Ventura City Council OKs $900K more to attorneys for water lawsuit

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Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News sreporter

Ventura City Council voted unanimously Aug. 2 to spend an additional $900,000 on the Best, Best & Krieger law firm that represents the city of Ventura in its water lawsuit against thousands of Ojai Valley and Ventura residents. The agenda item was listed on its “consent calendar” for routine issues.

That brings the city of Ventura’s spending on the lawsuit for attorneys, marketing and studies to $7,176,561.23, which has thus far been reported by the city in response to Public Records Act requests from the Ojai Valley News.

The Ventura City Council voted unanimously in secret on Sept. 9, 2019, to sue about 14,000 Ojai Valley and Ventura residents, which was onlyrevealed months later after the OVN made a formal complaint to the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

The Aug. 2 vote to pay more to BBK for the water lawsuit comes just weeks after the Ventura council announced $11 million in cuts for the upcoming fiscal year due to the pandemic. The city’s water operations budget for 2021-2022 is listed at $39,871,791. 

Prior to the Ventura council’s Aug. 2 vote to spend $900,000 more on the lawsuit, OVN Publisher Laura Rearwin Ward asked on behalf of Ojai Valley residents, during the meeting’s public comments, for the lawsuit to be dismissed. “We were originally told that it was because you were being sued by the SB Channelkeeper, '' said Rearwin Ward. “That case against you has been dismissed. Why are you still suing us?”

“I’m not going to downplay the fact that this is expensive,” responded Ventura City Attorney Gregory Diaz. “We’re continuing this because for years we’ve tried to voluntarily come to agreements over the watershed…. We encourage the Ojai folks to participate in the physical solution so that they have a seat at the table. If you allow the state to set the standards, you’ve given up any real ability to control the (indecipherable) future.”  

Diaz did not respond with clarification on his comment.

The Aug. 2 Ventura council 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."

Ventura City Council has increased payments to BBK lawyers in increments of $900,000 in August 2020 and December 2020 and now again Aug. 2. In February 2020, Ventura documents showed four BBK attorneys paid at $350 an hour; one at $380 an hour; one at $295 an hour, and a paralegal at $170 an hour. On May 8, 2020, Ventura council approved $50,000 for communications firm, Mustang Marketing, and OK’d an additional $50,000 three months later on Aug. 3, 2020. Two Mustang Marketing staff members are paid $350 and $175 an hour, respectively, according to Ventura city documents.

On July 23, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Highberger named the city of Ojai as a “major party” in the lawsuit.



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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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