Guarded by two agents in black suits manning a metal detector, Justices Arthur Gilbert, Kenneth R. Yegan, Paul H. Coffee, and Steven Z. Perren heard arguments inside the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors chamber on May 6 for five cases brought before the California 2nd District Court of Appeals.
One of the cases came from Bill Bookout, the former owner of Oceano Nursery, who’s taking on Caltrans, SLO County, Union Pacific Railroad, the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange, and the Oceano Community Services District over flooding that submerges a section of Highway 1 every year. The justices have until Aug. 5 to issue a judgment, but Bookout is already chalking up a win.
“I’m very, very confident,” an ecstatic Bookout told New Times.
His lawsuit was based mainly on his claim that Caltrans crews shovel debris into a drainage ditch, clogging the only outlet for water that funnels into the area.
At the hearing, Bookout’s attorney, John Belsher, went up against a team of four defense attorneys representing the various state and local agencies. Belsher argued that the SLO County Superior Court and Judge Martin Tangeman incorrectly ruled against Bookout after ignoring testimony by the sole flood expert in the case, claiming a statute of limitations had passed. Bookout filed a lawsuit in 2006, claiming that flooding had been ongoing since 2004. Defense attorneys, however, countered that there had been flooding since 2002 and therefore Bookout had missed his chance to file the lawsuit.
The justices were relatively quiet, aside from a few interjections about whether Judge Tangeman had the authority to ignore expert testimony and citing recent case law that found paved roads are in fact drainage channels.
If the court finds in Bookout’s favor, he’ll get another chance at the lawsuit in SLO County Superior Court. So far, with no one to blame, the flooding will likely continue until a responsible party is identified.
Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, whose district includes the flood-prone section of Highway 1, told New Times in a previous interview that he hopes the lawsuit will make someone responsible for the flooding and they will finally address the problem.
If he loses again, Bookout said he’s prepared to go to the Supreme Court.
“This has never been about money,” he said. “This has been about getting the problem fixed and getting my business back and going [again].”