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Ventura City Council to vote today, Aug. 2, on spending another nearly $1M to sue thousands of Ojai Valley residents

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7 31 21 Krieger letterpage2Ventura City Council will vote Monday, Aug. 2, to spend another $900,000 on the Best Best & Krieger law firm to sue thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents, businesses and agencies to take control of their water, claiming it has "pueblo rights" to it, among others.

The Ventura City Council’s Sept. 9, 2019 unanimous vote to sue thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents was taken in secret and was only revealed months later after the Ojai Valley News made a formal complaint with the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

On Feb. 18, 2020, responding to a Public Records Act request from the Ojai Valley News, Ventura city attorneys reported that, up to that date, the city had paid:

• Attorneys' fees: $2,184,723

• Expert fees: 1,968,448.99

• Other costs, such as website and serving legal notices to property owners overlying groundwater basins and those close to the Ventura River: $173,389.24

• Channelkeeper attorneys' fees: $850,000

for a TOTAL then of $5,176,561.23.

Since then, including the Aug. 2 request for another $900,000 on the lawsuit, spending has increased to a grand total of $7,176,561.23.

That same amount is roughly the equivalent of an additional 30 Ventura city firefighters.

On May 18, 2020, Ventura City Council voted to pay Mustang Marketing with regard to the lawsuit, $50,000, with a total of $100,000, "not to be exceeded through Feb. 28, 2025."

It also voted for another $150,000 for attorneys' fees, "not to exceed $4,558,000 through June 2022,"

for a TOTAL then of $200,000.

On Aug. 3, 2020, Ventura City Council voted to pay another $900,000 to the attorneys and $50,000 more to Mustang Marketing, with a note from Ventura City Attorney Diaz: "“Even though the city is not actively litigating the case, additional funds are needed to negotiate a solution with the other parties and present it to the county for approval”;

for a TOTAL then of $950,000.

On Dec. 7, 2020, Ventura City Council voted for another $900,000 to the attorneys,

for a TOTAL of $900,0000.

Now, on Aug. 2, 2021, Ventura City Council is being asked to approve another $900,000 to the attorneys,

for a TOTAL of $900,000.

If the $900,000 is approved Monday, Aug. 2, it will bring the amount that the public has been told about, to date, spent by Ventura City Council on the water lawsuit, including attorneys, experts, website, marketing and serving thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents with notices they are being sued, to:

a grand TOTAL of $7,176,561.23.

That is the reported amount the city of Ventura has spent (including $900,000 more it may approve Aug. 2) prior to the trial starting next year.

The extra $900,000 for BBK lawyers to be voted on Aug. 2 is being considered a month after the Ventura City Council approved its fiscal 2021-22 budget on June 21 with severe cutbacks due to significant revenue losses due to the pandemic.

View Ventura city summary of budget cuts at: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/27860/12A

The Aug. 2 agenda reads, under "Financial Impact," that the latest $900,000 expenditure to the BBK law firm comes from Fund 52 for "Project 63101," for "water operations."

Prior increases to the attorneys fees were filed under "Project 63151," for "water purification."

According to the Aug. 2 council agenda, citing "Project 63101": "There is sufficient funding available in the Adopted Budget FY 2021-2022 in Fund 52 for this service agreement."

To view the city of Ventura's budgets, visit:
https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/158/Financial-Transparency 

The agenda, with instructions on how the public can comment online, since the meetings are held online, can be viewed at:

https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_08022021-2512

The public can also scan this QR code below by focusing their phone camera on the image to get to the written public comment link:

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The agenda Item 9e can be viewed here and is also attached to this article in PDF form:

https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/28446/9E

 

Below are the minutes from the Dec. 7, 2020 Ventura City Council meeting, at which the previous board majority (there are three new Ventura councilmembers) voted for an additional $900,000, on top of the $5 million-plus authorized on the lawsuit, that the public knows about, to date:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Proposed list of expenditures for Project 63101 ("water operations).

Prior increases in spending — in May 2020 and December 2020 — were listed as being part of Project 63151 ("water purification"):

2021 22 Ventura proposed budget Project 63101 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Proposed city of Ventura FY 2021-2022 budget references to Fund 52:

 In the Ventura city graph below, Fund 52 for "Water Operations" is budgeted at $39,871,791 for fiscal year 2021-22. 

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 Ventura City Council cut $11 million from its 2020-21 city budget. For the 2021-22 budget, the budget letter stated the city was on track to lose nearly $2 million from the Players' Club business and almost $1 million from the red-light ticket cameras. The budget letter reads: The long-term financial implications could create a situation where the city would have to look at reducing services. ... It remains unknown how the city will economically rebound as it exits the pandemic."

A Sept. 11, 2019 contract was released by the city of Ventura to the Ojai Valley News in response to the OVN's Public Records Act request. That contract was for “legal services for the following litigation: Santa Barbara Channelkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Board... not to exceed $4,438,000.” 
The contract of nearly two years ago included pay for seven Best Best & Krieger attorneys and a paralegal, with four of the attorneys’ fees at $350 an hour, one at $380 an hour, one at $295 an hour, and a paralegal at $170 an hour.

 

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to include a Ventura City Council 2021-2022 budget graph that shows Fund 52 is budgeted for $39.8 million-plus.

 

To view the Ventura city water lawsuit information page, visit:

https://www.venturariverwatershedadjudication.com 

 

Some past OVN articles on Ventura city's lawsuit against thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents:

• Jan. 17, 2020, Ojai Valley News reports: "Supervisor candidate LaVere said he would ‘jump’ at chance to end water lawsuit against thousands of Ojai Valley residents," page A3


That article reads, in part: (Matt) LaVere said the decision to sue Ojai Valley residents was “not a mayor decision, it was a City Council decision,” but “I have to own it as mayor. And so I am willing to stand up and own it. I want to be part of a solution. I do not want to be involved in active litigation with people I am representing as supervisor. Trust me. And I want to do anything I can to find a solution.”

 

Jan. 24, 2020, Ojai Valley News reports: "District Attorney's Office receives complaints about Ventura council's secret vote to sue thousands of Ventura County residents"

 

• Jan. 27, 2020, Ojai Valley News reports: "Ventura City Council ... votes to comply with state's open-meeting laws to report its Sept. 9 vote to add thousands to its water lawsuit"

Article includes Sophie Loire's recording of Jan. 27, 2020 Ventura City Council meeting at which it voted to disclose the results of its Sept. 9, 2019 secret vote to sue thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents and the more than $4.4 million it had spent up to that date on the water lawsuit: https://www.facebook.com/ojaivalleynews/videos/173264284009945/

 

• Jan. 30, 2020 Ojai Valley News reports: "Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere, candidate for county supervisor to represent the Ojai Valley and Ventura: 'Nobobdy is going to be adjudicating the watershed' "

Then Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere stated at the public meeting in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Matilija Middle School Auditorium: "It was a nightmare what we put a lot of you through, the fear we put you through, the anguish."

 

• Feb. 6, 2020 Ojai Valley News reports: "Ventura council to request six-month extension for water-lawsuit responses."

In that article, then-Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere was quoted as posting inaccurate information on a Facebook page: 

“I want to share the news that tonight (Feb. 3, 2020) the Ventura City Council voted to join with the Ojai City Council in seeking the Court’s permission to PUT A HOLD on this litigation while the parties finish settlement discussions. This very idea was discussed at the community meeting last week, and I think it is absolutely the right thing to do. That means that if you received a notice, you do NOT need to hire an attorney or do anything else while the parties work out a final resolution." 

 

 

 
 
 

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