San Juan Capistrano

Should Your Tax Dollars Be Used To Fight You?
The water rate lawsuit is the fourth lawsuit in the past several years in which the city has fought its residents and either lost or settled. The amount spent on attorney’s fees is high enough; but add to that monetary judgments awarded to the plaintiffs and the total amount is staggering.

Listed below are two examples of lawsuits over the past few years in which the city spent our tax dollars to fight losing battles against their own residents.

§ Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA) vs. City of San Juan Capistrano.

As reported in this issue, the CTA repeatedly warned the City that the tiered water billing they implemented in February 2010 and charging ratepayers for recycled water that they were not receiving violated Proposition 218. Prop 218 holds that cities may not charge more for essential service(s) than what it costs to deliver them. The City had acknowledged that the tiered water billing was designed to “punish” rate payers into conserving water and claimed that charging water ratepayers for recycled water they weren’t receiving was fair since everyone benefits. The court agreed with the CTA and the City was ordered to stop the tiered billing system and to stop charging ratepayers for recycled water if they are not receiving it.

The court also ordered the City to pay the CTA’s attorney’s fees, which are estimated at more than $100,000. In addition, the City hired an outside attorney, Michael Colantuano of Los Angeles to defend it. Attorney’s fees for the City’s attorney and staff time spent on fighting this lawsuit are unknown and will continue to mount if the City decides to appeal the decision. This will be reported in a future issue however, it is probably fair to say that the attorneys’ fees and staff costs total in excess of $300,000 up to this point.

§ Scalzo vs. City of San Juan Capistrano

Plaintiff Scalzo sued the city, claiming that the city created unnecessary roadblocks to his right to develop his property. The court agreed and awarded Scalzo $6 million in damages – not including attorney’s fees. The city then elected to finance $3 million of the damages, resulting in interest owed on the borrowed money. Total cost to San Juan taxpayers: $9 million.

If the City had just worked with the residents who filed these lawsuits, perhaps these issues could have been resolved without wasting so much time and money. Unfortunately the City appears to have a bad habit of digging in its heels and refusing to do the right thing, which leaves residents no option but to sue them. Is this right? In my opinion, no.

Editors note: We want to hear from you about these and other issues. Let us know what you think; email us at:

1 comment:

Melissa kaffen said...

We've been "punished" quite enough thank you by the ruling majority on this council. The 3 that approved the ILLEGAL punitive "top tier" rates got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Game over time to roll back rates NOT INCREASE THEM!

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