The Superior Court building / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

For years, advocates have been pushing hard for the elimination of fees in local courts that can cause traffic tickets to explode in cost if a defendant misses a payment or fails to appear. Those fees have helped sustain the budgets of local courts throughout the state but are particularly hard on low-income people.

State lawmakers have taken note. They’ve proposed that the fees be eliminated and replaced with a more stable source of funding, but they’re still negotiating with the governor.

In his latest Fine City column, Jesse Marx spoke to a Lemon Grove man whose ticket ballooned after missing a single payment. It took two years to fully pay off and only because he was able to pick up extra hours as a gig worker while attending community college.

A coalition of debtors and attorneys sued a court in the Bay Area earlier this year and recently sent a letter to San Diego County Superior Court putting it on notice as well. The lawsuit argues that the fees constitute a hidden tax and conflict for judges. The courts disagree but are looking to Sacramento for a legislative solution. 

The lawsuit also argues that the fees are the product of California’s tough-on-crime policies in the 1990s. As more people came into the criminal justice system, local courts began looking for new sources of funding to relieve the pressure. San Diego County played a role in expanding the authority of courts to levy fees statewide.

Read the latest from Marx here.

The Cost of Water Is on the Rise Again for San Diego

On Thursday, the board of the San Diego County Water Authority — which purchases water for the region and sells it to 24 different local water agencies — approved a 5.2 percent increase in the cost of drinking water and a 3.7 percent increase on untreated water, which comes from a river or reservoir and isn’t yet fit for human consumption. Those increases go into effect in 2023.

Back in 2022, the Water Authority raised rates 3.6 percent for treated and 3.3 percent for untreated and predicted rate hikes between 5.5 to 10 percent this year. 

The agency said the increase is due to historically high inflation as well as increased energy costs from San Diego Gas and Electric and the usual culprit the Water Authority points to in times of a rate increase: the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California based in Los Angeles.

That’s because San Diego buys a portion of its Colorado River water supply from Los Angeles, especially in the summer months when demand for water is higher. Metropolitan is also looking at rate increases on the cost of its water for 2023.

A view of the Colorado River as it flows through northern Arizona / Image via Shutterstock

But this doesn’t mean every San Diegan’s water bill will rise by the same amount. Each of the 24 water agencies that buy from San Diego will independently decide to either absorb that cost or pass a portion or all of it on to ratepayers. 

The Water Authority makes money by selling water and also charging its member agencies to help support the pipes, pumps and other infrastructure needed to bring the life-giving liquid to a coastal desert. But San Diegans are using about 40 percent less water than they were three decades ago. That means revenue from sales is falling as expenses on that hard infrastructure rises.

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In Other News

  • San Diego voters will have to wait at least another two years to weigh in on a shift to ranked choice or instant runoff, an alternative voting method that supporters say increases voter choice after San Diego City Council members expressed concern about the measure. (Union-Tribune)
  • A bunch of San Diego cities lost a legal battle against new affordable housing requirements when a judge agreed with the regional planning agency that the courts could not overturn a housing needs assessment required under state law. (CBS 8)
  • The scooter company Bird is challenging the city’s attempt to restrict three scooter companies from operating on city streets, arguing the process by which it chose which four companies can continue operating (Bird was not one of the four) was flawed. (Union-Tribune)
  • A study on the historical outcomes of Proposition 13, a 1978 law that effectively froze longtime homeowners’ taxable property values, showed White homeowners get annual property tax breaks that are much higher than Black or Latino homeowners. (KPBS)
  • Customs and Border Patrol can’t stop anyone from taking photos or filming near official border crossings. That’s the result of a settlement after a decade-long First Amendment legal challenge that began when a longtime border activist had his cellphone confiscated by border patrol after filming an agent. (Union-Tribune)
  • A San Diego-based defense contractor sold military technology to China, the FBI alleges. (City News Service)
  • SDPD officers will receive a 10 percent raise over the next year, based on negotiations between the police officers’ union and city officials that culminated this week. (FOX 5 News)

The Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, MacKenzie Elmer and Andrew Keatts. It was edited by Megan Wood.

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