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Court Backs City Bid to Sell Water in Creeks : Thousand Oaks: Ruling overturns 1992 decision citing inadequate environmental report. Farmers say the battle has not been lost.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Thousand Oaks has the right to take treated sewage water from the Calleguas and Conejo creeks and sell it for agricultural use, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

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The 2nd District Court of Appeal, overturning a lower court decision, ruled that an environmental report prepared by the city on its plan to sell the creek water to the Pleasant Valley Water District is adequate.

The city’s plan was initially blocked after Santa Rosa Valley farmers filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s right to the water. The farmers use the treated water, discharged from a municipal sewer plant into the creeks that cut through their land, to help irrigate crops.

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Since a Ventura County judge sided with the farmers on the issue nearly two years ago, the city had entertained the possibility of modifying its water project, lawyers said.

But now, with Wednesday’s victory, the city should have more leverage in those discussions, according to an attorney for the city.

Before the legal dispute arose, a city-commissioned environmental study had found that taking 10,000 acre-feet of the water from the creeks would not harm the environment. The plan was to sell the water to the Pleasant Valley Water District, which in turn would use it to supply growers of the Oxnard Plain.

But Ventura County Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones ruled in December, 1992, that the environmental report did not adequately analyze the project’s effect on the 1,400 acres of agricultural land owned by, among others, Camlam Farms, Fitzgerald Farms and B-H Farms in the Santa Rosa Valley.

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Jones’ ruling said the report did not consider alternative projects that would share the water with the farms.

But on Wednesday, the Ventura-based appeals court disagreed with the judge.

“Although the city’s (report) is not a model of precision or clarity, it does meet the requirements of CEQA,” wrote Justice Pro-Tem Ronald Schoenberg in the unanimous decision, referring to the California Environmental Quality Act.

Still, the farmers involved in the case do not believe they have lost their battle.

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“There have been, and continue to be, ongoing discussions between all the public agencies involved, and we believe that notwithstanding this decision, those discussions will continue,” said attorney David Lamb, who represents the farmers.

Lamb, who was aware of Wednesday’s decision but had not read it, said the farmers also expect the project to be modified so it is “beneficial to all of the parties involved.”

Thousand Oaks City Atty. Mark G. Sellers could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Elizabeth Johnson, a Sacramento-based attorney representing the city, was pleased with the reversal of the court decision.

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She verified that the city has been discussing alternative solutions to the dispute with the farmers. She also said that Thousand Oaks may have more options in solving the dilemma now that the appeals court has ruled.

However, she also had not read the ruling and would only say that now the city “may be free to go forward with the project that was the subject of the environmental dispute.”

After the farmers won their initial victory in the lower court, they hoped the city would be willing to compromise.

Back then, the farmers said one option the city had was to revise its environmental report to comply with Jones’ ruling.

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But the city responded by filing a complaint with the state Water Resources Control Board to stop the farmers from irrigating their crops with the free waste water. The outcome of that complaint was unclear Wednesday.


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