FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 8, 2010
Megan Beaman Carlson, Attorney California Rural Legal Assistance
Phone: 760-398-7261 | 760-391-8934, firstname.lastname@example.org
THERMAL, CA - In a quick unilateral order issued yesterday, the California Public Utilities Commission issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the hundreds of local Sunbird Mobilehome Park residents who have been paying unconscionably high water bills for nearly three years.1 The order imposes two injunctive measures on park ownership. First, Sunbird must stop charging residents at its current Tier 3 and Tier 4 billing rates, which are ten times higher than the comparable rates charged by local Coachella Valley Water District. Second, Sunbird is prohibited from using nonpayment of water bills as a basis for eviction or disconnection of water service. This order is effective as an interim measure pending the resolution of a water rates and water quality complaint filed by former resident Lucas D. Hernandez and joined by a number of other Sunbird residents (Hernandez v. Sunbird Mobilehome Park, C.09-11-019). California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., who represents Mr. Hernandez, expressed appreciation for the PUC's decision, terming it an early victory for residents. "We are pleased not only with the PUC's recognition of the merits of this complaint and the rights of Sunbird residents, but also with its ability to act so rapidly to prevent further damage to the Sunbird community," said CRLA attorney Megan Beaman Carlson. Since 2006, Sunbird residents had been paying monthly water bills of several hundred dollars per month-one resident even received a monthly bill totaling $1,250. Mr. Hernandez paid bills as high as $595.00 before being forced to move out. Other residents who are not able to make these payments are evicted; often their mobilehomes are repossessed by park ownership.
The PUC's quick decision followed testimony last week in front of Assembly and Senate Budget Subcommittees in which CRLA presented requested information on the Sunbird matter, and several resident leaders added personal experiences and pleas for relief. Beaman continued, "This is an early victory that provides Sunbird residents with a sense of justice deserve. We still have a lot of work to do and will hope for even better results from mediation or from a final order in this case. Sunbird residents are incredibly resilient and we are sure they will be fighting with us every step of the way." Mediation in this case is expected to take place in late May or early June. If mediation is unsuccessful, the matter will then proceed to a formal hearing and a final resolution by the PUC's administrative law judge and elected commissioners.
CRLA's mission is to provide high-quality legal services that improve the quality of life for low-income individuals and their rural communities. CRLA legal services are shaped by the needs of our diverse client community. Through a state-wide network of 21 offices, our staff conducts litigation, outreach and legal education on the most pressing issues facing low-income communities: housing, employment, education, workplace safety, discrimination, income maintenance and healthcare access.
1. The order is available online at: http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/WORD_PDF/FINAL_DECISION/117586.pdf