Judge Throws Out Election on Sewer Rate Roll-Back Initiative – Says if Voters Don’t Like it They Can Throw out the Council

A ruling came out late Wednesday afternoon from Superior Court Judge Paul Beeman which declared invalid both initiatives requiring a vote by the public on the sewer rate increase designed to finance improvements to Dixon’s sewer treatment plant. These improvements are reputed to provide a final resolution to the city’s ongoing battle with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board over allegations that the city’s wastewater effluent is polluting first recoverable groundwater below the plant’s percolation ponds.
A hearing was held at 9:30 am in Beeman’s Department 1 courtroom. City attorneys Nubia Goldstein and Steven Churchwell represented the city while Tim Bittle appeared in behalf of the Dixon Chapter of the Solano County Taxpayers Association. The audience included city manager Jim Lindley, mayor Jack Batchelor, and city clerk Suellen Johnston. George Guynn, president of the Solano County Taxpayers county organization and Gary Riddle, president of the Dixon Chapter were present along with three citizens from Dixon.
The hearing was comprised of answers to three questions Beeman had presented to both attorney groups. While the questions themselves were not presented, Churchwell was asked for his position first and then Bittle responded. Both attorneys were given the opportunity for rebuttal.
The first question concerned the constitutional right to limit funding to a governmental agency by the citizens. Churchwell responded with history from 1911 when the initiative right was introduced. Bittle replied by pointing out that Proposition 218 gives citizens the right to protest rate increases. Bittle also brought up Prop 11 on redistricting, Prop 13 limiting real estate taxation, Prop 98 on budgeting discretion, and others.
Towards the end of this discussion, Beeman mentioned a case entitled Simpson v Hite. That case declared that the State sets policy and the municipalities such as Dixon carry them out. The point of the first question was whether or not the rate setting is a legislative or an administrative act. Initiatives are intended to address legislative acts only.
The second question pertained to the actual project. Bittle only slightly disagreed with Churchwell in saying that the city can pursue its project, it simply has to find a financing source elsewhere.
The final question appeared to be concerned with what proactive steps the citizens had taken. Churchwell complimented the citizens who appeared before the State Revolving Fund hearing, but chastised those same people for the “numerous opportunities” they had to bring “In-Pipe” technology in long ago. (Churchwell left out the fact that the city’s consultant Stantec never made the citizens waste water committee aware of the technology and it was In-Pipe’s own CEO who contacted then councilman Thom Bogue who passed the opportunity on to others)
Bittle responded by saying the public was “extremely proactive,” pointing to State legislative success in banning salt discharging water softeners. He blamed the city for not enforcing its own ordinance and cited Stantec’s claim that only 50% of these water softeners had been removed. Bittle finished by saying, “the public is now pulling the only lever they have.”
From reading Beeman’s decision, it was obvious his decision was based on case law he had researched in a solitary direction. The only opposing judicial opinions citations came from Bittle as the judge’s citations were similar to the city’s pleadings.
In his ruling, Judge Beeman noted “the option exists for voters to boot out the representatives whose votes enacted the rate increase related actions designed to comply with state water standards set by the state and regional water boards.”
The terms of Mayor Jack Batchelor, and councilmembers Jerry Castenon and Steve Bird all expire in 2016. However they could be removed by a Recall election. The signatures of at least 25% of registered voters in Dixon would be required on a Recall Petition. That is approximately 2,200 valid signatures which must be collected in 90 days after the public officials are served with a notice of recall. The various referendum and initiative petitions garnered about 18% of valid voter signatures in about thirty days each time. In total about 4,300 voters signed one or more of the various petitions.
Judge Beeman was appointed in 2014 and will be on the 2020 ballot for a vote of the people on whether he should be retained in office.
Beaman himself can be recalled if a petition with valid signatures of over 8,016 Solano County registered voters is filed within 160 days of official starts of signature collection.

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