Water district booster buying land for Harvard U.

April 10, 2014
Matt Turrentine

Matt Turrentine

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

An outspoken proponent of a plan for an acreage-dominated Paso Robles water district has quietly been directing investments in large San Luis Obispo County parcels of plantable land, paying top dollar and using funds provided by Harvard University’s $33 billion endowment.

Matt Turrentine, who with James Ontiveros formed Grapevine Capital Partners in 2012, has already bankrolled with Harvard money the purchase of at least 10,176 acres in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties for more than $61 million.

The accelerated real estate activities locally were first noted by Michael Fritz writing in the Farmland Investor Newsletter in March, reporting the Harvard investments are being made through an entity called Brodiaea Inc., based in Delaware.

Turrentine is a member of the board of directors of the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), a group comprised primarily of wine grape growers, winemakers, ranchers, and other agricultural interests. The PRAAGS board is unanimously backing proposed legislation to develop a water district to manage the aquifer, a plan which bases the vote for authorization and management of the district on amount of owned acreage.

Opponents maintain the plan as currently written favors large landowners and ignores the needs of smaller property holders and individual residents. Many have expressed a desire to see a district formed and managed on a one-person (or parcel), one-vote basis.

That legislation to authorize formation of a water district, carried by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), was stopped in its tracks — at least temporarily — after the Legislative Counsel questioned its constitutionality. This week, that barrier was lowered when lawmakers’ lawyers opined that the proposal may in fact pass constitutional muster, but still has major issues.

Turrentine and his associates have been locating, recommending, and facilitating purchases of unlisted properties in Shandon and elsewhere with reported premiums of up to $10,000 per acre, according to the Farmland Investor Letter. Turrentine, 33, is a member of a family of longtime wine brokers in San Luis Obispo County. He departed his position with Turrentine Brokerage two years ago “to pursue agricultural investment opportunities” of his own, the family company’s website notes.

The over-pumped Paso Robles water basin has been the subject of significant governmental study over the past few years, even as wine-growing operations increase in number and take an ever-deepening toll on the basin’s supply. County supervisors have adopted an emergency ordinance hoping to put the brakes on unregulated pumping.

That makes purchases of North County land with the notion of large-scale grape-growing endeavors a gamble, but one with huge potential for return — if only the water supply lasts.

“There may not be much future growth of the wine grape business in Paso Robles because of limited water availability,” Turrentine told CalCoastNews, adding that “the Paso Robles basin has areas that have plentiful water and areas with more meager water resources available.”

Shandon has been within tentative water district boundaries, although a concise border has yet to be described by proponents.

Turrentine said he is more optimistic about the Shandon area’s potential for wine grape cultivation: “The… area has plentiful groundwater and has been farmed for over five decades to higher water-using crops such as vegetables, sugar beets, and alfalfa. This was not a risky investment decision in any way. Shandon does not need surface water.”

 


17 Comments

  1. Citizen says:

    What makes me angry is Turrentine telling us (and potential buyers) that Shandon has plenty of water. “Turrentine said he is more optimistic about the Shandon area’s potential for wine grape cultivation: “The… area has plentiful groundwater and has been farmed for over five decades to higher water-using crops such as vegetables, sugar beets, and alfalfa. This was not a risky investment decision in any way”

    In reality, The Shandon city well water has dropped 17 feet from 2011-2013, and they are planning for state water.

    “A project to connect Shandon’s water system to the
    State Water system is underway and is scheduled to be constructed in fiscal year
    2014/15. This will improve water supply reliability for the community and benefit the
    groundwater basin overall.” From Shandon’s 2013 water quality report.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  2. SamLouis says:

    This carpetbagger salesman has a conflict of interest. He needs to resign from the PRAAGS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  3. pigsrule says:

    Buying land at a premium to grow grapes with the water issues we have sounds like they know something we don’t. I don’t trust the county or these outsiders for a moment. And PRAGGS is loaded with cronies just waiting to get their hands on dollars. Plus, Katcho is in the pockets of the elite. This is a rat-infested county right now and we need to get rid of all of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 3

    • NCGuy says:

      The land purchased by Brodiaea is right near State Water Project pipeline turnout – near Steve Sinton’s property who is also PRAAGS board member – the exact LOCATION identified in the 2008 Water Banking Feasibility study (Shell Creek) for water EXTRACTION & EXPORT. The only way that this can occur is if a WATER DISTRICT is set up to facilitate. Interesting that Turrentine and Sinton are trying to set up a water district that has the power to EXPORT – they BOTH have a financial interest.

      The investment in this property is not for grape farming – it is for water mining. Selling out ALL of North County for the financial interests of a fund on the East Coast is truly despicable. Thanks Matt.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 3

  4. Pelican1 says:

    It’s Howdy Doody Time, It Isn’t worth a dime,
    It looks like Turrentine’s buying up all the dirt for vines.
    Water rights, it’s all the rage, based upon your acreage
    Lets all hope they produce more wine,
    and not have it taste like turpentine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  5. Thulium says:

    So under PRAAG’s idea the management of the basin would be under the control of large landowning corporations held by entities or individuals who don’t live here? Harvard? Uhh.. no thanks. This is the kind of crap you get when corporations are treated as individuals and afforded the same rights and priveledges as you and me. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” – Animal Farm by George Orwell

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 27 Thumb down 1

  6. Citizen says:

    Matt Turrentine needs to resign from the PRAAGS Board. The simple fact that he is making big money off the sale of vineyards in light of the condition of the water basin, suggests that he may have a conflict of interest in any future board decisions.

    It also speaks to the integrity of PRAAGS. Are others using their board positions for future profits?

    Then we have the question of Harvard University investing in vineyards that may be hiring illegals, not paying decent wages, not providing decent working conditions, etc. It would be like Harvard investing in sweat shops in other countries. This needs to be watched and reported. I think Harvard liberals would be totally aghast if their vineyard investments were found to use or abuse illegal immigrants.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 0

    • pasovino says:

      Matt Turrentine, Partner, Grapevine Capital Partners

      This guys workin with the BIG DOGS Watch out Kill the Bill From Katcho!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

    • IronHub says:

      Citizen says: “It also speaks to the integrity of PRAAGS. Are others using their board positions for future profits?” So, ah, why else would they be on the board?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  7. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Hmm, sounds like a dirt ball carpetbagger if you ask me. I’d love to smack that cheesy smile right off of his face!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  8. 1inthemiddle says:

    A $10,000 an acre premium, wow! Compton told me the land values had dropped 60% since the emergency ordinance was enacted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  9. Jorge Estrada says:

    It may be time for everyone to review their title policy, first to verify that they can put their hand on it and second to verify that water rights have not been excluded from coverage. Insurance Companies vs Speculators sounds like a better waste of time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

    • JohnGalt says:

      Title policies do not cover water rights. However, you may be able to determine if water rights were reserved by prior owners (or conveyed to others) by taking a look at either your deed or your title policy.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

      • Jorge Estrada says:

        Again I will say, from experience, insurance companies have evaluated and delivered a big check to cover legal BS on this issue. If water rights were not a party to title, what basis would there be for a Quiet Title adjudication for water? I’m not saying your Title Insurer will just break out the check book, they too have to be cornered into doing their job.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

        • JohnGalt says:

          “EXCEPTIONS FROM COVERAGE
          This policy does not insure against loss or damage (and the Company will not pay costs, attorneys’ fees or expenses) which arise by reason of:

          5. (a) Unpatented mining claims; (b) reservations or exceptions in patents or in Acts authorizing the issuance thereof; (c) water rights, claims or title to water, whether or not the matters excepted in (a), (b) or (c) are shown by the public records.”

          Exact wording of a Standard Coverage CLTA Owners policy. Water rights are not covered.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

          • NCGuy says:

            This is the exact reason why everyone with a California Water Right in North County should be protecting it NOW before it is too late. The only way to protect your CA water right is to do it in court by filing for quiet title.

            Turrentine’s district, which intends to sell/export water, will take away the benefit of your right by taxing/assessing you to set up infrastructure so Brodiaea and other PRAAGS members will profit.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

          • Jorge Estrada says:

            Good point, your policy…….

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

Leave a Comment