Archive » April 30, 2009
WATER DISTRICT RELEASES LEGAL BILLS
By Leah Etling, Staff Writer
The legal expenses were released following a Public Records Act request by a concerned local citizen. They include legal bills from 2005 to the present. The records show that the district paid out the majority of the legal expenditures in 2007 — more than $37,700. In 2005, just over $6,900 was spent; in 2006, more than $18,300; in 2008, approximately $5,500, and so far in 2009, more than $1,400.
The county is the owner of an unimproved roadway that runs behind the water district and intersects with Faraday Street in Santa Ynez. Numerous property owners, including water district neighbor Mark Hemming, had used the easement for years, which provides access to the rear portions of their properties.
The water district maintains if the county abandoned the easement, it would be appropriate for public safety concerns. It says people should not drive through the back road because sometimes heavy equipment operates there, and it could be dangerous.
Opponents, who want to see the easement continued, argue the district is not zoned to have heavy equipment or hazardous materials on the property, and the proposed easement abandonment was an attempt to obtain free land. During 2006, lawyers worked with county counsel to abandon the Madera Street easement and coordinated with county staff to prepare documents associated with the abandonment of the easement, according to a summary of the work prepared by the district’s law firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
According to the law firm’s documents, in 2007 the firm worked with the county to ensure no parcel would be landlocked by the proposed easement abandonment; drafted a staff report with county staff and had the county board of supervisors hear the issue, as well as held mediation with then-3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and Hemming; and tried negotiating with Hemming to purchase and eliminate any private interest he may have to access Madera Street after abandonment.
For 2008, the law firm included legal expenses it incurred fighting Hemming’s application to change the use of his property next door to the district, which required more traffic to travel through Hemming’s parking lot. Hemming’s application was approved by the Planning Commission earlier this year.
Water District General Manager Chris Dahlstrom did not return calls and e-mails from the Journal seeking more information about the proposed abandonment of the easement. While the water district and its attorneys maintain it was the county’s idea to abandon the easement, the county says it was the water district’s idea.
The issue was raised before the county Board of Supervisors in 2007, which voted against abandoning the easement. The district continues to pursue the abandonment and is appealing Hemming’s land use permit, according to the legal team summary.
Reach Leah Etling at firstname.lastname@example.org.