OPINION by STEW JENKINS
Once upon a time, the City of San Luis Obispo did things so smart and forward-looking that the whole country copied its good ideas. Planned growth, smoke-free restaurants and campaign finance limits, for instance.
But lately, the advice Forrest Gump’s mother gave him keeps coming to mind, “Stupid is as stupid does.” A lawsuit filed against the City of San Luis Obispo on March 24 stands as a poster child for the way our city’s leadership has left behind its sense of history, reason, or responsibility.
According to their civil complaint filed in Superior Court, Lori and Craig Gill, along with Lorraine Andrews (formerly Zuiderweg), own houses and ranch land in Reservoir Canyon, just out of town. In 1911, their common ancestor, S.J. Lowe, sold the City of San Luis Obispo the water coming down San Luis Creek in Reservoirs Canyon for two things: $10 and the right to have the city pipe enough water back to the ranch to maintain 30 head of livestock (a drop in the bucket, around 194,400 gallons).
As happens over time with growing ranch families, ranches get divided among generations of descendants. And that is what the Gills and Ms. Andrews have done: divided the ranch and sensibly agreed to split the right to the city-provided smidgen of water, so each could have enough for 15 cattle. But even though the city would incur no costs from the partition, the city simply refuses to approve placement of two separate water meters – by the family – where one now exists.
So the Gills and Ms. Andrews have had to sue the City of San Luis Obispo because city administration simply won’t sign off on them installing, at their own expense, two water meters to replace the one the city installed years ago to measure the water going to the ranch’s thirty head of cattle.
One has to wonder. The cost to the city for the City Attorney analyzing the suit, reporting to the City Council that water law is a specialty – so an expensive specialist from out of county must be hired to respond – and then paying filing fees and ultimately paying for mediation where the city will end up agreeing to the installation of the two water meters by this family, will be immense.
No conceivable harm to city residents could result from letting this family split the 194,400 gallons of Reservoir Canyon water that their ancestor reserved. And, well, it just ain’t neighborly.
Instead, the city has violated the California Constitution’s Article Ten, Section 2 and the Water Code, according to the Gill-Andrews complaint, and will likely be paying the three law firms the family hired to sue the city over water the city already has an obligation to provide the family’s 30 head of cattle. Stupid is as stupid does.
“We are compassionate” signs have popped up around town as part of the official city response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Our bordering neighbors in Reservoir Canyon, at this point, must be feeling that our city’s compassion is all hat, but no cattle.
Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo public interest lawyer who handles real estate law, municipal law and estate planning.