Costa Mesa Sanitary District sues Mesa Water in quest for records related to merger study

The Costa Mesa Sanitary District has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Mesa Water District failed to provide requested public records.
(Courtesy of Costa Mesa Sanitary District)

The Costa Mesa Sanitary District has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Mesa Water District failed to provide requested public records, including some related to a study on the concept of merging the two agencies.

In its complaint, filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, the sanitary district is asking the court to direct Mesa Water to provide all the sought-after records. The case has been assigned to Judge James Di Cesare.

Among the documents the sanitary district is looking for are early versions of a study performed last year by Mesa Water consultant Arcadis U.S. Inc. to determine whether combining the districts would save ratepayers money.

Sanitary district officials asked for those documents on March 29 as part of a wide-ranging public records request, but Mesa Water has yet to furnish them, according to sanitary district General Manager Scott Carroll.

“We just don’t believe we’ve gotten everything we asked for,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Stacy Taylor, Mesa Water’s external-affairs manager, dismissed the allegations and said her agency “has fully complied with all public records requests.”

“In 2016, the public voted in favor of Mesa Water and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District pursuing consolidation,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Instead, CMSD is engaged in ongoing public records requests and frivolous claims.”

When the Arcadis study was made public last July, it concluded that merging Mesa Water and the sanitary district could result in up to $15.6 million in one-time savings and as much as $2.7 million annually.

Sanitary district officials — who have repeatedly alleged Mesa Water is attempting a takeover — have disputed those figures and said the study is flawed.

Taylor said Mesa Water stands by the findings.

Mesa Water officials cited the possible savings identified in the study as justification for placing an advisory question, Measure TT, on November’s ballot asking voters whether they wanted the districts to look into a merger.

The measure passed with 54.7% of the vote.

In its lawsuit, however, the sanitary district claims earlier versions of the study “did not support the consolidation to the extent portrayed to the voters” and to the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, which would have final say on any proposed merger.

The sanitary district believes that “public review of those earlier studies would provide insight into the process and whether the conclusions are valid,” the lawsuit states.

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