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Brooktrails Township Community Services District v. Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County

California Court of Appeal, First District, Second Division

June 26, 2013

BROOKTRAILS TOWNSHIP COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF MENDOCINO COUNTY et al., Defendants. BROOKTRAILS TOWNSHIP COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF MENDOCINO COUNTY et al., Defendants. DAVID PALAND, Intervener and Appellant.

Pub. Order and Mod.Date 7/24/13.

Mendocino County Super. Ct. No. SCUK CVG-1057508 Honorable John A. Behnke

Attorney for Intervener and Appellant: David Paland, in pro. per.

Attorneys for Plaintiff and Respondent: Neary and O’Brien, Christopher J. Neary

Attorneys for Defendants: Thomas R. Parker, Mendocino County Counsel, Douglas L. Losak, Chief Deputy, Sandra L. Applegate, Terry N. Gross, Joan H. Turner, Brina A. Latkin, Deputy County Counsels.

Richman, J.

Proposition 218, adopted by the voters in 1996, added articles XIII C and XIII D to the California Constitution.[1] One of its most prominent features was to tighten the two thirds voter approval requirement for “special” taxes and assessments imposed by Proposition 13. (Art. XIIIA, § 4 Art. XIII C, § 2, subd. (d); art. XIII D, §§ 3, 4, subd. (g), 6, subd. (c).)[2] In Paland v. Brooktrails Township Community Services Dist. Bd. of Directors (2009) 179 Cal.App.4th 1358 (Paland I), Division Five of this District concluded that “a minimum charge imposed on parcels with connections to a water district’s utility systems for the basic cost of providing water or sewer service, regardless of actual use, is a charge for an immediately available property-related water or sewer service as defined in article XIII D, section 6, subdivision (b)(4), and consequently does not require ballot approval by affected owners.” (Id. at p. 1362.)

This appeal involves the response of the losing party in Paland I: David Paland, a resident of the Brooktrails Township Community Services District (District). Having been told that he could be required to pay for sewer and water connections even if they were inactive because he had discontinued service, Paland resolved on a novel rejoinder. He drafted an initiative that would in effect have ended the practice he had unsuccessfully battled in Paland I. The initiative passed, but only by a simple majority. However, at the same election voters statewide enacted Proposition 26 with the ostensible purpose of further tightening Proposition 218’s restrictions on revenue-generating measures that are not approved by voters. (See fn. 5, post.)

On petition of the District, the trial court overturned the approval of the local initiative in the belief that a two-thirds majority was required, which was in turn premised on the applicability of the just-enacted Proposition 26. We conclude that indulging that premise was error, because there is nothing in Proposition 26 indicating that it was meant to have a retroactive application. With Proposition 26 removed from consideration, the water and sewerage operations of the District remains as discussed in Paland I—not subject to Proposition 218’s supermajority requirement. Consequently, a simple majority is all that was necessary for the local initiative to pass and take effect. In light of this conclusion, we reverse.

BACKGROUND

Much of the relevant history behind this dispute was set out in Paland I:

“The Brooktrails Township Community Services District (District) was formed to provide water and sewer service to about 6, 500 real property parcels in or near Willits, California.[3] [Citation.] About 1, 536 of the parcels are currently connected to the District’s water system, and about 1, 490 are connected to its sewer system. The rest of the parcels are undeveloped and not yet connected to the District’s utility systems. Parcels not connected to the water and sewer systems are charged annual water availability and sewer standby fees. Parcels connected to the water and sewer systems are charged connection fees at the time of hookup to the systems, and thereafter fixed monthly water and sewer ‘base rates, ’ as well as inclining usage-based rates for water service. The sewer connection is not a metered service, and is therefore not subject to a usage charge beyond the monthly base rate.

“Appellant David Paland, a property owner in the District, connected his parcel to the water and sewer systems in 1986 and paid $1, 800 in connection fees. In the decades that followed, he periodically discontinued his water service when he was away from his home for extended periods of time or when he asserts he could not afford the service. On such occasions, he was historically charged a prorated amount of the water and sewer base rates for the month in which his service was discontinued and was not charged again until he requested reactivation of his water service. Until 2003, it was District policy not to charge base rates to parcels with existing connections that were inactive because the parcels were either undeveloped or unoccupied, or because the owners had temporarily discontinued their service.

“The District changed its policy in 2003. At the time, the state Department of Health Services had imposed a moratorium on new connections pending an increase in the District’s water storage capacity. The Department of Health Services mandates increased the District’s capital investment costs and eliminated its income from new connections. On March 11, 2003, the District’s Board of Directors (Board) decided to begin charging established monthly base rates to parcels with existing utility connections, regardless of whether the owner was actually using the District’s services. On April 24, 2003, District ...


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