Apple Valley water system trial concludes (February 12, 2021)

Apple Valley, CA — Feb. 12, 2021: Closing arguments concluded yesterday morning in the Town of Apple Valley’s case to acquire the Apple Valley water system currently owned by Liberty Utilities, a division of Canadian utility giant Algonquin Power & Utilities. The arguments brought to a close the nearly 17-month long trial that began in October 2019. COVID-related court closures throughout 2020 had delayed trial testimony.

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez, who presided over the trial, will render a ruling within 90 days as to whether the Town has the right to acquire the Liberty water system by eminent domain. If Judge Alvarez finds in favor of the Town, a valuation phase will proceed where a jury will be selected to determine the value of the water system. Through the adoption of Measure F, Town voters have authorized the Town to incur debt of up to $150 million for this purpose.

Judge Alvarez praised both legal teams, saying it was one of the best presentations of a complex case he’s presided over. Despite the courtroom being closed to the public due to COVID restrictions, closing arguments were livestreamed on the Town’s website and local cable access channels. “We’re very thankful for all the Town and courtroom staff who made it possible for residents to watch the closing arguments from the safety of their homes,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kari Leon.

“I’m confident that our legal counsel and witnesses, including Town staff, represented the community well and delivered a comprehensive and compelling case to the court that the water system should be owned, operated and maintained by the Town of Apple Valley,” said Mayor Curt Emick. “Our position that water rates should be set at the local level, rather than by executives in Canada and appointed officials in San Francisco, and that the water system should be owned by the local community, not by a massive corporation, remains as true and critical today as when we first began this journey.”

The evidence presented by the Town at trial showed water rates for Liberty Utilities are the highest in the High Desert and virtually second to none in the Inland Empire. This is in part due to the five corporate layers above the water company that collectively charge more than $4 million per year, going all the way up to Algonquin in Canada. Counsel for the water company also acknowledged that the water system presently suffers from “pressing engineering needs.” The company’s own documents showed that no seismic studies have been undertaken by the company concerning its water tanks that hold millions of gallons of water.

The trial followed years of exorbitant rate increases by the private owners of the water system, making water delivered by the water company the most expensive water in the region. In November 2015 the Town Council took historic action to move forward with eminent domain proceedings to acquire the water system, which is now owned by Liberty Utilities. Months of public hearings, financial analyses, and environmental reviews preceded the Council’s action.

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Source: TOAV