Former supervisor at center of debate over land lease
LAKE HAVASU CITY – A Mohave Valley farmer has become the center of debate in a future meeting of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.
This May, supervisors approved the $250,000 purchase of 15 acres of Mohave Valley farmland in an effort to prevent water from leaving the county. Former Supervisor Lois Wakimoto was a central figure in the defense of Mohave County’s water rights, and campaigned against the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District’s potential plans to divert the county’s water beyond Mohave County’s borders.
Wakimoto was appointed to the Board of Supervisors in September 2017, replacing former Supervisor Steve Moss. Wakimoto was largely successful in her defense of Mohave County’s water when the land was purchased, but the situation became complicated when the county became responsible for a lease agreement with the property’s long-time tenant: Wakimoto Farms.
Wakimoto’s name on the lease was cause for concern for some Mohave County supervisors. But according to Wakimoto Farms owner, 69-year-old Victor Wakimoto, former Supervisor Wakimoto is neither involved in the lease, nor does she gain anything from it.
As Lois Wakimoto’s former brother-in-law, Victor was related to Lois Wakimoto by marriage only – a marriage that was dissolved more than 15 years ago.
“We’ve been farming this land for 36 years,” Victor Wakimoto said. “We’ve farmed the land under several owners, and for a long time we put a lot of money into the pipeline on this property. In 2013, we had an agreement with the previous owners – if we put money into the pipeline, we would get cheap – not free – rent for eight years.”
Wakimoto’s farm has leased the property for $60 per acre for the past 11 years, and according to Mohave County Manager Mike Hendrix, it’s not an unreasonable price.
The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote Monday on whether to extend Wakimoto Farms’ lease on the land, for which the farm pays $60 per acre, by another year. That discussion will be tabled, according to Mohave County Manager Mike Hendrix. When the land was purchased this year, Mohave County overlooked one statute of Arizona law: Title 11, Section 256.
Under the law, a county that purchases land that is leased must be leased at a public auction to the highest responsible bidder, if such a bid is of at least 90 percent of the rental valuation as determined by an experienced appraiser.
The discussion as to Wakimoto’s lease, according to Hendrix, will be tabled until Wakimoto’s land can be appraised.
“It seems awfully cheap, but that’s the price this land has been leased at for the past 11 years,” Hendrix said. “But how do you establish the market value for farmland? By its going price. The county isn’t spending money to maintain the property, but we’re getting a small amount of money for it.”
The name on the lease came as a surprise to District 2 Supervisor Hildy Angius when she saw the board’s Dec. 3 agenda.
“This is the first time I’ve seen (Wakimoto’s) name attached to this lease,” Angius said. “I’ve been researching the issue this week.”
Ron Gould defeated Wakimoto for her seat on the Board of Supervisors in August. Gould says he knew of Wakimoto Farms’ involvement with the property while he was campaigning against her. He chose not to involve her former family in the political conversation during their race.
“She says she has nothing to do with the farm,” Gould said. “It was probably a legitimate strategy for Mohave County to buy this land to give us standing in the lawsuit (against the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District) ... but the price of the lease seems extremely low. The procurement office should put out a bid to see if the county can get a better deal.”
District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson was more skeptical of Wakimoto, however.
“I’ve thought there was a conflict since the beginning,” Johnson said. “I didn’t agree with buying the land to get into the water fight … if there was a legal argument for us to have had, we should have made that argument rather than buying that land just so we could be an aggrieved party.”
According to Johnson, the land’s connection to Wakimoto’s ex-husband was a matter that should have been disclosed to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors much sooner.
“It doesn’t pass the smell-test,” Johnson said. “Of all the properties we could have gotten, we had to get one (leased) by the relative of an ex-board member.”
Attempts to contact Lois Wakimoto by telephone were unsuccessful as of Thursday evening.
Mohave County Supervisors Jean Bishop and Gary Watson could not be reached for comment.