Judge asked to settle boundary issues for water basin, watershed

web shutterstock 358044719

By Perry Van Houten,
Ojai Valley News senior reporter

Lawyers for the city of Ventura want to expedite the fixing of watershed and basin boundaries, to take two issues off the table for the phase 1 trial Feb. 14 in the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication lawsuit.

At the latest status conference in the case Nov. 15, Ventura attorney Shawn Hagerty said there seemed to be “some consenus” between the parties on the boundaries of the watershed and the boundaries of the four basins.

Hagerty told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger the court could “knock out” these two issues during Monday’s hearing.

But Highberger said he had “homework” he needed to do first, citing “a gaggle of briefs” that have been filed regarding issues to be tried in the phase 1 trial.

The first phase will also determine the interconnection, if any, between surface water and groundwater in the basin.

The briefs, Highberger said, included a 63-page brief filed by the city of Ventura and a brief submitted Nov. 10 by the city of Ojai. “I’ll be the first to tell you I haven’t read them,” he said.

Regardless of where the judge is in reading the briefs, Hagerty suggested the court determine a process to expedite the fixing of the boundaries, perhaps by issuing a notice on the boundaries and giving parties a chance to make objections.

The 90-minute status conference was marred by complaints from people attending remotely via LACourtConnect about low-level and garbled audio.

“The audio is horrible. We can hardly hear anybody,” Claude “Russ” Baggerly of Meiners Oaks complained to the judge.

Holly Jacobson, a lawyer representing the city of Ojai, also said she was having trouble hearing what was being said. At least two other lawyers listening remotely had similar comments.

“The courtroom is open,” said Highberger. “We have six lawyers today and a court reporter. We could certainly have 20 or 30 people, so if you want to come to court in the future, feel free to come to court.”

On July 19, apparent technical issues with LACourtConnect approximately an hour into a status conference in the case prompted Highberger to halt proceedings and reschedule the hearing. “This has become impossible; totally dysfunctional,” he said of the technical problems.

Drawing some dissent Nov. 15 was a comment from Hagerty that the proposed physical solution would be applied on a watershed basis and would cover parties who were not previously served.

Jacobson objected to Hagerty’s proposal that determination of the watershed boundaries, which therefore results in the court’s jurisdiction over all parties within the watershed, would make the physical solution applicable to all parties in the watershed.

“Simply by nature of the fact that they’re in a watershed is not agreeable,” she said. “And if that’s where this is going, there could be a problem.”

Gregory Patterson, an attorney representing the East End Group, said he didn’t think the issues of the watershed and the basin boundaries would be hotly contested. “I think we can get to a resolution there,” he said.

Highberger instructed Ventura’s lawyers to come up with what the city feels are undisputed descriptions and maps of the watershed.

He set the next status conference for Nov. 23 at 9 a.m., to hear motions from Casitas Municipal Water District, Upper Ojai resident Loa Bliss and perhaps others to be relieved of a deadline to disclose a water expert.

Casitas is seeking to hire hydrogeologist Jordan Kear, who was earlier chosen by the city of Ojai to be its expert.

Also on Nov. 23, Highberger will receive a progress report on the city of Ventura’s proposed maps of the watershed and basin boundaries.

There will also be further legal discussion on the city of Ojai’s brief contending that the four basins should be adjudicated separately, he said.

Highberger rescheduled the Dec. 20 status conference to Dec. 9 at 2:30 p.m., for an extended discussion on boundaries and to entertain objections to the city of Ventura’s watershed mapping.

To register for remote access to the next status conference via LACourtConnect, see:

The case number is 19STCP01176.

For more information on the case, visit the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication website at:

<script src="" async="async" type="text/javascript"></script>


Not a subscriber?  choose your subscription plan.