Apple Valley’s eminent-domain case slow to start (January 27, 2017)

SAN BERNARDINO — A trial-setting conference in the town’s eminent domain case against Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley was recently vacated, court records show.

Attorneys for both sides agreed to an April 28 rescheduling, and future continuances may loom considering numerous dates have been vacated since trial setting was first scheduled April 11, 2016.

Town Manager Frank Robinson told the Daily Press there are many moving parts to the case, which sometimes require adjusting court dates.

The Jan. 20 cancellation marks the second time in four months that the setting of a trial date has been pushed. In September, town attorneys filed a continuance to the Jan. 20 date that vacated an Oct. 5 conference, court records show.

The town’s initial complaint against Liberty was filed more than a year ago. Perhaps the most significant ruling thus far came last November when San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez denied Liberty’s motion to make improvements to its water system amid litigation.

Filed Oct. 4, 2016, the motion argued improvements were necessary to public safety and pointed to the California Public Utilities Commission’s approval of capital improvements to the system totaling $7.15 million in 2016 and $7.95 million in 2017, which Liberty viewed as reason to seek judicial authorization.

Alvarez denied the motion, stating Liberty had not met its burden of demonstrating the hardship to the (company) of not permitting the improvement outweighs the hardship to the (town) of permitting the improvement, according to court records.

Alvarez did, however, grant improvements to what’s called the Red Feather project. Liberty’s General Manager Tony Penna told the Daily Press on Friday that Red Feather is a main-replacement project near the intersection of Rincon and Seneca roads.

It’s a very old piece of steel main, Penna said. The water system wasn’t initially put in by water professionals, and (this main) was installed in 1956, which makes it 60 years old and it has a lot of leaks.

The estimated month-long project to replace 925 feet of steel main with PVC piping is expected to start in the coming weeks, according to Liberty’s Engineering Manager Greg Miles, and will cost approximately $180,000.

As for the remaining improvement projects denied by Alvarez — Penna said two or three are pressing — Liberty officials are expecting to compile a list and share it with town officials, as well as the public, rather than file another motion.

We’re first going meet with the town, Penna said, and if the town sees the necessity, like we do, and agrees to pay for it — assuming they win the eminent-domain case — then we’ll move ahead with the improvements.

The town is not obligated to pay for improvements post summons, according to Penna, except in three instances: 1) An emergency makes improvements a necessity, 2) the town agrees to pay, or 3) the court approves the improvements.

Liberty officials are now banking on the second option concerning their remaining improvement projects.

Meanwhile, as of last September, the town has paid more than $1.5 million since 2011 in its acquisition attempt of the water system.

Town officials have touted local control throughout the process, and Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett has stated publicly that water rates can be lowered upon acquisition.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press