Sanitary district settles lawsuit for $1.4 million

The two-year dispute is over between water quality watchdog San Francisco Baykeeper and the West Bay Sanitary District, with the district agreeing to pay $1.4 million in attorney's fees to Baykeeper, the district's attorney said in a telephone interview.

The parties reached a settlement in a conference in Oakland on Jan. 10, attorney Anthony Condotti of the Santa Cruz law firm Atchison, Barisone, Condotti & Kovacevich said. A U.S. magistrate judge facilitated the talks.

The sanitary district's board gave its approval the next night, Mr. Condotti said. Under the settlement, the district pays no civil penalties and makes no admission of guilt, he said.

Baykeeper's December 2009 lawsuit cited 162 sewage overflows in a five-year period that ended in 2010, of which 94 were less than 100 gallons. The district was facing $975,000 in penalties for 21 spills of more than 100 gallons that entered Peninsula streams, including in Atherton, Woodside, Menlo Park and Portola Valley.

The district settled to avoid a consent decree with Baykeeper, Mr. Condotti said. "That's the whole reason that the district decided to fight this lawsuit rather than capitulate like the other agencies."

Baykeeper has settled cases with a Burlingame sanitary district and four nearby jurisdictions. Baykeeper has not yet responded to a request for an interview.

West Bay's system did not experience a sewage overflow in 2011, Mr. Condotti said. The district had made progress in reducing the frequency of its overflows even before the lawsuit was filed, he said.

"I think that was pretty telling" as to what might happen at trial if the issue in question is no longer an issue, he said. "It was pretty clear that they weren't going to get an injunction."

Had there been a trial, it would have been a "methodical, tedious spill-by-spill recitation of the evidence" in connection with the older spills, Mr. Condotti said.


Like this comment
Posted by w patterson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I am sadden the district had to settle with the law firm. An expeditious solution, but hardly justice. So who gets the money?
Please explain so I understand the motivation behind the litigation.
Public good or filling the pockets of the attorney. They are exclusive of one or the other.
Taxes pay for the settlement of this questionalble litigation when one could have explain the outcomes and resolved them without damages.

Like this comment
Posted by ItWorked
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 18, 2012 at 8:28 am

Watchdog groups like Baykeeper are trying to protect our environment from abuses, in this case, abuses caused by a public agency not doing their job correctly. Sewage spills into the Bay are something to be avoided at all costs.

The lawsuit did it work. After being sued, the powers at WBSD concentrated their efforts and had NO SPILLS in 2011. YEA!

Maybe if a watchdog group, particularly the PUC, had done their job better, we would not have had that tragic loss of life and property in San Bruno caused by PG&E's illegal shortcuts!

Like this comment
Posted by No Spills Ha
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Are you serious ItWorked, who says the District had no spills in 2011. Do you work for them? Then you probably don't know. One thing that is certain if you do the math with the final numbers 99% of that $1.4 went to attorneys not towards correcting the problem. Which is crumbling infrastructure that needs constant updating. The District does a pretty bang up job from what I hear from residence. At least from what I understand they report all their spills unlike other municipalities and other Districts. They are not at all like PG&E. Before you open your mouth or put fingers to keyboards you should do some research.

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