Reading LandWatch Attorney Deborah Sivas’ article in the Oct. 1, 2015, Cambrian, (“LandWatch Suit Isn’t What’s Costing the Cambria Services District,”) reminds me of an old trial lawyers’ bromide: “If a lawyer doesn’t have the facts, she’ll try her case on the law, and if she doesn’t have the law, she’ll try her case in the newspapers.”
Ms. Sivas doesn’t have a viable lawsuit so she is trying her “case” in the newspaper. The problem with her article, however, is that it misleads and is inaccurate.
First, contrary to Ms. Sivas’ assertion, the holdup in distribution of the $4.3 million grant originated from uncertainties created by the LandWatch litigation. Moreover, substantial legal fees and expenses incurred to defend the LandWatch lawsuit place additional stress on the district’s cash flow. The district has paid about $150,000 in outside legal fees to defend the lawsuit. That equates to about 20 percent of the Water Department’s total budgeted annual salaries and wages.
Second, the assertion that the Emergency Water Supply Project is really a public works project disguised as an emergency project ignores that every county, regional and state agency with jurisdiction concurs that the EWS qualifies as an emergency water project under the law. Indeed, Ms. Sivas herself conceded that LandWatch has no viable legal claim challenging the validity of the EWS emergency permit when she stated in court filings that LandWatch intends to delete from its petition, “any allegation that could be construed as challenging the issuance of the emergency coastal development permit.”
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Third, Sivas argues erroneously that the district wrongfully declared the EWS Project exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Her assertion is confusing and obfuscates the distinct legal requirements for emergency development permits and those for regular development permits. By law, projects like the EWS that are constructed pursuant to emergency permits are exempt from CEQA.
Furthermore, for several months the CCSD and its expert consultants have been preparing a thorough and complete environmental impact report that will undergo full CEQA review and then be the centerpiece of CCSD’s application for a regular development permit. So, the CCSD has complied with all legal requirements for both types of permits, and the EWS is undergoing full CEQA review.
Fourth, Sivas’ article cites not a shred of evidence, and there is none, that the EWS has, or ever will, present a health risk to humans or harm the environment.
Fifth, notwithstanding Sivas’ assertions to the contrary, the district fully disclosed to its customers the additional expenses associated with operating a reverse-osmosis plant. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Cambrians supported the district’s rate increase application and soundly rejected the project opponents’ Prop. 218 rate challenge.
Ms. Sivas claims the LandWatch lawsuit could be quickly settled if only the district would agree to: (1) complete its CEQA review and (2) apply for a regular development permit. She asks: “What is the District waiting for?”
Ms. Sivas, permit me to answer your question with one for you: You admit you have no legal claim challenging the emergency permit and the CCSD has been engaged for months doing what you purportedly want — full CEQA review to obtain a regular permit. Why doesn’t LandWatch drop its lawsuit? Your lawsuit has no real purpose, because it seeks to compel the CCSD to take action that the district has already taken and is in the process of completing. In the meantime and until LandWatch drops this specious litigation, every CCSD customer must pay dearly to defend against your senseless action.