More than 100 enthusiastic supporters showed up Saturday afternoon for the Public Water Now kickoff rally at Laguna Grande Park in Seaside. The event marked the beginning of the PWN petition drive to put a new measure, dubbed H2O, on the 2018 ballot. “We collected our first 100 signatures and we’re off to a great start!” said PWN director, George Riley.
The Dave Holodiloff Band provided a great blue grass background. The atmosphere was upbeat and determined. Supporters wore T-shirts that read PUBLIC WATER NOW…or NEVER!
PWN’s goal is public ownership of the Peninsula’s water system. The petition reads: “The purpose of this Measure is to ensure the long-term sustainability, adequacy, reliability, cost-effectiveness and quality of water service within the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District (MPWMD) area, to lower the cost of service to ratepayers, to promote and practice sustainable water management measures, and to establish public ownership of water system assets.”
The ballot measure, if passed, would direct the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to pursue a buyout of Cal Am if financially feasible. According to Riley, “We’ve looked at the numbers and we believe it’s feasible.” MPWMD’s general manager would be required within nine months to submit a plan to implement the new policy.
If Cal Am refuses to sell, the Water Management District has the authority to use eminent domain.
The Monterey Peninsula has the most expensive water in the country according to national nonprofit, Food & Water Watch. In the past two years, ratepayers have experienced a 68 percent increase in water costs. After widely promoting conservation, Cal Am charged ratepayers $40 million for water they didn’t use to make up for lost corporate profits.
Efforts to take the Peninsula’s water system public go back to the 1930s. “None have succeeded,” said Riley addressing the crowd, “but I’m calling this measure a game-changer.”
In 2014, Measure O was outspent 20 to 1 by Cal Am’s $2.5 million, but lost by only 10 points. Riley said the new measure has a much better chance of passing next fall because the political landscape has changed dramatically. During the Measure O campaign, all of the Monterey Peninsula’s mayors opposed it, as did 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter and former Rep. Sam Farr.
Many of those political leaders that opposed Measure O are now gone and have been replaced by those who support public ownership. A number of them were present in support at Saturday’s rally.
“We know we’re going to face Cal Am’s money again,” Riley said.
But he pointed out that voters had been on the side of local control in the vote on Measure Z, which defeated Big Oil. “We want local control over Cal Am,” he said. “I think Big Water will lose this time.”
A new PWN flyer points out that $19 million in Cal Am’s corporate profits and taxes leave our community annually. “Do you like sending your money to American Water in New Jersey (Cal Am’s parent company) or would you rather see it stay home?” Riley asked. “Corporate water is wrong and public water is right.”
Achieving community ownership of our water will take a community sized effort. The question Riley posed to the crowd was, “Do we want to rent our water forever or buy it and own it? It’s only going to work if we do the work. We can do this!” Felton, Ojai and Missoula, Montana have all succeeded in efforts to take back their water from corporate ownership.
To be placed on the ballot, the Measure will need 6,200 signatures from voters in the Monterey Peninsula water district, which includes Monterey, Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Seaside, Del Rey Oaks and Sand City. “We’re shooting for 10,000 signatures,” Riley concluded.
Short sessions to train people how to collect Measure H2O signatures will begin Monday at 1:30 and 7:00pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church 490 Aquajito Road in Carmel. Everyone who wants to help is welcome to attend the training. Other training times are scheduled here.
You can join Public Water Now here.
Melodie Chrislock, the communications director for Public Water Now, can be reached at MWChrislock@redshift.com.