Paso water group wields major-league muscle

February 9, 2014
Randy Record

Randy Record

Eyes on your water: Second in a series of reports on the North County’s festering water politics. A list of the top 30 land owners over the Paso Robles aquifer is available below this story.

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

Some of California’s biggest players in water politics have become influential figures in the leadership of a group vigorously promoting formation of a management district for the Paso Robles aquifer.

The heavy-hitting individuals possess a wide variety of legal and other professional connections to the inner structure of this state’s water industry. Blended with several of the North County’s most prominent vintners and ranchers, a unit has been formed that commands considerable political punch and resources.

One of the most prominent is Randy Record, an early adviser to individuals who would eventually form the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS). Record is first vice-chair of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD of Southern California), the world’s largest wholesaler of water.

Record’s primary agricultural interests are located in San Jacinto, where he’s a fifth-generation farmer, as well as vice-chairman of the Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) there. He’s a 1976 graduate of Cal Poly; his family purchased the 100-acre Record Family Farms in San Miguel in 2007.

Record told CalCoastNews, “I don’t consider myself to be an advisor, just a member of PRAAGS and someone who has an interest in the area.”

Jerry Reaugh, owner of the 70-acre Sereno Vista Vineyard, is PRAAGS chairman, and he was effusive in praising Record’s participation with the North County group.

“Randy has been very instrumental in advising us,” said Reaugh. “He is extremely well connected, and we are lucky to have someone like that living among us.”

Part of Record’s current responsibility is to represent the Metropolitan Water District on the Southern California Leadership Council, where, according to the EMWD website, he “helps establish water policy.”

Record’s stint as president of the state’s most aggressive and potent water special interest group, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), ended in January. That association represents more that 440 water districts selling 90 percent of all water delivered statewide. He’s co-chair of ACWA’s Statewide Water Action Plan, which is “planning for California’s water future.”

During the formative stages of another local action group dubbed PRO Water Equity (PWE), Record spent time “poking around” for information about PWE, according to several former PWE members.

Reaugh said many of the current PRAAGS members also are members of a Paso basin “blue ribbon” advisory committee now being phased out.

“It became clear that we needed to start taking action to deal with the area’s water issues, and I think it also became clear that what we needed was a water district,” Reaugh said. “That’s the tried and true way for rural areas to manage their water affairs.”

Asked how he came to be named chairman of PRAAGS, Reaugh laughed and said, “I’m probably the idiot that stood up.”

Ernest Conant

Ernest Conant

A Bakersfield attorney, Ernest A. Conant, a partner in the firm Young Wooldridge, has been appointed general counsel by PRAAGS. Conant represents water districts throughout the state, most notably the Kern Water Bank, whose principal owner is Paramount Farms Inc., a company owned by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

Last year, Resnick added to his inventory the 740-acre Hardham Ranch on the outskirts of southeastern Paso Robles, and has converted it from dry farming and cattle grazing to newly-planted and well-irrigated wine grapes. Today, Resnick’s statewide agribusiness is among the richest in America, and he is by far the world’s most prolific producer of pistachios and almonds.

Among Conant’s legal accomplishments mentioned on his website include the fact that he “has served as general counsel for many different public agencies, including assisting with the development of the Semitropic and Arvin-Edison Water Storage District’s water banking programs, which temporarily store water for various agencies throughout the State.”

He was involved in the development and formation of the Kern Water Bank Authority and serves as its general counsel. Conant was a key figure in the implementation several years ago of the so-called Monterey Amendments, made among State Water Project contractors. That controversial move handed over state water rights to private entities and for the first time opened the door for sales and transfers of water supplies from state and federal conveyance projects.

“We’re very fortunate to have Ernie as counsel,” Record said.

Reaugh, asked if Conant’s experience with water banks and his subsequent engagement as general counsel of PRAAGS caused him concern at the outset, said after a long pause, “I’d have to say no.”

Reaugh then dismissed the concerns of some local residents regarding the possibility of water banking in the North County as “conspiracy thinking.”

“Those issues are almost silly when you think about them,” Reaugh said. “Folks can conjure up a conspiracy all they want, but this is not an area that lends itself to water banking.”

Steve Sinton, treasurer of PRAAGS, owns with his family the 125-acre Shell Creek Vineyards. He was raised on (and now runs) the family’s 12,000-acre Avenales Cattle Co. ranch, attending Shandon schools before graduating from Stanford. He earned his law degree from the University of Colorado in 1972.

After service in the Army, Sinton took a staff attorney’s post with the California Department of Water Resources for five years. He then returned to live at the Avenales Ranch but established a law practice in Sacramento, specializing in water and environmental law. Now he primarily manages cattle operations for Avenales. Until recently, he was chairman of the California Rangeland Trust.

Sinton’s extensive properties include the Shell Creek area, designated by a 2008 county study as one of three “selected recharge alternatives” for state project water project.

According to the final report of the Paso Robles Groundwater Sub-basin Water Banking Feasibility Study, “The locations of the (three) water banking alternatives evaluated in this study were identified primarily based on information describing the local hydrogeologic conditions.”

Media and marketing matters for PRAAGS are being handled by one of the county’s most recognized firms, Barnett Cox of San Luis Obispo.

Other PRAAGS board members are Dana Merrill, Mesa Vineyard Management; Kent Gilmore, Golden Hills Farm; John Crossland, Vineyard Professional Services; Steve Lohr, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines; Matt Turrentine, Grapevine Land Management; and Kathleen Maas, Pear Valley Vineyards.

Next: A smaller citizens’ group, PRO Water Equity (PWE), finds common ground with PRAAGS, and a fortuitous melding of objectives occurs.

Large acreages dominate proposed district

Thirty property owners in the proposed boundaries of the Paso Robles water basin district own 68 percent of its total acreage — 146,622 of 215,000 acres. The top 15 of those individual property owners control more than 51 percent of the new district’s large owners’ voting capability.

There are approximately 5,000 owners of properties within the district.

Here’s how seats on a local water board would be allocated:

Three members elected on a one-person-one-vote basis by popular vote; two members elected by landowners owning fewer than 40 acres; two members elected by landowners owning between 40 and fewer than 400 acres; two members by those owning more than 400 acres.

Property owner                                                                        Acreage
1.  Farris Hillside LLC (Peck Ranch)                                               30,520.32
2.  Emilee S. Morrison (Camatta Ranch)                                        21,748.88
3.  Estrella Ranch LP De LTD (Hearst Ranch)                                 14,294.08
4.  Johansing Farms LLC (Peter & Barney Johansing)                      6,350.39
5.  San Juan Ranch LLC (John & Brenda Stephenson)                    6,111.90
6.  West Bay Co LLC (Stephen TB Miller/Thornhill Co)                    5,001.12
7.  Estrella Ranch II LP (Hearst Ranch)                                          4,872.59
8.  Pine Canyon Ranch GP (Donald Cavaletto)                                4,301.82
9.  Onderdon Family Trust                                                           4,000.31
10. Kuhnle Properties Trust                                                         3,212.88
11. Blech Ranch Co. LLC                                                              3,014.46
12. Paul Clark                                                                              2,958.59
13. Jaureguy Land Trust                                                               2,853.00
14. La Panza Ranch LLC                                                                2,795.42
15. Stephenson Living Trust                                                         2,786.12
16. Indeck Paso Robles LLC                                                          2,500.24
17. William & Doris Land & Energy Co LLC                                      2,498.25
18. Anderson & Middleton Logging Co.                                          2,481.31
19. Odell Family Trust (survivors trust)                                          2,352.57
20. Brodiaea Inc. A Del Corp                                                         2,292.64
21. Lewis Robert G. Family Trust (Exemption Trust)                        2,267.11
22. Noel Martha                                                                           2,123.51
23. Jerold White Revocable Trust                                                  2,004.50
24. Creston Enterprises LLC                                                         1,971.96
25. Julie Johnson                                                                         1,824.02
26. Hillman Family Trust                                                               1,649.68
27. McDonald Ranch Partnership                                                   1,588.84
28. Lohr Family Vineyards LP                                                        1,579.62
29. Timothy Testerman                                                                1,421.71
30. Tannehill Ranch II LLC                                                            1,254.30
_____________

TOTAL                                     146,622.06

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32 Comments

  1. mustangglp says:

    I see this back firing in their face when the state makes them put meters on their wells.
    Just because you own 50,000 acres of desert dose not give you the right to 50,000 acre feet
    of water!
    The vineyard off theater drive ran his pump 24/7 the month of December and January! (He
    clams to be a dry land farmer?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. fishing village says:

    Another interesting article by CCN, I don’t live in that area, but am always interested in reading your articles. Well done, CCN!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. HorseNutz says:

    They have been plotting this since around 2000. Ask Steve Sinton, in the RAC meeting minutes 2003? he states it is going to be a 10 year process to get SWP… hmmm

    -Next move, lets get a significant number of larger property and AG owners to sign the PRIOR Agreement which effectively ties them up until the plan can be implemented in conjunction with SLO Flood Control and the Urgency Ordinance in 2013. “Your Water Rights are as good as Adjudicated” is what is being said to the PRIOR Agreement members. What a farce, just stay with me a little longer until we get the AB3030/District Formed and then we can screw you bigtime. (sheep to slaughter)

    -Create PRAAGS (Kern Water Bank Attorney advises group… Jerry Reagh does not even know that Resnick had any connection until August of this year… You are the Head of this organization and dont even know your own players/advisors?)

    -Create PWE to create turmoil and emotional frenzy in the community. (Founder worked for the Kern Water Bank, moves to Paso in 2000? Hires Attorney that represented the group taking water rights from citizens in Santa Maria…what, I thought PWE was to protect the little guy? How much did he cost? Sounds like a tall order for a number of people with dry wells who can now afford him.)

    -Have PRAAGS/PWE strike a compromise… khumbya lets pat ourselves on the back that we have come up with a “hard fought” compromise and look at the struggle we had creating a 9 member board. Good Citizens of N. County, we are looking out for you.

    -Nobody with laymen knowledge of Water Code can see that we have all of the power we need to transfer the water out of the PRGWB by placing cute fuzzy names like “exchange/replentisment/balancing/conjunctive use”, etc.

    -Grease the politico, see $10k donation to PASO Parks by Justin Winery. Make phone call to Jerry Brown have Karen Ray seated on BOS to get the Urgency Vote. The list goes on.

    -Bank on citizens being too lazy and uninformed to understand the “Powers” that we are going to be given, so we can suck them dry both monitarily and water wise.

    -If needed, we can get Barack to visit Fresno to put a little extra pressure on the drought politics in California.

    Roadmap to becoming uber powerful and wealthy.

    PROTECT YOUR WATER & PROPERTY RIGHTS PEOPLE. YOU HAVE TO FIGHT TO KEEP WHAT YOU HAVE OR SOMEONE WILL TAKE IT!

    MOLON LABE

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

    • Jorge Estrada says:

      If this is a big issue over private rights, why does the City of San Luis Obispo get a free ride to your water rights??? Their antiquated application, their half built project and their contiguously renewed permit is available for public viewing. You’ll easily surmise that SLO has not ripened their antiquated application into becoming a licensed appropriator of Salinas River water and although SLO overshadows your downsteam concerns, SLO is not being included into the mix.

      What’s up B of S? We’d best be served if your five heads were in the sand, twenty miles upstream.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. Slowerfaster says:

    These are PIGS !

    If water was food, these super obese gluttons would be at a feast …a smorgasbord, stuffing themselves; while at the same time sneering at the masses not so privileged, ignoring the proletariat as they starve.
    They laugh and mock all the rest of us.

    Only one thing to do with enemies like that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 6

  5. Jorge Estrada says:

    Most land owners know that when you’re talking about the control of water you certainly need to lawyer up. With this notable list of Blow Fish, why don’t they swim upstream and take on SLO and include their control from the headwaters of the Salinas River. I question their concern to be a little myoptic or possibly they just wanting to corral up what is left?

    Remember SLO has another 23,000 acre-feet of water over and above the 23,000 acre-feet currently storable behind the half built Salinas Dam (Santa Margarita Lake). An empty dam can certainly take awhile before it contributes to the down-stream recharge of the basin being discussed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  6. hijinks says:

    Bravo, Daniel, for pulling back the curtain to show how big time water special interests have outmaneuvered the local yahoos. I wonder if now the yahoos will get it, that they’re on the menu, not sitting at the banquet table? Fight back, folks! That’s your only chance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 0

  7. slojustice says:

    I find it interesting that our county government who want to be in control of everything is standing by and watching all of this happen. I think our county supervisors are being influenced to sit back and let this happen to their constituents. I feel our county water resources are going to be exploited by these millionaires at the expense of the citizens of San Luis Obispo county. These decisions should be made by fairly elected representatives of our county. I find it also telling that as soon as Stuart Resnick shows up, two groups enter the seen being influenced by all of these out of the area water “experts”. I have very little confidence that this is going to work out well for us. I encourage everyone to contact their county supervisor and insist that they become involved in this process. I feel these vultures are not going to let this crisis go to waste, especially when they can pile on the millions of dollars to there fortunes. This is not the first drought we have been through and with wise water use we can get through this. As soon as we regulate something they can tax it and profit off of it. We need to be cautious and not panic. And for those who think it only involves us who have wells need to understand that this precious resource is what they shower with and drink and pay dearly for in their water bills.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

    • NCGuy says:

      “Millionaires” are not the only ones interested in taking our basin water. Our County wants it too. Flood Control needs this water district to form over the Paso basin so that Flood Control can “store” SLO’s “excess” State water in our basin then “export” it out of the Basin – and they want the district to pay for it. Interests in Santa Barbara County are one of the beneficiaries as well as cities in South County SLO. Money from this storage and exportation will go to Flood Control – so essentially our County is stealing our water for their own profit. They are intentionally using words for this scam that the general public does not know or understand (water transfers/exchanges/conjunctive use/banking). BOS is turning the blind eye so that private interests can do the same and export over hill to Kern. Constituents of the 3 BOS outside of Paso Basin will benefit from being able to take our water – this is why those three are in favor. The other two need to be educated ASAP.

      Our County doesn’t want to do this on their own because they need the private interests to help pay for it. Once you understand all the “interests” you will see that the Paso Robles GW Basin is going to be exploited once this district is formed – and all of North County will be hurt. This is really sad because I believe a number of those who are participating and promoting this district really do not understand what they are creating nor the consequences.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

    • blondehare says:

      read the New Republic article, and you’ll get an idea about what you are dealing with in SLO, or LA, or NJ. It’s discouraging, but if more people knew what their elected officials were really up to, we could all begin to do something about it, I think?
      http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116601/chris-christies-rise-and-fall

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. debbieisout says:

    PRAGGS and Pro Water say they’re not going to sell water but will do water transfer.
    So tell what is the difference?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 0

    • Juan Motime says:

      I think that those folks from Pro Water were paid off with the big money of the PRAGGS group. As a homeowner, I do not trust either group. One person, one vote OR one parcel one vote. Never trust a wino.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

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