"We are here today to announce the initiation of filing a petition for an initiative, not a referendum but an initiative to repeal the water rates that were raised by the City Council on August the 15th," Vagim said
The hikes, which could double the average residential water bill from $24 to $48 over three years would be used to pay for more than $4 hundred million in renovations to the city's current water system. It would include expanding the treatment plant in Northwest Fresno and building another bigger plant in the Southeast Fresno. Vagim and his supporters say the rate hike is too much.
"We feel the rates are so outrageously high, so punitive to the people." Vagim said.
But, Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan says the city gave the public plenty of opportunities to express concerns about the rate hikes, but very few did. And he says this is not the kind of thing that voters can overturn.
"The courts have held that the power of initiative is not available to deprive the city of the ability to provide essential government functions.
"If Mr. Vagim and the others pursue the initiative process here it will be illegal; the court will hold that it is not available for them to pursue that to keep the city from supplying the water that is necessary," Slogan said.
Vagim compares the battle over water rate hikes to the battle over Measure G, the city approved plan to turn over garbage collection to a private company that was overturned by voters. He says the city council should simply repeal their decision, or let the issue be decided at the ballot box.
"If they challenge this they will lose this. Please don't let the people vote," Vagim said.