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News

Ventura presses on with water lawsuit

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter
With an extended deadline less than three months away for thousands of local property owners drawn into a potential adjudication of the Ventura River watershed, the Ojai Valley News reached out to city of Ventura officials for an update on the litigation.
The OVN contacted Ventura Assistant City Attorney Miles Hogan, who provided the following responses via email:
OVN: Have there been any new developments in the case?
MH: The court rescheduled the case management conferences previously set for May 8 and June 1 to June 24 at 2:30 p.m; the court has noted that due to COVID-19-related court closures, all appearances should be telephonic, absent an articulable special need to appear in person. This update is on the official www.venturariverwatershedadjudication.com website.
Otherwise, the case remains largely on hold and the city of Ventura and other water users are focused on developing a proposed physical solution that is locally driven, is acceptable to water users in the Ventura River watershed, and that addresses the needs of instream uses.
Also, the city of Ventura still needs to complete the noticing and service process that it began in January and February of this year. The city has completed most of this process, but some additional work is needed to complete the legally required process. This process was put on hold beginning in March due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) restrictions. As Ventura County continues to reopen, the city of Ventura plans to re-commence that process when it is safe to do so effectively. We will reach out with further information as we begin that process.

 

OVN: Has the city responded officially to Casitas Municipal Water District’s withdrawal from what it called “attorney-led” mediation?
MH: No, the city has not. The city has had a positive relationship with Casitas MWD over the last few years, and the city would like to maintain that relationship and continue to cooperate with Casitas. The city understands that Casitas was frustrated by the city’s communication with the noticing process at the beginning of the year and has made a concentrated effort to provide better communication moving forward. The city hopes that over time Casitas will rejoin the mediation process so the parties can develop a solution that is workable for Casitas and its customers. The city does not want to actively litigate the case, and hopes to reach a court-approved solution and settlement that works for the parties, including Casitas, as soon as possible. At this time, the city is not pursuing active litigation.
The city also notes that the attorneys facilitate the process and advise on options, but that clients control the deal and policy points — at least that is how the city does it and we believe the same is true for others participating in the mediation process.
OVN: CMWD told us they’re still reviewing a response from the city regarding Casitas’ public records request. Can you tell us what information CMWD was requesting?
MH: Casitas MWD requested records related to the lawsuit and the city’s claims in its third amended cross-complaint.
OVN: Has the Ventura City Council approved additional funding to cover legal fees expected to stem from the lawsuit. If so, how much money was approved, and when?
MH: On May 18, 2020, the Ventura City Council approved an additional $150,000 for legal and expert services and an additional $50,000 for communication services related to this litigation, in case additional funds are needed.
OVN: Casitas met with Ventura elected officials last month, “without the lawyers in the room.” What was the outcome of that meeting, if any, and will there be another meeting scheduled?
MH: Representatives from Casitas and the city met last month and had a positive meeting. They plan to meet again and continue the positive dialogue. The city remains committed to working together, collaboratively, with other water users to develop a local solution.

 

OVN: Is the extended deadline for people to decide if they want to be part of the lawsuit still Sept. 8?
MH: Yes, the court granted the city’s request to extend the time to respond to the city’s third amended cross-complaint. The new deadline to file and serve a response is Sept. 8, 2020. At this time, we do not know whether this deadline will be extended due to the impacts of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

 

We will continue to keep you informed over the coming months as developments arise in the case. The city will also continue to update the website www.venturariver.com.
People can also check the official adjudication website at www.venturariverwatershedadjudication.com for court updates.

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