Water district opposition growing, may sink plan

September 17, 2015
David Church

David Church

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

A county commission pushed forward a proposal to form a Paso Robles water regulatory district Thursday while its top executive deflected assertions that more than a thousand letters of opposition have been kept from public view. The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) gave a nod to the Paso Robles Water Basin district’s concept and voted to put the plan before North County voters by an 6-1 vote.

Commissioner Roberta Fonzi cast the lone dissenting vote. An election may be set March 8, 2016, to determine if two-thirds of property owners in the potential district boundaries will approve a tax assessment to fund the district.

Each of the owners of property over the basin will have one vote, as specified in enabling legislation.

Opinion on the water district’s formation is widely divided, evidenced by the flood of speakers who appeared at the LAFCo meeting. About a hundred people attended the meeting.

The number of overlying property owners publicly opposing the district’s formation is undeniably growing, something LAFCo officials may have wanted to de-emphasize prior to the meeting: a thousand-plus letters were filed separately from the final staff report to commissioners.

Rancher Larry McGourty questioned the way LAFCo Executive Director David Church handled the letters:

“These letters are properly comment letters and should not have been filed separately. I fully expect that you will provide the commissioners with at a minimum a count and list of names so they have an accurate understanding that it is unlikely that this district will pass a formation vote,” McGourty wrote in an email to Church this week.

Church noted that the letters were available on the commission’s website, but McGourty replied that it was “not sufficient.”

“By now the count of these letters is in the thousands,” he wrote, “and it should be evident to (LAFCo) that opposition is already nearing a critical mass for a ‘no’ vote.”

North County landowner Julie McClosky told Church in another email, “This seems like an intentional act by LAFCo to dismiss the overwhelming opposition to the AB 2453 water district. It has a very strong appearance of impropriety. The people need to be made aware of these personal opposition letters, not just the commissioners.”

In his report to the commission, Church downplayed the protests, responded selectively to certain assertions, and defended the proposed taxing mechanism as not being “illegal.” He said the district is needed “to comply” with the state’s recently-mandated Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Opponents of the proposed district argue that it is not necessary in order to comply to state mandates.

County supervisors are split on the matter of the district’s formation, but that hasn’t prevented its staff from launching a veritable public relations program in support of the plan.

County Public Works Administrator John Diodati, who also serves as project manager for the Paso Robles basin water district formation project, outlined to commissioners a comprehensive, tax-supported “outreach program” that is being conducted to “educate” North County residents about the district plan.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a representative of the California Department of Water Resources stepped to the microphone to inform the crowd that the Paso Robles basin — as of this week — is in “critical overdraft.” That particular determination has remained an essential ingredient in the formula for a successful effort to create a district. A report explaining methodology used in developing the timely determination will be made public in the near future.

Updated at 8:35 p.m. to reflect the correct number of commissioners.


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Jorge Estrada

If you are not already in a Special Water District (Garden Farms) or a Mutual Water Company (Atascadero), the County Gov would like you to be in their proposed County Water Company. Sure they call it a District but lets get real, it will be a Company ran by the County Gov using your property to for their funding stream. So for now a majority of the LAFCO Board have voted to let the affected property owners to have a vote for themselves. This costly process will include a simple majority yes vote to create this new Gov Company and a two thirds yes majority to fund it. Do not forget the posibility of in house funding to get it going, regardless of a vote and who knows what law is out there for them to force the assessement. Once this Company gets going, a protest vote will be required for any rate increases, that means it will take a formal No vote of 50% plus 1 to shoot down THAT proposed increase. This voting window can happen over the holidays or during some civil distraction that catches the property owners off guard. Watch Santa Margarita today, a County ran service area. The rate increase was shot down but the debt is growing so the funding plus interest will eventually have to catch up or what? I don’t know because the examples are that eventually a rate increase is slipped through. With this in mind, why would anyone want to start another County Gov to manage your water and essentially sell your water back to you. If you don’t want to pay, to bad, it will be on your property taxes. The movie, The Survivors, is very extreme, crass example of how taking control of the water will take your land but it is worth watching. We are much more civil about reaching the target but another example is how thing are done in Mexico (mordita) and in the this country we call it (mitigation).


Citizen

Bob Brown of PRAAGS misrepresented, once again, to his neighbors and friends the role of the water/wine industry moguls in the proposed water district. No, Stewart Resnick as an absentee owner cannot sit on the board, but his representative can.


How does this work? Justin Baldwin who sold his winery to Resnick could run for the board as the manager/CEO or whatever of Justin Winery. However, he would only be the representative of the owner, Stewart Resnick. Would all this information be on the ballot. Would Justin Baldwin be identified as a representative of Rolle International. Or would he be identified only as Justin Baldwin, Justin Winery. Good question, huh.


How is it “local control” if people from out of the area are allowed representation on the board through their representative? 40% of the land in the basin is owned by absentee owners.


If you think the district would be better run by the water/wine industry moguls, then vote for the water district and thank Bob Brown for deliberately misleading the people of North County who thought he had their best interests in mind. Then thank Frank Mecham when water from the basin is sold and exported to Southern California. These two people know exactly what they are doing; they haven’t been deceived by anyone.


jacksprat

Sure, we’d vote for Justin Baldwin…not! COLAB, my bird dogs on KPRL, PR-WIN and POWR would expose this charlatan in a New York minute. Danny Blackburn would too!


CrestonRules

So now the “Trump Card” in on the table, CRITICAL OVERDRAFT! Been waiting for this ultimate scare tactic. Find it convenient such a designation comes forth now after overwhelming opposition to AB2453 is apparent. To my knowledge a safe yield study has never been done for the Paso Robles Basin so how can overdraft be claimed? This reeks of political influence and scared people fearing loosing out on investment to sell water. Doubt that? Know for sure at least one 16″ well drilled within the last year here in Creston on a 70 acre parcel with vines. Who would invest that kind of money (Likely cost $1,000,000) for such a big well when a 8″-10″ would provide more than enough water for that parcel’s ag needs. LAFCO is going to waste our money pushing this to a vote.


jacksprat

DWR declared the basin in critical overdraft. No one from here can tell state what to do. Good luck over the next 10 years to try and prove them wrong…which you must do to establish your Quiet Title rights. If this “reeks with political influence,” where’s your proof? Unless you back it up with facts it is just more rumor and innuendo. Give me the facts and I will expose them with you. I’m waiting.


CrestonRules

Humm, for starters how about the amendments to AB2453 that allowed the County Board of Supervisors to petition LAFCO for the formation of water district (an assessment district) and have the tax payers pay for the whole process just prior Gov. Brown signature. Of course this was done out of public scrutiny and is unprecedented. That sure was some successful lobbying! Reeks of political influence to me…


“No one from here can tell state what to do.” If you want to stick you head in the sand and afraid to take on the fight fine, there are more courageous individuals willing to fight for what is right.


lostinspace

That’s strange, the DWR people at the Clovis meeting said that the Paso Basin was added to the critical list at the request of the San Luis Obispo County Staff. You can request their communications as well as anyone else if you would like verification.


Mike Byrd

Church “…defended the proposed taxing mechanism as not being ‘illegal.’” Now that’s a rousing endorsement to instill public confidence. Sort of like saying the IRS has never been convicted of racketeering.


jacksprat

That is a quote from Blackburn, not David Church. Get your facts right. You can watch the video and hear exactly with he said. Then you can report the facts. I’m waiting.


mb business owner

I would be extremely cautious of anything salesman diodati has to say. my guess is that his “education” has a faction of browbeating and bullying. keep in mind he worked in tandem with irons, christine Johnson and noah smuckler to sell morro bay residents on a 100+ million sewer plant that is affectionately called a water reclamation plant, what a joke.


jacksprat

Have you attended any of the in-home meetings where John Diodati has presented? Try and get him to endorse the district. Good luck.


SLOBIRD

You need to change your hearing aid battery!


pasoparent5

I’m not sure how an 8-1 vote works since there are seven regular LAFCO Commissioners:


Tom Murray, Chair

Frank Mecham, Vice-Chair

Muril Clift

Roberta Fonzi

Bruce Gibson

Marshall Ochylski

Edward Waage


Who else gets to vote? And btw–good job Roberta but Frank…Frank, Frank, Frank. *sigh* What happened to the Frank I voted for as Paso mayor??


lostinspace

Mr. Blackburn’s first paragraph said it was a 6 to 1 vote however I think “says” actually got it right as John Diodati and David Church managed to get their votes counted even though they were not on the role call list.


fullsail

At least get the facts right. The vote was 6-1 (there are 7 voting commissioners, not 9). There were not hundreds of people attending today, and a total of 34 spoke (14 pro, 19 con), which is not much of a “flood.” Nobody from the Department of Water Resources spoke today today to the critical basin designation – that was at the August LAFCO meeting. The meeting did not “stretch into the afternoon” as it ended right about noon.


CCN purports to be a journalistic enterprise, though it’s really just a blog. If you are going to pretend that you are responsible journalism, then work a little harder at an accurate representation of the facts. If you can’t get the little things right, how can anyone depend on you to get the big stuff right?


pasoparent5

Thanks for clarifying the vote tally. I was confused about that and can’t attend LAFCO meetings.


4paso

Thank you fullsail. Blackburn can’t seem to get the facts right. Isn’t that where journalism starts- with the facts? This writing is so biased the author should be ashamed.


AmericaBeautiful

LOL. Getting the facts right is just so old-fashioned.

Don’t you know it’s all about political/socialist “activism” now, and to hell with the facts?

Just look at the website for any college so-called journalism program.


CARNAC

First, John Diodati’s “outreach program” is not for education of the public, but rather a propaganda effort in support of the district.


Second, all you need to do is follow the money. Those interests who are setting up to make millions from the export of water out of the basin, including Windfall Farms owned by Limoneira Co. a public company and Harvard Investment, have clearly been working behind the scenes to line up the support of politicians and County staff to impose a “tax eating” district on the landowners overlying the basin. It will be interesting to see how some of the paybacks materialize on a forward basis.


Third, last time I checked local government in particular is intended to be the most responsive to the citizens. For the LAFCO process and its Executive Director to dismiss well over 1,000 letters of opposition and for the LAFCO Commissioners to largely ignore this voice of the citizens simply demonstrates how we are fast becoming subjects rather than citizens. The arrogance of some politicians and government officials is absolutely astounding.


Thank you Roberta for swimming against the tide and for your adherence to principle.


DonDiego

This is really becoming tedious!


First, the State of California has passed the Ground Water Sustainability Act. This means that a groundwater sustainability plan must be completed for the Paso Robles Basin by law. The County of San Luis Obispo does not want to do it. I don’t blame them. Who wants to put up with a bunch of frivolous lawsuits that the taxpayers have to pay for. The District option gives local control. The last option is the State of California.


Second, explain to me how you think water is going to be exported. The state pipe line runs one direction. You can’t reverse it. The pumps pump one direction. People are using that water. Do you think they are are just going to shut off the water and reverse the flow? If you and the rest of your mindset understood how this all works you wouldn’t be coming up with these fantastic conspiracy theories!


Third, when has government ever been responsive to the citizens?


Citizen

How naive can you be, Don Diego. The pipe line runs south to LA and environs. So you think LA and San Diego have plenty of water? That’s where the water could be exported using the state pipe line.


What about real estate developers in areas around Southern California that need to secure water on paper for new developments. That’s how water from the Kern County Water Bank is being sold and Kern County can’t touch that water.


Local control? No, the Water District is the only method that ensures that representatives of absentee owners will be represented in the governance. Why do you think the big industry guys are supporting the water district? At this point they own 40 % of the water basin.


DonDiego

Please check your facts on the State Water Project facilities that bring water from Northern California to the Paso Basin, San Luis County and Santa Barbara County. To help you realize that the “pipe” to our County doesn’t flow to southern California, I’ve attached a link to a helpful map


(http://www.slocountywater.org/site/Major%20Projects/State%20Water%20Project/pdf/swp_map_coastal.pdf).


As you can see, there are three large pumping plants – Devils Den, Bluestone and Polonio Pass that lift water from the Central Valley and import it into our County. The pipeline is called the Central Coast Aqueduct and it is under pressure all the way to Santa Barbara. And yes, it is designed to only go one way! Oh, and the water is fully treated to drinking water standards near Polonio Pass at significant cost. So, your concept that absentee owners in the Paso Basin will export local groundwater back over the hill to the California Aqueduct and on to LA using this infrastructure is absolutely ridiculous! Please take a little time to understand the facts before you call me naïve.


HWTED

Thank you DonDiego,


Now please address turn-back pools, water banking and storage, which county owns 90% of that pipeline which passes through the basin (which is why it goes in one direction), how much water they actually get from SWP, why they are particularly anxious to do a water banking operation in the Paso Robles Basin (hint – its in the Paso Robles Basin Water Banking Study report), who really owns the water in a recharge district, and how city recycled water and “in-lieu” water banking figures into all of this.


lostinspace

Yes, the state pipe runs one direction but has no water in it now. Santa Barbara is getting 0% of their allocation. The state would be very happy to have water pumped into that pipe in the Shandon/Creston area to send to Santa Barbara leaving them more of the water in the central valley to send on to LA and San Diego. Even with the so called “No Export” ordinance, water banking has never been taken off the table – any water put into our basin (even paper water) can be extracted (real wet water) and sent elsewhere at any time. I call that a water export! These people will say and do anything to get what they want – our water, and then to make it even worse, they want us to pay for the infrastructure so they can take it!


HWTED

Thank you for clarifying that the pipeline water and any local banked or recharge water must by design flow OUT of the Basin and we can’t reverse it or stop it! We all feel much safer now…


The government is responsive when the people petition the court to redress a wrong committed against them.


We are in court now.


jacksprat

I’m ready. Let’s start following the money. Resnick bought Justin Winery and 700 acres. Now what? Limoneria owns the stud farm and is converting alfalfa to grapes and has dug deep wells. Where do we go? How bad are they? Harvard investments bought existing vineyards in Shandon and has planted vineyards over the last several years. What’s next? The state pipeline runs across some of their land just like hundreds of other parcels. Do we attack all of them or just a few? Just about every other insurance company and bank owns land or is a partner in some land venture here. I’ve mentioned the Chinese before. What about them? Do we start investigating them too? We’re watching. We’re waiting. What’s next?


CARNAC

The Paso Robles Basin is one of the largest aquifers in the western U.S. and political and financial interests understand that taping the aquifer can help in providing water to parts of Southern California’s population. That is also part of why the interest in the formation of a water district. It is also why Kacho carried AB 2453 – which started out as a 7 page bill but soon became a 13 page law containing many unacceptable provisions for basin landowners. A water district application could have been developed by local landowners and submitted to LAFCO with sufficient support. Question, why was AB 2453 necessary if there was local support? Answer, for the inclusion of tailored provisions.


There is a reason that Resnick is involved and now owns 700 + acres bounded by El Pomar, S. El Pomar, & Creston Rd. The land now planted to grapes has many large cased deep wells. Smart money tries to be ahead of the curve and that is why Lemoneira, Harvard, and others in the last several years have purchased large parcels in Shandon and Creston some of the best water areas in the N. SLO County.


Windfall Farms (owned by Lemoneira) recently took some alfalfa out of production and planted a large portion of the property to grapes. The property already had several wells adequate to farm alfalfa and grapes are a much less water intensive crop which the existing wells could handle. However, Lemoneira just completed two 16″ cased 1,500 feet wells. Question, why go to the expense of drilling these new wells? Answer, to prepare for eventual export of water out of SLO County. The State pipeline that enters SLO County just east of Cholame heads south east of Shandon goes through east Creston then south near Santa Margarita on its way to Santa Barbara. Windfall Farms is just a short distance from the pipeline.


If you google Limoneira’s Investor Relations web page you will find this disclosure “committed to responsibly using and managing our approximately 7,300 acres of land, water resources and other assets to maximize long-term stockholder value.

It does not take a brain surgeon to understand that maximizing water resources is code for selling water from the new very large capacity wells at Windfall Farms.


Once water banking is set up in our basin “paper water” will be acquired and “wet water” will be extracted and exported. Infrastructure and pipelines are just part of the cost of doing business and their development is not insurmountable if the district spearheads the process.


Then, once the Paso Robles Basin is in fact severely over pumped the rest of us with relatively shallow (450′) wells will be forced to finance much deeper wells and our property values will be adversely impacted. But of course the Resnick’s will be counting their money in Beverly Hills splendor.


What a great country.


CrestonRules

Spot on!

Lemoneira representatives came to Creston Advisory Board (CAB) meeting last year to pitch forming a small local water district here in Creston. They admitted purpose was to “sale water to neighbors”. I guess “neighbors” can be loosely interpreted to include folks in SoCal…


As for needed infrastructure, the Coastal Branch of SWP runs right through Shandon and Creston so tapping into it would pose minimal cost if water is available.


Think water banking is an absurd possibility for our aquifer? Here is some food for thought. Check out the 2008 Paso Robles Groundwater Sub-Basin Water Banking Feasibility Study funded by the County for the Shell Creek area out in Shandon. Matt 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.


IronHub

Please be careful stating these actual facts, CrestonRules, or Bob Brown of PRAAGS will call you a paranoid conspirator. It’s the default attack of the water district proponents.


Daniel Blackburn

I’ll be discussing this issue Friday on Dave Congalton’s Hometown Radio show on 920/KVEC, starting at 5:05 p.m.