He's a rich guy with lots of land, lots of water and lots of power.

I can't lie, it was the water I was most interested in -- and suspicious of.

But John Vidovich turned out to be quite a surprise.

Haven't heard of him? Well, let me enlighten you.

He's the main player in Sandridge Partners, which owns thousands of acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. More than 4,000 of those acres are located in the Buena Vista Water Storage District, which is where I became interested in him.

Buena Vista along with Rosedale Rio-Bravo Water Storage District teamed last May to buy the bankrupt McAllister Ranch housing development for $22 million. They've been working ever since to remake it into a groundwater bank.

But the City of Bakersfield has put roadblocks in their way, saying the city should be lead agency on any environmental docs, the districts must pay fees that the housing development would have paid and the city wants promises the districts will not use McAllister as a launching pad to sell water out of the county. (That's a particular sticking point with Buena Vista, which owns rights to a lot of Kern River water and has steadfastly refused to promise no out-of-county sales.)

To me, it seems as if the city is unwilling to let go of the land even though the housing project planned for the site went belly up.

I've been following this story for a while and heard rumors that Vidovich, who joined the board shortly before the districts bought McAllister, was the main force behind the ground water bank.


Further, I was highly suspicious that perhaps he was also behind Buena Vista's refusal to promise not to sell water.

Vidovich is, after all, the Kings County land owner who sold his State Water Project rights to 14,000 acre feet for $73 million -- more than $5,000 an acre foot! -- to San Bernardino County in 2009.

"Yes, I was one of the big pushers for us buying McAllister Ranch," Vidovich told me straight out.

Aha! Clearly, he was no match for my cunning interrogation skills.

And, do you plan to sell water out of the county? I asked, trying not to smirk.

"I'm opposed to the sale of any water out of the county," he said. "I think that's a reasonable condition by the city and Buena Vista should agree to it. But I'm just one vote on the board."

Uh, what?

"I'm opposed to the sale of water for very selfish reasons, I have trees," he said. "I want to farm here, make money in the county and employ people here. You have to have water to do that."

The only time he could foresee sales of banked water from McAllister is if local needs weren't being met because of poor state supplies. Then Buena Vista and Rosedale should sell water to help their neighbors.

"It's a very slippery slope when you start selling water to Los Angeles," he said. "You have to think twice when you're talking about selling water that originates in this area. State water is different."

OK, so that conspiracy theory was up in smoke, but I still wanted to know whether the McAllister plan was part of a larger effort to out maneuver Stewart Resnick on the water front.

Resnick, owner of Paramount Farming, which essentially controls the massive Kern Water Bank, has been Kern's long standing water baron.

Vidovich went toe to toe with him and Fred Starrh and Starrh Cotton Growers, back in the mid 2000s, suing over allegations they had colluded to keep water from flowing to Sandridge owned properties.

A settlement was reached that Vidovich said Resnick got the better end of. But he now considers Resnick a friend.

That may be true, but it hasn't stopped Vidovich from hedging his bets. Such as helping get Sandridge employee Ted Page elected to the board of the Kern County Water Agency by ousting longtime incumbent Starrh.

Yeah, no bad blood there.

Vidovich got into farming through his father, Stephen Vidovich, who began buying property in the San Jose area in the 1920s.

The family later developed land in Cupertino into the De Anza Square Shopping Center. Vidovich's real estate company, De Anza Properties, still operates in that area.

So far, his Kern County moves have been quite interesting and make me wonder what else Vidovich has up his sleeve.

But back to McAllister Ranch.

If Vidovich is so set against out-of-county water sales, then why has Buena Vista insisted it wants "keep our options open" on water sales.

Vidovich said he honestly doesn't know as he's not been at the negotiation table.

He was perfectly willing to take sales off the table and get down to what the city's really after, which he believes has nothing to do with water sales.

"I've heard other things," he said

And he wouldn't speculate further.

Buena Vista's water rights are extremely good, he said and the district routinely has excess water. They need a banking operation.

Particularly as farmers transition from row crops to higher value permanent crops such as pistachios, pomegranates and vines, he said. That makes a reliable, year-round water supply crucial.

"It's very frustrating that we've made no progress on this. We should have come to terms with the city," he said.

Somehow, I think Vidovich will find a way to make that happen.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com