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Pajaro Valley water agency prevails in pumping fee lawsuit: Judge says...

Donna Jones, Santa Cruz Sentinel
1/13/2011

http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/newsletter/ci_17082740

Pajaro Valley water agency prevails in pumping fee lawsuit: Judge says agency director can't sue own board

WATSONVILLE -- Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency Director John G. Eiskamp will have to look to a higher court if he wants to continue a lawsuit against his own board.

In August, Eiskamp, looking for a refund for himself and other ratepayers, filed a lawsuit challenging an $80 groundwater pumping fee, known as an augmentation charge, imposed by the agency board in 2002.

Superior Court Judge Jeff Almquist dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday, agreeing with defendants that elected officials can't sue their own agencies over political decisions and that the fee issue already had been decided in previous litigation.

Eiskamp declined Wednesday to say if he would appeal the ruling. He said he'd wait until the judge approved an actual order, which will be prepared by the agency's legal team.

But Eiskamp, who is not a lawyer and is representing himself in the case, disagreed with the issue of his standing.

"I'm simply requesting a refund of the augmentation charges," he said. "I have a perfect right as a taxpayer to do so."

Agency lawyer Tony Condotti said the judge's decision was based on the judgment in a Los Angeles court case that said elected officials can't challenge political decisions in which they participate.

"When an elected official participates in a decision of a political nature, particularly one setting rates or fees, the recourse is through the political process," Condotti said.

City Attorney Alan Smith thinks the principle also applies in a case brought against Watsonville by Councilman Emilio Martinez. The case involves the City Council's appointment process. But Smith said since there are other plaintiffs, including Martinez's wife, Kathleen Morgan-Martinez, and Corralitos pilot Ken Adelman, the lawsuit would stand even without Martinez, so city lawyers haven't pressed the issue.

In the water agency case, Eiskamp is the sole plaintiff.

This is the second time a Santa Cruz County judge has thrown out a lawsuit over the 2002 fee. In 2007, in a lawsuit brought by a small Monterey County water supplier, Judge Paul Burdick ruled that a settlement in litigation over similar fees imposed in 2003 and 2004, resolved the issue.

Pajaro-Sunny Mesa Community Services District appealed the decision, but settled with the agency prior to a judgment.

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