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Friends of the Point Pleasant Area v. County of Sacramento et al

September 16, 2011

FRIENDS OF THE POINT PLEASANT AREA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Super. Ct. No. 07AS00248)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.

Friends of the Point Pleasant Area v. County of Sacramento

CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

In 1868 the Legislature authorized the construction of the Sacramento Drainage Canal (Canal) by defendant County of Sacramento (County). The Canal accommodated runoff of water from storms, channeling it from the City of Sacramento (City) into the southern part of Sacramento County. In 1878 the Legislature enacted a statute that transferred control of the Canal from the County to the City. In 1904 floods severely damaged the Canal. After the City declined to repair the Canal, the County undertook restoration but abandoned the effort in 1906.

A portion of the Canal lies adjacent to the Point Pleasant area of Sacramento County. Plaintiff Friends of the Point Pleasant Area (Friends), a nonprofit unincorporated association, brought suit against the County and defendant Sacramento County Water Agency (Agency). Friends sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing the County and the Agency have a legal duty to operate, maintain, repair, and improve the Canal.

The County and the Agency moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Friends appeals, arguing the undisputed facts reveal the County has a legal duty to maintain the Canal, and the action is not barred by the statute of limitations, laches, or a lack of justiciability. We shall affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND The Canal Construction

In 1868 the California Legislature authorized the County to construct a canal from R Street in Sacramento, running for approximately 20 miles south and west to Snodgrass Slough near what is now Elk Grove. (Stats. 1868, ch. 149, p. 127.) When the Canal was finished, it incorporated four floodgates to control backwater, including a floodgate to the south near the head of Snodgrass Slough.

Transfer of the Canal

In 1878 the Legislature enacted a statute transferring the Canal from the County to the City. (Stats. 1878, ch. 550, § 1, p. 852.) That same year, the City obtained right-of-way easements from landowners for the Canal. In 1878, 1893, 1897, and 1911 the City Charter included a declaration that the City is the legal representative and successor to the County in all matters pertaining to the Canal.

In 1889 the City and County formed a joint executive committee to oversee and maintain, repair, and operate the Canal. The City and County acted jointly to improve the Canal.

The 1904 Flood

This joint operation and maintenance of the Canal by the City and the County continued until 1904. In February 1904 flooding caused the breach of a levee on the east bank of the Sacramento River, known as the "Edwards Break." The flooding caused significant damage to the Canal. The destruction caused the Canal to become stagnant and polluted.

In June 1904 the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors (Board) stated the repairs in the area of the Edwards Break were a "case of emergency and [directed] that the Commissioner of the District be instructed to proceed with said work of repair, costs not to exceed $1000.00."

The following month, the Board determined the Edwards Break had caused the deposit of sand into the Canal, which "impeded the flow of the drainage water causing it to become stagnant and [polluted] and endangering the health of the people in that vicinity." The County ordered the cleanup of the Canal in conjunction with the City. Shortly afterward, the City investigated the break and declined to repair the Canal.

Subsequent Repairs

In October 1904 the County awarded a contract to a dredging company for the reconstruction of the Canal. The following year, after the funding allocated for reconstruction ran out, the County referred the matter to its judiciary committee for review. On May 8, 1906, the County canceled the contract with the dredging company. The reconstruction of the Canal was never completed.

In 1921 the County relocated and rebuilt as both a bridge and a flood control structure the southernmost floodgates on the Canal, the Lambert Road floodgates. The County repaired the Lambert Road floodgates in 1928. In 1929 the County removed the floodgates at Lambert Road but reinstalled them in 1938.

In 1995 and 1996 the County rebuilt the Lambert Road floodgates. Afterward, the top of the floodgates rose to an elevation of 11.84 feet above mean sea level. The elevation of the Point Pleasant area north and east of the Lambert Road floodgates is between 10 feet and 16 feet above mean sea level. In 1997 floodwaters rose over the Lambert Road floodgates.

Creation of the Agency

In 1952 the Legislature enacted a statute creating the Agency, whose jurisdiction includes the County and which was to be governed by the Board. (Sacramento County Water Agency Act [SCWA Act], Stats. 1952, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 10, §§ 1, 3, pp. 316-317.)

Complaint

Friends filed a first amended complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against both the County and the City, seeking a declaration that both entities were legally responsible to operate, repair, maintain, and improve the Canal. Friends also sought to enjoin the City and the County from using the Canal unless they acted responsibly. The complaint also named the Agency as a defendant. The complaint did not request monetary damages.

The County filed a demurrer to the first amended complaint. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The court found the complaint alleged that statutory enactments and contractual agreements imposed a duty on the County to maintain the Canal. In addition, the court found the complaint alleged the County failed to comply with its legally mandated duty, creating a justiciable controversy. Finally, the court determined the complaint was not barred by ...


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