City sues TID to join service area
by Jonathan Partridge | Patterson Irrigator
Nov 02, 2011 | 1829 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TID power-lines in the air above the West Side service area. --photo by Elias Funez/Patterson Irrigator
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Nearly four months after the City Council requested Patterson be annexed into Turlock Irrigation District’s service area, the city is suing TID and the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission to make it happen.

On Oct. 14, Patterson attorney Dennis Beougher filed a suit on behalf of the city in an attempt to stop TID from blocking the annexation, after district officials contended they did not have enough water to bring the West Side into the fold. The district has delivered electricity to the city since 2003.

But according to the city, it’s a matter of having a voice before a utility that plays an essential role in Patterson life.

“The goal in mind at the end of the process is to create a situation where residents on the West Side can have some representation,” City Manager Rod Butler said this week. “Maybe they can run for the board of directors and have more of a seat at the table.”

The council approved the litigation against TID and LAFCo in closed session Oct. 4, the same day TID’s board of directors approved a resolution requesting that LAFCo terminate Patterson’s application for annexation.

In addition to trying to negate the district’s action that day, the suit aims to prevent LAFCo from honoring TID’s request.

Beougher filed a similar class action suit on behalf of Patterson residents J. and Pat Wells in January, who sought to have an elected representative for West Side residents on the TID board. The Wellses and other residents have complained that West Side residents are charged fees that other TID customers do not have to pay, yet they have no representation on the TID board.

TID began providing electrical service for the 225-square-mile Westside Service Area in December 2003. That service area, which includes about 10,000 ratepayers in Patterson, Crows Landing, Del Puerto Canyon and the developing community of Diablo Grande, previously received power from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Initially, many Patterson residents were excited about the prospect of cheaper rates under TID. These days, however, a few business owners say they pay more to TID, because of a “Westside Facilities Charge” the district collects from West Side customers to pay for equipment it bought from PG&E.

As of Dec. 31, West Side residents had $6.9 million left to pay of that fee, which started with a $12.8 million balance in 2003.

TID officials contend annexation would force the district to serve the West Side with irrigation water, as well as electricity, because of state water code requirements — a task that would have devastating consequences, according to David Hobbs, TID’s assistant general counsel.

The district’s present water customers would have their allotments reduced by 13 percent as a consequence, TID officials say. Such an arrangement would hinder the district’s storage planning and severely impair its ability to store water for dry years, according to a resolution TID’s board approved Oct. 4.

Irrigation districts on the West Side already provide water for 38,000 acres, and district officials estimate they would have to irrigate about 44,000 more acres than they do now if annexation were to occur.

Because the district does not serve the West Side with water, a West Side representative could not vote on water issues, TID officials say. While district officials have discussed the idea of allowing a West Side representative to vote only on electrical issues, that’s easier said than done, Hobbs said.

“Because water and electricity issues are so intertwined, how does that call get made?” he asked. “How do I determine what’s a pure electrical issue and what’s a pure water issue?”

Hobbs also said many West Side residents do not realize that the California Public Utilities Commission required TID to collect fees to pay for the equipment it bought from PG&E in 2003.

“It’s just unfortunate that it’s come to this,” he said of the lawsuits.

Beougher had no problem with a West Side board member voting on both water and electric issues, saying that the vast majority of TID’s revenue comes from electrical service and not water, so it’s almost a moot point.

Still, he said West Side residents have no interest in TID’s water. The state code section cited in his lawsuit addresses only electricity, he said.

“The amazing part of this is that TID created this problem,” Beougher said. “They’re the ones that excluded my clients from representation. We’ve never said anything about water.

“It’s like a child shooting his parents and saying, ‘I’m the orphan now,’” he said of TID’s response to the city’s annexation request. “Right now, they can’t complain to anyone. They can charge anything they want.”

Beougher has served as special legal counsel for the city regarding the TID annexation process since spring, Butler said. Thus far, the city has spent $7,500 on maps that were submitted to LAFCo, as well as an $8,000 deposit to LAFCo for staff time, most of which city officials expect to get back.

Councilwoman Annette Smith said Monday that the city has not spent any money on litigation related to the TID case, as it is being filed in conjunction with the Wellses’ suit.

Still, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who is a LAFCo commissioner, said he was surprised to see the city sue both TID and LAFCo. Patterson has filed more suits than most municipalities he is aware of, he said.

He said he had never heard of a city suing a Local Agency Formation Commission, and noted that Smith recently sued the Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury after it issued a report that was critical of her and other council members.

In addition, the city sued Stanislaus County in 2008 as part of a lawsuit against the proposed PCCP West Park industrial project.

DeMartini said it was his understanding that Patterson had initially welcomed TID with open arms, and there seemed to be little talk at the time about board representation.

“I’m surprised this is such a hot issue,” DeMartini said. “I certainly didn’t see this thing coming.”

Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or jonathan@pattersonirrigator.com.

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