COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - A new class action lawsuit accuses the Coachella Valley Water District of illegally taxing customers to benefit large agricultural companies.
The 90-page lawsuit, filed last week, names Palm Desert resident Randall C. Roberts as the plaintiff. Jeffrey Costell, an attorney with Costell & Adelson Law Corp. handling the case, says water customers are footing too much of the bill, while agricultural businesses pay artificially low water rates.
"They have systematically subsidized the rates being paid by agricultural users at the cost and expense of residential users," Costell said.
According to the complaint, CVWD's board of directors is "controlled by large agricultural interests," with three of the five board members having "significant financial interests in agriculture businesses."
"They own agricultural land and operations out there, and they benefit greatly from those operations," Costell said.
The lawsuit says the water district justifies the tax under the Burns-Porter Act, approved by California voters in 1960, providing legislation to finance and construct the State Water Project.
Under the Burns-Porter Act, a local water district's revenue can only be used for a few specific, voter-approved purposes. According to the suit, using tax dollars to fund aquifer replenishment and subsidizing agricultural water use are not appropriate uses.
"They have very creatively, the board has, found different ways to disguise the fact that they've been charging residential customers -- overcharging them," Costell said.
CVWD spokesperson Katie Evans wrote in a statement the district is aware of the lawsuit and is actively defending it, but "cannot comment on this pending litigation."
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