Court of Appeal Hears Oral Argument from Restore Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco
Ruling expected soon
Last Wednesday, May 30, Restore Hetch Hetchy's entourage of staff, board, supporters and, of course, attorneys journeyed to Fresno for our long-awaited hearing at California's 5th District Court of Appeal.
No cameras were allowed inside the courthouse.
Michael Lozeau, our lead attorney, presented our case to the three judge panel. He argued that San Francisco should be required to comply with all California water law, even if it would result in emptying the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir so the valley could be restored. Mike cited "the plain language" of Section 11 of the federal Raker Act - the legislation which permitted San Francisco to dam Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley:
Sec. 11. That this act is a grant upon certain express conditions specifically set forth herein, and nothing herein contained shall be construed as affecting or intending to affect or in any way to interfere with the laws of the State of California relating to the control, appropriation, use, or distribution of water used in irrigation or for municipal or other uses, or any vested right acquired thereunder, and the Secretary of the Interior, in carrying out the provisions of this act, shall proceed in conformity with the laws of said State.
Mike also emphasized many examples in the Raker Act's legislative history where member after member declared that Section 11 "would control the whole act", "to preserve the rights of the western states".
Aileen McGrath, Deputy Attorney for San Francisco, argued that Section 11 could not "swallow the very purpose" of the Raker Act. She referred to our interpretation as "extreme" and "dramatic", and noted the City had invested billions of dollars in its system.
Both attorneys presented their cases well, in far greater detail than briefly summarized above. As an interested and very biased observer, I would say the hearing was riveting.
The judges asked tough questions and allowed extra time - a rare occurrence in the Court of Appeal. They indicated they would issue a ruling "soon".
As might be expected, the hearing generated media interest, including:
- ABC television "Hetch Hetchy restoration argued before Fresno appeals court",
- San Jose Mercury News: "Environmentalists' lawsuit to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir heads back to court",
- San Francisco Chronicle: "Judges hear, don't act on, Hetch Hetchy ruling appeal", and
- KQED: "Century-Old Campaign to Take Hetch Hetchy from San Francisco Still Going".
We look forward to the court's ruling, and to taking the next steps in our campaign to restore Hetch Hetchy. We are thankful to all our supporters in this important and historic endeavor, and are particularly grateful to the entourage that joined us in Fresno.