OPINION: Ojai Councilman William Weirick writes: 'Ventura’s adjudication lawsuit is ethically and financially indefensible'

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By William Weirick, Ojai City Council member
Hard to find the best descriptor after witnessing staff on Aug. 2 maneuvering the Ventura City Council into plunking down another cool million on the fool’s errand otherwise known as the Ventura River watershed adjudication. “Leading by the nose ring” or herding “further down the chute” are two that come to mind. It is clear listening to councilmembers’ remarks that they are being advised to stay “inside the bubble” in terms of big-picture information. In other words, staying away from interacting with different points of view because of the litigation they have authorized.

Ventura’s lawyers have been arguing that everyone needs to show their cards all at the same time, while also arguing that they had legions of experts and studies supporting the notion of tight connectivity between all underground aquifers and surface flows at the city’s well field in the Ventura River at Foster Park. In other words, they have been arguing that even though the city sued the entire Ojai Valley partially based on this notion, they did not need to reveal their evidence until those being sued are forced to show their cards simultaneously.

When the judge finally directed the city show its cards first, to divulge all the studies it has represented as extant and definitive, the immediate response from Ventura’s attorneys was to ask staff to get Council to approve another million to do these studies. As an aside, this is what its legal firm is known for — leading their clients down rabbit holes of diminishing-success probability while getting more fees to try to stave off ultimate failure.

The problem for Ventura is that the evidence all along, and with time getting only more definitive, is that the single-most important underground aquifer in the watershed is not one “bowl.” It is demarcated into multiple geological formations and therefore multiple “bowls.” Most importantly, the shallower “bowls” supplying flows between storms into San Antonio Creek (the only connection between the Ojai aquifer and the Foster Park well field) are not meaningfully connected to the larger, deeper “bowl” from which almost all irrigation and domestic water supply is drawn.

In other words, wide swings in elevation for the production layer, where almost all aquifer users are pumping water from, have no measurable effect on San Antonio Creek flows into the Ventura River. The city of Ventura claims these swings are tightly correlated, while not yet producing any evidence in support of this claim. The creek flows come from perched aquifers and stormwater flows, not from the production aquifer.

This is the fool’s errand for which staff has suckered Ventura Council into approving another cool million. When the judge finally had enough, told Ventura it is time to show your cards, to divulge the portfolio that their lawyers told the court already existed, the response was to tell Council they needed to approve another million to put a portfolio together.

Just think about that for a while.

This all stems from the city of Ventura literally pumping the river dry after entering its well field at Foster Park.

For decades.

Being part of the Casitas Municipal Water District and being by far the largest single user of surface reservoir water was not enough. Being the largest single user of water diverted from Coyote Creek, Santa Ana Creek, and the Ventura River surface flows into surface storage does not satisfy Ventura.

The city has schemed for decades to avoid accountability for irresponsible, ecologically damaging diversion from its Foster Park well field, on top of what it consumes from regulated diversion into Lake Casitas.
When finally brought to account for this behavior, the city’s response was to claim “Pueblo water rights,” to assert a myth of tight connectivity between deep-aquifer storage and San Antonio Creek flows, and once again attempt to circumvent new state regulatory protocols meant to achieve watershed sustainability.

It is the same playbook Ventura has followed for years, at the expense of their taxpayers and at the cost of investing in sustainable management of the Ventura River watershed.

The decision-makers in Ventura seem to be incapable of reflecting on the complete lack of any environmental ethics from trying to escape accountability for their ecologically criminal past practices through claiming victimhood status — victimhood from not getting enough water based on “senior water rights” founded on the genocidal exploitation of indigenous peoples. That is what “Pueblo water rights” are. What was here when sustainably occupied by the Chumash before Europeans arrived. The water that was part of the Chumash culture the city of Ventura claims it has first rights to because of Junipero Serra’s mission.

In overall context, the fool’s errand staff just got Ventura City Council to spend more money on is not just a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. It is to continue on a path undermining development of contemporary sustainable management of the entire Ventura River watershed. Adjudication is like urban sprawl — reflecting a mentality that got us to this unsustainable state.
It is ethically and financially indefensible.


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Ventura City Council graphic on Aug. 2 City Council meeting agenda (consent calendar item) to pay another $900,000 to Best, Best & Krieger lawyers to sue thousands of Ventura City Council's own constituents and Ojai Valley residents to try to claim their water.


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


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:


• 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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