The UC Regents have filed a lawsuit against the Goleta Water District, alleging that one-third of UCSB’s yearly water bill – approximately $300,000 – goes to fees the school is not required to pay by state law.
The regents filed the lawsuit Oct. 27, requesting reimbursement for the “capital facilities” fees UCSB has paid since July 1, 2005. The lawsuit also requests the elimination of such extra charges in the future. General Counsel for the Goleta Water District Russell Ruiz did not return phone calls Monday, and officials from the Goleta Water District declined comment on the lawsuit.
Donna Carpenter, acting vice chancellor of Administrative Services, said the money from the disputed charges will go toward the maintenance or replacement of water district facilities, such as water mains and treatment facilities, throughout Goleta. She said the water district includes the fee on top of regular water usage rates.
UCSB is Goleta Water District’s largest consumer, said David Gonzales, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, paying $900,000 annually for its drinkable and reclaimed water.
Under California Government Code, Section 54999, cited in the lawsuit, public and not-for-profit organizations are not required to pay fees that maintain district facilities, unless such improvements to the facilities benefit the organization.
The alleged excessive charges were brought to the university’s attention following a capital facilities-fee increase, approved by the Goleta Water District Board of Directors on May 31, Carpenter said. The increase was implemented July 1.
“We have been paying [the capital facilities fee] in the past as well, but following the new rate agreement, we had to take action quickly and go forward [with the lawsuit],” Carpenter said.
Although UCSB tried to reach an agreement with the Goleta Water District after the increase took effect, Carpenter said, district officials did not want to negotiate. According to a university statement from Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor for Public Affairs, the district refused to grant UCSB an extension in filing a lawsuit against the July 1 changes beyond the original deadline of Oct. 31.
“We tried to talk to the Goleta Water District and ask them to negotiate, but [when they wouldn’t] we were forced to file,” Carpenter said.
According to the lawsuit, the water district said the charges the university calls excessive are not capital facilities fees, and it is not required to identify which of its charges are for capital facilities fees or where it will use the fees.
Recently, Gonzales said, the UC Regents also filed a lawsuit against the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which services UC Berkeley. An appellate court ruled in the university’s favor in July, citing a 1986 case that found local water districts could not charge public entities a fee to fund improvements without legislative authorization.
The success of the lawsuit prompted UCSB officials to reassess the campus’ relationship with Goleta Water District, Gonzales said.
UC Regents head attorney Anthony J. Barron, of the San Francisco law firm Thelen, Reid & Priest LLP, which represented the regents in the Berkeley case, said he was not authorized to comment on the case.