Water trial starts March 16

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Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

With the start of the phase 1 trial about a month away, the judge and attorneys in the Ventura River Watershed Adjudication lawsuit continue to get the case ready for trial.

On Feb. 14, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger held the first of two trial readiness conferences.

In terms of sequencing — presenting its case and examining witnesses — the city of Ventura will go first on March 16, followed by all parties aligned with the city, Highberger stated in a tentative ruling.

Parties opposed to the city of Ventura, such as the city of Ojai, will go next in presenting their case and examining witnesses.

Cross-examination will follow in the same sequence, but in reverse order, with the city of Ojai going first for city of Ventura witnesses.

Parties not aligned with either side will go next.

Considered aligned with the city of Ventura are the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Taylor Ranch, Ventura River Water District and Meiners Oaks Water District, Highberger said during the readiness conference.

Aligned with the city of Ojai are an East End group represented by attorney Gregory Patterson, Casitas Municipal Water District, and an East End group represented by attorney Gregg Garrison, he said.

Attorney Holly Jacobson, representing the city of Ojai, said her greatest concern as trial gets closer is the number of experts and participants in the case, and whether 15 days is sufficient for the phase 1 trial.

If necessary, the weeks of April 4 and April 11 could be used, according to Highberger, “to force this thing over the finish line.”

Highberger set a second trial readiness conference for Feb. 25 at 1:30 p.m.

A final status conference in the case is scheduled for March 11 at 1:30 p.m.

The phase 1 trial, intended to determine the interconnectedness of the four groundwater basins to each other and to the Ventura River, is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. on March 16.

In phase 2, proponents of the proposed Physical Solution (the city of Ventura group) will seek judicial approval of the agreement they say will protect the watershed.

In his tentative ruling, Highberger stated he plans to hold court all five days a week, with each day fully wrapped up by 4:45 p.m.

Subject to health considerations and guidelines, the public can attend trial proceedings in person or, Highberger assumed in his tentative ruling, via Zoom with listen-observe only access.


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