Sanitary district settles lawsuit for $1.4 million | January 18, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - January 18, 2012

Sanitary district settles lawsuit for $1.4 million

by Dave Boyce

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.


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