San Simeon to settle lawsuit over water rights

By KAREN VELIE

The San Simeon Community Services District has agreed to settle lawsuits in both state and federal court regarding the district’s refusal to provide a water hookup to a retired property owner, which deprived him of the right to the free use of his property, according to public records. The settlement could open the door for those with vacant lots in San Simeon to build on their land.

On May 10, the San Simeon board is scheduled to vote on whether or not to approve the mediated settlement. When asked to explain the details, the plaintiff’s attorney Jeffrey Stulberg said to talk to him after May 10.

Amid concerns over water quality and quantity, the district enacted a water moratorium 35 years ago. In 2016, the district installed a water purification facility but did not remove or modify the moratorium.

For 17 years, Robert Hather worked to build an affordable housing development on a 1.1-acre parcel he owns in San Simeon, but was denied a water hookup. Initially, Hather purchased the property as part of his retirement plan, but instead of making money, he has lost money on upkeep and taxes.

Then in Nov. 2020, Hather filed for a hardship exemption, which is allowed under the district’s moratorium ordinance. Rather than vote on the hardship exemption request, the district board voted to table the request.

Stulberg then informed the district of plans to file a lawsuit if the district continued to deny Hather access to water. After reviewing Stulberg’s argument, district legal council Jeff Minnery determined the district had the right to deny Hather a water hookup, which prompted the lawsuit.

“Based on the representations of the district’s counsel, it appears that the district does not believe it is under any legal obligation to take action on the hardship application within any reasonable amount of time,” according to the lawsuit. “The district’s refusal to act on plaintiff’s hardship application is unreasonable and without any justification.”

The district is currently under investigation by multiple agencies for questionable business practices, conflicts of interest and for Public Record’s Act and the Brown Act violations.

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