Mayor Seeks Water Citation Relief for Residents

 3,217 Administrative Citations (fines) for “excessive water use” were issued to SJC customers in October, November and December of 2015 and applied to customers’ February water bills. Water fines for the First Quarter, the dryer months of July, August and September, totaled 2,166, but were not issued, according to City staff. The fines result from Governor Brown’s Emergency Executive Order that cities reduce water consumption by 28% annually during the drought. Failure to meet the reduction goal could result in hefty fines to the City.

City staff say they calculate fines quarterly based on the “budgeted amount” of water customers used in 2013, rather than on their actual usage. However, Proposition 218 states that the City may not charge more for water than what it actually costs to deliver it to customers.

Mayor Pam Patterson believes part of the problem may be the City’s tiered water billing formula, for which the City was sued in the past. During the April 19 City Council meeting, Patterson stated, “Despite the clear language of the Governor’s Order, it appears that the City of San Juan Capistrano is imposing punitive measures against its residents beyond that which is required by [the] Executive Order. In fact, it appears that, once again, the City continues to base its water charges on a tiered system already found to be in violation of Proposition 218 by the California Appellate Court. ” As a result, Patterson, who is an attorney, introduced a resolution which seeks to reduce rates by reviewing and if necessary revising, the City’s tiered billing and water citation formulas.

City Considers $500,000 Water Line to Riding Park Property

While fining residents for using too much water, City management has indicated its desire to spend approximately $500,000 to get water to the “Riding Park” equestrian fields being leased by a private company.
Taxpayers purchased the property, which includes the 70-acre Riding Park, as “open space” in 2009. Since purchasing it however, the Riding Park has been leased to privately owned Blenheim Equisports, which uses it to generate revenue from elite equestrian events. As a result, the public and local equestrians are restricted from using the property they are paying for.

The source of the water the City has used for the Riding Park is now the subject of a lawsuit. The water is pumped from a well on an adjacent property formerly owned by Blenheim Equisports owner Richard Brandes, which he sold in 2014 to the Cotton family. The City, along with several others, has been named in a lawsuit filed by the Cottons asserting their rights to the water on/under their property. The litigation is on-going, but the City now claims it must spend money to install a recycled water line to the property in order to have an alternate source of water. Considering that the Riding Park is used almost exclusively by a private company, community members question why the City would spend money that benefits a private monopoly on publicly owned open space.

The lease of the Riding Park to the private company has come under fire recently from SJC residents, who say they no longer want to pay for a monopoly for an elite equestrian group when their property taxes have been increased to pay for property they are restricted from using due to the lease. To spend taxpayer dollars from a City fund to ultimate benefit a private company runs counter to the reason for purchasing the open space to begin with, say residents, especially when only four of San Juan’s approximately 30 parks currently have access to recycled water.
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