City of Glendale is Equally Expected to Abide by the Law.
Fred Fox wrote in the forum page of the Glendale News Press that he’s disturbed by the
lawsuit questioning the appropriateness of transferring utility monies to support general
government services. But, to him and those who share his view, I’d like to point out that
the Glendale Coalition for Better Government’s lawsuit doesn’t address the
appropriateness of the transfers; rather, it addresses their legalities–it addresses
whether the city is acting within legal constraints regarding those transfers
In 1941Glendale citizens voted for a charter amendment that only allows transfer of
surplus utility monies for general government use–monies left over, if any, after all
utility requirements are met. One of those requirements, established by the charter, is
that money be annually put aside from the water and electric revenues to cover normal
depreciation of the utility’s infrastructure
The Coalition lawsuit alleges the City violated its charter by transferring utility monies as
a GWP budgeted appropriation, regardless of surplus and even in the face of losses.
Indeed, a justification for recent utility rate increases was lack of monies to provide
critically needed capital improvements; and, all the while those critical capital
improvements had to be ignored due to lack of funds, millions of utility revenues were
being transferred for general government use.
The Coalition’s lawsuit seeks to require the city to comply with its charter and use
ratepayers utility fees to first take care of utility needs before it transfers any money for
general government use and to return to the utility some of the money transfer in
violation of the charter–some because the statute of limitations limits how far back the
law will go to correct a wrong.
With Proposition 218 Californians voted to constitutionally required that fees paid for
water service be used only to provide ratepayers with water. Glendale ignored the law
and transferred a portion of water revenues to support general services. The lawsuit
seeks to return some of those illegal transfers–those allowed by the statute of
Californians passed Proposition 26 to prevent local government from denying
taxpayers’ constitutional right to vote on increased revenues by disguising those
increases as fees. It did so by amending Article XIIIC of the State Constitution to define
any local government fee or extraction that does not meet certain narrow exceptions
(none apply to GWP’s electric fees) as a tax which, when increased, requires a vote of
the electorate. The lawsuit alleges that the recent electric rate increase (a portion of
which is used as general revenue) without the people’s vote, violated Proposition 26.
Some may view these legal constraints–constraints that essentially allow revenue
increases; but, make their validity dependent the electorate’s approval–as bad public
policy. The remedy isn’t ignoring the law; it’s changing it. I share Mr. Fox’s concern that
our revenues, as well as the priorities for spending them, has undermined important
infrastructure needs, as well as some public services. It would not surprise me,
however, if we differed on how to solve the problem; but, I would hope we would be in
agreement they should not be solved by approving of our government violating the law.
It shouldn’t disturb anyone that there are those who believe that Government should be
as law-abiding as it expects its citizens to be; and, who, consistent with their conviction,
turn to the courts. In our system courts are final arbiters of what the law is. And the
ultimate outcome of the Coalition’s lawsuit will determine the law we must live under
until and if it’s changed. And that is the way of a lawful representative government.