Who's that new guy with the desal plant?
Published: December 21, 2012
JAWS DROPPED at the Pacific
Grove City Council meeting this week when a man introduced
himself and said he was taking over Nader Agha’s “People’s
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Donald Lew, managing partner for
the Concord-based JDL Development private equity firm, made the
surprising announcement Agha is no longer involved in the desal
project, and that the project has been renamed.
The news an unknown businessman on the Peninsula is now
steering Agha’s plan stunned the P.G. City Council — which this
year voted to explore becoming the public partner for the
desalination plant. It’s also led to uncertainty about the
city’s future involvement with the project.
“I was surprised by his revelations,” councilman Dan Miller told The Pine Cone Thursday morning, “and as a council, think we need to look into him and see how much of it is real.”
Councilman Robert Huitt, who voted against being involved in
Agha’s water project, said the news that he’s no longer in
charge is, to say the least, puzzling.
“I’ve always been opposed to our involvement in this project as a partner,” Huitt said, “and now, it’s not even clear where the project is headed or who’s in charge.”
Adding even more confusion was a press release Agha issued
Thursday. Agha called Lew a senior managing director of the
project, which he said has been renamed the “Regional
Desalinization Project at Moss Landing Commercial Park.”
Agha said Lew is “joining the Moss Landing Commercial Park” to
“manage the development” of the project, which was formerly
called the People’s Moss Landing Water Desal Project.
But Lew’s characterization of his role in the water proposal
differs from Agha’s.
“Lew said Nader is out of the picture,” Monterey Peninsula
Water Management District general manager Dave Stoldt. “And Lew
said he has acquired the loan [for Agha’s Moss Landing real
estate], which in effect means he has the property.”
When asked by The Pine Cone if Lew had purchased the 200-acre
former brick plant adjacent to Highway 1 in Moss Landing, Agha’s
partner George Schroeder told The Pine Cone, “At this point it’s
“We are in negotiations with him to jointly operate the Moss
Landing property,” Schroeder said. “And when we conclude, Lew
will be in charge.”
Agha’s news release also said Lew is “looking forward to
working with the City of Pacific Grove as the potential public
However, Mayor Bill Kampe said that wouldn’t be possible based
on what Lew told the council Wednesday.
“Don Lew is looking to hire someone on his own to do the
environmental impact report, which could not be the case if the
city is going to be their partner,” Kampe said, “because we
would have to be the one to select and hire the environmental
Also bewildering is Lew’s apparent announcement that he’s
forged a deal with private water company California American
According to Stoldt, Lew, told him he’d entered into a water
purchase agreement with Cal Am, something the water company’s
spokeswoman said hasn’t happened.
“We met with Mr. Lew and he apprised us of his plans,”
Catherine Bowie told The Pine Cone, “but we have made no
agreements with him or the entity he represents.”
Agha said Lew is an engineer who formerly worked for Bechtel
Power Corp., a large construction and engineering firm that has
its headquarters in San Francisco.
According to JDL’s website, the family-owned private equity
firm has a “focus on private equity investments in innovative
companies with disruptive technologies within the health care,
natural and renewable resources and green technology markets.”
Lew didn’t return a phone message left by The Pine Cone.
A consultant for the Monterey Peninsula Water Authority, a
group composed of the six Peninsula mayors to find the most
feasible water project for the Peninsula, found in November that
Agha’s desal proposal couldn’t be up and running until the third
quarter of 2019. The consultant also found Cal Am’s proposed
water project would cost more but could be operating by the
fourth quarter of 2017.
While Agha has long maintained his facility would be the least
expensive to build at $129 million, the consultant said the
project would likely cost in the area of $190 million.