On Wednesday, June 12th, at the regular FPUD Board Meeting held in Memorial Hall, Notice of Intention to Circulate Recall Petitions were presented to the five Foresthill Public Utility District Directors. The directors are: Neil Cochran, President, Mark Bell, Vice President, Linda Cholcher, Treasurer, Helen Rogers West, Director and Patty Wade, Director. The recall effort is focused on removing the directors from their FPUD positions. The stated grounds of the recall are that the directors “ …failed to uphold the best interests of its ratepayers who elected them.” The Recall Notice also claims that the directors “…failures to perform have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted legal expense, payroll, and have negatively impacted economic growth in the community. All costs as a result of (the) Board Member’s actions must be absorbed by ratepayers”.
The frustration with the board surrounds their actions taken in regard to the litigation with Miner’s Camp. On September 25th, 2018 after two years of intensive litigation, Placer County Superior Court, in a trial before Commissioner Michael A. Jacques, Miner's Camp LLC prevailed on its petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief and restitution, challenging the water rate structure adopted by Foresthill Public Utility District.
At the heart of the matter, Miner's Camp argued that the District violated, and continued to violate, Proposition 218 because it had charged, and continued to charge, Miner's Camp, a historic cabin venue to support local weddings, retreats, family vacations and outdoor adventure, a water rate that imposes fees/charges for wrongly assumed water meters on Miner's Camp's Property, when in fact the “phantom” meters do not even exist, and never have existed on the Property. The District billed Miner's Camp as though there were 8 separate water lines with 8 separate water meters serving each of the 8 nostalgic cabins on the Miner's Camp property when, in fact, there is only a single water line coming into the property with a single water meter to serve the group of eight historic cabins and record all water use on the property. Miner’s Camp argued the District manifestly cannot do so under Proposition 218, and after a full trial on the merits, the Court saw it the same way and Miner’s Camp was awarded victory by the Placer County Superior Court. The court stated that FPUD must make restitution of all fees and charges collected, stop billing and collecting water charges that are in violation, abandon its current rate structure and create a new rate structure that conforms with Proposition 218 and to pay Miners Camp attorneys’ fees.
Following this judgement, FPUD went back to court appealing the right for the award of Miners Camp attorneys’ fees. Superior Court records show that Commissioner Michael A. Jacques ruled negatively on FPUD’s request to completely throw out Miner’s Camp attorneys’ fee claim with the court awarding $89,560 to Miner’s Camp for their legal expenses through September, 2018.
FPUD thought they had an opportunity of a “Hail Mary” with a parallel court case that would then allow them to overturn the Superior Court judgement on a technicality. The California Supreme Court case of “Plantier v. Ramona Municipal Water District” was ruled in the favor of the rate payers. Once again FPUD was delivered a blow to their legal challenges.
Exactly how much money the ratepayers have lost is not fully known due to FPUD’s refusal to disclose their own attorney fees in this litigation. In spite of Foresthill water rate payers demand for transparency, FPUD refuses to disclose their financial burden as they state disclosing this information at this time would violate their “attorney / client privilege” and could compromise their case.
So, the saga apparently continues with FPUD’s upcoming challenge to the courts’ decisions over additional technicalities. It appears from statements from the FPUD Board President, Neil Cochran, that they are looking into once again legally challenging Miner’s Camp due to the “lack of meet and confer” as earlier ordered by the court. In rebuttal, Leif Lowry from Miner’s Camp stated that this is incorrect as a 2 ½ hour meeting was devoted to the meet and confer and that the FPUD was just attempting to prolong the court’s judgments to financially ruin any customer attempt to hold FPUD responsible for their illegal actions.
At this time it has not been reported as to the Foresthill community members behind the recall effort, however it is reported that a Facebook page for the recall would soon be available to provide further information.