Jason Burnett’s presentation last week on accomplishments of the mayors’ joint powers agency regarding desalination is summarized in a memorandum contained in the agenda packet furnished by the JPA staff. This memorandum provides specific examples of claimed JPA positive accomplishments, from its inception up until the present, with respect to the Peninsula’s pursuit of a reliable water supply.
Here is a summary of those accomplishments listed in that memo::
(1) Obtaining securitization on behalf of Cal Am (meaning convincing the state to qualify Cal Am for funding at lower interest than the utility could obtain from private lenders);
(2) Supporting Cal Am regarding “source water” issues (meaning the utility’s start-and-stop efforts to obtain sub-surface water as a source for its proposed desal plant in the Marina area);
(3) Helping move forward the Ground Water Recharge (GWR) project, a project, already successful in Orange County, to highly treat wastewater so that it is drinkable, and to inject it into the Seaside aquifer for storage and co-mingling with other sources of water for the Peninsula;
(4) Working with the State Water Board to extend the date of the cease and desist order (CDO) to get Cal Am off the Carmel Rive; (meaning, among other things, no fines for Cal Am for missing the CDO deadline if it brings a desal plant online by 2020); and
(5) Improving public outreach (meaning a better effort in selling Cal Am’s project, and the JPA’s role in it, to the public).
My response to the above is to comment on each of the mayor’s points and, more importantly, to list areas in which the JPA decidedly has NOT exercised leadership, where circumstances would have dictated that such leadership was strongly called for. Bear in mind that costs incurred by Cal Am in pursuing the desal project are subject to recovery from its ratepayers, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), an agency historically motivated to do so at every turn.
(1) Securitization: A good result, but not a herculean effort that generates a “Wow – they did that!” There is precedent for this so it is not unique, and it was the water district that took the lead, not the JPA. Also, keep in mind that any savings this effort provides to ratepayers has already been offset, and more, by the failure of the mayors, prior to forming the JPA, to oppose the PUC decision to grant Cal Am almost $100 million more in cost recovery from its ratepayers than the facts on the record indicated it should have been granted.
(2) Continual support for Cal Am on source water – not stated is that the slant wells technology (the option Cal AM is pursuing) for obtaining the source has not been proven to be feasible, it faces legal hurdles if fresh water constitutes any part of water so pumped, and even though its total costs are not yet known, those costs are mostly likely to be borne by ratepayers even if the project fails. The JPA’s unconditional support for this potential result is a striking example of failure in leadership.
(3) Support for groundwater recovery. This is a project undertaken by the Peninsula water pollution control agency (PCA), not the JPA, and the primary successes here are a result of that agency’s efforts. Support is good, but doesn’t add to JPA accomplishments because the PCA and the water district took the lead..
(4) Extending the cease-and-desist order deadline will primarily benefit Cal Am. The ratepayers would only benefit if that extra time would be spent on an independent evaluation of slant well technology, feasibility and cost, but no such evaluation has even been mentioned by the JPA. And, importantly, it would give Cal Am another five years to complete a desal plant, on top of the past five years the utility has spent moving backward, sometimes horizontally but rarely forward.
(5) Public outreach. The JPA has spent money on a consultant to develop a new and better power point presentation. Wow! What a benefit. No mention of how many times it has been used and to what effect.
(1) From the beginning, the “oversight” exercised over Cal Am by the JPA has been more of a cozy friendship than an arms-length relationship. When negotiating the initial Cal Am/JPA agreement, the mayors caved in to almost all of Cal Am’s demands.
(2) The JPA has supported Cal Am through delays, mistakes, cavalier treatment of the water spikes issue. If nothing else, this shows myopic vision, where Cal Am is the only object that can been seen through their watery eyes.
(3) Before the PUC rate cases involving Cal Am, the JPA has consistently and strongly supported Cal Am’s requests, ignoring the elements of fairness, reasonableness required by law and especially in circumstances where some of those requests have resulted from Cal Am’s failure to diligently pursue its obligations under its water franchises.
(4) Knowing that their primary political support base, the hospitality industry, has already negotiated a favorable flat water rate, the JPA has been strangely silent in its concern for residential and even some commercial ratepayers, who are continually affected by PUC approvals, overlapped with surcharges upon surcharges.
(5) In other words, in line with the hospitality industry, the JPA seems to want the water, at any cost. Damn the costs, full speed ahead! Except there has been no “speed,” no forward progress, but plenty of costs.
(6) The JPA, in spite of Cal Am’s lack of progress, refuses to reconsider or even reevaluate the status of competing projects; and
(7) The JPA hasn’t fought for county participation; it has only shrugged its shoulders when the county has rejected it.
All in all, if I were to give a letter grade to the JPA’s “accomplishments since its inception to the present,” the letter “A” would not come to mind. In fact, when considering that the accomplishments claimed by the JPA to the tune of over $1 million in taxpayer monies, but which are meager, or non-existent, or trumped by prior failures of leadership, the letter “D” comes to mind more readily (I am willing to give them minor credit for “trying.”) You would think the mayors, who are all intelligent men, would seriously consider closing up shop.
Hood is a former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He lives part-time in Carmel.
READERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO COMMENT (SEE BELOW) BUT ANONYMOUS POSTS ARE NOT WELCOME