I have been told that certain Town Council Members have been announcing to community groups that the “Town is doing great” in the eminent domain trial. While I have not personally heard the statements, I have been present on various days of testimony at trial. To say the “Town is doing great” is misleading.
I can also tell you, that as an observer at trial, I have been unimpressed by the testimony of town witnesses. I can only describe it as superficial and lacking in depth. My comments are based upon the dates of the trial I attended and are my first-hand observations:
- One assistant town manager (Asst TM) expressed “concerns” about Liberty water projects constructed in 2003-2005. The Town had files on these projects but the Asst TM only looked at the files in 2019 (aha! the year of trial) and became concerned. When asked “what” was the concern, the witness had no answer. The Asst TM stated it should be reviewed by other Town staff for comment to the Asst TM to tell us the concerns. There was no testimony that the Town staff had any concerns in 2003-2005.
- A town CEQA expert opined that the Town does better environmental work than Liberty, but based her opinion only upon what the Town “told her.” The expert never spoke with Liberty and only did an Internet search on Liberty filings to make the comparison. Additionally, the expert only worked on ONE project for the Town, and that was the Liberty “taking” project. We all recall the Town’s notice problem with that project. The same CEQA expert and the Town made a “notice” mistake. Credibility lost! Final analysis of expert: Disregard all testimony as unsubstantiated and unfounded.
- The Town Manager (TM) testified about “utilities” such as water, trash, and sewer being enterprise funds for cities. The TM then avoided direct answers to questions about when his prior city transferred $19 million “as a loan” from the city water district to another enterprise fund that was losing money. The Town has done this before; the Asst TM mentioned above testified that the sewer fund subsidizes the golf course operations and outright bought the AV golf course water rights. The sewer enterprise does not need water rights, but we residents paid for them with our sewer fee increases. Even more offensive is the fact that the golf course uses the water and does not pay the sewer fund at all.
I have only attended a few days of this lengthy trial, but I can tell you it is a huge cash cow for the law firms involved. There are four attorneys on each side, two computer gurus who manage the exhibits on a big screen, paralegals, and stacks upon stacks of notebooks filled with exhibits. An observer needs to stand up at the back of the courtroom to see the witness testify. If you sit down, your view of the witness stand is blocked by the notebooks of exhibits!
While I cannot and will not predict how the judge will decide, I will say that the Town residents are the sacrificial lambs of a no-win contest and we may find ourselves in the same position as the residents of the city of Claremont. It lost its takeover case (same attorneys, same expert witnesses, same issues) and now its residents are paying millions in attorney fees. Good common sense dictates that the Town should open a dialogue toward resolution and stop all this nonsense.
Diana J. Carloni
Attorney at Law