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Lawsuits dominate Santa Clarita Valley water board agenda

Posted: April 8, 2014 8:00 p.m.
Updated: April 8, 2014 8:00 p.m.

The directors of Santa Clarita Valley’s water wholesaler, Castaic Lake Water Agency, are likely to spend as much time on lawsuits at Wednesday night’s meeting as they are on water issues.

“At least half the meeting will be consumed in closed session,” agency General Manager Dan Masnada said this week.

Five civil lawsuits are on the agenda for the closed-session part of the meeting. Under California law, litigation is one of the few reasons an elected body can meet outside the public eye.

The water agency is facing three lawsuits by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, or SCOPE. None was filed over environmental complaints, however — they all address the agency’s takeover of Valencia Water Company.

“The bad news is that it costs our ratepayers and taxpayers money to defend them, not because we did anything illegal but because SCOPE and Friends (of the Santa Clara River) have an agenda that has much less to do with the environment than it has to do with their attempts to dictate local land use planning,” Masnada said.

Agency heads concerned about the time and money it takes to discuss and respond to each lawsuit have discussed filing a “frivolous lawsuit” case against environmental groups that routinely sue the agency, Masnada said.

“The issue is that our general counsel has informed us there is a pretty high standard to achieve to successfully win such a case,” he said.

“We would have to have successfully and wholly defended multiple lawsuits by a single environmental activist group in order to have a basis for pursuing such a claim.”

SCOPE President Lynne Plambeck defended her organization in an email, saying the environmental group “would never bring a suit without good cause.”

Masnada said SCOPE and Friends of the Santa Clara River take turns suing Castaic Lake Water Agency, working in tandem to avoid the “single environmental activist group” requirement for filing a frivolous lawsuit case.

But the two groups are completely separate, Plambeck said in her email.

“Friends and SCOPE have entirely different board members and are separate entities,” she wrote. “SCOPE’s lawsuits (I can’t speak for the Friends as I am not on their board) are brought against an entity (in the case of CLWA) that consistently ignores its own rules and procedures.

“It is not a matter of just winning a lawsuit (although CLWA has lost in several cases); it is a matter of finding that there was no basis for the complaint in the first place. Such a finding has never been made because we would never bring a suit without good cause.”

Two other lawsuits that will be considered at Wednesday night’s Castaic Lake Water Agency board meeting involve Newhall County Water District, a local water retailer and a customer of Castaic Lake’s.

The district filed a lawsuit against Castaic Lake challenging the wholesale water rates it adopted in February 2013. The district is one of four local water retailers that purchase a portion of its water from Castaic Lake.

On July 25, Castaic Lake sued Newhall County alleging it violated conditions of California’s Brown Act, which outlines how elected officials are to carry out their meetings.

The court later ruled that although Newhall County had violated the Brown Act, it was able to correct the violation at a later meeting, according a synopsis of court proceedings attached to Wednesday’s agenda.

The Board of Directors meets at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday at the its headquarters, 27234 Bouquet Canyon Road in Saugus. The Castaic Lake Water Agency supplies about 50 percent of the water used in Santa Clarita Valley homes and businesses.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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