Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Davis over its past water rates, sewer rates and related issues announced Wednesday that the two sides will meet in a settlement conference this month.
Members of Yolo Ratepayers for Affordable Public Utility Services sued the city in 2013, claiming Davis’ consumption-based water rates — which were overturned by Measure P in June — were illegal and disproportionate.
Yolo Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire ruled in the city’s favor in January on major aspects of the case, but significant sections of the Yolo Ratepayers’ lawsuit remain to be settled. These are principally sections pertaining to the city using water and sewer services without paying for them, plaintiffs say, according to an email from Michael Harrington, a local lawyer, former City Councilman and co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
“Members of YRAPUS look forward to fully exploring settlement options in the context of a formal confidential mediation process,” Harrington said in a statement. “We appreciate the leadership exhibited by Mayor Dan Wolk, his colleagues and City Attorney Harriet Steiner in securing the City Council’s appointment of a settlement subcommittee and establishing this early mediation process.
“The members of YRAPUS are pleased that their efforts have saved over $135 million in ratepayer costs, and hope to continue serving the public’s interests.”
Setting aside the question of who saved whom what money, Steiner said the two parties are working with JAMS, a mediation service that uses retired judges to help negotiate out-of-court resolutions of legal disputes.
“Mediation leaves the decision power totally and strictly with the parties,” a notice on the JAMS website said. “The mediator does not decide what is ‘fair’ or ‘right,’ does not assess blame nor render an opinion on the merits or chances of success if the case were litigated.
“Rather, the mediator acts as a catalyst between opposing interests, attempting to bring them together by defining issues and eliminating obstacles to communication, while moderating and guiding the process to avoid confrontation and ill will. The mediator will, however, seek concessions from each side during the mediation process.”
Steiner said the decision to seek a day of mediation late this month in Sacramento was not ordered by Maguire, but was sought by both parties.
“This is an opportunity for both sides to see if they can reach an agreement that will end the lawsuit,” she said, adding that participation is strictly voluntary for both parties. “If we don’t reach agreement, then we will continue the lawsuit.”
If that happens, trial dates for the remaining causes of action are set for November, Steiner said.
Steiner also said the impetus for the settlement conference came out of the new, largely gallon-by-gallon water rates approved by the City Council. Prop. 218 notices describing the rates should have arrived last week and this week in property owners’ mailboxes. A hearing and protest vote on the rates are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Mayor Dan Wolk said the city wants to try to resolve the lawsuit out of court, if it can.
“The city is looking forward to bringing this matter to a conclusion that benefits the city and its ratepayers,” he said in a message. “We want to attempt to resolve this matter so that we can complete the surface water project at the lowest cost to the ratepayers.”
— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or call 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews