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Woodbridge Sanitary District looks to settle lawsuit over property

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Posted: Wednesday, July 7, 2004 10:00 pm

After years of condemnation proceedings in an attempt to acquire neighboring property to fulfill state sewage disposal requirements, the Woodbridge Sanitary District is about to consider a settlement agreement in what has become a protracted legal battle.

Meeting in closed session on July 14, sanitary district directors will consider whether to approve the settlement proposal. Details were not disclosed.

The district has its eye on the Nordman family property, located north and west of the Windwood subdivision off Woodbridge Road, to comply with sewage disposal requirements issued by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

But due to turnover on the sanitary board between 1997 and 2001 - 11 individuals sat on the five-member board during that period - the Woodbridge board condemned the 8-acre Nordman parcel, rescinded its action, then condemned it a second time.

The district first condemned the Nordman property in 1997 and dug three 17-foot-deep sewage ponds, to be used in the event of severe flooding in the Mokelumne River.

In late 1999, the sanitary district board, with 100 percent turnover from the board which condemned the Nordman land, abandoned condemnation proceedings due to conflicting appraisals on the Nordman property.

Then in 2001, directors, with yet more turnover, voted 4-0 to condemn the property once again.

The condemnation was controversial in Woodbridge, with many residents fearing that Nordman would build a subdivision off Woodbridge Road if he could get sewer permits from the Woodbridge Sanitary District.

Attorney Doug Bosco, representing Nordman, offered in 2001 to allow the district access to the three sewage ponds if the sanitary district allowed Nordman to build a subdivision.

However, later in the 2001 meeting, Bosco said he only proposed the sewer hookups for Nordman because the sanitary district board thought the district really needed the Nordman property.

"We don't want to sell this, period," Bosco said at the time.

Bosco wasn't available for comment Wednesday.

Three years later, a settlement appears to be within reach. The board was scheduled to consider approving the settlement on June 29, but no action was taken after directors Michael Devencenzi and Glenda Wall said they were concerned that the board would be violating California's open-meeting law if action was taken that day.

The June 29 meeting was to begin at 7 p.m., but the agenda read "7 a.m."

None of the four directors showed up that morning, thinking it was a night meeting. However, board President Harold Rohrbach said that the board's attorney, John Stovall, advised him to post a notice in Woodbridge saying that the 7 a.m. meeting was canceled and "continued" to the same evening.

The Ralph M. Brown Act requires special meetings to be posted 24 hours ahead of time.

Sanitary board member Glenda Wall said she took her copy of the Brown Act to the night meeting.

"I told them I'm not going to participate in a meeting in violation of the Brown Act," Wall said.

Two directors wanted to continue the meeting, while the other two did not. The fifth seat became vacant when Dorsey Meyer Jr., resigned in May.

Because of the deadlock on conducting the June 29 meeting, Rohrbach said that the settlement will instead be put on the July 14 meeting.

Jim Ewert, an attorney who specializes in media and open-meeting laws for California Newspaper Publishers Association, said it would have been illegal for Woodbridge Sanitary to conduct its night meeting.

The district has no authority to "continue" a meeting that was never convened, Ewert said. In order for the morning meeting to be called to order, three of the four directors would have had to be present at 7 a.m.

"It's good that someone's holding their feet to the fire," Ewert said.

Stovall, the sanitary district's attorney, refused to comment on his advice for the board to meeting 12 hours after the posted starting time.

"The meeting has been rescheduled, and that's all I'm going to say about it," Stovall said.

In addition to considering a legal settlement with Nordman, the board is schedule to appoint a Woodbridge resident to replace Meyer on the board.

The July 14 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. behind the Woodbridge fire station, 400 E. Augusta St.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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