The San Benito County Board of Supervisors selected the law firm of Cota, Cole & Associates to defend the county on the Stonegate lawsuit at its Tuesday meeting.
“I have spoken with people who have used him (Derek Cole) and he comes well recommended,” Acting County Counsel Barbara Thompson said during the meeting.
Cole has previous Proposition 218 and California Environmental Quality Act experience and is currently working for Madera County.
The lawsuit is being brought by 10 residents contending that the county has violated CEQA, Proposition 218 and the state Constitution about the building on an off-site well and pipeline to supply residents with potable water.
Proposition 218 is a process that requires governments to have a vote on any proposed fees or taxes that affect homeowners. In this case, the process was raise fees to build the well and pipeline. CEQA requires projects to report the potential environment impacts that the project could have and how the respective agency plans to mitigate such issues.
County Administrative Officer Susan Thompson said the best-case scenario for the lawsuit is that “the folks who have filed the lawsuit reconsider … or they throw out the case.”
The worst-case scenario, the CAO said, would be that “this will drag out beyond the dry season and Stonegate residents will experience these conditions we were trying to avoid.” She added that the residents of Stonegate will have to pay the costs associated with the lawsuit.
“There are costs involved with this, and it’s a sad situation.”
Barbara Thompson also did not have favorable news to report about the suit.
“It’s probably going to take at least six months minimum to resolve and more than likely it’s going to take a year or long to resolve. Hopefully not, but I don’t want to raise any undue expectations.”
Although the county will have to start working on this lawsuit, it will continue to move forward with the evaluation of County Service Area 31, or Stonegate.
“The county is currently determining to what extent it can move forward,” the attorney said. “At the present time, the county is continuing to work on the long-term solution for Stonegate’s water supply problem. It is anticipated that the negotiations regarding easement language and development of the CEQA document will occur simultaneously with this litigation.”