An Open Letter to Peninsula Mayors and Supporters of Measure O
The mayors have stated their satisfaction with the defeat of Measure O, which would have initiated a process that could have culminated in the public ownership of Cal-Am. They gladly supported Cal-Am, which used a massive amount of money to head off that potential outcome. In the process, the mayors spoke only in generalities, arguing that “the time was not right” and any effort at public ownership would only be a “distraction” from the task of completing a desalination plant.
However, there are lessons, some clear, some not so clear, for the mayors that can be derived from an analysis of the election results.
Absentee voters, who filed their votes early in the process, had only the words of the mayors and Cal-Am to guide them. Even so, notwithstanding the over-generalizations and serious misstatements from the Measure O opposition, all of that empty rhetoric persuaded only 53% of the absentee voters to oppose the measure.
In contrast, voters who waited until the very end of the process and voted on election day had an opportunity to gather more information. They heard the arguments of the measure’s supporters and heard the reality behind the misstatements.
The Measure O supporters, despite limited resources, carried out a vigorous grassroots campaign, and spoke to many individual ratepayers, answering questions and seeking support directly from them. Fact: 55% of the election-day voters voted to support the measure.
So here are the lessons for the mayors:
(1) Spending a lot of money and failing to be completely honest with your constituents may not work the next time. When people had an opportunity to ask questions, and hear and read facts directly from real people, they rejected all those dire predictions you made without a speck of factual support.
(2) However, the low turnout of voters makes it more difficult to draw other firm conclusions. In a mid-term election, even a major issue that had significant potential impacts on every voter wasn’t enough to inspire great numbers of voters to actually vote. We don’t know for sure, but if even an additional 20% of registered voters had voted, the result could have been different – or it could have been the same. If that additional 20% mostly waited until election day, we might conclude Measure O would have passed with flying colors.
(3) But we can tell you this: Even a group outspent 20 to 1 came close to pulling the election off. That means, at it base, that you can’t continue to rely on persuading the voters with Pablum (typical political hyperbole). They want and deserve facts.
(4) They also deserve honest and aggressive representation of their actual rights, needs and demands. In the context of Measure O, that means protection against future out-of-control water rates, if Cal-Am is going to continue to be the water purveyor. The efforts of those supporting Measure O are not going away. They will be tracking your actions closely and if you continue business as usual, expect a strong and effective reaction.
(5) Since you and Cal-Am prevailed and although you might believe Cal-Am is under no immediate threat of a takeover, you should seriously initiate a sea-change, a 180-degree redirection of your relationship with that company. From this point on, you should show your constituents, by words AND actions, that you will collectively do everything in your power to control and prevent unfair, outrageous and unnecessary future rate increases for everyone, not just a favored few.
(6) For every day that Cal-Am remains the water supplier, and as history indicates, Peninsula ratepayers will remain under a cloud of potentially unfair and uncontrolled rate increases that could bring pain and even bankruptcy to many lower income persons. What they DON’T need is a group of politicians gloating and resting on their laurels because they deflected a determined effort to take Cal-Am public.
(7) What ratepayers DO need is for their elected leaders to slough off their egos, their personal biases and interests, and to roll up their sleeves, working as hard as they can at arms’ length from Cal-Am to ensure their constituents are treated fairly in ALL respects, starting right NOW.
Can they do it? They’d be smart to consider it. A large, growing and determined group of observers won’t sit still if they don’t.
Hood is a water lawyer and engineer who also served as director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.