By Deb Murphy

The Alameda County judge’s order overruling the Los Angeles Department of Water’s request to dismiss Mono County’s suit may include some hints as to how the legal battle over dewatering ranch leases may go.

The basis of the County’s suit is the requirement to conduct a California Environmental Quality Act study to determine potential damage to the 6,200 acres of grazing meadows leased from and historically irrigated by LADWP for nearly a century. The department wanted the suit dismissed since the 2010 leases indicated water could be withheld for any reason. Judge Evelio Grillo didn’t buy that argument.

According to Mono County Counsel Stacey Simon, “there are a couple of lines where the Judge signals his opinion on the underlying case.” Specifically, Simon points out the strategic use of the word “were.”

For instance, the order states “if the court were to have granted the requests, the documents (in this case, the 2010 leases), do not compel the conclusion that the City exhausted the CEQA procedure in 2010.” Simon’s interpretation is “what the court is saying that even when it does consider the evidence (which would have been inappropriate on demurrer), he doesn’t find it persuasive.”

The order goes on to cite case filed by Inyo County in 1977 stating “a proposed change in water acquisition and use can be a CEQA project.” There are a number of other instances in the order where Judge Grillo dismisses the City’s arguments based on the leases.

Another of the City’s arguments against the County’s lawsuit is based on the “City of Los Angeles’ Guidelines for the Implementation of CEQA.” The order states “it is unclear what effect the court is to give to an opinion based on compliance….” with those guidelines.

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