Bay Area/ Oakland/ Politics & Govt
AI Assisted Icon
Published on June 06, 2024
Calexico Reaches Settlement with California AG Over Illegal Water Shutoffs, Agrees to $150,000 Restitution and Policy OverhaulSource: Google Street View

The struggle to access life's most essential element has reached a settlement in Calexico, where illegal water shutoffs brought misery during an already fraught pandemic era. In a move heralded by those advocating for the fundamental human right to water, Attorney General Rob Bonta and the California State Water Resources Control Board reached a stipulated judgment with the City, as reported by the Office of the Attorney General dated June 5th. By the settlement, Calexico faces a restitution of up to $150,000 to affected customers and is tasked with overhauling its policies to comply with the Water Shutoff Protection Act.

Rooted in charges of noncompliance with a 2018 law crafted to shield the most vulnerable from losing water access, the City's woes were laid bare after a state investigation. It turned up some 1,090 shutoffs that flouted both the Act and a moratorium put in place amid COVID-19. In response to this finding, the State's imposition includes a financial mea culpa to the tune of a quarter million dollars in direct aid to eligible residents—an outcome resulting from a corrected Water Arrearages Program application by the City, as explained in the Attorney General's announcement.

"The right to access water is fundamental, and no family should have to endure the hardships of living without this basic necessity," Attorney General Bonta said, per the Office of the Attorney General. Senator Bill Dodd, who authored the Water Shutoff Protection Act, praised Bonta's "steadfast leadership" for upholding a law designed as a lifeline to seniors, children, and those suffering illness or disability who are often at the mercy of such critical utility services.

The details of the settlement necessitate deep changes in how Calexico manages its water policies. From reducing late fees and expanding repayment plans to bolstering the process of service reinstatement, the City is mandated to turn the tide in favor of its citizens. Notably, from this August, even smaller water systems, those with 15 or more service connections, will be enveloped by the Act's protective measures—broadening the spectrum of Californians under its guard.

The unfolding of this first enforcement action of the Water Shutoff Protection Act by California's Department of Justice signals a clarion call to water systems across the state. With legal alerts already issued last year, utilities large and small are now on notice—the state's commitment to guaranteeing unimpeded access to water is more than a moral stance; it's a legal imperative, bolstered by a willingness to bring violators to account.