Twisted road to the Paso Robles water basin vote
March 11, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
Following their failed bid to form a Paso Robles water district, San Luis Obispo County supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson are wanting the state to take over management of the basin claiming county funds should not be used. A change in strategy as Hill and Gibson had previously battled to have the cost of funding the election transferred from its proponents to county taxpayers.
During the past decade, amid talks of the proposed water district, a group of large land owners and investment groups from throughout the United States began purchasing large swatches of the North County. Several decades earlier, a Kern County water district enabled some of the same players to make millions because of water banking and the sale of paper water.
In order to form another layer of taxpayer funded local government, proponents are generally required to bring their proposal and the signatures of 50 percent of the voters to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). The agency then requires a bond to be purchased to pay for the election should the measure fail.
However, in 2014, San Luis Obispo County supervisors Hill, Gibson and Frank Mecham asked Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian to draft a bill that would change the requirements for the proposed water district formation. In 2014, Assembly Bill 2453 passed permitting the proponents of the Paso Robles water district to circumvent the LAFCO process, wave the 50 percent signature requirement and allow the SLO County Board of Supervisors to have the taxpayers cover the almost $1 million cost of an election.
By doing so, the costs the proponents of the Paso Robles water district would have needed for the vote could be used for advertising. Proponents of the district then outspent opponents by more than $20 to $1.
The Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions and Yes on A-16 raised $436,708 to promote the district. An opposing group, The Paso Robles Water Integrity Network, raised $20,084, according to the latest filing with the county.
Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton, who were both opponents of the Paso Robles water district, believe the SLO County Public Works Department is fully capable of doing the work necessary to bring the basin into compliance with new laws at a fraction of the money the new district would have cost.