Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper v. City of San Buenvaventura (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 30, 2018)

I agree with this opinion one thousand percent.  And am so happy it's published.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper thinks that the City of San Buenaventura is taking too much water from the Ventura River, which is in turn threatening the Southern California steelhead trout.  So it sues.

Great.  That's why we have courts.  To figure these things out.  Based on the limited facts in the opinion, by the way, it seems like Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is right -- that we're basically killing this species by making the river run essentially dry over the summer.  Probably a bad idea.

The City thinks it's got a vested right to take the water, but even if there is a vested right, that's trumped if the use is unreasonable, which killing a species might be.

Regardless, today's appeal isn't about the merits.  It's about procedure.  The City files a cross-complaint against a huge number of other people who also take water from the Ventura River.  Basically saying that if everyone is collectively taking too much, the City shouldn't be the one left holding the bag and the one compelled to reduce its own use -- instead, everyone should participate.

Which sounds exactly right to me.  You figure out how much water you need to leave it, you figure out amongst all the people who take the water who should leave how much in, and then you enter a judgment accordingly.

Perfect.  Efficient, even.

But that's not the way the trial court saw it.  It dismissed the City's cross-complaint, saying that the present suit was just about the City's water usage, not everyone else's.

Thankfully, the Court of Appeal reverses.

I get that the plaintiff might be happy with just an easier suit that's only against one appropriator.  But the lawsuit involves the entire river.  It makes eminent sense to me to bring everyone together in one big lawsuit.  Indeed, to do otherwise seems manifestly unfair.  Everyone should be treated the same (or at least consistently).  And you can only do that if everyone's together and bound.

So I think the Court of Appeal gets this one exactly right.

And that makes me happy.

P.S. - Was I the only one in the universe (or at least Southern California) that didn't know that the City of Ventura's "actual" name was the City of San Buenaventura?!  Just learned that today.  And not even from the opinion -- I had to look it up.