December 20, 2012
At the Dec. 19 P.G. City Council meeting, Don Lew (pictured above) announced that his private-equity investment firm, Concord-based JDL Development, is taking immediate control of Agha’s desalination plant proposal and other assets at Agha’s Moss Landing Commercial Park.
Agha’s desalination proposal, formerly known as the People’s Moss Landing Desal Project, is being re-branded by Lew’s firm as the Regional Desalination Project at Moss Landing Commercial Park.
“We are bringing capital to the operation of that business park to develop it into a commercially successful operation,” Lew says. “In doing so, we have a responsibility to push the desal project in the proper direction.”
Lew says his firm bought out Agha’s Moss Landing Business Park LLC for an “eight-figure” sum, but neither he nor Agha would specify where along the $10 million to $99 million spectrum that number falls.
He stressed that the change will not affect the city of P.G.’s relationship with Agha’s desal proposal. In July the city signed on to a preliminary agreement with Agha, positioning P.G. as the potential lead agency in the People’s Project.
But Lew told the council the project will instead by evaluated as a part of Cal Am’s Water Supply Project environmental impact report—prompting council members to ask whether the agreement is still valid.
“What we heard from Mr. Lew is that he’s taking a very different course than what we expected,” Mayor Bill Kampe says. “I think it left questions as to the direction for People’s Desal and P.G.’s relationship with them.”
As for why Agha decided to sep away from his own desal proposal, he says it's for political reasons. The longtime local business and real-estate mogul has historically taken a critical stance toward California American Water, the private utility leading the state-mandated quest for a new Monterey Peninsula water supply. Cal Am has proposed a desalination plant in north Marina called the Water Supply Project.
“I’m removing myself from the operation because I have decided that if I stay out of it, that will help the project to move forward,” Agha says.
Sitting next to Lew in the council chambers was former P.G. Mayor Carmelita Garcia, who’d turned her seat over to new Kampe just two weeks earlier. Garcia, who lost the election to Kampe by a 70-30 margin, has been part of Lew’s team on the desal proposal since right around Kampe’s swearing-in, Lew says.
“Carmelita works for me as my PR person because of her passion and her political connections,” he adds.
Garcia is also now the executive director of WaterPlus, a citizen group intervening in the state proceedings on Cal Am’s desal project. She did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Over the past several years, the three regional desalination proposals—the Water Supply Project, People’s Project and DeepWater Desal—have been competing to land the Monterey Peninsula’s desal water business. But Lew says his group is also open to partnering with Cal Am, bringing the Water Supply Project onto the Moss Landing Business Park site.
“We’ve seen [Cal Am] is going to fail miserably at the Marina location,” he says, adding, “Cal Am is part of the solution.”
Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie confirms that Lew introduced himself to Cal Am officials several months ago. But she stresses that Cal Am does not foresee any problems with its proposed north Marina location, particularly since it is now proposing shallow intake wells she says are unlikely to draw from the Salinas Basin.
Cal Am contingency plans do, however, list the Moss Landing Business Park as a possible alternative site should the north Marina location becomes unviable. To that end, Bowie says, Cal Am will keep talks with Lew’s firm open: “We are interested in his plans.”