On December 14, 2020 Foresthill Public Utility District (FPUD) filed a Brief with the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, pursuing their attempt to overturn the previous successful lawsuit filed by Miners Camp for illegal water rate structure. FPUD billed Miners Camp for seven “phantom meters”, thus violating State Proposition 218. The Honorable Michael A. Jacques, Commissioner of the Superior Court, ruled that FPUD violated Proposition 218 with the illegal billing of Miners Camp, as well as other entities. He awarded Miners Camp reimbursement of Attorney Fees and Billing Overcharges totaling approximately $110,000 in 2019.
FPUD decided to appeal Honorable Michael A. Jacques’ ruling and another year has come and gone, the can was kicked down the road once again. The total approximate costs incurred by Miners Camp through September, 2020 has exploded to $206,000. Once again, Miners Camp explored a settlement with FPUD to no avail, prior to FPUD’s filing of the Brief. Miners Camp requested that their Attorneys Fees, Billing Overcharges and Interest on the Overcharges be reimbursed, that FPUD would agree to abide by the previous Superior Court judgement and Writ of Mandate, and that FPUD would abide by the court’s demand in establishing a legal Rate Structure in compliance with Proposition 218 for the Foresthill community.
Now that FPUD has filed their Brief this previous month, it is expected that the lawsuit will have been kicked down the road for at least another 12 to 18 months until the court is able to schedule oral argument. Miners Camp partner, Brian Clausman, anticipates that Miners Camp legal costs may once again double during this time period approaching the $400,000 mark. And, the cost to FPUD, thus the Foresthill water rate payers, has not even entered the equation. Mr. Clausman anticipates the final total cost of the lawsuit to FPUD will approach $1,000,000 (including lost productivity) with the court ruling in Miners Camp favor. FPUD has refused to release their cost of the litigation to the Foresthill community, so their actual and future expenses are approximated.
The community members of Foresthill have continually and vociferously exhibited their disapproval of the ongoing litigation by first requesting that the FPUD Board come to a settlement with Miners Camp. When that did not occur, they requested that the Board members resign their positions. Soon thereafter, Board member Helen Rogers West resigned, but the community was yet to be satisfied and initiated a formal recall of the remaining board consisting of Neil Cochran, Mark Bell and Linda Cholcher. The recall was not successful, as the Covid pandemic interfered with the signature gathering process and the recall fell short by a very small number of votes due to the County not recognizing 140 signatures. The Foresthill community leaders requested additional time to gather signatures, however Placer Superior Court ruled against granting any additional time. The Foresthill leaders are presently appealing this ruling as they claim other jurisdictions did accommodate similar requests. The community also successfully challenged FPUD’s new Water Rate Study which was not accepted by the community due to language and budget concerns. FPUD has yet to present an acceptable Water Rate Study to the Foresthill citizens.
The Foresthill community spoke loudly during the past November elections by overwhelmingly electing Jane Stahler and Robert Palmeri to the FPUD Board. Linda Cholcher was the only member up for reelection and was soundly defeated by a two to one factor (Palmeri 1,943 votes, Stahler 1725 votes vs Cholcher 942 votes).
Brian Clausman, Miners Camp partner, stated that “they cannot crush us—they are not going to win, unfortunately the costs will be out of the pockets of the individual water rate payer”. He went on to say that this money should have been appropriately utilized for replacing the ageing pipelines and infrastructure within the water district. The Foresthill community has made their voice heard by the FPUD, but the can continues to be kicked down the road with no end on the near horizon.