Tehachapi City Takes Legal Action Against Water District Over Public Records Request

Tehachapi, California – The city of Tehachapi has taken legal action against the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District, accusing the district of withholding public records. The city filed a lawsuit on December 11, which was finally served on January 11. The city’s petition, filed in Kern County Superior Court, seeks to compel the water district to produce the requested documents.

While court records still indicated that the lawsuit remained unserved as of Friday, the water district’s General Manager, Tom Neisler, confirmed that they had indeed received the petition. City spokesperson, Key Budge, explained that the delayed service was due to the general manager being on vacation.

The city’s filing stems from a public records act request made to the district on October 9. The complaint alleges that the district has failed to provide the requested documents, and the city believes their response was insufficient and violated state law. The city is now seeking a court order to compel the water district to produce the requested records. As of Friday, no hearing date had been set.

According to Neisler, the city’s records request was overly broad and vague, spanning several decades. The water district asked for clarification on certain items, but rather than providing clarification, the city decided to file a lawsuit prematurely. Neisler stated that the water district has already provided extensive records related to the request and is still searching for relevant information, which requires reviewing old records stored in multiple locations.

The city’s request includes documents from 2013 onwards, such as invoices, contracts, and communication pertaining to the purchase of State Water Project water from the Kern County Water Agency. The city also seeks documents regarding the volume and allocation of water provided by KCWA to the water district, including recipients of the water. Furthermore, the city is requesting documents related to the delivery of municipal and industrial water, as well as agricultural water, along with all communication and requests associated with these deliveries.

In addition to the current dispute, tensions between the city and the water district have been ongoing. Following the city’s approval of the Sage Ranch residential subdivision in September 2021, the water district sued the city, challenging the adequacy of the environmental review and water supply analysis for the project. Both the city and the Golden Hills Community Services District have been urging the water district to revise its prioritization of imported water during times when the State Water Project allocation falls short of meeting all requests.

The conflicts between the two entities have also hindered progress on updating the Regional Urban Water Management Plan. The plan, which includes the water district, the city of Tehachapi, and three community services districts, was supposed to be updated every five years as required by the state. However, the update is now overdue.

The lawsuit filed by the city against the Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District represents another chapter in the ongoing disagreements between the two parties. As the legal battle unfolds, the court’s decision will likely have far-reaching implications for water management in the area.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist. She can be reached by email: [email protected].