At least two teams of attorneys plan to meet with northeast Fresno residents this week to discuss potential legal solutions to discolored-water problems plaguing that part of the city.
Brian Kabateck of the Los Angeles firm Kabateck Brown Kellner LLP has agreed to represent a group of residents led by Mike Conner, a resident of Sharon Avenue who has complained to the city about discolored water at his home since 2004. Conner’s problems surfaced shortly after the city began operating a surface water treatment plant to augment city wells providing drinking water for that area of Fresno.
Kabateck is joined by Frank Pitre, a partner in the Burlingame firm Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy, and Michael Gatto of Rains Lucia Stern in Pleasant Hill. The legal team will meet residents from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the San Joaquin College of Law. Conner said he recommended Kabateck, Pitre and Gatto after reviewing 10 firms on behalf of a 10-member citizen committee.
Other residents are consulting other law firms or legal teams as they contemplate their options for pursuing claims for damages against Fresno for what they say is the city’s responsibility for damage to their pipes from water provided by the Northeast Surface Water Treatment Facility.
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We wanted to work with the city, but now all of a sudden they’ve lawyered up … because they hear rumors that people are lawyering up.
Mike Conner, resident of northeast Fresno
“What’s sad is we’ve been trying to work with the city throughout this,” Conner said Tuesday. “We wanted to work with the city, but now all of a sudden they’ve lawyered up … because they hear rumors that people are lawyering up.”
Conner said residents hope attorneys will be able to have settlement negotiations with the city. Conner said he has already filed a claim form with the city, and added that the attorneys will be helping other residents understand the claim process. “They will be here to answer our questions,” Conner said Tuesday.
San Joaquin College of Law is at 901 Fifth St. in Clovis. Details about the meeting are available by calling Conner at 559-273-6341.
Most of the residents Conner is working with “are seeking property and inconvenience types of damages” rather than personal injury claims. He said the attorneys are taking the case on a contingency basis and would be compensated with a percentage of any settlements or awards.
Another group of attorneys is meeting with residents on Saturday, also in Clovis. That group is led by Ray Boucher of the Woodland Hills firm Boucher LLP. That meeting is set for 2 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 520 W. Shaw Ave. In addition to Boucher’s firm, the team includes the firm Owen Patterson Owen in Valencia and Williams Cuker Berezofsky of Philadelphia and New Jersey. Details about that meeting are available by calling Boucher’s firm at 818-340-5400.
Filing a claim for damages with a government agency such as the city of Fresno is typically a preliminary step; should the city ultimately deny the claim, a resident can then file suit in court.
Fresno’s water division has been under scrutiny since January after a flurry of discolored-water complaints from residents in northeast Fresno triggered an investigation by the city into what is causing the problems. The issue appears to be related to galvanized iron plumbing used in homes in the area served by the northeast water treatment plant, linked to how treated surface water destabilizes rust and mineral scales that form inside galvanized pipe and discolors the water coming from residents’ taps.
In addition to discolored water, water samples from some homes revealed the presence of lead at concentrations higher than 15 parts per billion, the level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires water utilities to take corrective action.
In recent months, the city has been trying to adjust its water treatment chemistry, both at the treatment plant and at groundwater wells, to correct the problems.