Herald American

Bellflower council receives water district legal settlement

BELLFLOWER — The City Council has received and filed a court settlement with the Lakewood-based Water Replenishment District of Southern California in which Bellflower will receive $100,000 for attorney fees in a lawsuit settlement between the water district and three other cities — Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill.

In addition to the attorney fee reimbursement, the May 1 settlement called for the water district to perform upgrades to the water system totaling $5 million in its service area in the next seven years. That area is most of Southeast Los Angeles County.

Established by state law more than 50 years ago, the Water Replenishment District is charged with buying outside water to replenish water that is pumped from the ground to customers by city and private water providers. The providers are charged a fee for that work based on how many acre feet of water is being pumped. An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons.

Cerritos, Downey and Signal Hill filed suit in August 2010 alleging that the Water Replenishment District did not follow Proposition 218, a 1996 state ballot measure requiring governmental entities, including water districts, to conduct public hearings before raising taxes. The suit claimed the district failed to hold hearings before raising its rate assessments from 2006 through 2011. Bellflower joined the suit in December 2011.

The contended the rate assessment was a fee for services provided and not a tax. The courts ruled for the cities, but did not approve the reimbursement for those years sought by the plaintiffs.

Part of the agreement was that the cities would not challenge assessments from 2011 to 2015.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year the water district did not raise the assessment fee.

It raised the fee from $268 an acre foot to $283 an acre foot in May for the coming year after a number of public hearings and budget sessions.