26 July 2005

CA Supervisor to Kelo Conway

Evidently, the will of the voters still doesn’t count here in California – at least not to Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan. I can’t remember if I voted for this knucklehead, or not. Regardless, this is without a doubt one of the most self-serving, feel-good-for-the-moment-cause-developers-are-evil-people decisions I have ever seen. The Davis Enterprise reports:

At issue is the “fate” of 17,000 acres of land in Yolo County, California called the Conway Ranch. This is one of those pieces of land that the "greens" have been mulling over for years. So much so, that you would think that they own the land. Well, they don’t and it ain’t for sale. But wait, it gets even better.

All buckled in? It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

A survey underwritten by the owners of the Conaway Ranch found that opposition to the county's efforts to acquire the property ranges from 50 to 73 percentage points countywide depending on the question asked.

Funny use of the word acquire. The word they are trying to avoid is “condemn” or “steal via eminent domain.”

At 39 percentage points, Davis residents support the county's acquisition attempt more than residents in any other Yolo County city. A town hall meeting called by the ranch owners, the Conaway Preservation Group, will be held in Davis on Thursday, Aug. 11, with the time and place to be announced.

On Friday, Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan said he could not comment on the specifics of the poll because he had not seen it. But McGowan made clear that even if county voters did not support the board's action to buy the ranch, he was still convinced it was the right thing to do.

"We need to do the right thing regardless," he said. "In the long run people will appreciate what we are trying to do or our grandchildren will. We are doing the right thing for the right reasons and I cannot imagine a scenario that would dissuade me."

McGowan said people should know by now that Yolo County electeds past and present are committed to protecting agricultural land and open space. Real estate investors do not share that commitment. "Yolo County can pass the test of good stewardship over and over," he added firmly. "There's a reason why national parks are not owned by private entities," he said.

One point that the good Supervisor is missing is that the County does not own the land --- a handful of local real estate investors do.

McGowan complained that Steve Gidaro, the managing partner of the CPG, gathered together a group of real estate investors -- who have no credentials as environmentalists -- in order to buy the ranch. Members of the group include John Reynen, Carl Panattoni and Jack Sweigert. Tovey Geizentanner is the group's spokesman.

"These people couldn't find Yolo County on a map," McGowan said.

Hey Mike, the ranch is in the County, right? Well, they must have found the county before they became the OWNERS of the ranch..

But McGowan did concede that the county has a public relations problem on its hands, which the poll indirectly quantified.

"Of course the public relations aspect concerns me," McGowan said. "The county is not telling its story well, but I don't think the press has done an adequate job delving into the issues raised.

Public relations aspect? Mike, Mike, Mike. A huge chuunk of our society is calling for the heads of five SCOTUS members because of Kelo and you think this is an aspect of public relations? Don't worry, I hear there are plenty of job possiblities for recently displaced small county supervisors.

McGowan predicted the ranch owners will mount a sophisticated public relations campaign between now and Aug. 23 when a Yolo County Superior Court judge will rule on whether the county has a right to take the Conaway Ranch.

The owners don't have to mount didly. Did you look at the results of the poll? You are the one that needs to mount an effort. The ranch owners have a bill of sale and public sentiment on their side. Did I mention the bill of sale part?

Geizentanner says the CPG is committed to retaining status quo at the ranch and the real issue is not development but the question of public ownership vs. private ownership. He says the ranch's owners can make money off their investment without building homes on the land.

"There are new ways to make money off land," he said, citing conservation easements, mitigation credits, natural gas leases, agricultural leases and limited water sales to neighbors.

"We can assume zebras don't change their stripes," McGowan said.

In terms of the poll, 600 likely voters in the county were surveyed by the Evans/McDonough opinion research firm between June 19-22. The firm claims a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

All telephone survey respondents were read an initial description of the ranch issue, followed by a question asking whether they support or oppose the county's efforts to win ownership of the ranch from the Conaway Preservation Group.

This is what they were read:

"Conaway Ranch is a 17,300-acre piece of land in Yolo County, in the triangle formed by the cities of Woodland, Davis and West Sacramento. More than two-thirds of the ranch is in a federal floodplain, and nearly half is in the Yolo Bypass. Currently, the privately owned Conaway Ranch is leased to local farmers and a duck club. Yolo County is interested in owning and managing Conaway Ranch, but the owners are not interested in selling. Recently, Yolo County decided to use its power of eminent domain to seize the Conaway Ranch from the current owner, the Conaway Preservation Group, who does not want to sell the ranch. Eminent domain, or condemnation, allows the government to take private property for public use for fair market value without the consent of the owner, which is usually hotly contested."

After being given this information and asked whether they support or oppose the county's action, support countywide came from 15 percent with almost three-quarters (73 percent) in opposition.

The survey found opposition equally strong in West Sacramento (84 percent oppose) and Woodland (83 percent oppose). In Winters and Davis, the county's efforts were opposed by six in 10 (62 percent). Three-quarters (74 percent) of the residents in the unincorporated areas opposed the county's action.

But when the question was asked in a different way, following what the researchers call a campaign simulation exercise with the county argument being put forth, support increases countywide to 32 percent with 58 percent remaining opposed.

Quotas were set in each of the four incorporated cities in the county in order to insure there were enough interviews to analyze for each area.

Respondents were then read the following description of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians' involvement in the county's eminent domain action:

"The Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which owns the Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County, has agreed to finance the county's eminent domain action to acquire the ranch."

Hmmm. An Indian Tribe, which owns a casino, is fronting the county the money??? What could possibly go wrong here? The tribe wasn't recently granted approval for a massive expansion to their resort / casino, were they? Hmmm.

Involvement by the tribe does essentially nothing to shore up support for the county, according to the firm. Following this information, an unchanged 15 percent support the county position, while opposition drops slightly to 67 percent. The strongest opposition remains in Woodland (76 percent), West Sacramento (75 percent), and Winters (74 percent), with 66 percent of the unincorporated voters and 58 percent of Davis voters in opposition.

Over the remainder of the survey, a campaign simulation was conducted whereby respondents heard several arguments being used by each side of the issue. According to the research firm, every effort was made to present the issue in a fair and balanced manner, with the arguments being repeated as their proponents have been using them in free and paid media and other public information sources.

The pollsters found that voters in all areas of the county favor preservation of the current uses of Conaway Ranch and maintenance of the status quo. However, even after reading the respondents all the arguments the county is putting forth on why eminent domain should be exercised to purchase Conaway Ranch, just half of respondents (50 percent) favor the action. The poll found that even with their best arguments the county is unable to break the 50 percent barrier.

Davis voters are the most supportive of the county's plan with 39 percent supporting and 46 percent opposed. The remaining 15 percent say they are undecided on the matter or don't know the issues.

"I think the most interesting finding is the fact that after all of the county's arguments are offered and all of CPG's arguments are offered, folks in Davis still have 46 percent oppose to 39 percent approve; and the strongly oppose (29 percent) is twice the intensity of strongly support (14 percent)," said Geizentanner, Conaway Preservation Group's spokesman.

"These findings appear to suggest that even if the county promotes its case, more folks in Davis oppose their action than support -- and the intensity of that opposition is twice that of support," he added.

The final question after pro/con arguments were offered was this:

Given everything that you have heard, do you support or oppose Yolo County's efforts to condemn the Conaway Ranch?

- Davis -- 46 oppose

- Winters -- 57 percent oppose

- Woodland -- 69 percent oppose

- West Sacramento -- 66 percent oppose

- Unincorporated county -- 63 percent oppose

"By and large, the voters of Yolo County side with the current owners by a wide margin over the county in the dispute over Conaway Ranch," the polling firm said in its final memo. "They question the necessity of eminent domain for preservation of current land uses, as well as the propriety of the involvement of the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians."

As always, Thanks to Greyhawk for his Open Post.

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