Legal posturing continues in city’s fight with Golden State

The progress of the Claremont Water System Acquisition Project took another detour last week with Golden State Water Company challenging the city’s environmental impact report (EIR) for failing to analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental effects of the project as a whole.

In court documents filed May 19 and obtained by the COURIER, the water company claims the city’s EIR is so “undefined and vague that meaningful review is not possible, and the final EIR improperly segments future actions that are necessarily a part of the project.”

Golden State goes on to assert that the city prejudicially abused its discretion in certifying the final EIR and approving the project by failing to proceed in a manner required by the California Environmental Equality Act, and by adopting environmental findings that are not supported by the evidence.

In November 2013, the city prepared an initial study including Notice of Preparation indicating that because Claremont’s Acquisition Project may have a significant effect on the environment, an EIR would be required.

Just two months later, the city released the draft EIR concluding that the acquisition project, as proposed, would have no significant adverse environmental impact and did not call for any mitigation measures. During the statutory circulation period of that draft, Golden State submitted comments to the city, which responded with comments that the water company believes confirms that the city has not identified key aspects of Claremont’s proposed water system.

According to Golden State, the final environmental impact report certified by council on April 8 contained numerous violations of the CEQA. They are requesting that the city vacate the project approval, including the certification of the final EIR, and are demanding that the city fully comply with CEQA, should it reconsider the project.

To date, the city of Claremont has not filed a response to those claims and calls from the COURIER to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho have not been returned. Any new developments in the case discussed at a special council meeting on Tuesday, May 27 were not made public.

This isn’t the first time Golden State has claimed the city isn’t playing by the rules and taken their case to court.

Golden State filed a lawsuit against Claremont in December 2013, alleging the city had not complied with the California Public Records Act, which declares all public records in the state be open and available to anyone. Golden State executives claimed the city had not been compliant or transparent.

City officials advocated they had the right to refuse disclosure because of attorney-client and work product privileges, as well as allowed exemptions in the California Public Records Act. While emphasizing they had been as transparent as possible throughout the process, keeping the document private was believed to be key to their acquisition case.

As evidenced by the city of Ojai’s battle against Golden State, taking control of the water system will not be an easy endeavor, but it is possible. Ojai navigated their fight with Golden State and successfully started down the path of eminent domain after convincing the publicly-owned Las Casitas Water District to absorb their system and successfully approving their bond measure.

Golden State tried to head off an attempted buyout by Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) by filing a lawsuit in March 2013 that sought to dissolve a community facilities district formed by CMWD. This would place a 30-year parcel tax on a majority of residential and commercial properties within the private water company’s existing Ojai service area. In March 2014, a Ventura County Superior Court judge ruled that Golden State did not have the legal standing necessary to do so and denied the water company’s case entirely.

Golden State is appealing the judgment.

—Angela Bailey


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