WRD can't shut off cities' water supply, judge rules

DOWNEY - An L.A. County judge last week rejected for a fourth time a water agency's request that municipal water wells in Downey and neighboring cities be turned off due to non-payment, Downey officials said Monday.The Water Replenishment District of Southern California had asked the court to discontinue water service to Downey, Cerritos, Signal Hill, Bellflower and Pico Rivera for non-payment. The cities stopped paying WRD last year after alleging the water agency illegally raised its rates by 400 percent. "The cities have been forced to pass the overcharge on to their consumers," Downey officials said in a statement. "It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of the average residential water bill is made up of WRD's illegal assessment." Judge Raul Sahagun ruled that the WRD cannot shut down municipal water wells "for non-payment of an illegally levied assessment" and last Wednesday another judge rejected the WRD's fourth request to reconsider the original ruling. A judge initially ruled against the WRD in April 2011, when it found that WRD violated Prop. 218 when it levied "excessive water replenishment assessments against the cities without allowing them to protest," Downey officials said. "Our cities have stopped paying these illegal assessments because doing so would constitute a gift of public funds," said John Oskoui, assistant city manager for Downey. According to Downey officials, more cities are considering withholding payment to WRD. "These multiple lawsuits by WRD are unnecessary and abuse the court system and mock the taxpayers," said Vince Brar, senior assistant city manager for Cerritos. "The WRD would be better served in working with the cities and comply with the law."

********** Published: June 21, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 10