Ventura shakedown

Editorial cartoon by John Aaron


Thousands of Ojai Valley residents are receiving certified letters this week from the city of Ventura containing either legal summonses or notices of legal action in an irresponsible, scattershot grab for water rights. 
Leading the charge is Ventura Mayor Matt LaVere. Ventura City Council members need to hear this message clearly from the thousands of Ojai Valley residents, water agencies and businesses named in the nearly 100-page letter:
Cease and desist immediately, dismiss your case, and stop harassing thousands of Ojai Valley residents who turn on a water tap.
The Ventura City Council is dragging thousands of ordinary residents into a complex, expensive, needless, years-long legal battle over “groundwater basin and watershed adjudication.” It all stems from the environmental group, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, suing the city of Ventura and State Water Resources Control Board in 2014 over excess pumping in the lower reaches of the Ventura River, in order to ensure an adequate stream flow for the river’s steelhead.
This issue should never have been allowed to become a full-blown case to adjudicate all water rights in the Ventura River and its watershed groundwater basins.
There is no doubt that this shameless legal maneuver will burden Ojai Valley residents for years and cost millions of dollars, threatening the economic viability of small water agencies and resulting in higher water bills. It is inconceivable that the Ventura mayor believes this gross abuse of the court system on such a massive scale is the means to “a balanced solution” to protect water resources.
Meanwhile our conservation-minded Ojai Valley residents are saving water at a Stage 5 level when we are being asked to save at a Stage 3. Our water usage (per Casitas Municipal Water District) is more than 50% below our peak use in 1989. We are toeing the line on water, but the city of Ventura wants a judge to stipulate further restrictions.
In sending this certified letter, LaVere and the rest of the Ventura City Council are telling thousands of Ojai Valley residents: Just hire a lawyer and/or pay the required $435 court fee and we’ll all work this out together.
It should not be lost on anyone that LaVere is an attorney and that attorneys will be the only winners in this legal farce.
The thousands of notices and summonses are an outrage, exposing the base motives of an arrogant, out-of-touch, out-of-control elective body.
Take action now and call LaVere or any other Ventura City Council member at Ventura City Hall —805-654-7800 — tell them what you think of their plan to hijack water rights, and demand they dismiss their case. The other Ventura council members are Sofia Rubalcava, Lorrie Brown, Jim Friedman, Cheryl Heitmann, Erik Nasarenko and Christy Weir. The website with their email addresses is: https://www.cityofventura.ca.gov/Directory.aspx?did=74 .
Show up to one or all three of the public meetings organized by the city of Ventura to “explain the proceedings in this comprehensive adjudication of the Ventura River Watershed”:
— The first will be Thursday, Jan. 30, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Matilija Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road, Ojai.
— The second is Feb. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bell Arts Factory Community Room, 432 N. Ventura Ave., Ventura.
— The third is Feb. 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Oak View Community Center Kunkle Room, 18 Valley Road, Oak View.
For a perfect example of doublespeak, read LaVere’s Op-Ed on this page, headlined: “A collaborative path forward to protect our water resources.” The city of Ventura’s abuse of the legal system is the least-collaborative path one could imagine. Embroiling us all in a legal quagmire, then sitting us down for a “collaborative meeting,” is tantamount to pointing a cannon at us and explaining we are about to have a nice chat.
Ventura’s notices are the perfect introduction to LaVere, who is running to represent the Ojai Valley on the county Board of Supervisors. LaVere is asking for votes from the very people he and the rest of the Ventura City Council are shaking down. 
By suing Ojai Valley residents en masse, LaVere has demonstrated, along with the rest of the Ventura City Council, that his lack of common sense and decency in this regard render him unfit and unworthy to represent the Ojai Valley. If he can do this as a city mayor, just imagine what havoc he could wreak as a county supervisor.
Ojai Valley residents do not want to be associated with this gunslinger-style governance, and will not stand for it. LaVere should not be elected supervisor when mail-in ballots arrive next month or when citizens go to the polls March 3.
That leaves the Ojai Valley in a quandary with just one other choice for supervisor.
Fortunately, there is still time for people to qualify as write-in candidates. The deadline to do so for the March 3 election is 5 p.m. Feb. 18. See Page 29 on the county of Ventura Elections Division guide on how to qualify: https://recorder.countyofventura.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Candidate-Information-Guide-March-3-2020.pdf
After the city of Ventura and the State Water Resources Control Board were sued by Channelkeeper, LaVere writes: “The city made the difficult decision to bring in all water users in order to protect its water rights and to ensure that everyone is part of the solution.” 
He is right on just one point. We are part of the solution by having our voices heard at public meetings and at the ballot box.
The Ventura City Council has many more options to pursue in addressing its legal challenges than a massive, unwieldy, wasteful lawsuit involving thousands of ordinary people.