Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford on Tuesday approved the transfer to Santa Clara County of one of two lawsuits over the Paso Robles groundwater basin.
The change of venue request was made by the city of Paso Robles and was agreed to by all parties in the suit. Crawford approved the request at a hearing in Paso Robles with only brief comment.
“Good luck to you,” he said to the parties in the lawsuit. “This will be a very important case for our area.”
The case is a quiet title lawsuit filed by Steinbeck Vineyards and other basin property owners to protect their water rights. It now goes to Santa Clara County’s Complex Civil Litigation Department in San Jose.
That particular court was selected because it is a neutral venue and is experienced in handling cases dealing with groundwater law that are considered unequaled in their complexity. It has handled litigation on the Santa Maria groundwater basin and is handling litigation on the Antelope Valley basin.
The change of venue request asks that the case be assigned to Judge Joseph Huber, who is experienced in groundwater litigation.
The San Jose court also has another advantage in that all filings there can be made electronically. This will allow lawyers in the case to make filings remotely without having to travel to San Jose and will save money, said Cindy Steinbeck of Steinbeck Vineyards.
Now that the case has been transferred to San Jose, one of the first matters the court will take up is a demurrer motion, also filed by Paso Robles. The demurrer alleges that the case lacks sufficient evidence and asks that the case be thrown out.
In the quiet title case, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, Atascadero Mutual Water Co. and the Templeton Community Services District are defendants.
Quiet title cases are typically used to determine ownership of property. In this case, however, the quiet title suit seeks to reaffirm the right of overlying property owners to pump water from the Paso Robles groundwater basin and put it to a beneficial use such as watering crops.
The other lawsuit concerning the Paso Robles groundwater basin seeks to overturn a county emergency ordinance limiting new pumping in the basin. A hearing to block the ordinance will be held June 4 in San Luis Obispo.