The Key Figure Behind TWD
Tod Kimmelshue has been Butte County District 4 Supervisor since 2020, and is up for re-election this March.
Groundwater for Butte has formally endorsed Joanna Warrens in her race to unseat him.
Her capability, integrity, intelligence, and personal stake in the health of local agriculture and groundwater would make her a good Supervisor in any case.
But beyond that, we think the Tuscan Water District travesty is only the most glaring evidence that transparency and accountability are sorely lacking in Butte County’s leadership right now.
Our study of TWD’s origins, and the way it reflects his overall legacy, has persuaded us that Mr. Kimmelshue has consistently acted on behalf of narrow, well-funded private interests, at the expense of the majority of his District 4 constituents and Butte County generally.
Meet Tu$can Tod
Tod Kimmelshue’s role in creating the Tuscan Water District began well before he took office in 2020. As owner of his own orchard within the future TWD footprint, he joined the Agricultural Groundwater Users of Butte County (AGUBC) at its inception in 2017.
AUGBC is an opaque, exclusionary, invitation-only nut-industry organization formed at the urging of the Butte County Board of Supervisors’ conservative majority. It spearheaded the District’s creation by petitioning the Butte County Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) to establish it.
The AGUBC and its membership feature prominently in the unprecedented campaign-cash war chest Mr. Kimmelshue brought to his 2020 election campaign. Indeed, even corporate donors outside the area generously supported his campaign, which raised and spent an unprecedented amount for a Butte County election:
Mr. Kimmelshue and his allies got the overwhelming majority of campaign contributions.
TWD petitioners overwhelmingly supported Kimmelshue.
Other donations came from Cargill and Chevron.
Mr. Kimmelshue entered politics immensely well connected in other local business circles:
Former Butte County Farm Bureau chief.
Manager at the Northern California Farm Credit Association.
President of the Rotary Club of Chico.
President of Butte Creek Country Club.
Once elected, he got himself appointed to virtually every other public and private body involved in area water governance.
Mr. Kimmelshue joined (surprise!) Butte County LAFCo, which then rubber-stamped TWD at every step of the process, even though TWD has never submitted the 5-year financial plan explicitly required by LAFCo’s own rules. (Who has written TWD’s checks up until now? AGUBC and its leaders, apparently. A cozy circle of relationships and mutual benefits.)
Mr. Kimmelshue is the Board of Supervisors’ representative on the Vina Groundwater Sustainability Agency, overseeing a sustainability effort (including taxing and spending) that directly impacts his own agricultural property. (It lies within the Vina subbasin as well as the TWD). The Vina GSA's Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), submitted in 2022 and approved by the State Department of Water Resources in 2023, is the target of a pending lawsuit by AquAlliance and other environmental groups. The lawsuit alleges the plan tolerates groundwater levels dropping to levels sure to strand many domestic wells and kill many trees, with no provision to remediate the damage.
Mr. Kimmelshue is also on the Northern Sacramento Valley Integrated Regional Water Management Group, which is tasked with inter-county communication and coordination over sustainability efforts. This is the venue where Butte County is supposed to defend its budget and its taxpayers from State-supported water-banking boondoggles, long the dream of Department of Water Resources technicians, which would see Butte County’s surface water and money pumped into the ground only to be sucked back out again by Glenn and Colusa county’s proliferating deep wells.
Our hats are off to Mr. Kimmelshue for his ability to endure long public meetings. His long and accomplished resumé, glad-handing manner, and deep community ties have garnered him the image of a responsible patrician guardian of Butte County’s future.
However, certain features of his record and those of his cohorts – particularly a pattern of reckless disregard for the finer points of both law and custom when it comes to democracy – force us to question what really lies behind Tod Kimmelshue’s swift rise to the kingpin of local water politics.
Gerrymandering Debra Lucero Out of Office
On August 1, 2023, the State Attorney General, Rob Bonta, opened an investigation into whether Butte County's 2021 redistricting violated the Fair Maps Act.
Until 2022, Tami Ritter and Debra Lucero's presence on the Board of Supervisors kept it somewhat representative of Butte County's population, which is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
Mr. Kimmelshue acted forcefully to change that. With his prodigious stockpile of campaign cash, he aided the 2022 campaign of Peter Durfee, a Chico police sergeant who ran against Supervisor Debra Lucero on a law-and-order platform. (The Butte County Board of Supervisors, as Ms. Lucero pointed out at the time, has scant direct involvement with policing in the urban areas where most crime occurs.)
Durfee’s campaign then conducted a character-assassination campaign against Lucero on social media and TV leading up to the 2020 election. Lucero, for her part, ran on a promise to defend democracy in Butte County against the increasingly brazen moves by others on the Board to gerrymander it in their favor.
Unfortunately, by election time it was too late. The timing of the 2020 census and subsequent re-districting put Kimmelshue, Doug Teeter, and Bill Connolly, the board's majority, in a position to put through whatever district map they pleased in late 2021.
And that's exactly what they did. There was a citizen-input process. The Board paid a firm called Redistricting Partners some $80,000 to guide it
through the complicated provisions of the Fair Maps Act.
Both were largely ignored in the end. By his own account, Kimmelshue and his wife sat down at their kitchen table the night before the final vote and drew a map they liked, claiming it gave extra weight to Latino voters in Chico. They submitted it at the last minute, and it was approved by Kimmelshue, Teeter, and Connolly, with "no" votes from Lucero and Tami Ritter, the fifth Supervisor.
That's how Butte County got gerrymandered to subtract just enough votes from Debra Lucero in Chico to replace her with Pete Durfee, who is now taking two government salaries and said during his campaign that he intended to supervise the county from his police cruiser.
Preying on Voter Anxieties
When it comes to agriculture, Butte County is blessed and enriched by its agricultural economy and heritage.
But sustaining and protecting the agricultural economy isn't and will never be simply about keeping it expanding. Certainly not if doing so gradually ruins the aquifer or leads huge ag firms to take over more and more of the land, San Joaquin Valley style.
The current Board of Supervisors is signing off on huge changes to the character and infrastructure of Butte County that are bound to benefit only wealthy people and interests.
We are told the County's economy will suffer if it doesn’t embrace costly and undemocratic new governing schemes like the Tuscan Water District to keep the area's agricultural complex pumping as much water out of the ground as it currently does.
In fact, with the danger of domestic wells and our urban forest drying up, the opposite is true.
The push for semi-private, business-controlled water governance is being helped along by a dramatic crash in the global market price of walnuts. Small orchard growers are losing their shirts, while big corporate players that can afford to play a longer game wait in the wings to accumulate distressed property.
Vote for Joanna, not Tod, for District 4 Supervisor.
We hope the public will seriously consider the risk Tod Kimmelshue’s well-funded tenure poses to Butte County’s quality of life, our environment, and our water being sold out to business interests hiding behind the curtain.