Trouble in Paradise

Paradise resident, arts activist, member of VIPS, Gold Nugget Museum, and life member of Theater on the Ridge.

After attending the Paradise Irrigation District board meeting March 6, I came away thankful that we residents of the district can rely on at least three level-headed directors to protect our interests.

This was only the second PID meeting I’d attended, and it was quite an eye-opener. Directors Caunt, Zemansky and Heinke valiantly withstood a barrage of convoluted rhetoric, disinformation and overt threats from Fred Katz—whose company FHK hopes to build a 300,000-square-foot shopping center on the Skyway just west of the Paradise town limits—and his lawyer Jeff Carter (and, inexplicably, two of their own fellow board members).

I am filled with renewed respect and admiration for the three aforementioned directors, who managed to remain focused on their primary duty: To preserve and protect the district water supply on behalf of its “owners.”

While FHK’s mouthpiece Carter and directors Hall and Powers (who seem mystifyingly devoted to Katz’ project) attempted to obfuscate and divert with verbal smoke and mirrors, Caunt calmly kept the meeting on course.

It seemed obvious that FHK’s latest “request” to have the Gateway project annexed “for fire protection purposes only” was a thinly veiled, foot-in-the-door maneuver designed to rupture our PID boundaries, compromise the district’s ability to control further annexation and open the floodgates on our fragile water supply.

It was also appallingly apparent that Director Rick Hall, PID Manager Ray Auerbach and others were complicit in graciously seeking to grease the wheel of fortune for Katz by shaping and then leaking to FHK an annexation policy/position paper long before it was presented to the full PID board. Which begs the question: Why are these fellows such rabid advocates for FHK? Do they hold stock in Wal-Mart?

I learned at the meeting that this is the same Fred Katz who developed and then sold off the Old Town Plaza project. I cringe when I recall the abject eyesore the Sprouse-Reitz building degenerated into and remained for over a decade.

Picture that dilapidated, soggy hovel held together by pigeon offal. It was a public health hazard and a danger. Is that the potential visual we want greeting visitors and guests as a “gateway” to our Paradise?

That aside, before the Paradise Irrigation District allows FHK to attach a mile-long drinking straw to our water supply, it must consider its duty to every customer/ratepayer/taxpayer within its current boundaries. These rate payments and property taxes have built our district since its inception. Our PID boundaries have remained uncompromised since 1917.

Fred Katz, along with his lawyer and a few supporters, would like to portray himself as a fine philanthropist for being so magnanimously willing to pay for his own pipeline. But Katz would need to spend considerably more to even approach a fraction of the equity accrued through decades of tax investment by the residents of this district.

Let’s be honest here. The bottom line for FHK is big profit. He expects to line his pockets handsomely with this project, and he and his lawyer and a few misguided locals erroneously expect to bully our Paradise Irrigation District into loading the dice for him in his Gateway gambit.