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AWA Restricts Ratepayer Rights to Protest Rate Increases

On March 8, the AWA Board of Directors voted unanimously to change their Proposition 218 water rate protest procedure, claiming it will “improve citizen input and government accountability” because the agency will provide a protest form to ratepayers. What the AWA did not publicize is that only their protest forms will be allowed, and no other form of ratepayer protest will be accepted. AWA's decision actually restricts ratepayers' rights to protest under Proposition 218.

Passed by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 amended the California Constitution to require cities, governments and special districts to allow affected property owners to protest any proposed new or increased property-related fees. The legislation was written to protect rate and taxpayers from unsubstantiated or erroneous rate or tax increases. If more than 50% of affected property owners protest the increase, it cannot be enacted.  

In 2009, the Board reviewed AWA’s Prop 218 process and adopted new compliance language. Since then, ratepayers on three independent systems have exercised their Prop 218 rights and successfully protested rate increases. As a direct result of the public’s action, AWA took steps to reduce costs by reorganizing their management staff and revising salaries and benefit options. Prop 218 appeared to be working exactly as designed: holding AWA accountable, and protecting the public.  

In early 2012, without any direction from the Board, the AWA General Manager asked the agency’s attorney to again research (at ratepayer expense) AWA’s Prop 218 policy. He came up with a new policy that puts control of any future Prop 218 protest process completely in AWA’s hands. AWA will now create and mail protest ballots to property owners (also at ratepayers’ expense). This may sound like a helpful thing for AWA to do, but the new policy is deceptive because AWA will only accept and count protests submitted on their ballot form. RPA believes that Prop 218 does not allow this restriction on what form may be submitted.  

The AWA Board of Directors has created a policy that restricts the public’s Constitutional rights under Prop 218. RPA believes this violates Prop 218, and we will assist ratepayers in protesting any future rate increases.

Related Story: Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Joins Public in Dispute with AWA
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Legal text of Prop 218