Great Oaks Water Co. v. Santa Clara Valley Water Dist.Annotate this Case
The Santa Clara Valley Water District Act vests the Santa Clara Valley Water Management District with the power to impose groundwater extraction fees. Great Oaks Water Company, a water retailer, brought this action challenging such a fee imposed on water it draws from wells on its property. The trial court awarded Great Oaks a complete refund on the groundwater charges paid and, in the alternative, a partial refund, finding that the charge violated the Act and Article 13D of the California Constitution. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding (1) the disputed fee is a property-related charge for purposes of Article 13D and thus is subject to some of the constraints of that enactment, but the fee is also a charge for water service and, as such, is exempt from the requirement of voter ratification; (2) Plaintiff’s pre-suit claim did not preserve any monetary remedy against the District for the violations of Article 13D found by the trial court; and (3) the trial court erred in treating the matter as a simple action for damages rather than a petition for a writ of mandate and thus failed to apply a properly deferential standard of review to the question of whether the District’s setting of the fee, or its use of the resulting proceeds, complied with the Act.