Troubling Tsakopoulos-Conaway Deal with County

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watersupplyThe Davis-Woodland water deal in part rests on an agreement with the county to approve the agreement with Sacramento area developer Angelo Tsakopoulos in his effort to buy Conaway Ranch.

We called this on Thursday a deal with the devil, and at least one Yolo County official is concerned the agreement is being rammed through without much forethought to the consequences.

Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza told the Sacramento Bee on Thursday that he has significant concerns with insufficient time to address them prior to Friday’s vote.

Chief among these would be the waiving of the needed county approval over habitat projects, which Mr. Provenza believes would be giving up a chief bargaining chip for the protection of farmland under the Bay Area Conservation Plan.

According to the Bee, “The 4,000 acres Tsakopoulos  wants to sell to the state sits at a key point in what may one day be a seasonally flooded waterway meant to protect salmon and other threatened fish.”

Mr. Provenza is concerned that without that land, “the Bay Delta Conservation Plan may be impossible to implement.”

“It’s our No. 1 defense against something that harms our interest,” Mr. Provenza told the Bee. “We don’t know what the state will do with the land. It could be of catastrophic consequence.”

However, the Bee reported that outgoing Supervisor Helen Thomson, who sat in on the negotiations, supports the agreement.

Supervisor Matt Rexroad told the Vanguard early Friday morning that there is nothing in this agreement that couldn’t be done without the county’s consent.  He believes that the county is getting assurances over farmland and the continued use of 12,000 acres that would continue to be farmed under this agreement, and in exchange the county is giving nothing up.

But others are not so sure.  There are multiple levels of concerns and most importantly, the speed at which this agreement is being rammed through.

One question is with flood control, farming, and the wildlife area.  Under the agreement, Mr. Tsakopoulos would be able to sell roughly 80,000 acre-feet of water to Los Angeles.  That would net the county roughly 7.5 percent of the proceeds which comes out to be about $1.5 million for a county that is fiscally in trouble.

But from an environmental standpoint this could be disastrous.  Unfortunately, this could send water to Los Angeles but at the expense of the Delta.

Part of the urgency is the agreement signed earlier this week, yet to be ratified, involving the Woodland-Davis Joint Water Project in which the cities secured water rights from Conaway Ranch.

This deal would appear to be some sort of a prerequisite to the deal, but the agreement was hammered out behind closed doors and the public is getting almost no notice of it.

There would seem to be several different pieces of this puzzle pushing this deal.

First, the county is being pressured by Woodland and Davis to get this deal done so that they can have their summer water that will cost taxpayers more than $350 million.

Second, Tsakopoulos appears to be cutting this deal because he is going to sell the majority of the water to Los Angeles.  If the county is getting 7.5% which works out to about $1.5 million, then he is likely looking at making at least $20 million on the deal.

Third, the county likes the deal because it gives them a small amount of money that can mitigate further cuts.

Fourth, and this area is more questionable, but it appears that from Mr. Rexroad’s perspective, the 12,000 acres of farmland that would be preserved is crucial for his support of the agreement.  Mr. Provenza would appear to question whether this agreement really protects the farmland.

My biggest concern is a multitude of factors.  First, I do not trust backroom agreements, especially involving people like Tsakopoulos who have a lifetime’s experience in cutting these sorts of deals in their own best interest.

I think the city and county are looking at this far too narrowly and there is a huge chance of unintended consequences.

Finally, this is a disaster for the Delta, as it takes yet more water out of the area.  Where are people like Senator Lois Wolk on this?  She has spent her legislative career making Delta Protection her issue.  She and Assemblymember Yamada have stood up against their own legislative leaders in opposing bad deals for Northern California and the Delta, but it is now her allies and former colleagues that are pushing through this deal.  Is she going to step in?

The bottom line is that this deal appears to be a bad deal for the environment and it’s being pushed through, at least partially, at the behest of “green” Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “Troubling Tsakopoulos-Conaway Deal with County”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    Backroom deals w/o public scrutiny; water desperately needed here being shipped to Southern CA – and how is this going to benefit Yolo County citizens? Davis and Woodland are paying hundreds of millions to import much needed water, and the County is going to prostitute itself for the sake of a measly $1.5 million? LOL/crying on the inside for Yolo County citizens…

  2. Barbara King

    I am at the meeting. Agreement includes support for water fluoridation. State law will make it hard to block fluoridation with available outside money. I guess low income moms will have to ignore ADA recommendation to not reconstitute baby formula with fluoridated water.

  3. Matt Rexroad

    Not really. The exact language is “Following its acquisition by Tri-City, CPG will support the inclusion of equipment necessary to allow for the provision of water fluoridation in the design and construction of the Davis-Woodland Water Supply Project.”

    That decision will be made by the cities/JPA when the water is provided.

  4. Barbara King

    Clarification: cities can exempt themselves from state required fluoridation if there are no outside funds available for startup costs for equipment and such. Having outside funds removes a way to avoid fluoridating, and Davis has always resisted fluoridated water.

  5. roger bockrath

    I lived in West Marin in the late 70s when the Marin Municipal Water District equipment, which flouridated the drinking water, screwed up, delivering eleven times more flouride than it was supposed to, for a period of six weeks before they caught it. As a result, I now suffer from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and will have to take thyroid supplement for the rest of my life. Flouride in Davis drinking water is a DEAL BREAKER.

  6. Mr.Toad

    80,000 acre feet being sold to LA!!!!!! Now that is water leaving the delta that isn’t coming back. WHoly water system Batman are we going to let Gothem suck us dry. Help, Matt save us, don’t let this water foul kill the waterfowl.
    It seems the Vanguard is all worked up about diverting water to Davis and while your attention is diverted eight times as much is diverted to LA.
    While you are all grousing about getting river water, LA is buying all they can get. What do they know that you don’t! While you whine about a water pipe from Conaway to Davis, LA wants to build the reincarnated Peripheral Canal. While you worry about F being added to your water the salmon are worried about having any water at all.
    While LA builds its Cadillac Desert you worry about a Davis Woodland hybrid vehicle costing too much.
    But you don’t need to worry about anything outside of your local water bill because its only Chinatown.

  7. Adam Smith

    There is a lot of misinformation among the folks commenting on these articles. It is very easy to get caught up in the sound bite “news” promoted by folks like David, who are offering a viewpoint and hoping to persuade.

    1. The fact that AKT may sell water to LA has nothing to do with what happens in the delta. He will not be able to pass it through the delta unless all the appropriate environmental regulations in place at that are met.

    2. Selling water to LA is no different for the delta than if the water is removed prior to arriving in the delta, regardless of whether Conaway’s owners use the water to irrigate rice or sell the water to the Woodland/Davis JPA.

    3. This is not Yolo County’s water – it belongs to Conaway Ranch. It is not taken from the ground – it is surface water that is passing by in the Sacramento River, and for which Conaway has a contractual right to remove and sell, provided that all conditions precedent to removing water are met. Yolo County had the opportunity to buy and control the water, but the county chose not to do so. Now the county is forced to deal with an owner who wishes to exercise his property rights.

  8. Sue Greenwald

    Both the county and city agreements did not offer sufficient time for public analysis and comment. We are dealing with a lot of issues here from the preservation of the Vic Fazio Wildlife preserve and preservation of farmland to state water policies. Decisions like this should not be made behind closed doors. We needed more time for public examination and discussion of both contracts.

  9. Rifkin

    I think Sue has it exactly right. I am reminded of all of our labor contracts, which take 6-9 months to negotiate, and then those who want them approved give us 1 or 2 days to examine the details. The Zipcar contract was just like that. It takes time and a lot of sets of eyes to find if there is anything mistaken in these complicated contracts.

    Why is it that they took a year to strike a deal and won’t wait a month to vote on it? Give the general public, some experts and the elected officials a little time to air these deals out.

    Why are they afraid of some honest discussion and debate? I just don’t get the last-minute hurry up job, unless someone is trying really hard to hide the facts from us.

  10. Mr.Toad

    Water that is removed from upstream of the delta unless it evaporates, is converted into carbohydrate by photosynthesis or percolates into the aquifer eventually returns to the watershed. Water diverted out of a watershed is a total loss.

    While Adam Smith is right about the economics of Conaways property rights he may be wrong about the environmental law involved because water rights fall under the public trust doctrine, a legal document so old it predates even his Wealth of Nations. Just as the water doesn’t belong to Yolo County it doesn’t belong to Conaway either. Water rights are not absolute. This can be observed each year when the government tells those holding water rights what percentage of those rights they will be allocated. Taking 80,000 acre feet of water to LA may have consequences so great to the watershed that the opportunity costs must be mitigated or possibly be so great that the deal falls apart. Jim Provenza is probably right about what this means for the Delta, and, if he is, this is a catastrophic event that should be vigorously opposed.

    At any rate, LA is buying so maybe we should buy as well. If not we might become the next Owens valley.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    Adam Smith: “Yolo County had the opportunity to buy and control the water, but the county chose not to do so. Now the county is forced to deal with an owner who wishes to exercise his property rights.”

    The county did not have the financial means to purchase Conaway Ranch. There is a national fiscal crisis going on, as well as a state and local fiscal crisis.

    Sue Greenwald: “Both the county and city agreements did not offer sufficient time for public analysis and comment. We are dealing with a lot of issues here from the preservation of the Vic Fazio Wildlife preserve and preservation of farmland to state water policies. Decisions like this should not be made behind closed doors. We needed more time for public examination and discussion of both contracts.”

    This is exactly right. I, as a member of the public, am woefully ignorant of all the issues attendant on this deal. And I’ve been following the Davis water/sewer issue fairly closely for years. Even the elected officials are not being given sufficient time to digest this – Mayor Pro-Tem Joe Krovoza admitted as much. So why not demand to slow things down a bit? What difference would a couple of months make? I highly doubt the developer group would back out of this very lucrative deal just bc it was asked to wait a two months…

  12. Rhinochaser

    Rifkin & ERM: Tsakopoulos’ attorney stated at the Yolo Board meeting that Tsakopoulos was under contract to purchase the interest in Conaway before the end of the year, and that if he didn’t, essentially the County, and presumably the two cities as well, would have to try to make a deal with a different owner (either the current owners or whoever they might sell it to). So, do we feel lucky, as Clint Eastwood would say? Staff’s been working on this with some of the councilmembers and a bunch of consultants, presumably – what are they saying? Are they competent enough to get us a good deal? Are they supporting the deal? If this deal is so complicated, who negotiated it for us?

    Supervisor Rexroad: Can you ask your deputy county counsel what he understands “support” to mean in the context of the fluoridation issue? Maybe that will help clear things up a bit (or not)…

  13. E Roberts Musser

    Rhinochaser: “Rifkin & ERM: Tsakopoulos’ attorney stated at the Yolo Board meeting that Tsakopoulos was under contract to purchase the interest in Conaway before the end of the year, and that if he didn’t, essentially the County, and presumably the two cities as well, would have to try to make a deal with a different owner (either the current owners or whoever they might sell it to). So, do we feel lucky, as Clint Eastwood would say? Staff’s been working on this with some of the councilmembers and a bunch of consultants, presumably – what are they saying? Are they competent enough to get us a good deal? Are they supporting the deal? If this deal is so complicated, who negotiated it for us?”

    Yes, I caught this information in Sunday Davis Enterprise (see my comment on Monday Vanguard article on water). I just don’t feel real comfortable rushing this bc the developer doesn’t want to lose his deposit. But neither do I know if this is a wise deal or not. The public and Supervisors/Councilmembers have just not had any time to truly digest the information in this expensive deal…

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