Opponents of hefty water rate increases in Paso Robles are preparing for "a showdown in court" if the City Council goes forward with the planned charges for the Nacimiento Water Project, according to John Borst, a spokesperson for Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles.
An attorney hired by the group, Cynthia Hawley, wrote a letter to the Paso Robles City Council on Dec. 4 arguing that the planned rate hike violates the California Constitution.
Proposition 218--which is known as "the right to vote on taxes act" and is part of the state constitution--specifies that any fee charged to a property cannot exceed the cost of providing service to that property, Hawley wrote.
Paso Robles' 4,000 acre-feet a year of water from Nacimiento will supply new residents and is not needed by current residents, Hawley contends. She pointed to an Aug. 7 staff report to the City Council that stated that groundwater would meet the city's water demands through 2025.
"If a charge is going to be made, it needs to consider new residents as well as current residents," Borst explained. "We're being overcharged tremendously."
Paso Robles City Attorney Iris Yang wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to Borst: "Due to declining water availability and water quality, construction of the pipeline is required to allow the city to continue to provide ongoing water service."
Hawley's letter said Yang's "statement is disproved" by the evidence presented in city reports.
After a successful citizen protest vote under Proposition 218, the council in October rescinded its earlier action to raise each water customer's rates by $60 a month to pay for the Nacimiento project. Instead, the council has tentatively approved a tiered rate structure tied to usage, and is due to give its final approval on Dec. 18.
"We'll see what happens then," Borst said. "We're gearing up for court."