The dust just refuses to settle in North County water politics.
Less than a week after 68 landowners around Shandon held an election to form the Shandon-San Juan Water District, the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) announced on April 17 that it was opening an investigation into whether the proponents of that water district violated campaign laws by not reporting financial receipts and expenditures leading up to the election.
The investigation stems from a complaint filed by Kevin P. Rice, a San Luis Obispo resident. In the complaint, Rice claims that proponents of the Shandon-San Juan Water District and the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS)—a now-defunct committee that backed a previous water district effort and had members who own land in the new district—didn’t follow proper campaign finance procedures.
Rice’s main accusation is that the water district leaders should have formed a political action committee and released financial disclosure forms under the Political Reform Act.
PRAAGS financial disclosures from 2016 indicate that it gave $9,294 to Bakersfield-based law firm Young Wooldridge LLP between July and November “for the benefit of Shandon-San Juan Water District.”
Rice asserts that the district petitioners likely collected and spent more than the $9,294 for things like “advertisements, mailings, and literature.”
“It’s all dark money,” Rice said to New Times.
The landowners behind the Shandon-San Juan Water District, however, said that all their expenditures were made simply to comply with the Local Agency Formation Commission’s (LAFCO) requirements in applying to start a district, and therefore the data was not reportable.
“The complaint filed by Mr. Rice is completely without merit,” a statement from the Shandon-San Juan Water District read. “By law, no committee formation or reporting was required.”
The parties appearing in the complaint are Shandon farmers and water district board members Steve Sinton, Will Cunha, and Marshall Miller, as well as PRAAGS and Young Wooldridge.
The Shandon-San Juan Water District covers 136,000 acres and is one of two new water districts forming over the sprawling Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. An application to form an Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District was approved by LAFCO on April 6. An election for that water district is likely to be held in the fall.
In the same PRAAGS 2016 disclosure form, the committee gave $18,589 to the Estrella-El Pomar-Creston Water District Formation Group. That group started an official political action committee on April 10 but has yet to disclose any financial data.