Originally published at 12:53 p.m. Sept. 10. 2013.
The city of San Juan Capistrano will continue to charge water at the same rates it has, even though an Orange County Superior Court Judge has found the fees unconstitutional.
“The city cannot operate a water utility without the funds to do so,” wrote Michael G. Colantuono, one of the city’s hired attorneys, in a letter to the lawyers who represent the Capistrano Taxpayers Association, the citizen group that brought the underlying lawsuit.
Earlier this month, after Judge Gregory Munoz made a final ruling that the city needs to change its multi-tiered water-rate structure. The City Council decided to appeal that ruling “if necessary,” on Sept. 4, and did file the appeal days later.
Ordinarily, an appeal wouldn’t normally reinstate the status quo given Munoz’s wording in his order, Colantuono wrote. But the state’s Constitution says a court can’t stop a government from charging for necessary services, he said.
Coming up with a new rate structure can’t be done fast enough, he added.
The city, therefore, “must necessarily charge its current rates to obtain those funds,” Colantuono wrote.
Jim Reardon, spokesman for the CTA, disagrees, but because the city has the power to turn off the spigot, he suggests residents pay the bills “under protest” by submitting a note with the bill. He called the gesture symbolic.
“Basically, the city has decided to thumb its nose at the judge and the residents of San Juan Capistrano and continue billing using its illegal rates,” Reardon said. “The leaders who choose this course have put their own political ambitions ahead the prudent management of the city. If the city loses the appeal, the financial consequences will be enormous.”
If CTA prevails on appeal, Reardon said the city will owe residents “millions” because today’s current rate-structure has been in place since 2010.
“The class-action attorneys will be competing to represent water users in a refund action,” he predicted.
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