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S. California man's legal wranglings with city continue

S. California man's legal wranglings with city continue

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A Southern California resident who has brought multiple legal challenges to the city has filed another document with the California Supreme Court that could potentially lead to an appeal of a previous court ruling.

“We don’t believe it is factually or legally correct. We don’t think it will amount to much,” said Richard Spitler, city manager.

The new challenge to the city is a petition for review filed by Grant Reynolds, a San Diego resident who has brought multiple claims against Calistoga, with charges related to water rights or water and habitat protection practices. The petition asks the California Supreme Court to review a case that was decided by the appellate court on the issue of the city releasing enough water from Kimball Reservoir to sustain a fish population in Kimball Creek.

The city was found by the courts to be in compliance with State Water Resources Control Board and the case was determined moot.

This petition teases out a fine point that says the city is “a public entity dam operator” and has “a ministerial duty to install, maintain and operate efficient water measuring devices” and argues that the city has never installed such a device.

“We already installed these measuring devices,” Spitler said. “Last summer we put in a more sophisticated measuring device.”

In July, an appeals court ruled that a trial court’s affirmation of the release of water conflict was a moot issue because the city was in compliance, but found that the city would need to pay for at least some of Reynolds’ legal fees. The matter of how much the city must pay was sent back to the trial court that made the initial ruling.

Reynolds’ legal attack on the city began more than five years ago when he brought a suit against the city on behalf of Calistoga resident Debbie O’Gorman with a claim that the city violated a 1939 water rights agreement with O’Gorman’s family.

That suit was dismissed when a judge ruled that the water rights agreement had expired. Reynolds morphed that claim into another and filed a suit with an assertion that the city was taking too much water from Kimball Creek and not leaving enough to support steelhead trout in the Napa River, a claim he filed in public trust. It is that lawsuit that is the basis for this petition for review.

The city said it changed its bypass plan after reading a brief written by the State Water Resources Control Board filed in support of Reynolds’ argument, but the city believed it was following an appropriate plan prior to that and only changed its plan after reading the water board’s brief. But because the brief was filed in support of Reynolds’ claim and not independently submitted to the city, the appellate court found that it was Reynolds’ pursuit of the public trust claim that caused the city to alter its plan.

The trial court found that the city acted in good faith in implementing the new bypass plan, something the appellate court agreed with, saying “substantial evidence supports this finding” in its report.

The water board oversees the enforcement of water-related activities such as the bypass plan, and the city contends it was the direction it received from the water board that initiated any changes to the plan, not the Reynolds’ lawsuit.

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