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UVRGA dismisses, then refiles suit after Brown Act violation

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Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter
A local groundwater agency dismissed, and then refiled last week, a lawsuit against Casitas Municipal Water District over its refusal to provide customer water-use data.
The Upper Ventura River Groundwater Agency sued CMWD in August over the district’s denial of a public records request for parcel-level details on water use by some of its customers.
UVRGA officials say they need the data to determine the amount of water extracted from the Upper Ventura River groundwater basin, so the agency can prepare a groundwater sustainability plan required by state law.
But Casitas refused to share the data, saying customer information is confidential and can only be released with the customer’s consent.
The data sought by UVRGA concerns agricultural customers who obtain their water from both groundwater wells and from deliveries by a local water district.
The agency wants to subtract the amount of delivered water from the total water used for irrigation, so it can determine what the customer’s groundwater use is.
UVRGA dismissed the initial lawsuit in the interest of maximum transparency, after Casitas raised questions about procedural issues during the agency’s July 9 board meeting, according to the agency’s executive director, Bryan Bondy.
The action the agency took in filing the original lawsuit did not comply with the Brown Act open-meetings law, according to CMWD legal counsel Robert Kwong. “They needed to announce in open session that the board of UVRGA had given authority to its legal counsel to file a lawsuit,” he said.
Once Casitas made UVRGA aware of the alleged violation, Kwong said, the agency availed itself of a cure-and-correct provision in the Brown Act” by dismissing the lawsuit. “Then they turned right around and filed another lawsuit.”
The original lawsuit was filed in Ventura County Superior Court on Aug. 13 and was dismissed around the time the second suit was filed on Sept. 15, Bondy said.
Both ask the court to issue a writ of mandate directing Casitas to disclose the records sought by UVRGA.
The two lawsuits are identical, Bondy told the Ojai Valley News.
Bondy declined to tell the OVN how each UVRGA board member voted to dismiss and refile the lawsuit at its Sept. 10 meeting, writing in an email to the OVN on Sept. 24, in part: “The minutes will be available in the forthcoming board packet for the 10/8 regular meeting in draft form and will be approved by the Board during the meeting.”
However, Angelo Spandrio, who is appointed to the UVRGA board and elected to the CMWD board, said votes to dismiss and refile the lawsuit were taken at the Sept. 10 meeting in open session, after a 90-minute closed session meeting. He said all the board members voted to dismiss the lawsuit against CMWD and refile it, not counting himself, because he was not asked to vote, and UVRGA Board member Glenn Shephard, who was absent from the meeting.
Spandrio said he was advised by UVRGA legal counsel not to attend either of the UVRGA board closed sessions at which the lawsuit was discussed due to a possible conflict of interest with a joint powers agreement with area water agencies.
Though Casitas denied the agency’s request for customer data, both the Ventura River Water District and Meiners Oaks Water District complied, with an agreement that the information remain confidential.
The court gave CMWD until Oct. 15 to file a written response at the court and have a copy served on UVRGA.

 

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify information provided to the editor during the editing of this article to include that the Sept. 10 votes regarding the UVRGA lawsuit, which Bondy and UVRGA legal counsel initially declined to provide information about, were taken in open session; and that Spandrio attended the Sept. 10 meeting, but not the closed session portion of the Sept. 10 UVRGA meeting.

 

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