BY DONNA WESTFALL
Tonight the City Council will consider the results from the Prop 218 protest. For 45 days, volunteers went door-to-door on nearly every street within the City’s water service district. Volunteers sat for hours at tables placed in front of the Post Office, the Dollar Tree and at the Water Department. Other volunteers called to let people on city water know about the protest and gave them an opportunity to say yes or no to signing.
On Monday, November 4th, 2,203 protests were handed in to City Clerk, Robin Patch. In order to stop the rate increase, the protests needed to number 1872.
She had the onerous job of tabulating which were valid and which were to be disqualified. After five days of tabulating the results, with observers from the protest group quietly observing, it appears that 1/3 or more of the protests were disqualified.
Did she do her job correctly? That remains to be seen.
If you are a tenant, and you signed the protest letter to stop the 150% water rate increase, then it would be in your best interests to attend tonight’s meeting and ask;
“Was my protest counted or disqualified?” Further, “If it was disqualified, why was it disqualified?”
On September 16th, Tim Bittle, from Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, sent me the following e-mail:
Prop 218 allows any tenant to protest a proposed fee increase if he is “directly liable to pay the … fee.” (Cal. Const., art. XIII D, § 2(g).) A tenant could be “directly liable” to pay water and sewer fees under the terms of his lease, whether or not he is the named subscriber in the city’s billing records. Many cities allow only one name to be listed as the subscriber. In such cities, landlords may require a husband and wife to both sign the lease, making them both directly liable to pay utility bills, even though only the wife, for example, is listed as the subscriber in the city’s billing records. If that were the case, a protest signed by the renting husband should be counted even though his name is not on the city’s billing records.
State statute is even more lenient than Prop 218 with regard to who may sign a protest. Gov. Code section 53755(b) provides, “One written protest per parcel, filed by an owner or tenant of the parcel, shall be counted in calculating a majority protest.” Section 53755 contains no requirement that the tenant be directly liable to pay the fee. If the only written protest for a parcel is submitted by a tenant, whether or not he is directly liable to pay the fee, the statute says it “shall be counted.”
Donna, feel free to forward this email to your city council, city attorney and/or city manager to warn them that if the raw number of protests received is sufficient to defeat the proposed fee increase, and they disqualify tenant protestors merely because they are not the named subscriber in the city’s billing records, the city may face a lawsuit from us.
Timothy A. Bittle
Director of Legal Affairs
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
I subsequently e-mailed his message to City Manager, Gene Palazzo, as well as City Attorney, Bob Black. And as further back-up I also hand carried it in to city Hall.
If the city is disregarding the rules of Prop 218 and subsequent bills; then our ratepayers need to be advised and stay tune for further action. At the very least, attend tonight’s meeting if you are able.