plantier v. Ramona Municipal Water District, involving the right of ratepayers under Proposition 218 to challenge illegal rates. HJTA accepted the invitation of the objecting ratepayer to share argument time with his own attorney before the high court.
The case presents another example of local government agencies attempting to limit the ability of taxpayers and ratepayers to enforce their rights by laying on multiple procedural hurdles as a prerequisite of access to the courts. The lower appellate court rejected the draconian argument by the water district and ruled for taxpayers. But if the Supreme Court reverses the Fourth District Court, ratepayers in Ramona will never have their day in court. They are challenging a water rate structure which they have found charges them and others significantly more than cost-of-service. Proposition 218 prohibits government entities from charging more for a service than the cost of providing it.
HJTA lawyers believe ratepayers took the appropriate steps to bring their Proposition 218 case to court. But if their case is not heard, a new barrier to judicial access will threaten future cases. That new barrier would be: To bring a case under any of Proposition 218’s five cost-of-service provisions, a taxpayer/ratepayer must have submitted a protest at the last rate increase hearing, no matter how many years ago that was, and regardless of whether that last hearing had anything to do with the cost-of-service violation underlying his claim.