Subterfuge stalked Paso Robles water district plan

March 14, 2016
Katcho Achadjian

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian

OPINION by DANIEL BLACKBURN

Any post-mortem of the failed effort to form a water district in the North County needs to start with Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and his resounding snub to thousands of the regions’ residents.

Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) sponsored legislation enabling the million-dollar election, despite clear indications that the district proposal was immensely unpopular with a large swath of voters who had already made their feelings known. That made absolutely no difference to Achadjian, who fell all over himself to carry a bill — any bill — that his wealthy supplicants wanted.

In doing so, Achadjian ignored the obvious majority, and opted instead to listen to a handful of politically powerful locals — most of whom have already sunk the deepest straws into the beleaguered Paso Robles aquifer.

Nevertheless, years of discussions, arguments, planning, and certainly scheming came to a crashing conclusion with the rejection of the tax-supported water management agency. The dramatic and sudden climax must have been jolting for Achadjian and the plan’s other overconfident backers, kind of like driving over a cliff after a thousand-mile road trip.

Three of four voters nixed the unnecessarily complex plan to manage the Paso Robles aquifer. Oddly, that result deeply befuddled the cadre of pro-district folks, apparently, who spent considerable time, energy, financial resources, printers’ ink, and (for Achadjian) heavy political capital, to plot for the proposed government entity. They really shouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome.

Let’s autopsy the plan’s stupendous collapse.

Growing from dual directions of drought, and dramatic over-pumping to slake the thirst of an ever-expanding sprawl of vineyards, the notion of a water district to “maintain local control” over the resource may have made some sense at the outset.

“Local control” meant different things to different people. And when individuals comprising the plan’s inner circle and its architects were finally identified, the suggestion was strong that beneficiaries of an eventual water district were hardly local.

The initial support group, calling itself Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), got its formative advice from Randy Record, the chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the world’s largest water wholesalers. He is arguably one of the state’s most influential water officials. Record’s family owns a small vineyard near Paso Robles.

For legal advice, the PRAAGS folks turned to Ernest A. Conant, of the Bakersfield law firm of Young Woolridge. Conant specializes in water law, and he was a key player in the formation and implementation of the Kern Water Bank Authority. In his position, Conant guided the takeover of the Central Valley’s water supply by one of his more affluential clients, Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

Stewart Resnick

Stewart Resnick

Resnick purchased the 750-acre Hardham Ranch on the outskirts of Paso Robles in late 2013, just before the county-initiated water moratorium took effect. The ranch, which historically had been used for dry farming and ranching, suddenly sprouted grape vines fed by a massive irrigation system incorporating large reservoirs and deep wells.

When PRAAGS initially formed, it found an adversary in another local group calling itself PRO Water Equity, headed by Sue Luft. Luft’s professional history includes work for Resnick while she lived in Bakersfield.

When Luft began to shift the objectives of her group toward an alignment with the PRAAGS people, most of her members defected, leaving her with a handful of allies who pretended throughout the campaign to voice “local” concerns.

Complicating the picture was the unabashed support of the district plan from two coastal supervisors, Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson, both of whom audaciously criticized opponents of the plan, including fellow supervisor Debbie Arnold. Arnold’s constituents would have been the most affected by the water district formation.

Ernest Conant

Ernest Conant

When these peculiarities were pointed out to district proponents, they accused questioners of “conspiracy thinking.” That’s a standard allegation made by people who find their hidden agendas have been made public. And that’s about when the supporters started speaking in tongues about their intentions.

Were they planning to bank new water in the basin? Were they planning to export any of that water out of the basin? Were they really acting in the public’s interest? Rather than discussing their motive candidly, proponents chose instead to belittle and demean their detractors.

It was clear from the outset of the district’s planning process that opposition ran deep.

When Achadjian was crafting his enabling legislation, he was inundated with concerns from people leery of a district formed by some of the biggest water consumers in the basin. There were more than 100 letters in opposition to any Achadjian bill; there were only 10 in support.

Interestingly, that ratio almost exactly reflects the final tally of the crushing electoral defeat.

The PRAAGS group spent more than $300,000 to promote their district concept, while grass-roots efforts cost a mere $20,000.

So the question lingers: Why in the world would Katcho Achadjian so enthusiastically sign onto this train wreck in the first place, catering to a rich minority while ignoring a huge constituency so obviously troubled by the plan?

It is a legitimate issue he should answer as he gazes covetously toward a seat in Congress.

Daniel Blackburn can be reached at blackburn.danielj@gmail.com


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Mitch C

Achadjian has shown his true self and the time is long past for him to be turned out of government.


phoenix.rising

You are absolutely correct. Dan Carpenter needs to be elected in 3rd District.


With John Peschong in the 1st and Debbie Arnold reelected in the 5th we need to have a super majority to cleans this county of people like Katcho, Frank Mecham, Bruce Gibson, Steve Martin, John Hamon and the BULLY Adam Hill in the 3rd District. These men are Republicans and Democrats that are selling the citizens out!


vmmill42

Katcho Achadjian is running for the U.S. Congress seat which will be vacated by the retirement of Lois Capps.

He was formerly a Board of Supervisor member and a huge friend of large developers and never voted against them. He is presently a member of the CA State Assembly.


CARNAC

Don’t forget the City of Paso Robles where the explosive growth was supported by massive pumping where the large cone of depression in the aquifer is now located. Where was the leadership in the city to link growth and development to a sustainable water supply such as Nacimiento? Of course that would have required treatment facilities, etc. which would have been costly. Much of that cost should have been funded by the developers doing the building.


Something that is not clear is how did the massive plantings and deep well drilling occur after the passage of the urgency ordinance? The loophole allowing the ordinance to be circumvented was big enough to fly a 747 through!


Katcho, of course, followed his own interests rather than that of his constituents. He is a disgrace to his oath of office and needs to return to pumping gas. But what about Frank, who turned him? His no vote could have obviated the whole process. Instead he joined the two lefties, who love government control, in supporting the flawed and self serving AB 2453.


The County staff demonstrated that Civil Servants in positions of management only want to grow their empires and grow government revenues. The LAFCO process was a joke and completely ignored the massive number of written objections to district formation. Then county staff directly campaigned for yes votes which is improper and should be outlawed.


The upcoming election is critical regarding water issues. Debbie should be re-elected, first district voters need to reject Martin and Hamon, and Dan needs to win over Adam Hill. Then we can return to rational decisions regarding the critical county issues,


just the facts

Thank you Supervisor Debbie Arnold! Appreciate you ‘holding your own’ and opposing the creation of another bureaucracy…the water district. Knew you took a lot of heat from Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson who unabashedly supported the district plan. Proud of you! You do know your constituents. Again thank you.


I might add that the 3rd district voters have a chance to get rid of Adam Hill come this June election. Vote Dan Carpenter! Character matters!


jonhartz

So now we can legislate based on “clear indications” and a count of letters to the editor instead of the only poll that counts, an election? I prefer the clarity of a definitive election to show all proponents and opponents the reality of a situation. Elections costs are the price of living in our Republic.


Jorge Estrada

Who of thought that we can afford to waste tax money. Good luck for any tax increases.


Jorge Estrada

Who would of thought


kayaknut

A politician such as Achadjian, another career politician that just can’t grasp that the government is spending too much and instead of cutting where it really need to be cut, continues to dream up ways to tax us more. All I need to know about him not to vote for him.


avidreader

Katcho should do everyone a favor and resign, and cease his campaign for Congress. It will never happen, he will never win another election. His base doesn’t even support him anymore. If anyone in this County supports him they don’t understand the huge implications of what he did in bringing this legislation forward. Move on Katcho, you have not represented us!


SloTownMan

Sorry to say Katcho has turned into a RINO.


easymoney

Just, follow the money…


JB Bronson

Katcho is a political ladder climber who votes according to those with power or money to push or pull him to the next rung.


In the mean time, lay low and don’t rock the boat is the predominant strategy.


pandayho

Spotted Matt Kokkonen.


bigdrive

He’s always been that way. Insincere glad hander