The City expressly denied that it breached any duty or obligation, and maintains it fully complied with the Proposition 218 rate increase process.
By Terry Miller
Local blogger John Crawford is declaring “victory” over the city of Sierra Madre in a lawsuit that was settled with the city accepting no wrong doing.
In fact, not one item in the suit was triumphant. The taxpayers of Sierra Madre footed the bill for this suit for which the full costs have yet to be assessed according to city manager Elaine Aguilar,
“We do not have a time estimate on the amount of time the City staff spent researching and defending the City against the lawsuit. The City did however incur attorney fees, but I won’t have the amount for another few weeks – there is about a one to two month lag in our receipt of attorney invoices.” Aguilar said.
The alleged proposition 218 violation was unfounded. Crawford agreed to “settle” the case before continuing the costly litigation.
Maintaining their innocence from any wrong doing regarding the water rate hike issue throughout the proceedings, the city of Sierra Madre challenged the complaint after former Mayor Kurt Zimmerman filed suit on behalf of Crawford.
In May of 2011, John Crawford filed a lawsuit in hopes of invalidating the City’s recent water rate increase. In June, the City responded to the lawsuit challenging the complaint; and shortly thereafter the plaintiff approached the City seeking a “non-monetary settlement” according to a city issued press release Monday.
“The City was very confident it would prevail in court; however, the City Council decided to accept Mr. John Crawford’s settlement offer and the case was officially dismissed on July 29th. The City Council agreed to accept the settlement offer, basing their decision upon what they felt was best for the City’s residents and water customers, noting that further judicial proceedings would result in additional legal fees. In exchange for the dismissal, the City agreed that in the event the City was to consider a water rate increase, before May 1, 2014, the City would continue to provide water customers with a Fact Sheet, similar to one it provided during the last rate increase process, as well as information regarding low income discounts, which is always available at City Hall and the Public Library. The City expressly denied that it breached any duty or obligation, and maintains it fully complied with the Proposition 218 rate increase process.”
Mayor John Buchanan stated, “The informational piece requested in this settlement is information that we provided in the past, and we agreed to provide it again because it will assist residents in making informed decisions. We would have agreed to do this without a lawsuit. Although I believe there was no basis for this lawsuit, this resolution ends the matter at no cost to residents.”
The Sierra Madre Weekly contacted Sierra Madre City Manager, Elaine Aguilar for comment on the case.
Ms. Aguilar did offer an addition to Mayor Buchanan’s quote in the city issued Press Release, “Continuing down the path of litigation would have not only cost both parties additional fees, but would have also diverted City staff from being able to concentrate on current projects and programs; now that this matter is settled, we can get onto other pressing matters.”
Crawford writes this explanation on his blog Monday: “My lawsuit was intended to shine a light on the City’s allegedly illegal conduct in violating Proposition 218. If the extensive coverage of the lawsuit in the local newspapers, newspapers throughout California, along with this blog is any guide, I was very successful. “He also adds….
“Most importantly, my purposes in litigating were to force a recalcitrant City to comply with Proposition 218’s notice requirements and to ensure that low income families receive a discount for the water they consume.”
What Crawford actually said in the suit in item #32 (PDF available on our website) is this: …”.the Notice stated that a discount was available for “low income?” The Notice did not contain, however, a definition of the term “low income,” or state the maximum amounts and individual or family could earn and still qualify for such a discount.”
In Section IV, item 17 of Crawford’s suit proclaimed “Petitioner is aggrieved party and is beneficially interested in both the outcome of this litigation and the relief requested because he is injured by the City’s adoption of the Ordinance on Jan 11, 2011.”
In Crawford’s suit; Article 1, paragraph 1. Stated that “This case arises out of the City Council of Sierra Madfre’s adoption of ordinance 1312 on January 11, 2011 significantly increasing water costumers’ (SIC) water rates.
Attempts to get a comment on the lawsuit dismissal from John Crawford were unsuccessful. However, he did respond with this rather cutting remark in an email received at 8:35 PM Monday:
“Thank you for the opportunity, Terry. I have decided that I will answer your question on my site. I want people to have the opportunity to see the answer.”
We edited another malevolent comment in his email which bore no relevance to the issue.
Then, yesterday morning Crawford posted these responses to my question on his blog:
“It was not dismissed, Terry. Rather it was pulled by myself and my Attorney because the City Council agreed to mend the error of their ways and not lie to the residents any more in order to get their money.”
Crawford went on to say:
“Well Terry, if you think running a bait and switch operation designed to cozen cash out of ratepayers who at that particular time might have actually trusted their city isn’t a bad thing, then perhaps you don’t really give a damn for those who your paper claims to speak for. Maybe you really are just a City Hall apple polisher who only sees to their needs, and not those of the people.”
According to city officials, the City of Sierra Madre has agreed to nothing in the “settlement”, no money was awarded and the city has said it would send documents to water customers that it had already prepared, regardless of the Crawford/Zimmerman suit.
The lawsuit alleged the city “circumvented both the letter and spirit of California’s Proposition 218.”
The Sierra Madre City Council, following months of debate, approved a rate hike of roughly 7.5 percent a year for four years, with slightly larger increases for those who consume more water. The last water rate hike went into effect in 2006.