There is a good reason that local TV news seldom has anything to say about Monterey Peninsula water politics. It isn’t very visual and the sound bites tend to be a bit on the dry side.
The potential for something Action News-worthy looms, however, with the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses planning an event featuring a lawyer who specializes in combating public efforts to take over private water system. That session is set for 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday June 27 at the Monterey Plaza Hotel but is open only to coalition members – generally the hospitality and general commerce bigwigs of the rest of the business community.
The coalition isn’t expected to invite cameras, or the public, into the session. What creates the opportunity for some video is a low-key rally scheduled for outside the hotel at the same time. That event is being organized by Public Water Now, the group that is preparing to mount a Peninsula-wide ballot measure forcing a public takeover of California American Water.
The coalition’s speaker, attorney Joe Conner hails from Chattanooga, Tenn., and specializes in representing private water companies and other corporate interests facing takeover efforts. In scattered cases, he has managed to beat back municipilization efforts but the verbiage on his web site suggests his work mainly focuses on increasing the prices paid to the companies being acquired. He failed to stop a recent takeover effort in Missoula, Mont., but says he managed to have the offering price doubled. He tried and failed to thwart the community effort to acquire the Felton water system from California American Water Co. but he takes credit for increasing the cost to the customers.
The coalition’s invitation describes its event as a “special presentation on the costs and complications of using eminent domain to ‘condemn’ an investor owned utility, such as California American Water Co., for a public takeover. This presentation by Joe Conner will be informative and educational; Mr. Conner is a real expert on these matters and his information will help counteract much of the recent misinformation floated by non-experts! Please plan to attend this excellent presentation. And please circulate this invitation again to your Boards of Directors, your members, your friends and associates – all are cordially invited. ”
Public Water Now’s George Riley asked the coalition if the “all are cordially invited” applied to him but was told it did not.
Riley said, “We believe the public and the attendees will get a one-sided perspective if they only hear from the American Water Works gun-slinger.”
“This private event is typical of corporate interests — not transparent, and to set in motion forces that are moneyed and muscular,” Riley continued. “We hope rational people will see this as strategy, not information.”
Corporate water systems now serve about 15 percent of households in the United States. Public Water Now plans a November 2018 ballot measure to reduce that percentage every so slightly.