FAIRFIELD — Rural residents fed up with high water prices are threatening to sue Vallejo.
The Green Valley Landowners Association in a Wednesday press release announced it has notified Vallejo of its intent. Vallejo has 45 days to respond to avoid the lawsuit.
Vallejo owns the Vallejo Lakes Water System in the hills above Green Valley. It created Lake Frey reservoir in the early 1880s and nearby Lake Madigan reservoir in 1908 and piped the water to serve the residents of Vallejo.
The city also agreed to serve rural Solano County residents. Today, the Lakes Water System serves 800 customers in the Green Valley, Cordelia, Willotta Oaks and Gordon Valley areas. No longer does the system serve Vallejo.
Since 1992, the costs of the Lake Water System have been paid only by the 800 rural customers. That’s the crux of the Green Valley Landowners Association’s complaint.
“Vallejo invited us into the Lakes Water System when they needed more paying customers to get the system up and running,” association President Bill Mayben said in a press release. “Now that it is outdated, they are leaving us high and dry to pay to operate and repair a system that is too big for the remaining customers and is suffering from more than a century of deferred maintenance.”
Vallejo City Manager Daniel Keen on Wednesday said the city had just learned of the potential litigation. Because the issue involves a potential lawsuit, the city has no comment, he said.
In 2009, Vallejo announced water rate increases for the Lakes Water System customers. The average monthly cost would increase from $85 to $165 within five years, the city estimated. City officials cited stricter state water quality standards that had to be met.
City officials at the time said the price increases were high. But, they said, Proposition 218 passed by state voters in 1996 allows citizens to be charged fees only in proportion to the costs of serving their properties. That makes having Vallejo residents subsidize the Lakes Water System illegal, they said.
The Green Valley Landowners Association has another viewpoint.
“It is simply unconscionable that 800 households are left on the hook for operating, maintaining and repairing a system that was designed to serve 30,000,” Mayben said in the press release.
The Green Valley Landowners Association began talks with Vallejo a few years ago to see if the city would sell the system. The idea was that rural Solano County residents who use the water would form a local community service district to own and run the Lakes Water System. That would allow the 800 rural customers to control their own water destiny.
But no deal has emerged from the talks.
Green Valley Landowners Association’s press release said Vallejo is talking about selling the system to a private investor-owned utility. The association fears that could mean even higher water rates.
A city appraisal says the system is worth $9 million, but the city would charge a customer-formed community service district $3 million more to cover what it claims is a past subsidy, attorney Stephen Flynn said. The Gordon Valley resident is representing the association.
That price doesn’t include any land or water rights, but the actual water system of pipes, pumps and treatment plant, Flynn said. He called the appraisal value “grossly inflated.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.