Big money backing Paso’s water district plan
February 22, 2016
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A North County electorate widely divided by a proposed water district plan will decide the issue in just two weeks amid a flurry of last-minute campaigning by both sides.
The proposal has been a contentious one since it blossomed in 2014. Like many water resource-related matters, it is somewhat complicated and vulnerable to interpretation and oversimplification.
Proponents, like vineyard owner Jerry Reaugh, assert the election will determine “local control.” Reaugh is chairman of the well-funded, pro-district Paso Robles Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS).
Opponents, on the other hand, contend the plan is a “water grab.”
That’s the assertion of a grass-roots organization called NeedToKnow/SLO, which has published a brochure entitled “Paso Water District Means Loco Control.” The pamphlet is now being distributed through the mail and by volunteers door-to-door and in commercial areas.
The organization and the brochure are the work of G.Edward Griffin, himself a controversial figure best known for his views on the U.S. monetary system. In the early 1990s, he produced a film and a best-selling book on the Federal Reserve System, The Creature from Jekyll Island, now in its 32nd printing.
The pamphlet asserts that “the debate over a water district has nothing to do with water conservation. It’s about who will control water usage, who will set the rules, who will collect the taxes, who will be allowed to sell the water, and who will profit. There is a small group of people who hope to do all these things. They are the ‘water sharks.’ ”
Griffin, who owns what he describes as “a little retreat” in San Luis Obispo County, said his interest in the water district issue evolved from what he perceived as deceptive promotion by district backers.
“It is sad to see how voters are consistently tricked by advertising campaigns into supporting issues that lead to the exact opposite of what they expect,” Griffin told CalCoastNews. “I am deeply concerned that this is what is now happening with regard to the proposed Paso Robles water-basin district. Voters see the color brochures and newspaper ads with snappy slogans and never think about who paid for those, or why they did so.”
“Follow the money,” Griffin said, noting that state campaign disclosure records show that district backers — primarily large ranchers and vintners in the North County — have spent more than $300,000 to promote the district plan because they have a vested interest in its success. That is in addition to more than $500,000 in county funds already expended to move the plan through the bureaucracy.
“Those of us who seek to expose the agendas of the promoters have no financial gain at stake,” Griffin said. “Every dollar we spend is from our personal, net-income funds, and our goal is, not profit, but simply to defend water rights and to resist what we consider to be criminal deception.”
He is making the pamphlets available, he said, “to give citizens who share this perspective a way to counter the professional advertising campaign of the water sharks.”
Griffin believes a “no” vote on the district is a vote for true local control. And he’s hoping his brochure with that message will get into the hands of every person in the North County.
“Pamphlets were the main communication channel for the American Revolution,” Griffin said. “It is our hope that they will once again serve a similar purpose in spreading the truth around here.”