The power company that tried to build a solar farm on Tres Hermanos Ranch three years ago dismissed its $245 million lawsuit against the cities of Chino Hills, Industry, and Diamond Bar on Aug. 14.
The Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority was also included in the complaint.
The firm, called the San Gabriel Valley Water & Power, LLC, filed the lawsuit last year alleging that it lost millions of dollars in project revenue when the three cities embarked on a plan to “wrongly interfere” with its relationship with City of Commerce.
William Barkett, the company’s managing partner, approached the City of Commerce in fall 2019 to negotiate a solar farm agreement after Industry backed away from the deal stating it lost $20 million to the firm at the same time it was hit with lawsuits from Diamond Bar and Chino Hills.
Mr. Barkett said in a statement when filing the lawsuit in May 2019 that the cities secretly arranged for the purchase of Tres Hermanos Ranch without public disclosure or comment and used the Brown Act to shield its plans.
The lawsuit was filed one month after the three cities announced a historic agreement where Industry purchased the land for $41.6 million from its successor agency and transferred ownership to the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority.
Chino Hills paid nearly $2.6 million and Diamond Bar paid $1.2 million.
Tres Hermanos Ranch is located on both sides of Grand Avenue, with 1,750 acres in Chino Hills and 695 acres in Diamond Bar.
The action dissolved the six lawsuits filed by Chino Hills and Diamond Bar in 2017 and 2018 against Industry to stop it from building the solar farm.
Chino Hills and Diamond Bar eventually joined forces with Industry to govern the land together.
The three cities announced the dismissal of the lawsuit in a joint press release Thursday but did not mention it during a Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority meeting held online the night before.
Industry city manager Troy Helling said it wasn’t mentioned because all three cities were aware a press release was in the works and none of the cities wanted to jump ahead of the other by bringing it out during the meeting.
Mr. Helling said the dismissal is good news for the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority.
“Now we can get this behind us and work closely with each other to make sure something good comes from it,” Mr. Helling said.
Jim Gallagher, a founder of “Save Tres Hermanos Ranch,” who has followed and attended the proceedings for three years, said the timing of the lawsuit dismissal was an “interesting coincidence” in light of last week’s raid on the homes of former Industry city manager Paul Philips and Mr. Barkett, and others, by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on Aug. 14, “the raid was part of a corruption probe into the failed solar project that cost the City of Industry $20 million and left taxpayers with nothing to show for it.”
After Mr. Philips was fired from the City of Industry in February 2018, he was hired by the City of Bell as its city manager in October 2018.
Mr. Gallagher said the City of Industry has had a checkered past but it has been reaching out to residents in the region and working with new leadership and staff to correct this image.
"To me, the raids on former operatives in the failed solar panel venture makes sense," he said. "Industry was tricked and has yet to recover losses from that."
In the joint press release issued Thursday, City of Industry Mayor Cory Moss said the proposed solar farm and the lawsuit were both shams.
Chino Hills Mayor Art Bennett said the dismissal of the lawsuit was an important victory.
"It safeguards this significant expanse of pristine property for the people and wildlife of this region," he said.
Diamond Bar Mayor Steve Tye said the legal battle was costly to all three cities and the win was long overdue.
Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority meets the third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. Meetings have been held online since COVID.
Chairman is Diamond Bar Mayor Mr. Tye, vice chairman is Chino Hills Councilman Ray Marquez, and board members are Diamond Bar councilwoman Nancy Lyons, Industry councilwoman Cathy Marcucci, Industry Mayor Ms. Moss, Chino Hills councilman Peter Rogers, and Industry councilman Newell Ruggles.
The City of Industry has three board members and the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar have two members each.