Judge makes preliminary ruling against Apple Valley taking over water system May 11, 2021

A San Bernardino Superior Court judge has made a ruling against the Town of Apple Valley in its attempt to take over its largest supplier of water.

In a tentative decision issued Friday, Judge Donald Alvarez found that Liberty Utilities had “disproved” the town’s arguments that its acquisition of the company’s water system would be in the public’s interest and a necessity.

Liberty also disproved that the “Town’s project is planned in the manner that will be most compatible with the greatest public good … (and) the use for which the Town seeks to take Liberty’s property is a more necessary public use than the use to which Liberty’s property is presently devoted,” Alvarez wrote.

Both Liberty and the Apple Valley have 15 days to serve and file objections to the decision before it is made final.

“We are extremely disappointed in the court’s tentative decision,” said Mayor Curt Emick. “We hope the judge considers the town’s arguments and issues his final ruling to support the Town’s effort to acquire the system.”

Liberty did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The ruling comes after a lengthy effort by Apple Valley to acquire the water system that has been ongoing since 2011.

The town filed its eminent domain lawsuit in January 2016 when the system was owned by Ranchos Water Company in response to what they said was a public outcry over rising water rates.

Apple Valley residents passed Measure F in June 2017, which allowed the town to issue up to $150 million in revenue bond debt to acquire the system if were successful in the lawsuit.

The “right-to-take” phase of the trail began with opening arguments in October 2019.

Liberty attorneys argued that Apple Valley was “unprepared and unequipped” to operate the water system and that the takeover of the investor-owned utility was not in the public’s interest.

Attorneys for the town, meanwhile, said that local control by the town would lead to lower water rates and increased safety as related to the water infrastructure.

The 67-day trial was suspended in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, resumed in June and testimony completed in July, Apple Valley officials said.

“The trial included over 30 witnesses, including expert testimony from both sides, hundreds of exhibits and over 8,000 pages of trial transcripts,” according to a town statement.

Closing arguments concluded in February.

If Apple Valley officially loses the case and Alvarez's decision is made final, it would be responsible for both its own legal costs and Liberty’s — neither have been disclosed publicly — which are estimated to be in the millions of dollars, the Daily Press reported.

Town officials said Monday that if Alvarez’s decision is made final, “the Town Council will consider its options, including appeal.”

Source: Martin Estacio, Daily Press