Legal Implications of Reynolds v. City of Calistoga

Water Reform Colleagues……
Before anyone goes too far out in interpreting or advocating the widespread use of the new Napa Superior Court interim standing ruling in Reynolds v. City of Calistoga as the new “law of the land,” I would like to put this ruling into some perspective, as for many years a practicing lawyer and General Legal Counsel for PCFFA. Here are my thoughts as to some legal-political realities that should be part of “the rest of the story”:
(1) This is a County Superior Court ruling (the lowest Court system in the state)  that, unless it is appealed and wins on appeal, has NO PRECEDENTIAL FORCE on any other Court anywhere in the State of California.  It does not even have precedential force on other cases in Napa County.  The headline on the Weekly Calistogan article about the case declaiming “Water suit sets new law of the land” is obviously bunk, written by a non-lawyer in the paper’s layout room after hours to attract the eye and fit into the designated column space — but nothing more.
(2) Since you cannot use this interim case ruling as any sort of binding precedent in any other similar Court action, you would have to argue from the beginning for the same result in any separate case brought.  In the Klamath basin (say in a case over the Scott or Shasta Rivers), in other words, you would have to convince the Siskiyou County Superior Court to independently come to the same conclusion.  However, the Siskiyou County Superior Court is not — shall we say — known for its support of state environmental laws against local landowners.  Good luck making that case.
(3) Obviously this case’s interim standing ruling is important, but it may well never be appealed.  The City of Calistoga, for instance, is far more likely to try to settle this case than appeal it, since an appeal would cost a lot more money than settlement.  So don’t hold your breath on it ever becoming binding precedent in any other Court, or ever actually becoming “the law of the land” (i.e., at least in California).  And such an appeals process would still take perhaps another 2-4 years to work its way to the California Supreme Court.
This is, obviously, a case to watch and hope that this ruling is both appealed and wins on appeal.  It would certainly be nice to have it as a tool in the California toolbox, which right now is pretty thin on laws to promote water reallocation and much needed reforms, whether in the Klamath or anywhere else.
In the meantime, who is working to make this truly the “law of the land” by changing the statute itself to allow private rights of action to enforce FGC Sec. 5937?  Such a legislative change is by far your best chance of making this new court interpretation actually “the law of the land” sooner and state-wide.
—- Glen Spain, for PCFFA