Stop the Laetitia development

April 22, 2015
Tim Toomey

Tim Toomey


The Laetitia proposed ag cluster project, which has been pending since 2004, intends to build 102 estate homes on minimum one acre sites located between Nipomo and Arroyo Grande. It is scheduled for Planning Commission review on June 25.

From the get-go this project has been fraught with issues. Let me outline two of the most egregious, water and traffic.
The applicant, John Janneck of Woodlands fame, alleges there is adequate water and that no nearby wells would be adversely affected. Many long-time local residents beg to differ.

At least nine individuals living near Laetitia have written letters to the county saying their wells are dry. Some have been hauling water for years. The avocado orchard across the freeway from Laetitia has “stumped” their trees probably due to lack of water. Los Berros Creek, which used to flow all year on the east side of 101, no longer flows once it reaches Laetitia.

To be clear, there just isn’t enough water for this project.

Laetitia is not located over a water basin. The sole source of their water is from wells drilled in fractured rock formations. As I and many other local residents can personally attest, drilling in fractured rock is a gamble. If you are fortunate enough to hit water there is no guarantee the well will continue to produce.

The only consistency in the many water studies conducted by the applicant has been the over estimation of water supply while repeatedly revising estimates of project water demand downward. Water needed for the project has gone from a high of 142.9 acre feet per year (AFY) to the current 46.3 AFY.

Despite this over 60 percent decrease in water demand the number of proposed residences remains constant at 102. Other South County ag cluster developments have water duty factors of as much as 1.5 AFY per residence.

Laetitia proposes to get by on .44 AFY. If we assume four residents per home this equates to less than 100 gallons per capita per day (gpcpd). According to a Tribune article on April 11 based on the most recent State Water Resources Control Board figures, the gpcpd numbers for Nipomo and Arroyo Grande are 156 and 125.7 respectively.

How can a rural development on minimum one acre lots get by on less water than urbanized areas which include high density developments with little or no landscaping? Although Laetitia is not within the Santa Maria groundwater basin boundaries, it is an important source of recharge for the five cities area.

I am not against ag clusters per se. South County has some good ag clusters like Varian Ranch and Talley (Las Ventanas) which are built on less productive land, have plentiful water, good access, and have helped the owners remain in production agriculture. The owner of Laetitia, who once was listed on the Fortune 400 list of richest Americans, does not live on site nor do any members of his family. Rather, he resides in a mansion in Bel Aire.

I also question the proposed conversion of some existing producing vineyard to residential parcels. What is being proposed is to replace these building sites located on relatively good and level soil with new non-producing plantings on less desirable soils on hillsides. While reducing home construction costs, this doesn’t comport with the stated intent of protecting agriculture by tightly clustering homes in areas not affecting production agriculture.

In addition to the enormous water issues, there are also significant circulation problems. Proposed access to the project will not be through their existing entrance. Instead they propose using a long and circuitous route directing an estimated 1,031 additional cars per day through presently quiet rural neighborhoods via Thompson/Los Berros Rd., North Thompson, Sheehy Rd., Rim Rock Rd., North Dana Foothill and Upper Los Berros Rd. These are mostly narrow country roads not designed for this volume of traffic. More information from those opposed to this development may be found at

Laetitia is attempting to justify this development to the county based on its’ alleged economic benefit of $102 million. Their “voodoo” economic assumptions include homes with selling prices of $3 million to $5 million with a weighted average selling price of $4.3 million. In addition, they speculate the project will create 521 full-time equivalent jobs. Their propaganda web site,, talks about creating a wine lovers enclave. They are also proposing a future development project of a 75 room Dude Ranch/Resort/Spa that will consume an additional 13 AFY.

The utmost priority of our county leaders must be the wellbeing of existing residents during this fourth year of a severe drought. Applying lipstick to this pig of a project is an effort by the developer to validate the old western axiom that water runs uphill to money.

Tim Toomey is the fifth generation of his family to reside on land in Nipomo not far from this proposed project. Presently retired, he was the vice president of human resources for Mid State Bank.

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Here is a link to what Laetitia is proposing for those that are interested:

I have no vested interest in this project or any other in SLO county. Just like to cause trouble. Please don’t encourage me by thumbing me up or down.

Hey JMO, why don’t you ask 3-Putt about the veracity of Laetitia’s assertion that there is plenty of water and that there will be no impact on neighboring wells. Talk about a bold face lie. Do you work for RRM?


When oh wnen will the land stay as zoned?

And this is going to help our working young families stay in SLO County? NOT!

Maybe you all don’t realize this, but every town & city HAS to build new homes. Our population demands it. And I am sure each & every person complaining about Nipomo never meeting a subdivision it didn’t like have children. So….pat yourself on the back. This is your fault. Not the politicians. Because this state encourages new residents of EVERY kind, not just newborns, but immigrants….build….build…build. The law says so.

The indigenous birth rate for many American groups is quite low, in some cases below replacement rate. The flood of illegal immigrants and birth rights their children acquire contributes to population spread. Not saying I know how to address it, or if we should, just noting some facts, Rocky.

Might as well connect to Nipomo Community Services District. Heck, when we moved here we had only one golf course, now we have three and NCSD took over Black Lake’s water system in addition to Summit Station road. They have never met a developer they didn’t like and STILL are making connections on the backs of current users. We will be getting a giant bill in July to pay for water purchased from Santa Maria and a 30% increase to “motivate” us to conserve. And still more connections are made to a supposedly dwindling aquifer (yet previous grassland is currently being converted into hoop houses and strawberries and more irrigation needs). None of this makes any sense except to follow the money. Good luck in keeping another huge development out when it means more tax revenue income. The NCSD is even pretty close by so connections/pipeline should not be a problem.

Tim wrote an opinion piece which is, wait for it, his opinion. When I read someone’s opinion piece, I try to relate the “facts” presented to the opinion.

First, it is clear that Tim, who lives near this site, doesn’t want it to go in for any reason. But here is my questions on his logic:

1. He states that wells nearby are going dry and insinuates that this project will make that worse, but then states that the project is not within a groundwater basin but over fractured rock. That seems to negate his argument that any new wells would affect other wells as well as saying that this land is important for groundwater recharge.

2. He says that the project estimates people will use less than 100 gal/day per person. That’s 3,000 gal/month per person, or 12,000 gal/month for a family of 4 (12 water units on a typical municipal water bill – compare yours). The project has to prove that this is the case using accepted analysis. I explained how new water saving measures could actually meet or beat that goal (see below). The State of California has spent a lot of money testing and eventually requiring water saving measures such as low flow showers, faucets, low use washers and toilets, etc. There is a reason for that.

3. He states that he doesn’t oppose ag clusters per se. He sites Varian Ranch as one of his approved ag clusters. I know a little about Varian Ranch as we have some friends that live there. It’s a beautiful area but it is essentially the same type of land where Laetitia is as far as I can tell. It has water issues in this drought just like any other area in this county (and they are effectively dealing with it). He states that Varian Ranch doesn’t have any access problems, yet is dependent on a two lane country road.

The developer needs to prove that his project works, the County needs to verify what the developer says, and the Board of Supervisors will then need to vote on the project. If this doesn’t result in the outcome that Tim wants, then Tim can organize the public to vote against this project (think Dalidio). If it gets to that point, I will need to wade through the statements from both sides in order to make up my mind.

Unfortunately, as much as I agree with the writer and those who commented, Laetitia will get their way. Builders almost always get their way. You’re talking about very powerful people versus the community at large. The county as a whole is filled to the brim with people. So is the state. In many cases, the country. But builders will build and profit enormously at the expense of everyone else.

I see it the opposite way. The property owners rarely get their way. Because there is only one of them, and there are 10,000 of you in the community. So, your collective opinion matters much more than what you have paid for it.

I certainly hope you are right.

However, you could see this issue as the exact same thing those against Laetitia did to those before them, right? Before the houses and orchards and farms and sprawling estates was pristine greenbelt. They cry, but they took that away from someone else.

Absolutely. A fundamental precept of out NIMBYism is the urge to close the door behind us.

We want to ensure AG/Nipomo/SLO/etc. was just the way it was when we got here, failing to recognize or accept that our mere presence changed it from what it was.

But that’s a different subject. The point I was trying to make above is that there is one guy who has all the money wrapped up in trying to use his land in the way he wants (in accordance with the Land Use Element). And there are 10,000 voices who get to be heard, who have absolutely no financial risk at stake.

No financial risk? What about a dry well/no water?

Do you take any responsibility for YOUR well drying up someone else’s water?

I use VERY little–and conserve like crazy. UNLIKE Laetitia’s owner, Selim Zilkha. Visit the website to see some valuable info.

Good on ya for conserving, but you didn’t answer the question.

Sure I did, and sure I do. Apples and oranges (or grapes–thirsty, water gobbling grapes)

“in accordance with the Land Use Element” Huh? Not at all. The zoning doesn’t allow this. He’s trying to upzone ag land. This is what typical shyster developers do, rather than do what’s permitted at present, which is what honorable developers do..

Racket, you hit the nail on the head. My presence, too, probably makes those who were here before me: irate. But the problem in our society lies with money being the bottom line, not welfare of ours. It’s a ‘screw you’ attitude.

Even if there were sufficient water carving a large parcel into useless ranchettes is absolutely the worst kind of development. The land is fractured into useless parcels for the benefit of the wealthy. The land doesn’t support wild life or agriculture. It generates pollution with all the trips into “town” to satisfy the owners indulgent life style.

Places like Shandon and San Miguel were sold as affordable housing. You have to have two vehicles to drive into town where their jobs.

This project is wrong on so many levels. Water is first and foremost, but there are MANY other issues with this.

I live next to Laetitia, and my well went dry. (It is not counted in the total in the above article) Not only that, but 4 of my 5 neighbors that are similarly situated have also had their wells go dry (They are not counted either). One parcel has given up and abandoned the property. The others spent a lot of money and got very little in water return. One parcel got almost nothing. I was lucky, but had to spend almost $50,000.00 to get water. Now, other neighbors are having trouble with their wells.

Traffic will be a nightmare if this project is approved. People walk and bike the narrow, meandering roads, and I will guarantee you someone (many) will die if the traffic is increased as contemplated.

Throw in an industrial Sewage Treatment Plant with an environmental nightmare when (not if) it malfunctions, and you are then STARTING to see the fallout from this proposed nightmare.

I can’t even imagine how much water will be used in rooms by vacationers to the proposed Dude Ranch with no connection nor concern about local water problems.

Ok. I’m a numbers person. 100 GPM/Person/Day might be entirely possible. First, the numbers for Nipomo include landscape irrigation. So let’s analyze how much water would be needed just inside the house per person:

Shower 5 minutes, twice a day -1.5gpm X 5 X 2 = 15 gals

Toilet use 4 times a day – 1.6gal/flush x 4 = 6.4 gals

Sink use – 0.5gpm X 10 minutes = 5 gals

Wash dishes once a day = 10 gals

Wash cloths one cycle every 4 days average per person – 40 gals/4 = 10 gals

Misc. kitchen sink use – 0.5gpm x 10 minutes = 5 gals

That comes to a little over 50 gallons/day per person. If we up the shower time to 10 minutes, twice a day, it comes to a little over 65 gallons/day per person.

So, it looks like the .44 AFY is entirely doable and still have a fairly normal lifestyle. You would have to find water somewhere else for irrigating your landscape, though (blue pipe you think?).

I have no idea whether the project has enough water, but I would hope we design new developments to use less water like this development is proposing.

Numbers person, if you could force my family to live on the projected “need” water budget examples you list, you will be dealing with one angry son of a b@$#. Your allotments are pathetic and totalitarian, not to mention unworkable.

I will not live anywhere that officials, or circumstances, try to water starve and desiccate my family. Now, wave the flag and open the tap!

I too think your numbers (at least some of them) are way off. In particular, the clothes washing ones are grossly underestimated. With active kids and or a blue collar job, a load is needed every other day per PERSON. I think the shower numbers are way low too given societal standards for personal cleanliness. As for recycling water for landscaping, that is not a viable option for many people (for various reasons).

I took my numbers (flow rates, gallons per wash) off the web. Some of the new washers only use 20-25 gal/load but I went with the top loader at the highest number of 40 gals/wash. I don’t know about you, but we have never seen one person require a full washer of cloths to be washed every other day. But if you want to use that number, that would add 10 gallons to the total. Now the shower number. I take long showers myself. My wife takes a shower in less than a minute. But my showers don’t go longer than 10 minutes. How long do you take a shower for? 20 minutes? Ok that adds another 30 gallons. That would total 105 gallons. Pretty darn close to the 100 gallons as stated in the article.

The fact that you think the people that will buying these 3-5 MILLION dollar homes will move in and immediately begin these water conservation measures shows you’re a bit out of touch with reality.

Check out the puff piece on of their website.

How many words can you count to remove?

Yup. Almost all.

The elephant in the room is the 100 gpd figure includes outside irrigation. The low number used by the developer is his way of backing into the available water.

“I took my numbers (flow rates, gallons per wash) off the web.” Well, then, they must be perfectly 100% accurate! End of discussion.


On Sunday, our family of two did five loads of laundry. I did another last night. We each shower once a day for 10+ minutes. When we are home all day, I’m sure I go to the potty at least 6 or 7 times a day. I do not keep tabs on my spouse. Washing lettuce, cleaning paintbrushes, doing the pots and pans use WAY MORE water than you propose.

Go to a 3 million dollar home and watch their water use for a month. And please have it be a month they are not at their villa in Tuscany!

But, dude, that’s how the developer gets such low numbers. They will be at their villa in Tuscany much of the time. The rich are different from us. They’re entitled to use up as many resources as they want — water, land, jet fuel, global pollution, consumer junk, you name it. And then “invest” what’s left over in more damage. Hey, they’re special!

That’s really the heart of the problem, isn’t it? Class envy.

First you say it’s all about their water use. Then you say they’re not even here using the water. And it’s still all their fault.

You came up from Orange County with slightly more money than the locals you displaced, and now you’re feeling the heat because people from Bay Area are coming in with slightly more money? Something like that?

This stretch of highway sould be upgraded to freeway standards, thus affording a surface road network FIRST. Cross traffic is already dangerous in this weak link within the 101 freeway chain.

Tim’s comments are true , I have seen documents and its true there is not enough water

Lynn Compton this is a test for you, do your research . this project hurts local farmers and residents alike.