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Water fight heads to downtown L.A.

Sleepy Valley suit contends county improperly issued conditional-use permit

Posted: April 29, 2009 10:15 p.m.
Updated: April 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Sleepy Valley residents will square off against the County of Los Angeles and a local water hauler at a meeting in the Office of County Counsel’s today to try to resolve a legal battle over water.

The County of Los Angeles issued a conditional use permit to Roy Ramey, an Agua Dulce water hauler, in February. The permit allowed Ramey to pump up to 40,000 gallons a day from his well, which is about 1,000 feet from two wells owned by Sleepy Valley Water Company, a water cooperative owned by the 58 area homeowners served by the company’s wells.

When Ramey pumps his well in dry years, the Sleepy Valley wells can run dry, said Laurie Jenkins, president of the Sleepy Valley Water Company.

No phone number for Ramey appeared on any of more than a dozen planning and county documents, which list his company as Rainmaker Water Services, of Agua Dulce.

Two addresses given for his business and his home in Agua Dulce include no published phone numbers.

The county’s decision to issue the conditional use permit kicked off a lawsuit filed in March by the Sleepy Valley Water Company, which claimed a proper California Environmental Quality Act review wasn’t done prior to issuing the permit.

“The county didn’t adequately analyze how taking water out (of Ramey’s well) could effect the residents’ well,” said Babak Neficy, an attorney representing the Sleepy Valley Water Company.

The county issued a negative declaration nixing a full environmental review prior to issuing the conditional -use permit, he said.

“The county is thinking strictly about business,” Jenkins said.

Sleepy Valley is tucked away in what Jenkins described as a lush, green pocket in Agua Dulce. The housing tract built in the 1920s was fully developed by the 1950s, Jenkins said. Those who live on the small lots buy their water from the Sleepy Valley Water Company, she said.  

Ramey began pumping his well next to the Sleepy Valley wells in 2003. By June 2004, the Sleepy Valley wells ran dry.  

“We went from a static well level of 33 feet (below the surface) to 89 feet and sucking mud,” she said.

Sleepy Valley residents were forced to buy water from private haulers. The Water Company spent more than $20,000 to purchase water for its customers, Jenkins said.

“A lot of people are retired here and on fixed incomes. They practically went bankrupt on their water bill,” she said.

A cease and desist order stopped Ramey from pumping water in Sept. 2004 and the impact on the wells was immediate.

“By October (2004) the wells recovered and we could begin pumping again,” she said.   

Jenkins thinks the county decision to grant the conditional use permit has less to do with Ramey’s water operation and more to do with long-term plans for Sleepy Valley.

“The county is pro-growth and it would be very desirable for the county to come in and turn this into a residential neighborhood,” Jenkins said.

She warns if Ramey and the County aren’t stopped, the way of life of many Sleepy Valley residents will change dramatically.

“Our green is going to go away,” she said.

Neficy doesn’t expect an agreement to be reached during today’s settlement meeting.

“Under the best of circumstances there won’t be a settlement,” Neficy said. Part his reasoning has to do with the number of plaintiffs. Any settlement proposal must be voted on by all 58 homeowners in the suit before it can be formally accepted, he said.

The Office of County Counsel did not return calls by press time.

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