Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News FALL 2020, VOL. 29, NO. 2

Protecting Public Services for All Ratepayers: Proposition 218 Process After Plantier

Kaitlin S. Harr

Kaitlin Harr is an attorney in the Natural Resources practice group of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard. She assists public and private sector clients in the areas of natural resources and water law, including regulatory compliance, water rights, water quality, administrative, and land-use matters. She received her J.D. from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law and her Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.*

I. INTRODUCTION

Local water agencies are charged with meeting ever-increasing costs to comply with environmental and health regulations and to operate, repair, and replace critical public water service infrastructure needed to deliver safe and reliable water service. As local water agencies decide how to raise adequate revenue to fulfill those needs within the confines of Proposition 218, the public water service sector has seen a rise in ratepayer lawsuits alleging that agency water service rates violate Proposition 218. Proposition 218’s public notice-and-hearing process already provides the opportunity for ratepayers to exhaust remedies before a local agency’s governing board decides to increase water service rates. The recent California Supreme Court decision in Plantier v. Ramona Municipal Water District left unanswered the question whether a plaintiff who wishes to challenge water rates under Proposition 218 must exhaust remedies by commenting on the rates during the agency’s Proposition 218 hearing. This article examines that question and concludes that requiring such participation is consistent with both Proposition 218 and the important purposes underlying the principles of exhaustion. This article concludes that generally, Proposition 218 protest proceedings provide ample opportunity for participation, but that to enhance such participation, local public water service agencies should consider adopting new procedures that will increase opportunities to obtain and respond to ratepayer input on ratemaking proposals.

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