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The Monterey Herald has not given me a voice in its recent editions. I am the obvious one to respond to its criticism regarding Public Water Now’s activities, and hospitality industustry executive John Narigi’s criticisms (twice). But I have been denied that voice.

Following a Herald piece critical of the current effort to put Cal Am Water under public ownership, and similar arguments from Narigi, I submitted a response late last week. So far, it has not been published. Either the Herald editorial team has completely committed to one side, or it has taken a dim view of dialogue, or it is inept.

Regardless I am deeply disappointed in the Herald’s editorial view regarding its broader community of ratepayers, residents, voters, and the basic local economic life around water.

The Herald’s editorial of Oct. 6 called the new effort to buy Cal Am a distraction from the process of getting a new water supply.

First of all, ownership and supply are two very separate and distinct issues. Neither hinges on the other. Supply is short term. Ownership is long term. Whatever develops with supply will have to be incorporated into the ownership proceedings.

Second, call it a distraction. Call it a ground squirrel. Call it whatever. But those who call it anything cannot deny this fact: Cal Am is a monopoly using Peninsula water as a cash cow. The real question is not about distraction. It is who is the ostrich refusing to see the obvious.

The Herald is not the only one playing ‘ostrich’. The next day, Oct. 7, a paid commentary by the Coalition of Peninsula Businesses argued for a larger desalination plant and claimed that “most recent local water savings has (sic) come from initiatives undertaken by commercial businesses.” Somehow residential conservation was overlooked, which did not endear the coalition to many local ratepayers.

On Monday, Oct. 16, the Mayors’ Water Authority meets with the Peninsula Water Management District at 5:30 p.m. the district office. The mayors voted 4 – 2 to not discuss the community opinion of Cal Am.

During the Measure O campaign in 2014, Cal Am and the others expressed confidence that a new supply was close at hand. But here we are four years later, and still Cal Am flounders. Other supply projects have caught and passed Cal Am’s desal plan.

The foursome must spend a lot of time talking to themselves. Because they seem deaf to ratepayer complaints. Do they care? Ratepayers have been vociferous. Who is listening?

Public Water Now is the largest ratepayer advocate community organization on the Peninsula. Others are WRAMP (Water Ratepayers Association for Monterey Peninsula), previously called WaterPlus; and a new group, Citizens for Just Water, representing residential interests in the Marina area. All three participate in CPUC proceedings. All three hear from ratepayers and residents all the time, and the messages have been simple and clear – Cal Am is too costly, is arrogant in its approach to water, hides behind CPUC rulings, has a history of failure, and is no longer welcome.

Back to the starting point. Where is the distraction? The Herald, the business coalition and the mayors’ authority Business Coalition, Mayors Authority, all do not seem distracted. They seem focused. But they have not been successful. So are they actually distracted? Or is there another motivation?

My perspective is that all four want a distraction. They want a scapegoat. They want to have something to blame if Cal Am flat out fails. They want to be able to say that the community has “again” not marched to the “leadership” powers that be. They need an excuse to explain to the state water board why the cease-and-desist order regarding Carmel River water needs another modification, or why Cal Am cannot get it right, or why “they” cannot get it right.

Here is the obvious. Ratepayers are upset. Ratepayers have been gouged. Ratepayers and residents are reacting. It is time for a change. It is time for Cal Am to leave town. It is time for public ownership. Since the ostrich ‘leadership’ will not lead, ratepayers will.

In summary, ratepayers are being hammered. Monopoly water is too expensive and wrong. Public water is more affordable and right.

Riley

Look for a public water petition and sign. You will be doing the entire region and the future a big favor.

George T. Riley is managing director of Public Water Now, which is circulating petitions supporting local public ownership of Cal Am, a privately held international company.

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Public Water Now Launches H2O Petition Drive at Rally

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(Photo by Wes White)

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.

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Get ready to rumble.

Public Water Now is kicking off its effort to take Cal Am Water public with a rally set for 1 p.m. Saturday Oct. 7 at Seaside’s Laguna Grande Park. Expect a news conference with Public Water Now founder George Riley and others along with a bit of entertainment, food trucks, etc.

The group is starting a petition drive to create a November 2018 ballot measure that would force a public takeover of the Peninsula’s water purveyor for reasons that include constantly rising water rates that have made the water here the most expensive in the United States.

Public Water Now attempted a similar measure in 2014 that was defeated by a blitz of deceptive advertising by Cal Am. There’s no reason to expect anything less this time around but organizers believe ratepayers have become fed up with Cal Am’s pricing and its propaganda.

Said Riley, “Skyrocketing water bills have people all over the Peninsula fed up with Cal Am. According to Food & Water Watch, we have the most expensive water in the country. Ratepayers have experienced a 68-percent increase in the cost of water over the last two years and there are more increases scheduled. It really bothers people that we’ve conserved water only to have Cal Am charge us $40 million for the water that we didn’t use to make up for lost profits.”

Riley said goal is to collect as many as 8,000 signatures, considerably more than the 6,200 needed to place the measure on the ballot.

The petition calls for the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to adopt a policy of owning the water system and to acquire it if its determined to be “economically feasible.” The water management district would be required within nine months to initiate a plan to acquire and manage all the water facilities in the district boundaries. The result likely would be court hearings to establish the value of the system that Cal Am insists is not for sale.

The unpopularity of the water district, stemming from disagreement over its role, is certain to be used against the Public Water Now campaign, but the group is likely to emphasize that the agency is led by publicly elected board that voters can change.

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I recently caused a commotion in the Monterey Herald’s letters section. On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Herald printed a letter from Michael Baer of Monterey expressing his disappointment with the Mayors’ Water Authority, specifically their apparent inability to bring Cal Am’s ever-increasing water bills under control. So far so good.

Then in regard to Cal Am’s proposed desalination plant, Baer complained that the Water Authority could “not even be bothered to seriously consider a plan B, just in case this project goes the way of all previous Cal Am new water supply projects: failure.” This is where I saw a problem. Two, actually, but I chose to respond to only one.

The one I ignored was the alleged lack of a “plan B.” The Water Authority designated the project called Deep Water Desal as a backup plan. They directed the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to help develop the project on a parallel track with Cal Am’s project in case the latter fails to materialize. Baer may not have known this because it has not been given much attention in the local press beyond an initial announcement a couple years ago.

But I felt his other claim deserved some attention, as it has become popular in recent years to blame Cal Am for every previous project failure regardless of the cause or who was actually in charge. So I wrote the following letter, which was published in the Herald on Aug. 31s.

Cal Am not to blame for past failures

Michael Baer’s Aug. 29 letter made reference to the “failure” of “all previous Cal Am new water supply projects.” Let’s get the history straight. Cal Am has been the lead agency on only one water project, the current desalination plan. Earlier projects that failed were overseen by public agencies, not Cal Am.

The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District was in charge of two viable projects, a desalination plant in Sand City and a new Los Padres dam on the Carmel River. Taxpayer advocates and environmental groups convinced voters that these projects were too expensive, environmentally damaging, and growth inducing so they were killed at the ballot box.

More recently Marina Coast Water District was the lead agency for the Regional Desalination Project. It involved three public agencies (none of which represented Peninsula ratepayers), each designated to operate separate components of a single desalination plant which would sell water to Cal Am. A conflict of interest problem brought the whole thing crashing down.

Cal Am took the reins only after it became clear that the public process was unable to deliver a water supply project. And while this may not be saying much, Cal Am has made more progress than any public agency ever did.

James B. Toy, Seaside

The very next day the Herald published a letter from Jan Shriner, a board member of the Marina Coast Water District. She didn’t mention my letter specifically, but it was clear she didn’t care for my choice of words as her first two sentences made clear:

Cal Am is not a ‘lead agency’ of any project they propose. Cal Am can’t be the lead agency because they are the project proponent and a corporation.”

Evidently Shriner believes the term “agency” only applies to governmental organizations. Perhaps that is the case in her world of bureaucratic legalese, but my dictionary defines the word more broadly as “an organization, company, or bureau that provides a particular service,” so I believe I used the word correctly when I applied it to Cal Am. If I had said Cal Am was “in charge of” instead of the “lead agency on” only one project I might have avoided this little kerfuffle. Live and learn.

The remainder of her first paragraph said: “Cal Am was a partner in the Regional Desalination Project (RDP) along with Marina Coast Water District and the Monterey County Water Resource Agency (MCWRA). Cal Am pulled out of the project (and sued MCWD) reportedly because a MCWRA director was accused of conflict of interest. The former MCWRA director pled no contest to the charges.”

This seems to confirm my original assessment, but her choice of words spins the story more in Marina Coast’s favor. I suspect this was the motivation behind her letter as Marina Coast has been on the losing side of litigation with Cal Am in cases relating to both the failed RDP and Cal Am’s current project.

But she did make one valid point. In my last paragraph I said “the public process was unable to deliver a water supply project.” Shriner corrected me by pointing to the completion of a small desalination plant in Sand City and a project called Aquifer Storage and Recovery, which she said are both under the authority of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. A pending recycled water project called Pure Water Monterey is a joint effort involving three public agencies. Those projects had crossed my mind when I wrote my original letter, but even when combined they don’t come close to fulfilling the need. However, they do help so for accuracy I should have said “the public agencies were unable to deliver a complete water supply solution.”

Moving along, on Sept. 2 and 3 two more letters appeared. The first was from Chuck Cech of Monterey, followed by Bill Hood, a part-time resident of Carmel. Both began with a brief reference to my letter indicating they didn’t like it. Then they changed the subject by asking me a series of long-winded questions about Cal Am’s handling of ratepayer money, which, of course, had nothing to do with the subject of my original letter except for inclusion of the water company’s name.

Along with their similar formatting, both letters seemed to imply that my unwillingness to blame Cal Am for the failure of three projects not under the company’s direct control somehow meant that I approve of everything Cal Am has ever done. The absurdity of that should be self-evident. And anyone who has read my previous writings about local water issues knows that at various times I have been both supportive and critical of Cal Am depending on the situation. I don’t know Chuck Cech, and he may never have heard of me, so he can be excused for not knowing that. Bill Hood, on the other hand, has no excuses. He and I have had several online discussions on this topic, including private e-mails and public comments on the pages of the Monterey Bay Partisan. He knows where I stand and it’s not where his very public letter placed me.

Since their two attack letters deviated so far from the subject of mine, I feel no obligation to answer their questions. But what the heck. I have nothing better to do right now, so I’ll give them a go.

Cech began with a note of gratitude: “Mr. Toy thank you for telling us Cal Am was not the lead agency on the three failed projects. However, Cal Am was a partner in each of these projects. They spent millions of dollars on each of these projects.”

It goes without saying that Cal Am was a partner since they would deliver any water produced by these projects. I assumed that was self-evident so I saw no need to deplete my 200-word allocation to explain that in my letter.

Then he launched his inquisition with this: “Every one of these projects failed. Does Cal Am have difficulty working with others, when it comes to controlling water delivery and cost on the Monterey Peninsula?”

Well, let’s see. I don’t recall any reports of strife between Cal Am and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, and the company seems to have a pretty cozy relationship with the Peninsula Mayors’ Water Authority (some say they’re too cozy). So, no, they don’t seem to have difficulty working with those agencies. As for Cal Am and Marina Coast, it’s no secret that their relationship has been strained since the collapse of the RDP program. Is Cal Am to blame? Maybe, but Marina Coast doesn’t have a particularly good reputation for cooperation. Two years ago then-Congressman Sam Farr suggested that Marina Coast should be disbanded because “they just haven’t conducted themselves in a very professional way. They’ve been fighting everybody else, and they’ve been sort of selfish and arrogant.” So there’s that to consider.

Cech continued….and continued:

Did Cal Am conduct the necessary due diligence investigation of all aspects of these projects before agreeing to join them? Since Cal Am was not the lead agency on any of these failed projects, why did they spend a total of $34 million on them, without turning one shovel of dirt? Why is Cal Am not responsible for their cost of these projects? Why are ratepayers now paying $34 million to Cal Am plus interest for these failed projects?”

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. Why don’t you ask Cal Am? While you’re at it, ask their lapdogs at the California Public Utilities Commission.

Hood had a similar line of questioning, but he opened by impugning my recollection of past events: “Mr. Toy relies upon his version of history to claim that Cal Am is not at fault with respect to the present condition of water supply efforts.”

Stop right there, Bill. It looks like you’re accusing me of making up alternative facts, Conway style. I take that very seriously because my reputation is at stake. If you are going to announce to the entire Peninsula that I have fabricated my own “version of history” contrary to actual history you need to explain your reasoning. If I have said anything that is untrue then by all means correct me (as Jan Shriner did). I’ll take my lumps, learn from it, and strive to do better next time. But please don’t suggest in public that I’m spreading misinformation then blow past the accusation by saying nothing more than…

I do not agree with him, but even if I did, I would ask Mr. Toy these questions:”

And just like Cech , you abruptly change the subject. I call this diversionary tactic “debate and switch.”

Now to answer your question: “Yes, a fact-based opinion as to whether or not Cal Am is the villain in the Peninsula water scenario is necessary (and, frankly, is already on the record). But, why are you avoiding the ‘elephant in the room’ by ignoring the more immediate and concerning issue that has resulted from the historical and ongoing Cal Am/CPUC/local political support process that has created the highest cost of water in the country?

I’m not avoiding the subject. In my blog and in the comments section of the Monterey Bay Partisan I have used the word “unethical” to describe Cal Am’s recent retroactive rate increase. But I didn’t mention it in my letter because…

a.) Water rates were not the subject of my letter.

b.) The Herald’s 200-word limit prevented me from going off on a tangent about water rates.

c.) The subject of Cal Am’s high rates is discussed almost daily in the Herald’s letters section and frequently in the Monterey Bay Partisan. At this point there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said a dozen times already

Next question:  “Even if you were right and I was wrong, doesn’t all of this tell you that something is amiss and has to be corrected?”

Yes.

Do you really believe that the nation’s highest water costs are the result from other factors at play not related to Cal Am, et al?”

The question is a little confusing. Do Peninsula voters, the Water Management District, and the state water board’s cease and desist order qualify as “other factors” or do they get lumped in with “et al”? If they are other factors then my answer is yes. If they fall under et al then, no.

Either way, are you satisfied with the current situation, and, if so, why?”

I’m not at all satisfied. In an earlier commentary here I likened our situation to a “freakin’ nuthouse.” As the years have passed there’s been more and more bickering and less and less cooperation among everyone involved.

Making matters worse, Cal Am squandered a lot of goodwill by imposing their retroactive rate increase on top of rate increases to build their desal plant. And whoever was the genius that guaranteed Cal Am a certain amount of profit from every capital investment, including unproductive ones, should be run out of town in a westerly direction. But when it comes to building a water supply project Cal Am strikes me as the only adult in the room. The company is under a lot of pressure to succeed, and they’re doing their darnedest, yet a lot of people seem determined to block their every move. I tell you again, local water politics is a freakin’ nuthouse!

The really frustrating part is that it was ridiculously easy to avoid the current situation, but we collectively chose not to. Had voters approved the local water district’s plans for a dam and desal plant combo in the 1990s, the mess we’re in now would never have happened. The state would likely never have imposed a cease and desist order on Cal Am pumping. Cal Am would never have gotten into a costly failed deal with Marina Coast, nor would the company be sinking buckets of capital into their own desal plant to be paid for with our water bills.

But Peninsula voters were led astray by various activist groups claiming that better, faster, and cheaper projects could be had if we just listened to them and ignored the advice of the bureaucrats. But their promises were empty. They never had a plan. In the last quarter century the names of the activists have changed, but their message is the same. They’re still promising better, faster, cheaper water if we just listen to them. Unlike the majority of voters I didn’t believe them then, and I certainly don’t believe them now.

So here’s where I stand. I don’t care if the water company is public or private. I don’t care if our new water supply involves a dam, a desal plant, water hyacinths, or icebergs towed in from Alaska. I don’t care if a desal plant is fed by slant wells, open ocean intakes, or a bucket brigade. I don’t care whose toes get stepped on, whose feelings get hurt, or whose ideology gets squashed. At this point I don’t even care how much it is going to cost. I just want it done!

James Toy lives in Seaside and is a regular contributor to the Partisan. This first appeared on one of his blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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UPDATE: IN COMMENT SECTION BELOW, STEELHEAD ASSOCIATION’S FRANK EMERSON RESPONDS AND SAYS, WELL, YES, WE HAVE RECEIVED A LITTLE BIT OF MONEY FROM CAL AM.

The Monterey Herald’s most recent editorial on the important subject of water might have been compelling if its premise had been correct. Ironically, the errant editorial began with a lecture strongly and wrongly insinuating that backers of a public takeover of Cam Am Water play fast and loose with the facts.

The focus of the piece Thursday’s was that “some public water advocates have expressed the view” that the Carmel River Steelhead Association supports Cal Am’s deeply troubled desalination project because the organization has received money for its noble work protecting the fish in the endangered river.

(I would include a link to the editorial but as far as I can tell it is not been posted to the web.)

The Herald doesn’t get specific about the source of the supposed payments to the association, but the editorial seems to be saying that those unnamed “public water advocates” have alleged that the association gets money from Cal Am. The Herald doesn’t identify or quote any of the public water advocates who purportedly have accused the association of having been bought off. I could be wrong, but I believe there were no names or quotations in the article because nobody has made such an accusation, at least not in any type of public forum.

Several years ago, I asked one of the association’s most active leaders, Frank Emerson, if the group was getting any money from Cal Am. I raised the question largely because Emerson has defended Cal Am so strongly and has been so vigorous in his criticism of Cal Am’s critics. He said Cal Am hadn’t provided a penny. I believed him then and I believe him now. I disagree with Emerson’s view of Cal Am. He seems to forget that its record of overpumping the Carmel River and its neglect of the San Clemente Dam were key reasons that the steelhead are in danger in the first place. I disagree with his opinion but I don’t question his honesty.

The issue of a public takeover will be on the ballot late next year. The last time the issue was on a public ballot, Cal Am fended off the effort through an exceptionally well funded and deceptive advertising blitz. If the Herald wants to play any useful role in the next election, here’s hoping it plays it straighter than it did this week.

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A Peninsula water solution without desal?

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For those of you who missed it, the Monterey County Weekly had an important piece this week raising the possibility that the Pure Water recycling project could be enlarged enough to eliminate the need for Cal Am’s tremendously expensive desalination plant. Here it is.

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I have been fascinated by elephants ever since I was a small child and my parents rewarded me for good behavior with a wonderful trip to the circus. They were huge and I was so excited to see such a large animal actually do tricks. There were other attractions that day but I couldn’t have ignored the elephants. They were just so damned big and different.

As history tells us, the Romans ignored elephants, only to get trampled by Hannibal. There should have been a lesson there for the ages but local politicians, the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Am Water have blatantly ignored the elephant in the room of water politics.

“There’s an elephant in the room” is meant to identify a major element of an issue that is ignored or deliberately avoided while the issue is being discussed. During discussions of how the Monterey Peninsula is to come up with a reliable source of reasonably priced water, the invisible pachyderm has been the cost that eventually will be paid by Cal Am customers. Neither our local politicians, the CPUC or Cal Am has been publicly addressing the overall costs of future delivery of water. The total costs are not clear, but among the costs looming for the customers is at least $280 million for the desalination plant Cal Am plans to build and numerous other expenses to be billed later. That’s an elephant that doesn’t get mentioned during the ongoing and long-running debate over the size, design and location of the desal plant.

Instead, the politicians merely praise Cal Am’s progress on the project while the CPUC and Cal Am simply ignore the elephant. Whatever the cost, the CPUC will allow Cal Am to pocket the money from ever higher rates. All the while, the huge animal with a big trunk and big feet fills the room.

Even the best eye doctors could not open the eyes of the politicians. The CPUC and Cal Am, meanwhile, seem to have glasses that digitally erase the elephant’s image. And it will remain that way until the grassroots efforts now in progress restore the vision of the people in charge. Fortunately for the customers, the groups Public Water Now and WRAMP and others have been fighting the high costs and are making headway toward making sure everyone sees the elephant.

The CPUC’s mandate is that it treat ratepayers and utilities equally. But the commissioners don’t get it and our elected officials don’t seem to want to get it. If you, as a ratepayer, don’t want to get trampled even more than you already have, you should join your water activists as they ride the invisible elephants into the center of the public discussion for all to see.  Let the unseeing trio become like the Romans.  Get on board, see what you can do to open some eyes

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Ratepayers, let’s make this plain and simple: Cal Am has got to go and public water has to replace it.

“Where should Cal Am go?” Away from the Monterey Peninsula for good, that’s where.

“Why should it go?” The answer is simple and obvious. They’ve increased rates and fees, not only to cover water delivery costs but also costs arising out of their bad decisions and negligence. Those costs should not have been placed solely on your shoulder. Instead, Cal-Am should have borne their fair and equitable share, to say nothing about the almost 10% profit that is guaranteed by California regulation. The result is you, a customer innocent of any wrongdoing, has become the pot of gold at the end of Cal Am’s rainbow, to the tune of being hit with the highest cost of water in the entire country. If you are still asking if Cal Am should be be made to go away, consider:

Will Cal Am ever change colors like a salamander and rebate past unfair rate hikes back to you?

Second, will the local commercial customers who benefit from favorable rates not available to you change their colors, find a little equity and reason, and offer to use their influence to help you out of the deep rate abyss into which you have fallen?   I am not kidding, but I might as well be. It ain’t gonna happen.

Third, will your elected representatives, including city councils, mayors, supervisors and  those in Sacramento, come to their senses to understand they were elected to see the light and aggressively  protect your interests? Hasn’t happened yet, and such a sea change not likely in the cards.

“Why then, don’t our politicians understand the burden of very high and uncontrolled rate hikes on the average guy/gal?” Go figure – they don’t

“So what’s left? What WILL cause Cal-Am to leave town?”

Any realistic solution to  Cal Am must replace it with a workable public agency. You deserve an agency that represents all of you, not just some, that knows what it is doing, is transparent, is committed to working for you and that will deliver cheaper water.

Only one existing agency fills the bill — the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. It far from perfect, but it’s the ONLY one with all the elements necessary to actually manage a water supply system.   Creating a new agency would be time consuming, and a waste of time without an assurance that what you need will be what you get. If you are unhappy with the decisions made by the district board, remember they are elected by you and if they can’t get their individual or collective acts together, you could vote them out and replace them with persons who will.

It may take time, but don’t minimize the importance of getting educated, and actually voting. A landswell of public support for public water can make it happen. It has happened elsewhere. No alternative option can realistically provide you the representation and accessibility and ensure your ability to be running the show with your votes. Strong and unyielding public pressure can turn the district around and it’s more than worth the effort.

Your last question should be “Where and how can I get on board?” Call Public Water Now. The first step toward success is that group’s effort to pass a ballot referendum to initiate the process. They need you and your support. If costs are a concern for you, PWN is your best option. Get going, get educated and get involved!

Hood, former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, divides his time between Carmel and Columbus, Ohio.

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Friday’s Carmel Pine Cone contained two unvarnished attempts to vilify Public Water Now, the group leading the upcoming attempt at a public takeover of Cal Am Water. George Riley, the extremely water-savvy managing director of Public Water Now, usually doesn’t let the Pine Cone’s excoriations get to him, but this heavy-handed and apparently erroneous attack got under his skin.

In a letter to the Pine Cone and the rest of local press corps, Riley calls reporter Kelly Nix’s front page story on Public Water Now “appalling” and argues that the companion editorial on April 21 was “riddled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations and assumptions.”

Riley goes on to demand a retraction and clarification though he said he doesn’t expect either. Pine Cone Editor and Publisher Paul Miller has been an unquestioning promoter of Cal Am at least since the turn of the century, and Cal Am has been a significant advertiser in the weekly publication. Efforts to control Cal Am’s rapidly escalating price structure or to scrutinize the company’s flawed and increasingly expensive desalination project have been met with derision, even ridicule from Miller.

In the news article on Friday, Nix focuses on a letter to Public Water Now from the Peninsula mayors’ water committee, saying it had been signed by the committee chairman, Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe. In his letter of response, Riley says the letter was not signed by Kampe or anyone else, was not approved by the mayors’ committee and was not even sent.

“People who were at the meeting confirmed that the letter under discussion was not approved,” Riley wrote. “I watched the tape of the entire meeting. The Pine Cone is dead wrong in its report.”

A draft of the letter was considered as a possible response to a March letter from Riley in which he criticized the desalination venture in general and its reliance on so-called slant wells. He correctly notes that the slant-well technology, despite being favored by regulators, has not been put to at any desalination plant in the world. Nix sought to rebut that by quoting Cal Am officials as saying their controversial testing of the technology is going well. The testing process was interrupted by disclosures of conflicts of interests involving the designer of the technology.

“It’s most unfortunate for readers when the Pine Cone reports unsubstantiated information as fact,” Riley wrote. The account “was NOT based on what the mayors said.”

“It must feel exciting for a small paper to believe it has a big scoop, then pontificate with an editorial,” Riley continued. “But it is a serious breach of journalistic ethics, and your responsibility to this community, to fail to verify, or to ignore that step altogether.”

Riley retired as chief housing officer for San Mateo County and ever since has led Peninsula efforts to control Cal Am’s water rates and to put the private company into public hands in hopes of controlling costs.

Direct links to the Pine Cone article and the editorial are not included in this post because the weekly newspaper’s technology does not accommodate linkage. Those wanting to read those pieces can, however, go to the Pine Cone’s online archive (Google Carmel Pine Cone archive or click here) and then click on the line labeled “download this week’s edition” and wait for a download of a facsimile of Friday’s paper.

Nix’s article gives no indication that he sought any comment from Riley before posting his piece and Riley says he was not approached. The Partisan sent an email to Nix before working hours Tuesday and had not heard back as of 11 a.m. This report will be updated if he responds.

Unlike Nix’s story, Miller’s editorial makes no pretense of objectivity.

“… This community’s water activists must be the dumbest people in the world,” he writes.

“Not only do they incessantly fight every single thing that might help eliminate our perennial water shortage, they simply won’t give up on the idea of a government takeover of Cal Am, no matter how many times the public tells them, ‘No.’”

It goes on like that for several more paragraphs. He says the activists are opposed to desalination, slant wells, pipelines and even water recycling “for utterly nonsensical and self-serving reasons,”none of which he mentions.

He writes that the activists “hate private business and have a deep narcissistic desire to get everybody else to hate businesses, too.”

He concludes, “The only intelligent thing for the activists to do would be to devote their energy to helping solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water problem, and stop pursuing their little takeover hobby until the shortage is gone.

“The problem is that little word, ‘intelligent.’ We don’t know how smart the activists are. But anybody can see how stupid they act.”

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The possibility of another attempt to put Cal Am Water in public hands prompts reflection over the history of major Monterey County ballot measures in which money and the big-lie technique prevailed. The first in recent history was Measure M back in 2000.

It was initiated by the Pebble Beach Co. with the aim of forcing the county and the Coastal Commission to allow it to build another golf course at the famed resort, but that’s not how it was sold to the voting public. Instead, the commercials and four-color fliers promoted the false notion that Measure M would stop development in the Del Monte Forest that surrounds the existing golf courses.

Measure M did contain a provision limiting the company’s ability to develop 425 acres that previously had been zoned for housing, but the company hardly needed a ballot measure to protect the property. The Pebble Beach Co. offered to permanently fallow the land for ballot measure purposes only after it had already shelved any plans to develop it. We hear a lot about Fake News. This was a Fake Ballot Measure. The campaign featured TV ads with popular actor Clint Eastwood, a Pebble Beach Co. principal, strolling through the trees and saying something like “if you love these woods as much as I do, you’ll vote yes on Measure M.”

The measure passed easily, helped by voters in the far reaches of the county who had no idea they were really voting only to add a golf course. Though the golf course deal was later scuttled by the Coastal Commission, Measure M demonstrated how moneyed interests could manipulate voter initiatives. Until about that time, the side attracting the most money had prevailed in every statewide ballot measure in California. Monterey County would prove to be equally fertile ground for deceptive politicking.

Other examples of dishonest but successful ballot measures include the 2016 ballot fight over the Monterey Downs horse race project and, of course, Measure 0 of 2014 in which California American Water twisted the truth to persuade voters not to move forward with a public takeover of the Monterey Peninsula’s privately held water system.

A giant anomaly, of course, was last year’s Measure Z, the anti-fracking measure approved by Monterey County voters despite a gusher of oil company money that paid for ads falsely charging that the initiative would shut down oil production in the area. But Measure Z’s success is no assurance that reality will trump money in the next big ballot showdown, which is likely to be another attempt to bring Cal Am under public ownership. If that ballot measure materializes in the coming, as expected, voters are likely to see another slick and misleading opposition campaign essentially paid for by the same ratepayers the measure would be designed to help.

Public Water Now, led by water activist George Riley, is believed to be on the verge of a decision to move ahead with a public takeover measure, which would be fueled in part by giant rate increases the company has imposed on its captive customers and the certainty that its struggling desalination project will lead to large additional increases.

The last time the issue made it to the ballot, in 2014, Cal Am prevailed by a count of 55 percent to 45 percent. But analysis of the vote showed that early, absentee voters who had been primarily exposed to Cal Am’s advertising voted against the measure while voters who waited for detailed information from the measure’s proponents voted for it. In other words, higher-information voters favored the ballot measure while those who were spun by Cal Am went the other way.

Cal Am’s anti-O campaign repeatedly described the takeover effort as a risky gamble. If O had passed, it would have required the Peninsula’s water management district to study the feasibility of a public takeover. The study wouldn’t have come cheap but it would have cost far less than Cal Am spent combating the ballot measure. Cal Am called Measure O “the risk we can’t afford.” What we can’t afford, Riley and a growing number of others believe, is Cal Am bills.

The Cal Am campaign also emphasized that negotiating a sale to the public would distract the company from developing a desalination plant – a plant that seems barely closer to reality even now, three years later. Cal Am also repeatedly mischaracterized attempts to takeover water systems elsewhere and the results of successful efforts.

A public takeover of Cal Am’s Peninsula water system would be an extremely difficult and expensive process and Cal Am can be expected to fight Public Water Now at every turn. The company has maintained through the years that the Peninsula system is barely profitable yet it has made it clear that it will fight any and all takeover efforts, which suggests the network of pumps and pipes is more profitable than the company lets on.

My own limited research  leads me to believe that in the short term, a public takeover would not result in lower water bills because a public agency would need to borrow sizable sums to complete the transaction. Dave Stoldt, manager of the water management district, once estimated that there would be no actual savings to the customers for as long as 30 years. Proponents disagree, saying savings would materialize much more quickly. Either way, I believe a takeover is worth pursuing because the savings to future customers, decades and decades of future savings, would make the effort worthwhile even if our bills didn’t immediately go down.

To me, the prospect of a takeover is an important public policy issue that should be decided by careful analysis and a considerable amount of professional cost accounting. The decision should not be based on a clever advertising campaign.

The way Cal Am conducted itself last time around was shameful but you didn’t hear a peep about it in polite Peninsula circles. As they did with the Monterey Downs ballot measures, pillars of the community knew that the side with the most money was cheating but they just looked the other way.

If Cal Am listens to anyone in public life on the Peninsula these days, those people should make it clear that the company should stick to the facts and the math and not create its own make-believe reality. The hospitality industry and other business interests have benefited in recent years from sweetheart rate arrangements with Cal Am. They should not let those short-term gains stop them from encouraging Cal Am to be the good corporate citizen it claims to be.

At the same time, Public Water Now and its supporters can and should be expected to play it straight. If buying out Cal Am is a good idea, the numbers should tell the story. If it doesn’t make financial sense, the idea probably isn’t worth pursuing no matter how much better off we would be with a water company run by an accountable local agency rather than for the benefit of distant shareholders.

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I read with great interest Royal Calkins’ post summarizing the efforts of Public Water Now members and supporters to work for public water to replace private water historically provided by Cal Am.  The comments I have seen thus far in response are from regular commenters on the blog, so not much new interest seems to have been ignited.

I have been an avid supporter of prior and current efforts by many to accomplish the demise of Cal Am on the Peninsula. The ratepayers of the Monterey Peninsula do not deserve to be the receivers of what is now considered the most expensive water rate in the country.   They deserve to have a public agency, which would, in theory, provide much less costly rates, real accessibility to the decision-makers, and the ability to remove from office at the ballot box those officials who don’t live up to the ratepayers’ expectations.

Trouble is, in order to determine the potential for those lofty and necessary goals and dreams, it is more than necessary to consider the entire context of the ongoing war, which has spanned over several decades and has been fought so hard by the few but incredibly committed and knowledgeable men and women on behalf of all fellow Peninsula ratepayers.

But before discussing the hurdles, this point is important.  George Riley, head of PWN, Ron Weitzman of the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula, Marc del Piero, and dozens of other activists already are fully aware of the challenges. They have toiled long and hard with their own money and time on behalf of all of you who are affected by exorbitant unfair rates. Many people know of them, have read their commentaries and understand that a few people are fighting for all of them.  But I bet very few people realize all the hurdles that must be overcome.  It is my hope that when the public becomes aware of the scope of the effort they will want to join in the fight.

The hurdles are all known:  politics; the difficulties inherent in the process of acquisition, with all of its legalities and uncertainties; timing; gaining the vocal and active major support across the board from a strong majority of affected ratepayers; and, last but not least, money. And there is another important hurdle, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

It is already known that the mayors, as nominal leaders of their cities, have thrown their support to Cal Am from the very beginning, starting with the formation of a joint powers agreement they formed to work “fairly and openly” to bring the most “effective and cost-effective” water supply to their constituents.  That hasn’t worked out. I am not pointing a finger at any individual but am looking at the wide picture. People who seek public office want to stay there, usually for very good and ethical reasons.  However, they find out immediately that, in order to do so, they need the support of the people who have the influence, time and money to promote those influences. Therefore, the heads of cities financially dependent on the hospitality industry are less likely to take public stances that are not favored by those who have influence in that industry. The cost of water is not so concerning to the industry as it has the means to pass on additional costs to their customers.  As we all know, residential ratepayers do not have that option.  But, probably in the minds of the mayors, the ability to keep the Peninsula’s economy humming trumps their willingness to go to the mat against the California Public Utilities Commission and Cal Am. During the past Measure O effort to acquire Cal Am, guess who dumped lots of cash to defeat the measure. Cal Am with support from hospitality big-wigs. Not a surprise.

There is more than one option for the acquisition process but only one is capable of success. California law gives the authority to local governments to acquire land and assets from private utilities, primarily by simple purchase of through eminent domain. The problem is Cal Am will not sell any of its land or assets. it will not be a friendly negotiator in the eminent domain process and it has publicly stated that it does not fear litigation. So, if even the new measure passes, the cost of acquisition would need to be studied, at a rather hefty price. If it clearly concludes that acquisition is feasible and will ultimately lead to a lesser burden on ratepayers, it could then lead to an acquisition process filled with hurdles.

Timing is critical.  If the process of retaining counsel, etc., is stretched out, the first election date might not be until next spring when other local issues and re-elections take place. That might work for the proponents, but any distraction is a problem.  The campaign needs to attract motivated and committed members of the public who will spend their time and money in full support of the measure. Working against that is the fact that the previous measure fell short in each city on the Peninsula.

Aiding the effort, Cal Am has shot itself in the foot with its outrageous rate increases. More and more people are expressing their anger for having to put up with rates that make water almost an unaffordable necessity.  But even so, a critical mass has not yet coalesced to provide PWN and its fellow activists necessary to make a much stronger statement at the polls. I am not sure if the response to Royal’s piece is indicative of that, but the commenters who posted were persons who regularly do so, and didn’t include any or many new names who are coming on board with their anger and concern.   More work needs to be done and it takes time AND money to do so – both hurdles in themselves.

Money. Cal Am has access to as much money as it needs to fight off its opposition.

Finally, there is the water district. There has been talk of creating a new joint powers agency to take up the mantle and provide public water once Cal Am is defeated.  That option is a hurdle by its very nature – joint powers agencies are formed by two or more local jurisdictions.  Given the political bent of current local jurisdictions (e.g., the cities), there is not much reason to believe that a new combination of the same parties would not end up same old same old.   A better choice is the MPWMD. After all, it is a water district with jurisdiction over the entire Peninsula. It has a large and capable staff and a proven leader in its general manager.  However, the district is not clean of internal hurdles either.  It has been incapable of implementing a solution to the long-standing water supply problem (although the voters rejected some options sought by the District). The makeup of its board and how it is selected need a new look.  Five members of the board represent five districts and are directly elected, and that is good.  However, two members are appointed, one by the county Board of Supervisors and other by a city committee.  The problem is that the statute does not dictate that the supervisor must be from a supervisorial district that represents at least part of the water district’s area of responsibility, and the method of appointing a city representative is completely inconsistent with the actual language of the statute.  More importantly, a supervisor from a district other than supervisorial districts 5 and 2 (the ones that cover part of the Peninsula) has never been appointed, but the statute allows for that not to happen.  And, with respect to city reps, while the illegality of the history of appointing a city rep (which nobody really cares about), there should be a separate agreement that the rep chosen should rotate on a regular basis among all of the six Peninsula cities.  As it has stood, one man, the mayor of the smallest city on the Peninsula, has represented all of the cities for decades. Those with more at risk should have the greater opportunity to sit in that seat.

No matter if the new measure is passed and the water district is named to succeed Cal Am, there are some procedural issues that need to be addressed if the public is going to have its expected access. The district board rigidly follows the three-minute speaking rule for public comment. Perhaps members of the public could petition for spots on the regular agenda rather than having to make a point in three minutes.

Further, no one should expect that a public agency would not raise rates. It would when necessary. Hopefully, that would only occur after hearings in which groups ratepayers with similar points to make could be agendized.

The bottom line is, for public water to really work, the board of the district has to be in full support of the effort and the process has to be transparent and accessible with real, not symbolic,  input from the public.

Bill Hood is the former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. He is also a retired water lawyer and engineer who divides his time between Ohio and Carmel.

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Public Water Now, the activist group that has been pushing for a public takeover of Cal Am Water, is asking the various regulatory agencies to put the company’s desalination project on hold until it addresses two sticky and expensive issues.

And if the agencies, particularly the California Public Utilities Commission, do agree to a timeout, look for Public Water Now to use some of that time to launch a renewed effort toward a public takeover of the privately owned utility.

In its campaign against the Measure O takeover initiative in 2014, Cal Am argued that it could not move ahead with the complex desalination project while also having to combat a takeover campaign.

Public Water Now leader George Riley would not comment on that possibility this week though there has been talk of a new ballot measure at the group’s most recent meetings. Others involved in the group have hinted at another takeover measure and have said a decision should occur within months.

In a statement attached to the letter to the public agencies, Riley wrote, “Public Water Now continues to focus on the high cost of a new water supply. PWN knows from experience that ratepayers will pay for Cal Am success, delay or failure. PWN continues to believe there will be litigation on Cal Am’s desal proposal. PWN hopes that public officials will pay astute attention to the potential for delay, and possibly failure, from litigation.

“Meantime, the need for a reliable water supply continues. And Cal Am costs continue to pile up. PWN believes that the potential for complete financial disaster to ratepayers can be reduced, if not avoided altogether, if two important issues were addressed soon: 1. the weak science surrounding the test slant well. 2. the lack of water rights.”

Cal Am’s long-delayed desalination project depends on slant-well technology that aims to reduce the impact on aquatic life. For various reasons, including conflicts of interest involving experts involved in the testing, the company has had difficulty demonstrating that planned technology can work here. In its letter, Public Water Now notes that the technology is not in use anywhere.

The letter also points out that as part of its project, Cal Am intends to use water from the Salinas Valley aquifer though it has no rights to the water.

A Cal Am takeover has been the subject of two previous ballot measures, which both went down to defeat. The first was simply advisory. The second, in 2014, would have required the Peninsula water management district to conduct a feasibility study and then to proceed with a takeover if it was deemed feasible.

The measure received 45 percent of the vote, short of a majority. Cal Am hailed that as proof of public indifference to a takeover but supporters of Public Water Now argued that it was a strong showing considering that the water utility had spent millions of dollars on deceptive advertising to combat the effort. The group’s polling showed that absentee voters who voted early, at the height of the Cal Am advertising blitz, favored Cal Am’s position while those who waited to hear response to the advertising heavily favored the takeover.

Likely a significant factor in Public Water Now’s thinking is the fact that Cal Am’s rates have risen dramatically in recent months, in large part because the state Public Utilities Commission is allowing water agencies to charge customers now for water that wasn’t used because of conservation measures during the recently ended drought.

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Thirsty bird.WATER RATES RISE WHILE WATCHDOG WHISTLES

An open letter to the California Public Utilities Commission, Cal Am Water and those who support Cal-Am:

The CPUC, according to Commissioner Mike Florio, has approved a rate increase for Cal Am to make up for revenue lost due to herculean conservation efforts on behalf of the utility’s Monterey Peninsula ratepayers, revenue that he characterizes as “equity” for ratepayers as well as for the utility. Really?

Cal Am’s local manager is also quoted as saying that, in essence, we’ve still gotta maintain our pipeline system regardless of whether we’re pumping more or less water through it.  Sweet.

I understand that maintenance costs are constant, but I would not have a problem with reimbursing Cal Am for those costs  only if the following information was made known.

(1)  To what extent is the money funds sought by Cal Am and approved by the CPUC needed to cover on-oing and past operational and maintenance costs?

(2) To what extent are those same funds dedicated to the historic profit margin Cal Am has gained through several years of CPUC approvals?

(3) Did the CPUC rely upon a full and complete audit of the bases claimed by Cal Am in order to ensure they were accurate and legitimate, or were they supported by clear facts on the record?

The answers to the above questions are important and not covered in any way by the Monterey Herald’s article on this matter and by any public statement by Commissioner Florio.

No matter, those areas of inquiry are complicated and unfortunately have the potential for even more unfair treatment of ratepayers.   Remember, the CPUC has a legislative mandate to protect the interests of both its regulated utilities and their ratepayers.

So, unless clarified and corrected by information not publicly stated, we could conclude as follows:

(1) It is no secret that Cal Am has not always had  a sterling record of maintaining its infrastructure in sound and working condition.  Failure to keep up usually results in higher costs in the long run.

(2) Seeking reimbursement for maintenance costs is meritorious but only to the extent that the costs involved are meritorious themselves, as to amount and necessity and so long as they are not being incurred because of prior failures or negligence.

(3) If an audit was undertaken by the CPUC, why wasn’t that information made public so the public can fully understand the relative elements of the claimed reimbursements?

The conclusion is this:  If, in fact, the rate increase approved by the CPUC includes costs that are not clear or fully fact-supported and, if, in fact, the increase includes the profit historically obtained by Cal Am in prior rate cases, then there is no equity whatsoever in the decision characterized by Commissioner Florio.

In fact, that would mean that Peninsula ratepayers who suffered by undertaking significant conservation efforts will have to suffer for their honorable actions by paying higher rates.   At the same time, Cal Am will come out at least even – costs covered, profits ensured.  One party wins, one party loses. Is that equity in action?

It’s time to take a closer look at the CPUC.  It would seem to not be living up to its mandate.

Hood is a retired water lawyer and engineer who divides his time between Carmel and Ohio.

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????Ready for Cal Am’s 40% rate increase over the next three years, plus another 60% increase for the cost of desal?

Please show up Thursday and take your three minutes to let the California Public Utilities Commission know this is UNACCEPTABLE!

CPUC Public Participation Hearing on
Cal Am’s Water Supply Project
2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1
Carpenter Hall in Sunset Center, Carmel

It’s time to make it clear to the CPUC  that its protection of Cal Am’s revenue is excessive, unjustified, and wrong. Ratepayers and their conservation efforts are being penalized to ensure Cal Am’s profits. Residential ratepayers bear the largest burden because of the extreme tiered rate structure. Cal Am is a showcase for investor profit, and the CPUC is complicit.

Here’s what Cal Am wants and what it has already received:

• $100 million ($50 million plus $50 million in interest) for water we didn’t use due to our conservation efforts. This would be an 6% increase in Cal Am rates.

• $51 million in General Rate increases for 2017 to 2020. This would be a 16% increase.

• $130 million ($50 million plus $80 million in interest) for the new Monterey Pipeline. This is a piece of the Pure Water Monterey project. This would be another 8% increase in rates.  An alternative route for a base cost of about $15 million was rejected by Cal Am.

Just these first three total an increase of 30% and that’s with no new water! What other business can get away with this?

• $84 million for the Pure Water Monterey reclamation project that will provide new water. This would be a 10% increase in rates.

• $32 million for failed Cal Am projects from 2004 to 2011 was approved by the CPUC and has already been paid by ratepayers.

• 15% increase for the next 27 years is on current bills to cover the San Clemente Dam removal. This charge will move from a surcharge into the rate base, where Cal Am adds to its asset base. But remember, this was an asset that was removed.  So Cal Am can tear down the dam, but add the removal cost as an asset.

• 60% increase for Cal Am’s desal plant IF it ever gets approved.

• Cal Am has escaped any penalty for failing to meet the December 31, 2016 Cease and Desist Order (CDO) by agreeing to a series of milestones.  If Cal Am misses any milestone, ratepayers will be punished with rationing.

Riley is managing director of Public Water Now.

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Clean Drinking WaterI was breezing through the local daily the other day when I came across an editorial that put forth a peculiar proposition. It was a response to the Monterey City Council’s resolution in opposition to Cal Am’s request for a $50 million rate increase to compensate itself for water it didn’t sell because its customers were being good citizens and conserving water.

The editorial noted that the City Council had asked the Monterey Peninsula Water Authority to join in the opposition. The water authority, which is made up of the Peninsula mayors, was formed primarily to provide some level of oversight to Cal Am’s ongoing desalination venture.

The editorial’s thrust was that the water authority should stay out of the rate increase controversy because it would distract it from its main focus, helping to get the desal plant built. That’s the part I found peculiar.

The desal project, and its companion projects like groundwater replenishment, are in the design and planning stages. Ground has not been broken. There is no welding going on, no trenches being dug, no machinery bulldozing the sand. In other words, there is not an awful lot for the water authority to do day-to-day, not a lot to monitor or even watch between meetings. The mayors for the most part are an able lot and I for one think they could ably do more than one thing at a time.

The mayors’ group represents each of the cities and, by extension, the residents of those cities. Its job is not to be a cheerleader for Cal Am or the desalination project but to protect the public interest, to help control costs and make sure the construction contracts are proper and not awarded to the project manager’s cousin. Heck, even the hotel industry, usually one of Cal Am’s coziest bed partners, is opposing this rate increase. If the authority helps control costs on the desal plant but just looks the other way while Cal Am wins obscene rate increases for other elements of its enterprise, the mayor won’t really have accomplished all that much.

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