Attorney Margaret Thum Challenges Local Water District in Court

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San Francisco’s property rights attorney, Margaret Thum, is awaiting the results of a recent case against the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District that she recently argued in court.

San Francisco Civil Rights Lawyer

San Francisco Civil Rights Attorney

On November 14, 2012, a Monterey County Superior Court judge was presented with arguments of Attorney Margaret Thum who alleged that previous practices and procedures of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) were illegal and unconstitutional. The case (Superior Court Case No. M113598, Monterey Superior Court) involved MPWMD rules that have been in place since 1985 which limit the number of residential water fixtures in a home—toilets, sinks, bathtubs, etc.—and require homeowners to open their doors for verification of their water fixtures by the MPWMD. Attorney Thum represented a Pebble Beach couple whose recently purchased home was subjected to a “routine” inspection that, per court documents, resulted in the couple being mandated to remove or seek a permit for two hand-held shower fixtures in their house.

In the arguments that she presented to the court, as depicted in official documents, Attorney Thum emphasized that California state law does not allow the water district to impose restrictions on household water use, including limiting the number of showers, sinks, toilets, and other fixtures that a person chooses to use in the privacy of their own home. Court documents also show that Attorney Thum contended that the connection fees her clients were required to pay also violated the law, because the district does not provide water to her clients – water is provided by the local water utility, California American Water.

Per court documents, Attorney Thum further maintained that the water district’s inspections violated her clients’ constitutionally protected right to privacy and protections from unreasonable government searches. She used her time in court to argue that her clients were forced to agree to the district’s inspection, because if they did not agree, they would be subject to fines and criminal penalties under the district’s rules. She alleged that because their consent was involuntary, and because the district has no authority to inspect homes, any search of her clients’ house violated constitutional protections from unreasonable government searches. The last argument Attorney Thum presented was that the water fixture rules violate substantive due process, because the rules are used to estimate water use, but the district stated in one of its ordinances that fixtures use no water; therefore, fixtures could not possibly be used to estimate water use.

According to court documents, the MPWMD argued in response that the 30-year water shortage on the Monterey Peninsula justified the district’s procedures in this case. In addition, the court documents show that the water district argued that its water fixture rules were approved by a court order in 1986, and could not be challenged. Attorney Thum countered that the water district is no longer protected by the 1986 court proceeding, because the fixture rules approved in 1986, including the water district’s connection fees, were implemented for the purpose of paying for a dam to augment the water supply for residents on the Monterey Peninsula. According to court documents, Attorney Thum pointed out that the connection fees that were approved in 1986 were required to be set aside to pay for the dam, but the fees were ultimately never set aside, and in fact, the dam was never built, although the fees have been collected since 1986.

In the arguments that she presented to the court, Attorney Thum asked the court to order the water district to refrain from restricting her clients’ household water use, require the district to provide water to her clients before charging them connection fees and stop the water district from implementing residential inspections. The Judge deciding the case, the Honorable Lydia Villarreal, took the case under submission, and will announce the decision at a later date.

Margaret Thum is a San Francisco property, business and civil rights attorney who is a strong and dedicated advocate for her clients. Attorney Thum has offices in San Francisco and Monterey. With more than 15 years of legal experience, she is also a licensed California real estate broker whose knowledge of the law extends to matters related to land use, water, taxes, the California Public Records Act, and general corporate law. She graduated cum laude from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, holds an M.B.A. from The University of Chicago, and earned two B.S. degrees (in Engineering and Math) from Southern Methodist University. More about the attorney’s practice and her specific areas of skill, can be found by visiting the firm’s website at http://www.thumlaw.com.

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