Two West Hollywood condo associations, a local business and two local residents are suing the City of Beverly Hills over its 25% surcharge on water supplied to residents of West Hollywood’s Westside.
The plaintiffs are the Doheny Plaza Association and the Plaza Towers Condominium Association, Yogurt Stop, owned by Shoshana Joseph and Marta Knittel, and west side residents Anne Beatts and Susana Miller.
In the suit, filed in L.A. Superior Court, the plaintiffs claim that the surcharge violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and various articles of the California Constitution “by arbitrarily and capriciously denying Plaintiffs and the Class equal treatment under the law.”
Beverly Hills furnishes water to households and businesses in an area of the west side of West Hollywood whose approximate boundaries are Doheny Drive on the west, Sunset Boulevard on the north, Flores Street on the east and Beverly Boulevard on the south. That area includes about 30% of West Hollywood’s population and a large number of businesses.
Beverly Hills has been providing water to the area for decades. In 1928 it purchased the Sherman Water Company, which provided water to the then-unincorporated west side of what was to become West Hollywood. In 1948, Beverly Hills started receiving water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which now serves the rest of West Hollywood. It also operates several groundwater production wells of its own that supply about 10% of its water supply.
The City of Beverly Hills has said that the 25% surcharge on its WeHo customers is “in recognition that Beverly Hills has extended service out of the city limits to customers that had not contributed to the City’s General Fund which funded the initial construction of the City’s water system.”
However, the plaintiffs argue that the surcharge likely paid off those costs long ago and that the tax now violates a particular part of the state Constitution that says “municipal fees shall not exceed the funds required to provide the related service and shall not be used for any purpose other than that for which the fee was imposed.” They are asking that the lawsuit be considered a class action suit, which means all West Hollywood businesses and residents who pay the surcharge would be considered defendants.
The City of Beverly Hills has until May 23 to file a response to the lawsuit.
City Councilmember Lauren Meister, a resident of the West Hollywood West neighborhood, has raised objections in the past to the 25% surcharge. Meister has argued that if the surcharge is intended to compensate Beverly Hills for early investments in the water system that WeHo didn’t help pay for, now it is time to calculate whether WeHo’s payments have covered that gap.
Richard Cohen, a West Hollywood resident and a spokesman for the Doheny Plaza Condo Association, has asked that all residents paying Beverly Hills for water write “paid under protest” on their check. Cohen also asks that they include with the payment for the next bill the following statement:
“Enclosed please find the payment for my water bill. I make this payment under protest because the City of Beverly Hills (the “City”) is improperly charging me a 25% non-resident water tax. The City does not apply the same tax to its residents. Among other problems, this wrongful practice violates the California Constitution and certain provisions of the Government Code, which prohibit the City from imposing, extending, or increasing any general or special tax unless it is first approved by voters. (Cal. Const. art. XIII C, § 2 subds. (b) and (d), Gov’t Code §§ 53722, 53723.) It also arbitrarily and capriciously denies me equal protection of the laws. This non-resident water tax also exceeds the funds required to provide water and water services. The City also uses the non-resident water tax for purposes other than the provision of water and water services. This statement is not intended to recite a complete list of the legal theories under which I may seek relief and I expressly reserve the right to assert additional legal theories that may be developed through further discovery and research.”