Well, that didn’t take long.
It’s been less than a month since Buena Vista Water Storage District bought the remaining 600 acres of the failed McAllister Ranch subdivision and it’s already butting heads with Bakersfield city officials.
Like, major league butting.
The city cited the water district last week for excavating several ditches on the property without permits and for putting up K-rail barriers blocking public roads.
And it fired off a letter to Buena Vista’s attorneys threatening to revive a lawsuit over the district’s plans to create a water bank on the former housing development.
The lawsuit was stayed several years ago under an agreement that no work in connection with water banking would be done on the property prior to a completed environmental impact report.
No environmental reports have been done.
So recent excavation work done by Buena Vista violates the “intent” of the agreement, if not the “express language,” according to a letter from the city’s water attorney, Colin Pearce.
Things have gotten tense.
“It’s up to Buena Vista as to how close we are to going back to court,” said Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro.
The city’s position is that McAllister Ranch was annexed into the city and zoned for residential use, not water banking.
If Buena Vista wants to bank water on the land, it has to seek a General Plan amendment and do the proper environmental impact reports “just like any other developer in the city,” Gennaro said.
For its part, Buena Vista is feeling a little picked on, said General Manager Maurice Etchechury.
The district has spent close to $70,000 cleaning up mountains of trash left on the property, cutting down weeds and chasing off trespassers.
“The city should be sending us a thank-you note,” he said. “They let this (trash, illegal riding, shooting, etc.) go on out here for years.”
He pooh-poohed the city’s concern over the ditches, saying they're just barriers to keep dumpers and illegal off-roaders out of the property.
I could see that with one ditch that's scratched deep into the earth from the main entrance of the old subdivision west along Panama Lane.
But, uh, the other “ditch” on the northern edge of the property, with its packed-down sides, that runs from a deep section of the old golf course straight to the James Canal, looks an awful lot like a funnel to move water.
The corrugated pipe in the end of that “ditch” that goes into the James Canal and the new water gate also seem more intended for water movement than traffic control.
Etchechury didn’t comment when I pointed that out.
His view was that the agreement between Buena Vista and the city to stay the city’s lawsuit didn’t prohibit the kind of work Buena Vista has done so far.
As for the other citations about blocking public roads, Etchechury was a little exasperated.
“OK, fine, then the city can come out and maintain them.”
The city’s actions, he said, were a little shocking after how well the Kern River interests cooperated in past months to find places to stash water so it wouldn’t escape into the California Aqueduct.
A simple phone call, he said, would have been helpful if the city really wanted to know what Buena Vista was doing.
“Instead, I get a citation.”
Interestingly, Gennaro felt the same way, saying she would like to see the parties “get around a table” and talk this through.
Apparently, neither side wants to be the first to extend that olive branch.
Anyhow, I know I spend a lot of time watching the twists and turns of the McAllister Ranch saga.
That’s for a couple of reasons.
First, without new dams, water banking has become California’s main water storage option. And McAllister would be a huge new addition to Kern’s collection so the public should know what we have in the ground.
And because of Buena Vista’s rights to the Kern, a lot of what’s banked in McAllister would be from our river.
We need to make sure it stays right here. Buena Vista has promised it will, but as Reagan used to say, “trust but verify.”
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act means we have to account for groundwater in/groundwater out and McAllister presents an interesting wrinkle.
It’s actually inside the boundaries of the Kern River Groundwater Sustainability Agency, or GSA, which is run by Bakersfield, the Kern County Water Agency and Kern Delta Water District.
But the land is owned by Buena Vista (600 acres exclusively and 1,500 acres jointly with Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District), which has its own GSA.
So, if it became a water bank, who would get to claim that water?
Etchechury said water banks can choose their GSA.
Gennaro countered that McAllister isn’t a water bank and won’t be unless Buena Vista stops its cowboy behavior and works with the city.
Finally, McAllister is important because of John Vidovich.
He’s the president of Buena Vista’s board and has been a driving force behind McAllister.
Vidovich has cut a wide swath in water circles in the southern San Joaquin Valley, amassing control over a vast supply of groundwater.
He implied several weeks ago that if the city didn’t want to work with Buena Vista on McAllister, he might take the issue to the voters.
That means you.