Water district booster buying land for Harvard U.
April 10, 2014
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.”