Ruling Exempts Recovery Plan : Courts: Judge dismisses water agency suit, says Santa Clarita plan can include projects other than quake repairs.


A Superior Court judge has ruled that Santa Clarita’s $1.1-billion redevelopment plan qualifies for a disaster-related exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act, despite its inclusion of projects that aren’t for disaster recovery.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien’s decision dismissed the first of two lawsuits the Castaic Lake Water Agency has filed against Santa Clarita’s Community Recovery Plan.

“Simply repairing earthquake damage is not the purpose of the disaster exemption,” O’Brien said in the three-page ruling issued last week.


“It is within the scope and purpose of the law that an entire area of a potential redevelopment plan or urban renewal project may be included in a proper exemption.”

The Santa Clarita City Council adopted the recovery plan in February to help the city recuperate from the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake, improve its infrastructure, redevelop blighted areas and build affordable housing.

Santa Clarita and the Castaic Lake Water Agency are battling over the use of millions of dollars in future property tax increases. The city wants the funding to create the 30-year redevelopment plan and the water agency wants it to pay for bond debts, including $132 million for its new Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant.

CLWA officials say the plan goes far beyond fixing Northridge earthquake damage and that the city shouldn’t avoid California Environmental Quality Act requirements by using waivers allowed for disaster-related projects.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and will recommend to the board of directors that an appeal be filed,” said Robert Sagehorn, the water agency’s general manager.

“The plan had about 7% of funds committed to earthquake repairs and the remainder was for public works projects.”


Water agency directors will discuss whether or not to appeal the O’Brien’s decision at their Aug. 10 meeting, Sagehorn said.

Attorneys for the agency unsuccessfully argued Santa Clarita’s redevelopment plan should be subject to public hearings and an environmental impact report, a process city officials say would slow down creation of the plan by an additional year.

Water agency attorneys noted that Santa Clarita wanted to fix $211 million in estimated earthquake damages with a $1.1-billion plan, but O’Brien said the monetary damage projections shouldn’t limit the scope of a redevelopment plan.

A second CLWA lawsuit, filed in April but with no hearing date set, objects to the wide range of projects that are listed as disaster recovery. It is still pending and continues to block city action on the plan.

“We will vigorously continue to pursue our main legal action which challenges the creation of the redevelopment (plan) as it is structured . . .,” Sagehorn said.