Pro Water Equity’s final days
May 26, 2014
OPINION By SUSAN HARVEY
I would like to elaborate on the final meeting of the original PRO Water Equity. (“A Crafted Perception of Water District ‘Cooperation‘” CalCoastNews, 5/15/2014)
I am one of the original founders and financial backers of PRO Water. The founders all agreed that the only way to ensure full representation in the formation and governance of a water district is through the bedrock democratic principle of one person-one vote. One need only look at the archives of PROWaterEquity.org to grasp how far it has strayed from its charter when it crafted its “compromise.”
We formed PRO Water because the community needed a way to push back against the well-funded and politically connected. Last year PRO Water said: “…many rural residents and agriculturalists do not support formation of a California Water District, which could place control in the hands of a few and possibly result in a loss of local control.” And “Over the Basin, the 36 largest entities own enough land to validate a CWD petition, making everyone else irrelevant.” And “Adoption of any kind of water district must be put to a vote of the people.”
But just as PRO Water was making real progress toward securing a democratic governance structure for the basin and an equitable future for our community, we were sold down the river by one of our own. The President of PRO Water decided to strike a deal with her agricultural colleagues in the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), who favor a water district governed by directors elected based on how much land they own.
I went to what was to become the final meeting of the original PRO Water founders and suggested that PRO Water should meet with Cindy Steinbeck to find out what her position was. Board President Sue Luft had met with many of the other stakeholders in the basin, including twice with Jerry Joye, the COO of Fiji Water (Stewart Resnick) which manages Justin Winery and who contacted Luft to “chat and catch up.”
Luft vowed to her board and policy committee that she would make it clear to him that Praags “needs to drop the landowner controlled district concept.” Luft met a second time with Joye and with the Paramount Farms (Resnick) water district expert.
On other occasions, she had met with the manager of Gallo vineyards in the basin, and various stakeholders. I was surprised that Luft was hostile to the idea of meeting with Steinbeck since on several occasions, Luft had stated that vineyards have everything to lose from adjudication and yet apparently, here was a vineyard owner who thought otherwise. By this time, however, Luft had made up her mind to craft her compromise with PRAAGS and abandon PRO Water’s objection to a California Water District and abandon management based on one-person-one vote.
The question of who manages the basin and how those individuals are elected will shape the future of this region for decades to come. Water profiteers from the Central Valley who have perfected the dark art of converting public groundwater supplies into private profit have set up shop and are sinking deep wells into the basin to stake their claim.
The cynical deal cut with PRAAGS to form a California Water District with six of nine directors elected based on the size of their land holdings is an attempt to dupe the community with the appearance of a compromise. This apparent compromise also provides cover to those who need to strike a pose as supporting a “reasonable compromise” while actually caving in to interests that view water as a money-making commodity.
Large landowners don’t get to elect their own city council members or county supervisors. We don’t elect community service districts or school boards this way. Why would anyone promote this 19th century vote-by-acreage plan and deprive the residents of a community of the right to vote to form a district and directly elect their representatives? It makes no sense unless you are the few who control two-thirds of the acreage while the majority of residents live on small parcels with wells as their only source of water.
I have been deeply disappointed by this change in PRO Water’s position, and I am opposed to the policy which PRO Water and PRAAGS are now advocating. I believe that the only equitable solution to our water crisis requires that the interests of the large agricultural landowners not be allowed to dominate the interests of the majority of residents.
If you believe in one person-one vote, you are in good company. The list of organizations that oppose AB 2453 include Sierra Club California, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Community Water Centers, Center for Biological Diversity, Planning and Conservation League, California Water Impact Network, California Coastal Protection Network and North County Watch.
The “compromise” enshrined in AB 2453 will come to a vote soon on the Assembly floor. If it survives, it will move to the Senate for consideration. If you want your voice to count, contact your state Senator Bill Monning and tell him you believe in one person-one vote. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Harvey is a rural resident who relies on the Paso Robles basin for water. She has lived in the North County for nearly 40 years. She is president and co-founder of North County Watch.