Great Oaks Water Co. v. Santa Clara Valley Water Dist.Annotate this Case
Great Oaks, a water retailer, challenged a groundwater extraction fee imposed on water it draws from wells on its property. The power to impose such a fee is statutorily vested in the Santa Clara Valley Water Management District. The trial court awarded a refund of charges paid by Great Oaks, finding that the charge violated the provisions of both the District Act and Article XIII D of the California Constitution, which imposes procedural and substantive constraints on fees and charges imposed by local public entities. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the fee is a property-related charge for purposes of Article 13D, subject to some constraints, but is also a charge for water service, exempt from the requirement of voter ratification. A pre-suit claim submitted by Great Oaks did not preserve any monetary remedy against the District for violations of Article 13D and, because the matter was treated as a simple action for damages when it should have been treated as a petition for a writ of mandate, the trial court failed to apply a properly deferential standard of review to the question whether the District’s setting of the fee, or its use of the resulting proceeds, complied with the District Act.