By Nestor CASTIGLIONE
The City of Glendale suffered a defeat in court last week, the second such before the same plaintiff and judge.
On Feb. 23 Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the Glendale Coalition for Better Government, finding that Glendale Water & Power (GWP) was in violation of the California Constitution and Prop 218.
The ruling comes hard on the heels of another issued in late January when the City was found to have violated the city charter when it transferred $85 million from its electric revenue fund to the general fund during the fiscal years of 2010-14.
That ruling disagreed with the City’s position that the prop-osition was not retroactive and that it specifically was allowed to continue transferring funds, provided that its methodology was unchanged. Judge Chalfant said of the City’s stance that it was “not persuasive.”
Among the issues that came under fire from the court were the GWP’s “illegal” shifts of the cost of water for fire protection from itself to residents.
“The City’s argument ignores the reality that fire protection services through the use of fire hydrants to suppress fires are a general protection and do not solely protect water meters,” the ruling stated. “Fire protection costs are quintessentially general government services that should be funded through voter-approved taxes and not property-related fees.”
It also criticized what it called the improper collapsing of water rates, explicitly citing the accounts of the City and the Public Authority.
Inquiries into the matter that were submitted to City Atty. Michael J. Garcia and GWP General Manager Steve Zurn were referred to City Spokesperson Tom Lorenz.
“[The] City respectfully disagrees with the ruling,” read a statement sent by Lorenz. “It is reviewing [the matter] further and will decide soon whether or not to appeal.”
He added in an interview that GWP rate payers will not be affected by the ruling “at this particular time.” That may change once the appeal period for this ruling expires. That period lasts for 60 days from the issuance of the ruling.
Lorenz explained that the decision whether or not to fight the ruling sits with City Council, which may possibly vote on the matter in a closed session.
The GWP’s water rate change was initiated in August 2014, with the legal challenge from the Glendale Coalition following shortly thereafter.
Roland Kedikian, a member of the group’s board, called the ruling “a victory for residents.”
“We are pleased with the ruling and we’re also disappointed that the City would attempt to shift its obligations to its rate payers,” he said.
He also added that the Glendale Coalition would assist residents in helping to file claims for reimbursement from the GWP once the appeals period ends.
According to Lorenz, the city council has yet to set a date to decide whether to pursue further litigation.