The bully next door: OVN editorial on OPINION page 5-22

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Thinking the city of Ventura is going COVID-broke and learning to love their neighbors? Not a chance! Casitas Municipal Water District is forced to lawyer-up to defend the Ojai Valley against the city of Ventura’s water grab.

In the midst of a pandemic that is wrecking local economies, the Ventura City Council is grappling with a $12 million deficit.

As a result, it hiked its fees at its May 11 meeting to raise a paltry $500,000 and contemplated layoffs. That should make 4 percent progress on its $12 million hole. The Ventura Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer opposed the increase “in the midst of the biggest economic disaster that any of us will see in our lifetime.”

So, how then does the Ventura City Council justify voting at its May 18 meeting — on a consent item, no less — spending another $200,000 to continue its lawsuit against more than 10,000 of its neighbors and its own constituents?

That recent allocation of $200,000 for attorneys and a marketing consultant brings the total spent on the water lawsuit, to date, to a jaw-dropping $5,376,561.23 — more than 44 percent of the $12 million deficit.

And that is before thousands of individuals and agencies go to court to battle over water allocations, for many years to come.




On top of the extra money Ventura taxpayers are forking out for Ventura council’s reckless, unnecessary lawsuit, Casitas Municipal Water District ratepayers were just assessed a higher water bill to fund at least $600,000 to pay for CMWD’s legal defense.

This lawsuit is unaffordable for everyone and will have dire impacts as city services are cut while municipal deficits balloon.

The lawsuit has been an outrageous waste of money from Day One. There still exists plenty of opportunities for a mutual solution.

That made sense before the pandemic. Now, with city, county, state and national governments in economic free-fall, a mutual solution is a necessity.

Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere and the rest of the yes-men cannot justify their May 18 vote to spend $200,000 more on consultants and their San Francisco water lawyer team, Best Best and Krieger, bent on separating Ojai from its water rights. Without a single drop of water to bring to the negotiating table, and thirsty with an insatiable desire to build, the Ventura council has nothing to lose now that the city's solvency ship has sunk.

On May 18, in its usual lock-step 7-0 vote, the council approved spending more on the lawsuit. The city attorney framed the expenditure, on top of the millions Ventura has already wasted, this way:

“The city wants to be proactive and is working with its experts and several other parties to develop solutions for the competing interests in the Ventura River Watershed ...” (The solution they seek is a full adjudication and a permanent acquisition of a larger piece of the water rights pie.)

Next, Ventura City Attorney Greg Diaz’s council report includes a blatantly false statement that: “the most significant costs in this area are the scientists and experts...”

Documents obtained by the Ojai Valley News in response to our public records request for the expenditures of B.B.K., prove that by February 2020, well less than half of the money has been spent on experts.





Perhaps the council members based their votes on the false information and should revisit the item.

Further, Diaz states that these experts will also “develop a judicial solution to this matter.”

That is doublespeak for lawyers and more lawyers — and even more money.

Less than a year ago, on Sept. 11, the Ventura City Council added $1.3 million in legal fees, bringing the allocation to B.B.K. attorneys to $4,438,000. The Ventura City Council has now exported the equivalent of another Ventura taxpayer-funded 2019 Porsche 911 RS Coupe up to San Francisco, and pushed its ever-moving water-litigation spending cap higher.

We call upon Ventura council members to use your newly acquired COVID-2020 vision to drop this lawsuit and negotiate in good faith with your neighbors and your own constituents. 

The Ojai Valley will forever hold these council members and the citizenry of Ventura, who employs them accountable, regardless of whether or not they are all being led by the nose by their attorneys.

This is a bully move during a pandemic.

Call your friends in Ventura; call the folks pulling the levers, then show up (virtually) at every council meeting and comment. To make a public comment, visit: 

Ventura City Council’s phone number is 805-654-7827.
Contact Mayor Matt LaVere at mlavere@cityofventura.
and council members:
Jim Friedman - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Cheryl Heitmann - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sofia Rubalcava - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Alex McIntyre - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
City Manager: 805-654-7740
City Attorney, Gregory G. Diaz: 805-654-7818
The all-in-one City Council email is council@cityofventura.
The next Ventura City Council meeting is June 1 at 6 p.m.




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