On September 13, 2022 the Valley Groundwater Coalition, led by president and longtime Madera County landowner Ralph Pistoresi, represented by law firm Wild, Carter & Tipton, filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the County of Madera; Madera County Superior Court case number MCV087677: Valley Groundwater Coalition vs. County of Madera.
The main issue at hand is whether or not farmers within the Madera County Groundwater Sustainability Agency (“Madera County GSA”) must pay the $246 per acre “GSP Project Fee” imposed by the Madera County GSA. The $246 per acre was imposed via a controversial Proposition 218 election which took place earlier this year. The $246 per acre first appeared on farmers’ 2022-2023 property tax bills. Time is of the essence because the first installment of the property taxes would be considered delinquent if not paid by December 12. According to the Coalition, the $246 per acre is a “tax”, but according to the County it is a “fee.”
A preliminary injunction hearing was originally scheduled for last week but there were last minute issues regarding conflicts of interest. On Friday, December 2nd, the case was assigned to The Honorable D. Lynn Collet and the preliminary injunction hearing was rescheduled for December 6th.
On Tuesday, December 6th, at 10:30 AM approximately 30 to 40 landowners, farmers and interested parties filed into the courtroom at Department 40 in the Madera County Courthouse. Judge Collet heard arguments for and against issuing the preliminary injunction. Arguments were from Patrick Gorman, the attorney representing the Coalition, and Michael Linden, the attorney for Madera County.
Gorman and Linden went back and forth regarding Proposition 218, statutes of limitations, the status of Madera County GSA projects, various code sections and other arguments. Judge Collet had detailed and thoughtful questions for both sides. Judge Collet said she would need to review one of the cases cited. It was decided that the hearing would reconvene at 3:15 PM for her decision. At 3:15 PM the court reconvened. In deciding whether or not to grant the preliminary injunction, the court looked at the threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs versus the threat of harm the injunction would cause the County. Judge Collet decided to issue the preliminary injunction.
Yesterday was a win for the farmers and for the Valley Groundwater Coalition. This matter will be further litigated, but for now, the farmers in the Madera County GSA will not have to pay the $246 per acre GSP Project Fee portion of their 2022-2023 property taxes.
Taisto Smith holds a BS in Economics from UCLA. He is the Managing Member and part owner of Smith Adobe, LLC, a property management company responsible for the farming, conservation, and landlord-tenant relationships of the Adobe Ranch, a 10,600 acre ranch located in Madera County. Taisto Smith (formerly Erik Smith) legally changed his name in 2021 to honor his grandfather of Finnish descent. Taisto is currently pursuing his Executive MBA at Fresno State.
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