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WATER AGENCY SEEKS TO JOIN PROJECT DEBATE.

Byline: Jason Takenouchi Staff Writer

In a surprise move behind closed doors, the Castaic Lake Water Agency's board has voted to try to influence the ongoing battle over the 21,615-home Newhall Ranch project.

The agency's board voted 8-2 late Monday to request permission to file a ``friend of the court'' brief in Kern County Superior Court, the forum for a challenge against the development.

If the trial judge assents to the request, the agency - sole provider of imported, state water to the Santa Clarita Valley - will file a ``neutral statement with regards to the state water project and related matters,'' agency secretary Linda Fleming said.

But dissenters on the agency's board say the action will put the CLWA firmly on the side of The Newhall Land and Farming Co., the Santa Clarita developer that is behind Newhall Ranch.

``I think the agency is taking sides,'' director Mike Kotch said. ``It goes against their stated policy and principal.''

A friend of the court brief is an action filed by a person or organization that is not party to a lawsuit but that believes it has evidence or perspective that would help the court make its decision. Such briefs generally end up supporting one side over another, but they usually do not do so explicitly.

The CLWA move comes on the heels of state Attorney General Bill Lockyer's request earlier this month to file a friend of the court brief in Ventura County's challenge to Newhall Ranch.

In his request, Lockyer wrote that Newhall Ranch's environmental impact report is inadequate and that the project could have an enormous effect on water supplies.

Water is a particularly important issue for Ventura County, which depends on groundwater that flows from the Santa Clarita area to feed its residents and farms.

Supporters of the agency's decision said the filing would not take sides in the lawsuit.

The brief would simply clarify the CLWA's water supply, director Jerry Gladbach said.

``We don't want to wait until the court decision is out and find out they acted on wrong information,'' he said.

Gladbach said the filing may also update the area's water supply numbers, adding in a recently acquired entitlement to 41,000 acre-feet water from the State Water Project.

Newhall Land spokeswoman Marlee Lauffer said the CLWA brief may clear up some issues about Newhall Ranch's water supply.

``I think there's been so much misinformation about the issue of water that their factual brief may provide some clarification,'' she said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 27, 1999
Words:415
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