As the foundational pieces of a proposed water district for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin work their way through Sacramento, financial contributions from stakeholders over the basin are seeping into the campaign coffers of the bill’s key sponsor.
Katcho Achadjian, the state Assemblyman representing San Luis Obispo County, has sponsored AB 2453, which would create a legislative platform for a water district. The proposed district is the culmination of an agreement between two organizations: vintner group Paso Robles Agriculturist Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), and residential group PRO Water Equity.
Critics worried that the initial vote to approve a district would be easily swayed by large landowners, though later votes would be more balanced along the hybrid model proposed.
In February, the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to support the legislative platform.
California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) Political Action Committee gave Achadjian’s campaign a total of $2,500 since 2013. The group didn’t donate any money in 2012.
Ron Lopp, communications manager for CAWG, told New Times that the donation wasn’t necessarily tied to the water district and that the group didn’t officially endorse the district until May 5. Lopp said that no contribution was given in 2012 because the association’s PAC wasn’t as active then.
Another industry group, the Wine Institute of California PAC, has given Achadjian $1,000 so far this year, with $1,500 contributed in 2012.
The California Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm PAC gave $1,000 in 2012 and $2,500 so far this year. The California Cattlemen’s Association PAC, which gave $2,000 in 2012, gave $1,000 in 2013.
Both the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association routinely contribute to campaigns, and while having expressed concerns, neither have a strong stance yet on a district.
Jerry Lohr, owner of J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines—one of the biggest wineries in Paso Robles and a proponent of a water district—gave Achadjian $1,500 so far this year.
Achadjian also received $1,544 in contributions from Eberle Winery, and $1,000 from the SLO Wine Community PAC, which has endorsed the water district.
Farming giant Paramount Farming Co. LLC, the farming wing of Stuart Resnick’s Roll Global, contributed $2,000. Resnick controls the Kern Water Bank Authority in Kern County, and his attorney, Ernest Conant, represents PRAAGS and authored the current bill.
Achadjian recognizes these contributors and their interests, but said he doesn’t believe money will sway him.
“My legislation would simply ensure that the locally elected officials have all the tools necessary to implement a workable management plan for the basin,” Achadjian said in a written statement. “Every decision I make is based on what I believe is best for Central Coast residents. In addition, I also have among my campaign supporters those that oppose this measure.”
As of press time, the bill was in the Assembly’s Local Government Committee, which Achadjian chairs. If the committee approves, the bill will go to the Assembly floor, then to a state senate committee, and finally the Senate floor for approval.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay