For many residents of Golden Hill and South Park, the fight to dissolve their maintenance assessment district was long, hard, and expensive. In 2011, more than four years after filing a complaint against the city, the residents were victorious. The maintenance assessment district was soon after invalidated.
On November 25, California's Court of Appeals ruled that the city will have to reimburse the residents for legal fees incurred during the drawn-out legal battle. The decision can be seen as a defeat for the city and the City Attorney's Office, which has spent countless hours fighting the lawsuit.
In fact, the city continues to refund the money collected as part of the assessment.
Throughout the duration of the lawsuit, residents continued to pay the annual assessment. Shortly after the ruling, the city began handing out refunds, with some strings attached. Residents were required to file a claim with the city's Risk Management Department. In addition, the four-year statute of limitations was kept in place, meaning that many residents were too late to collect the first year's assessment. In June of this year, according to the previous year's tax documents, the city had handed out 84 refunds totaling a little more than $78,000.
The issue of legal costs goes back a few years. The 2011 judgment failed to address the issue of legal expenses. So, in January 2012, residents filed a new motion, demanding the city reimburse them for any and all legal expenses. The city objected, stating that the residents, in their pursuit of dissolving the assessment district, had failed to request that those fees be paid.
On November 25, the Fourth District Court of Appeals gave the residents their final victory, ordering that residents are entitled to fees. According to an unpublished ruling, "the court is ordered to consider the Association's attorney fees motion consistent with the conclusions reached in this opinion. The City is ordered to bear appellants' costs on appeal."
The amount that the city will have to pay will be decided at a future hearing.
They legal debate over maintenance assessment districts is also undecided. The City Attorney's Office is currently defending several lawsuits challenging surrounding community-based assessments. One has been brought by San Diegans for Open Government, challenging the legality of all 58 maintenance assessment districts throughout the city. That case is making its way through the courts.