Sept. 3, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Local water officials are viewing the recent landslide victory for Measure V as a mile marker rather than the finish line in the effort to oust Golden State Water Company from the Ojai Valley.
Although the measure passed by 1,844 votes, there is still much work to be done before GSWC’s Ojai water users could begin receiving service from Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
A status hearing will be held in Ventura County Superior Court Sept. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in front of Judge Mark Borrell, who ruled in June that GSWC jumped the gun in filing a lawsuit challenging the Measure V election.
On March 26, GSWC filed a lawsuit against CMWD seeking to vacate the resolutions the municipal water company adopted that asked voters if they wished to form a Community Facilities District to raise money to purchase GSWC’s Ojai service area.
GSWC officials filed the lawsuit to prevent the voters within the service area from voting on whether to place a 30-year property tax on nearly 2,900 parcels.
“Generally, courts are reticent to pass on measures which are to be put to the voters until after the election is held,” Borrell wrote in his decision. “Here, the arguments advanced by Golden State can be litigated after the election if the measure passes.”
And pass it did. Of the 2,464 votes cast, 2,154 supported Measure V. According to election officials, 30 votes were deemed not valid and were not included in the final tally.
The lawsuit asked Borrell to decide if Mello-Roos funding is appropriate in this instance. While his ruling could draw appeals from either side, that would not be the last step in the process.
If Borrell decides in Casitas’ favor and any potential appeals are denied, the two water companies would have to work out a sale agreement. Because GSWC officials have repeatedly said they do not wish to sell the Ojai service area, to complete a takeover, GSWC would likely have to resort to the eminent domain clause allowed in the city’s franchise agreement with GSWC.
If the California Public Utilities Commission approved a takeover, a court would have to decide the fair market value CMWD would have to pay.
“People are already asking ‘When are we going to get new rates? When will that happen for us?’” explained CMWD Manager Steve Wickstrum. “It is going to take time given the path we have to follow.”
At least that’s one area where the two companies agree. “Passage of Measure V does not affect Golden State Water Company’s commitment to serving Ojai or mean that our system will be acquired by Casitas Municipal Water District,” noted Patrick R. Scanlon, vice president, operations for GSWC. “There are still significant legal and financial questions that must be addressed.”