SACRAMENTO — The California Third District Court of Appeal recently reversed a ruling in which Judge Bobby W. McNatt of the Superior Court of San Joaquin County found that flood control and drainage assessments levied by Water Reclamation District No. 17 against Manteca Unified School District were not valid.
Although the school district owns property within an area in which the water district works on its levees, it argued that it should be exempted from paying assessments to Water Reclamation District No. 17, according to the court’s April 7 opinion.
The San Joaquin County court agreed with the school district’s claim that the assessment payments are not valid, although it refused to award a requested $299,000 to reimburse Manteca for assessments it had already paid.
On appeal, the water district said “section 51200 and Proposition 218 allow assessments against school district property unless the district can show through clear and convincing evidence that the property receives no special benefit,” according to the appeals court ruling.
California’s legislature passed section 51200 of the state’s water code in 1951. Under section 51200, “the assessment levied by a [reclamation] district shall include all lands and rights of way within the district owned by the state or by any city, county, public corporation or utility district formed under the laws of the state other than public roads, highways and school districts.”
Meanwhile, Proposition 218, which was approved by voters in 1996, curbed the fees and assessments that can be charged by water reclamation districts, the appeals court said.
In 2008, Water Reclamation District No. 17 asked parties owning property in its district to submit a ballot approving or denying a higher assessment to fund the completion of a levee seepage project. The school district voted to approve the assessment increase, although the request would have passed regardless of Manteca’s vote, according to the appeals court ruling,.
Manteca subsequently filed a lawsuit against the water district, claiming that it lacked the power to collect an assessment in connection with the school district’s property.
“The effect of Section 4 is to render a school district subject to assessments that apply to other entities unless the district can demonstrate it receives no special benefit,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “Were we to employ [the] school’s interpretation, Section 4, Subdivision (a) of Article XIII D of the California Constitution would become meaningless.”