≡ Menu

160_f_116637611_rq5djvon4yr5u5apuarm2li63waczx4hProprietor’s note: George Riley is the founder of Public Water Now in Monterey, a former housing official in San Mateo County and a longtime political activist and student of the initiative process. The foll0wing are his picks for the Nov. 8 ballot, choices closely in line with the Partisan’s view.

SUMMARY: YES on all state propositions except 53, 60, 65 and 66. YES on Measure Z

There are 17 propositions on the November ballot. The state voter guide is 222 pages. The League of Women Voters summary is 34 pages. The secretary of state’s summary is 15 pages. Mine is seven pages, and it’s more interesting.
 My progressive view is shaped by who’s paying, who benefits and whether is there a long-range progressive purpose.

First, three things to notice:

— There are several pet projects financed by these millionaires:

Tom Steyer: Hedge fund manager (Farallon Capital). Favors progressive causes in Prop 56, 59 (overturn Citizens United), 62 (death penalty repeal) and 67 (preserve plastic ban). Steyer is also expected to run for governor in 2018.

Charles Munger Jr.: Son of Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charlie Thomas Munger, partner of Warren Buffett. Favors the GOP. Has funded Prop 54 (print bills 72 hours before voting).

Sean Parker: Founded Napster, first president of Facebook. Focuses on life sciences, civic engagement and “challenging issues” in Prop 63 (gun control) and 64 (recreational marijuana).

Dean Cortopassi: Self-made agribusinessman from Stockton. Opposes Gov. Brown and state water decisions he feels impacts his world, which caused his Prop 53 (require vote on state projects costing $2 billion and up)

— Dueling  propositions: Death penalty in Props 62 and 66, plastic grocery bags in 65 and 6

— Prop 65 is the champion of misleading and deceptive intent.

Warning: Try to ignore TV ads. They all want you to put a Yes or No on a proposition number, based on emotional and visual shorthand. It’s sound bite influence. Know how you want to vote, not how you remember a number.

YES on Prop 51. School Construction Bond, $9 Billion. For K-12 and community colleges. Unfortunately special interests (construction, finance, realty) can all too easily finance a campaign for public bonds that provide a public good and benefit a select range of business interests. But schools have suffered, and this provides financing that is easier than individual school district bond measures. Prop 51 will likely favor the more affluent school districts because they have the staff to pursue these funds. On the other hand, lower income school districts may not likely pass a local bond issue. Provides matching money for local districts.

Financial support: $8 million, mainly from special interests, wide support, polls are high to pass. Oppose: $0, some media editorials.

YES on Prop 52. Continues private hospital fees for Medi-Cal health services, uninsured patients, and children. First enacted in 2009 to help match federal funds. This extension prevents future diversions by Legislature, which happened recently. These fees go to the state, are matched with state and federal funds, then redistributed to public and private hospitals for services. The fees have allowed continued and stabilized financing for services to needy populations.

Support: $60 million, mainly from health industry. Huge widespread support from politically active (Dem and GOP and individuals, all sorts of health interests, and business.
Oppose: $12 million. SEIU, but it recently declared itself neutral, no longer in opposition.

NO on Prop 53. Require statewide voter approval for state infrastructure revenue bonds over $2 billion. The problem is that it reads–on first glance–like a good idea. But it intends to prevent large infrastructure projects. This removes legislative accountability, ignores financing 
security, reduces major decisions to geographical manipulation (north vs south, coast vs interior), and interferes with jointly financed projects (federal & state).

Support: $5.5 million. This is a pet project of Dean and Joan Cortopassi, a rich Central Valley farming family who are opposed to the bullet train and the delta tunnels. Having lost in the courts, Cortopassi has turned to the initiative process. There are no other donors. Backed by Howard Jarvis anti-tax groups.

Oppose: $3.8 million. Dems, many agriculture and business interests, unions.

YES on Prop 54. Prevent last minute lawmaking. This requires any proposed law be in print at least 72 hours before a legislative vote.
 Good government advocates say YES. Real Politick Democrat advocates say NO. Good government thinks it is only fair, and allows a representative, or an interest group, to have time to act in their interest. Real Politick recognizes the controlling majority in California is Democrat, and last minute ‘gut and amend’ is useful strategy, mainly to avoid the opposition launching attack ads.

This is ‘good government’ wrapped in partisan politics – it is entirely funded by GOP millionaire Charles Munger Jr, hoping to counter the Democratic majority.
Support: $10.5 million, all from Munger. Support from LWV, Common Cause, GOP, many chambers of commerce, many newspaper editorials.

Oppose: Dems, unions. But there is no money and no campaign.

YES on Prop 55. Extend tax on wealthy for education and children’s health.
 Extend by 12 years the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012 on earnings over $250,000, with revenues allocated to K-12 schools, California community colleges, and health care. Raises $4 to $8 billion annually. Opposition mainly points to the fragmented state tax code, and the problems created with continuing to use the initiative process to fragment it further. On the other hand, at least it reflects wide public sentiment.

Support: $46 million (hospitals $25M and nurses $19M interests, Dem Party, LWV. Oppose: GOP, chambers, anti-tax groups. No money has been raised.

YES on Prop 56. New tax on cigarettes, including e-cigarettes. Adds $2 per pack, with equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. Raises $1 billion-plus annually. Allocated to a variety of health related services, research and education. Revenue should decline as the price impact reduces sales, also an intent of 56.

A battle between large corporate interests. Big Tobacco (mainly Phillip Morris and R.J.Reynolds) with $56 million is outspending “big health” with $22 million.
 Support: Many elected Dems, Dem Party, youth and ethnic groups, wide business support, cancer, heart and lung associations, Tom Steyer ($3.5 million). Oppose: State GOP, few others outside of tobacco interests.

YES on Prop 57. Parole for non-violent criminals, revise juvenile court procedures.
 Allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons; authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education; and requires a juvenile court judge, not a prosecutor, to decide whether a juvenile will be prosecuted as an adult.
 This version of ‘compassionate release’ rewards prisoner performance, relieves overcrowding, reduces state costs. Will apply retroactively to eligible prisoners. Will likely increase county jail costs where recidivism shows up.

Support: $8 million, half from Gov. Brown’s fundraising. Backed by Dem Party, many civic orgs, LWV, unions (teachers, nurses, construction).
 Oppose: $250,000. GOP, many district attorneys and law enforcement orgs.

YES on Prop 58. LEARN initiative preserves requirement that public schools ensure students obtain English language proficiency as rapidly and effectively as possible. Requires school districts to solicit parent/community input in developing language acquisition programs. Authorizes school districts to establish dual-language immersion programs for both native and non-native English speakers. Approved by state Assembly and Senate. Repeals 1998 restriction on English language instruction. Allows return to local option.

Support: $1 million. Widespread education, union, Dem Party, LWV, individual elected officials. Oppose: No funding. GOP, little else.

YES on Prop 59. Overturn Citizens United
, advisory to California’s elected officials to use their authority to support an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that declared placing limits on political spending by corporations and unions to be unconstitutional. The court decision reflected ‘free speech’ arguments that money was speech, and that speech cannot be limited. National research show that corporations outspend unions by about 10 to 1.

Massive national reaction led to a movement to overturn the ruling via constitutional amendment. Prop 59 continues that movement. It is criticized for not addressing the complexity of a constitutional amendment, and not focusing on a new Supreme Court majority that could reverse the ruling. Hardly any money has been raised by either side. The issue is not news.

Widely supported by Dem interests. Widely opposed by GOP interests.

NO on Prop 60. Condoms in porn films. Requires adult film performers to use condoms during filming of sexual intercourse. Requires producers to pay for performer vaccinations, testing, and medical examinations. Requires producers to post condom requirement at film sites.

California in general, and the San Fernando Valley specifically, are recognized as centers of the pornographic film industry. Prop 60 is unique, but this is California. The attack on the porn industry may be justified, this is an overly aggressive approach, with problems in the details. Any person who sees a violation can sue. It does not need to start with a criminal complaint. The proposed law specifies that an advocate of 60 will be appointed a state employee to defend this law if it is passed.

Support: $4 million, from mainly AIDS prevention and health orgs.
 Oppose: $400,000 mainly from porn film companies. Also Dem and GOP parties.

YES on Prop 61: Prescription drug pricing standards. Prohibits state from buying any prescription drug at a price higher than that paid by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Exempts managed care programs funded through Medi-Cal.

Recent skyrocketing drug prices have fanned this reaction. And it is turning Prop 61 into the most costly campaign this year, and maybe the most costly ever. Big Pharma is definitely scared. The VA has the best bulk-priced drug agreement. Proponents believe the public is ready to stand up to any argument from Big Pharma. Opponents argue that drug pricing will be disrupted to such an extent that all agreements and insurances will have to be renegotiated. Veteran groups are opposed so as not to disrupt the VA deal. Nurses and consumer groups argue the opposite. It is time to change Big Pharma’s lock on rising health care costs. Any large change will not be a smooth ride. There will be negotiations and litigation. But there would be no change without a push. This is the time for that push against Big Pharma.

When the U.S. Congress previously tried to extend VA pricing to Medicaid nationally, drug manufacturers responded by raising VA drug prices. Congress subsequently removed the linkage between VA and Medicaid pricing. Here we go again, and still on a very large stage.

Support: $15 million, mainly by AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Includes nurses and AARP.
 Oppose: $87 million, and rising, from Big Pharma (Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers-Squib, Amgen, Novartis, Eli Lily, Merck, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline). Other opponents include American Medical Association, CA Chamber, veterans groups, GOP.
 (A strange piece of P61 is a requirement that if it passes, and if the state does not choose to defend a legal challenge, it must appoint and fund a Prop 61 proponent as a new state employee with the right to fully fight for implementation. It is similar to a Prop 60 provision, which will likely be challenged.)

Prop 62 and Prop 66 on the death penalty are not compatible measures. If both are approved by a majority of voters, then the one with the most “yes” votes would supersede the other. Prop 62 is based on humane treatment. Prop 66 demands quicker executions.

YES on Prop 62. Repeals death penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to existing death sentences. Increases the portion of life inmate wages that may be applied to victim restitution.

In 1972, the CA Supreme Court ruled the state’s capital punishment system unconstitutional. However, in 1978, Prop 7 reinstated the death penalty. In 2012 voters rejected an initiative to ban capital punishment.

Many editorials refer to the ineffective death penalty and the dysfunctional system. It is time to abandon the death penalty. It is historically racially unjust. Time on death row is arguably cruel and unusual punishment. It has become the most expensive sentence in CA because of various appeal options. Life without parole accomplishes the same societal benefit or debt, however one sees it.

Support: $6 million. Dems, many civic and religious groups, academics, unions, teachers, nurses, actors, many newspaper editorials.

Oppose: $4 million. GOP, many district attorneys, police officers and sheriffs.

YES on Prop 63. Restricts gun and ammunition sales. Requires background check and Department of Justice authorization to purchase ammunition. Prohibits possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines. Establishes procedures for enforcing laws prohibiting firearm possession by specified persons. Requires Department of Justice’s participation in federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Prop 63 requires permits for sale, and reporting of transactions. Sets procedures for prohibited ownership by felons and designated individuals. Does not affect current ownership.

Support: $5 million. Dem Party, LWV, many elected officials, unions, civic orgs. Oppose: $1 million. GOP, NRA, sporting clubs.

YES on Prop 64. Legalizes recreational use of marijuana. Legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older. Imposes state taxes on sales and cultivation. Provides for industry licensing and establishes standards for marijuana products. Allows local regulation and taxation.

Smoking would be permitted in a private home or at a business licensed for on-site marijuana consumption. Smoking would remain illegal while driving a vehicle, anywhere smoking tobacco is banned and in all public places. Up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana would be legal to possess. However, possession on the grounds of a school, day care center, or youth center while children are present would remain illegal. An individual would be permitted to grow up to six plants within a private home, as long as the area is locked and not visible from a public place. It is also designed to prevent licenses for large-scale marijuana businesses for five years in order to prevent “unlawful monopoly power.”

It would bring discipline and oversight to an industry already operating in the shadows. Net additional state and local tax revenues could range from high $100s of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually. The money is are required to be spent for medical research, law enforcement, services for substance abuse, youth programs, drug education and prevention and treatment. Reduced costs are in the tens of millions annually related to a decline in the number of marijuana offenders held in state prisons and county jails.

Support: $17 million (Sean Parker $7.3 million). Dem Party, ACLU, NAACP, California Medical Association, California Nurses Association.

Oppose: $2 million. GOP, California Hospital Association, some public and law enforcement officials.

There are two plastic bag Props – 65 and 67. Check the differences carefully. How you carry your groceries may seem like a trivial subject, but it’s the focus of rival propositions that pit environmentalists against the plastic industry. Flimsy plastic shopping bags are blamed for choking wildlife, vast littering, and damaging municipal waste systems. About 40% of California residents living in 151 communities already live with bans. But the variety led to problems with large retailers. State law in 2014 established standards, and many retailers agreed. The bag industry challenged the law. Now Prop 67, which is the legislative fix from 2014, is on the ballot for confirmation. It bans the flimsy plastic bags, and charges a dime for paper or heavy-duty plastic bags. The goal is to promote reusable bags. The plastics industry is countering with Prop 65 to eliminate the ban and protect profits.

In a clever ploy, both 65 and 67 were placed on the ballot by the American Progressive Bag Alliance. APBA was formed in 2005 to oppose bans and fees on plastic bags. The four main funders are in Texas, New Jersey and South Carolina. It spent $3 million in 2014 in a petition against the California ban, which halted the ban until these propositions are voted on. APBA hopes voters will favor their dime going for a public purpose (65), rather than to the stores (67). But the ‘poison pill’ is that 65 repeals the plastic bag ban, thus eliminating any need for the ‘dime,’ and therefore the funding for the environmental fund. APBA has put $6-plus million into promoting 65 and opposing 67. It is a well-devised plan to confuse voters and protect profits.

NO on Prop 65. Directs charges for plastic bags to new environmental fund.

The most deceptive measure this year. Directs money collected by grocery and certain retail stores through mandated sale of carryout bags. Requires stores to deposit bag sale proceeds into a special fund for specified environmental projects.

But in the small print, it repeals the state ban on plastic bags. They want you to believe their motives are altruistic. The sinister pitch for a new environmental fund distracts from the underlying repeal! To the benefit of the plastic bag industry. It displays the worst aspects of the state’s initiative process.

Support: $6 million, all from plastic bag industry. Also GOP. (Also used to oppose Prop 67.) Oppose: No $$. LWV, CA Nurses Assoc, environmental groups.

NO on Prop 66. Speeds up death penalty executions. Expedites procedures and sets time limits for appeals, exempts prison officials from existing protocols for execution methods.

It is what it is. The differences are stark. It’s between Prop 62 (eliminate executions, humane approach) and Prop 66 (rapid executions, finish the debt to society). Nineteen other states have already abolished the death penalty. No other Western nation has capital punishment. But North Korea, Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China do.

Support: $5 million. GOP, many district attorneys, police officers and sheriffs. Oppose: $7 million. Dems, many civic and religious groups, academics, unions, teachers, nurses, actors, many newspaper editorials.

YES on Prop 67. Retain Plastic Bag Ban Statewide. A “Yes” vote approves 2014 state legislation that prohibits grocery and other stores from providing single-use plastic or paper carryout bags but permits sale of recycled paper bags and reusable bags.

State law in 2014 banned flimsy plastic bags, and authorized stores to charge 10 cents for an alternative. The plastic bag industry (dominantly in Texas and East Coast) is trying to repeal that law, urging a no vote here, and is heavily promoting Prop 65 as an alternative. The intent of the plastic industry is to confuse voters, and to promote a public good, and embarrass stores into abandoning the 10 cent charge that covers costs. Hopefully, voters will see the ploy, and vote YES.

Support: $3.5 million. Dems, LWV, Many elected officials, California Nurses Association, very many environmental groups, many print editorials.

Oppose: $6 million, all from plastic bag industry. (Also used to support Prop 65.)

For Monterey County:
 YES on Measure Z Ban fracking and other enhanced toxic extraction techniques, and protect ground water. This is the only ballot measure in the entire United States on this subject. It is attracting attention nationally, It is also attracting huge donations from Big Oil to defeat it. Big Oil is lying about the measure killing the industry, since Measure Z very specifically retains all current operations. Big Oil is lying about the details, but it has the money to pitch its misleading messages.

A community initiative against an established corporate interest must be based on detailed research and fact. Otherwise it would not pass its first test of credibility. Big Oil has not challenged the facts. But any large corporate interest has the money to promote any message it feels will work. Just look at the small print on any TV ad – paid for by oil interests. So it comes down to: Who do you trust? Then it becomes a no-brainer. Trust that your community initiative has pinned down its facts. I believe it has. YES on Z.

{ 12 comments }

????COMPANY HAS NO RIGHT TO SOME OF THE WATER

Back in July 2013, a settlement agreement was reached between California American Water, local water agencies, certain ag interests in the Salinas Valley and several non-profit agencies including the group now known as Public Water Now. The agreement related to Cal Am’s proposed water supply project that involves building and operating a desalination plant in the vicinity of Marina.

Public Water Now is headed by George Riley, a well-known leader in the ongoing effort to seek fair water rates for Peninsula residents. Public Water Now signed the agreement not because it was in full support of the project but because, as a party to the agreement, it would be entitled to participate in reviewing draft reports and other activities. It would be in the loop rather than on the outside.

The settlement agreement contains important language that gives the parties, including Public Water Now, the right to challenge the project’s source of water if it is shown to harm the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin or the Sand Dunes Aquifer in the Seaside-Marina area. It is unlawful to extract water from one groundwater basin and transfer it to another. Water taken from either or both of those sources and used by a desal plant would be unlawful. On top of that, Cal Am has no underlying legal right to either source.

Therefore, Cal Am turned to the idea of drilling slant wells under Monterey Bay in order to reach sea water for desalination. Drilling data, however, have clearly shown that significant amounts of fresh water, not totally saline water, is in the water pumped so far, meaning Cal Am is pumping water to which it has no legal rights. Further, in spite of Cal-Am’s continuing arguments that slant wells are a tried and true method of obtaining water for a desal plant, the company has provided no proof of that, and Public Water Now has determined that no ocean desal plant in the world is served by slant wells.

Given these facts, Riley sent two emails in 2015 and 2016 to all parties before the California Public Utilities Commission in connection with the continuing hearings on Cal Am’s project. He wrote that he and Public Water Now were exercising the right under the agreement to withdraw support for slant wells and to actively work for legal and reliable alternatives. He provided the necessary facts on the record to support his claim.

Neither email was incorporated into the record.

In response, Cal Am and its supporters had their lawyers submit a “Motion to Strike” Riley’s emails.

The motion asserts that the emails were sent “ex parte,” meaning sent without notice to other involved parties, including a decision-maker. Even though the other involved parties did indeed receive notice, the CPUC prohibits such communications if a decision-maker such as an administrative law judge is a recipient. The administrative law judge was, in fact, a recipient.

The underlying purpose of limiting ex parte communications in a judicial or quasi-judicial setting, such as the CPUC’s administrative action involving Cal Am, is to ensure that no party can gain an unfair advantage by communicating off-the-record with any decision-maker.

IMG_1198 copy

George Riley

It is important to note that administrative law judges do not have decision-making authority on substantive matters. They make procedural decisions but their opinions on matters of substance are only recommendations to the commissioners. None of the five commissioners received the emails, so the integrity of the process was not compromised.

If Cal Am succeeds in having the emails stricken from the record, important facts will be kept out of the record upon which a final decision will be made on the desal project.

What are they afraid of?

If the information and facts offered by Riley and Public Water Now were faulty, why would Cal Am be so concerned about them and go to such effort to have them stricken from the record?  They are concerned about those facts because they are the basis for showing the world the mistakes, misleading statements and other errors that have increased the project costs that will probably be transferred to ratepayers.

The motion asserts that the time for “commenting on the agreement” had long passed when, in fact, the emails were not comments on the settlement agreement. The emails address issues that arose after the settlement agreement. Since the settlement, concerns about the slant wells have evolved, including conflicts of interest involving the man who designed the wells and the validity of the data collected from test wells.

So it comes down to this. The emails were, by a strict definition, ex parte communications prohibited by the PUC. But at the same time, the substance of the emails had nothing to do with comments on the settlement agreement. Rather, they were direct communications necessary to notify all parties involved that Riley and Public Water Now had gathered sufficient evidence from the record to support the exercise of the right to challenge the source of water for the proposed desalination plant.

If the motion is adopted by the administrative law judge, facts that are not supportive of Cal Am would never see the light of day. The motion also threatens serious sanctions against Riley and Public Water Now.

The motion to strike is inappropriate and PWN’s emails should be incorporated into the record. Fairness and equity also demand that the final decisions in this case be determined on the basis of all the facts that should be contained in the entire record. As such, facts adverse to Cal-Am should be included as long as they are facts and can be supported as such. Riley has made that case. Justice demands that the motion fail. If it is adopted, the administrative law judge should direct Riley and Public Water Now to resubmit their materials in another format.

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

{ 27 comments }

????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.

{ 13 comments }

American Water Works, the parent of Cal Am Water, has two basic strategies for expanding its business. One is to expand into areas where development is expected. The other is to buy up small water services, those under 10,000 customers.

Both methods are in the works for Cal Am, the Monterey Peninsula’s principal water purveyor.

Cal Am has a long history of not adding supply infrastructure, from 1966 when it bought the Peninsula system, to 1996 when the State Water Board ordered it to change direction. Even after the California Public Utilities Commission added its recommendation in 2001 to build a desal facility at Moss Landing, Cal Am has worked at snail speed.

A “eureka moment” occurred, however, Cal Am realized that the future required new water to come from north of the Peninsula. Exciting visions of sugar plums began dancing in Cal Am’s head. Maybe all the cards were lining up, putting development at the former Fort Ord into play for Cal Am. After decades of neglecting the infrastructure, Cal Am now had a profitable game changer.

This explains everything. But for it to work, Cal Am would have to win legal battles and not simply meet engineering hurdles.

It had to play along with the Regional Desal Project in 2008-2010 because the CPUC, Cal Am’s regulator, had designed that process. But that venture was not to Cal Am’s liking. The CPUC had approved a project that was about 80% publicly owned, providing Cal Am with little ownership and infrastructure. That greatly limited its ability to collect profit. At the first opportunity, Cal Am and Monterey County’s government scuttled the project. They used conflict of interest charges to sink it.

Then Cal Am decided to pursue a fully corporate-owned and larger desalination project, which fit its profitable expansion strategy. It would be located near the former Fort Ord, the only part of the Peninsula with development potential. It would require Cal Am to overcome numerous legal hurdles.

The company first needed to overcome the county ordinance requiring public ownership of any desal facility. It got the county to cooperate and to get the CPUC and the State Water Board to lay the groundwork with quasi-legal opinions in support.

Soon, Cal Am’s primary consultant on the project was caught in a conflict of interest (Dennis Williams of Geoscience holds patents on slant well technology). The CPUC agreed that a conflict existed. But Cal Am skirted that issue by adding a legal non-revenue sharing agreement, Williams continues on the job with the potential to make millions even though a much less severe financial conflict of interest had sabotaged the Regional Desal Project.

Cal Am’s strategy shows up in various ways. Though the company initially promised the public and the permitting agencies that the intake for the current desal project would be under the bay, the intake is inland. This aggravates the legal challenge over water rights. Remember that Cal Am has no water rights for this project.

Being inland, the intake is smack in the seawater-intruded Salinas River Groundwater Basin (SRGB). The desal intake draws seawater inland, causing more seawater intrusion and legal problems. But Cal Am, of course, has a legal strategy for a “practical solution,” claiming a beneficial use of the largely abandoned intruded aquifer water. It is an innovative legal strategy that must overcome decades of court cases that conclude that overlying water rights holders have prevailing rights. The legal test is yet to come.

By pumping from the Salinas Basin, Cal Am is obliged to “return” source water taken from the intruded aquifers. This is the local law, the Agency Act, governing the basin.

There seems to be no great alarm about the continued high volume of Salinas Basin water in Cal Am’s test slant well samples. Why not? In my opinion, it is because the requirement to return water to the basin is being used to justify expanded infrastructure into new territory. Cal Am is credited with “success” by negotiating a breakthrough deal – the Peninsula and farmers agreed to the plan! But Castroville and the farmers got a great deal, paying less than 3 cents toward each dollar in costs. The difference of 97 cents will come from Peninsula ratepayers.

But the main point is not the cost. It is the infrastructure and rights Cal Am needs to implement the return water agreement. It will need to construct piping and pumping infrastructure in the area, and it will need obtain the authority to deliver potable water to Castroville. It will seek to be a water distributor right in the middle of the jurisdiction of another water purveyor, Marina Coast Water District (MCWD). Yes, it will be able to deliver potable water smack in the middle of another water service area and adjacent to the future development opportunities on the former Fort Ord. Despite another legal challenge, Cal Am will be positioned exactly where it has wanted to be for many years – able to provide water to new Fort Ord development.

Related legal hurdles include overcoming Marina Coast Water District worries that it has been invaded. MCWD is litigating against Cal Am for not making promised payments from the earlier Regional Desal Project. But expect Cal Am to play hardball. Remember that American Water Works has a national expansion strategy to acquire smaller water services (under 10,000 customers) when opportunities arise. These are called “tuck-ins.” MCWD has about 8,000 customers.

Recently, I have pleaded with the Mayors Water Authority to look at the legal risks Cal Am is facing, and the relevant water supply contingencies. But those in the know seem not to be concerned.

This is not mission creep, nor a series of unexpected circumstances. It is corporate planning. I have seen, read and heard too much over the years to think otherwise. I think the corporate strategy is clear. Cal Am will be positioned exactly where it has dreamed to be, right in the middle of Fort Ord, the only area with significant growth potential on the bay. All because it expects to win every legal challenge.

With such litigation ahead, who has confidence that Cal Am will meet the milestones set by the state’s cease-and-desist order?

Riley is managing director of Public Water Now and a regular contributor on water issues. He has been an active observer of each aspect of Cal Am’s desalination ventures and a technical adviser to the Peninsula Mayors Water Authority.

 

George Riley
georgetriley@gmail.com
645-9914

{ 26 comments }

????There are parallel universes in the local water picture, both wanting a reliable and affordable water supply.

One I call Universe A, which praises Cal Am’s progress toward its desal project. It has continuing accolades for the proposed cease-and-desist-order modification that penalizes water users if Cal Am misses milestones. It has the print media demeaning other opinions that Cal Am is not a prince.

The other universe, Universe B, remembers history. It has Cal Am over­drafting the Carmel River that led to the infamous cease and desist order in 1995 to reduce pumping. It remembers Cal Am over­drafting the Seaside basin, resulting in a court adjudication that restricts Cal Am pumping there. It remembers that Cal Am has had more than 20 years to produce a new water supply, and has failed to do so. It remembers Cal Am stranding $35 million on three failed water supply projects between 2000 and 2012, with the ratepayers paying every penny of it. Shareholders paid zero. And still no water.

Universe A apparently accepts the fact that desal projects around the world cost much less than half the cost of Cal Am’s proposed desal at about $4,400 per acre-foot, without a good explanation. It ignores the fact that Cal Am exports 65 percent of its revenue, about $30 million annually, out of the community.

Universe B is criticized by Universe A for pointing out Cal Am shortcomings. Universe B discovered Cal Am’s conflict of interest with contractor Dennis Williams and Geoscience. It pointed out the misinformation about Cal Am’s slant well, promoted to be drawing water from under the bay but instead pumping directly from the intruded Salinas River Groundwater Basin, without entitlement. Universe B remembers that as the entire Peninsula conserved at record levels, there has never been proof that Cal Am fixed enough leaks to claim it conserved much at all. It remembers that Cal Am accounting and management systems waited years before announcing it would seek reimbursement of $51 million for revenue lost from conservation.

Universe A is critical of Universe B for not rallying to Cal Am, the adopted child of Universe A. Universe A thinks Universe B is impeding Cal Am progress. Universe B’s response is that Cal Am is its own worse enemy. Universe B remembers it was Cal Am that violated the county ordinance requiring public ownership of desal. It was Cal Am that decided to install its slant well without getting prior approval for water rights in the Salinas Basin. It was Cal Am’s minders, the California Coastal Commission and the county, that may have failed to enforce its responsibility for local coastal plans, according to new litigation.

Universe A has blinders on, is solidly glued to Cal Am and accepts Cal Am skirting the law, but calls into question others who think a violation needs enforcement action.

Universe B worries that the cost of Cal Am operations, its desal project and its demand to rake in profits, are getting sky high. It wants to see a comparative analysis of the Moss Landing desal options (Deep Water and People’s), since both are projected to cost half of Cal Am’s $4,400 per acre-foot. It can see additional options in more reclaimed water in the future.

And the simplest potential option of all (other than political will), is to extend the Aquifer Storage and Recovery project, currently drawing from the Carmel River, to draw also from the Salinas River near the rubber dam. More than 250,000 acre-feet runs to the bay in winter time, unused and not claimed. If a mere 3 percent of this surplus water, useless to anyone else, was diverted to the Seaside Aquifer, the Monterey Peninsula’s water problems would largely be solved, in a simple and economical way.

George Riley is managing director of Public Water Now. He wrote this for the Monterey Herald, where it appeared on Sunday.

{ 28 comments }

A golden first place trophy with the word Best and colorful stars shooting out of it, symbolizing winning a competition or being declared to be top of your field, sport or classReturning to the Central Coast after an Easter-week jaunt to the desert, I was excited to pick up a copy of Monterey County Weekly outside my neighborhood dispensary. At last there would be some recognition for this blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan, which the paper undoubtedly had honored as the region’s best.

My holiday spirit of renewal and revival was crushed in an instant, however, when I discovered that those sneaky folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium apparently had stuffed the ballot box better than I had. Before the Weekly’s “Best of Everything in the Universe” contest, I had no idea the aquarium put out a blog but of course it does and of course it is everything that an aquarium blog should be.

In the interest of efficiency, I let Charlie the Truth and Justice Dog lick my wounds while I pondered my next move. Then, amid the weeds and wildflowers of spring, it hit me. Who are they at the Weekly to think only they can decide what’s the best? (They would maintain, of course, that they do not pick the winners, that their readers do. To that, I have no ready response but I am hoping something will occur to me before I attach the final period to this post.)

So here it goes, the Partisan’s first and likely only “Best of Most Everything the Partisan Cares About Awards,” better known as the BMEPCAAies. (There will be some semblance of democracy because readers will be invited to post comments letting me know their own favorites and reminding me of my lack of discernment.)

BEST THAI FOOD DISH: The Kao Tung at Baan Thai in Seaside. It’s this chicken curry thing that you spoon over rice crackers.

BEST ELECTED OFFICIAL: Libby Downey of the Monterey City Council. I don’t agree with every vote she makes but she’s usually on the right track and she puts so much attention and energy into every issue that she makes most elected officials look like Fernando Armenta, whose back seat must be a repository of unread agenda packets.

Unknown

Libby Downey

BEST HOSPITAL: CHOMP and I’m not just saying that because my wife works there.

BEST TORTILLAS: Rosa’s La Villa Taqueria in Seaside. Fresh and soft and best wrapped around just about anything.

BEST DOCTOR: My doctor but I’m not going to name him because I don’t want him to get too busy to see me.

BEST CITY COUNCIL IN EITHER SEASIDE OR MARINA: Marina.

BEST THRIFT STORE: Tie. Last Chance Mercantile at the dump offers up all sorts of unexpected treasures, especially outside, and the prices are right. St. Vincent De Paul on Fremont in Seaside keeps the stock fresh, likely by taking the unsold stuff to Last Chance.

BEST MOVIE THEATER: Maya in Salinas, especially for artsy movies because you might have the whole theater to yourself. Now I hear they have updated the sound system so it probably compares favorably to the new screens in Marina.

BEST GOLF COURSE: Beats the hell out of me.

BEST BUDGET GOLF COURSE: Nine holes after 2 p.m. at Salinas Fairways is a budget-balancing $11 without a cart, and they keep the fairways hard enough to give my drives some semblance of distance. It works especially well for me because my usual playing partner is Larry Parsons, whose running commentary on golf and life keeps me humble.

BEST REPORTER: The Herald’s Claudia Melendez Salinas. She has been criticized by some as overly supportive of Latino causes, which is nonsense. She brings a Latina perspective to her work and that’s a good thing. She also brings tremendous passion to the job, something that is exceedingly difficult to maintain in these dark days of daily journalism.

AR-151029962.jpg&maxh=400&maxw=667

Claudia Melendez Salinas

BEST NEWSPAPER: The Weekly. They are not as good as they think they are, but they are  becoming indispensable.

BEST CARMEL NEWSPAPER: The Carmel Residents Association newsletter.

THE BEST LAWYER: If I ever get busted, my family has instructions to hire Paul Meltzer of Santa Cruz. No matter what they did, his clients never go to trial much less jail. On the civil side, especially in the non-profit realm, Virginia Howard is a very good choice. If you or someone you love has been in an accident, I can tell you which firm to avoid.

BEST BURRITO: Darn it, I can’t remember the name of the place but it’s on Market Street in Salinas, west of the Amtrak station, and it’s like this little grocery store with a deli counter. You can’t miss it.

BEST TEACHER, MIDDLE SCHOOL: Derek Yonekura, San Benancio Middle School. He brings science to life. He also brings eighth-graders to life.

BEST TEACHER, HIGH SCHOOL: OK, the field is limited to the teachers my daughter had, but I’d put this guy up among the best anywhere. Phil Moore, history, Salinas High School. First off, he avoids most things digital. Second, he teaches in a way that makes it stick and, third, he does a remarkable job of teaching writing skills even while teaching history. He gets extra points in my grade book as well for his years of work with the teachers union.

BEST ACTIVIST: Crowded field this one but George Riley comes out on top. George has toiled tirelessly on water issues for years and years now and he knows as much as anyone, including the brain trust at Cal Am. It is something of a mystery why all the local news outlets don’t call him for comment when news breaks in the local water world.

BEST COACH: Gary Figueroa, CSUMB women’s water polo. In his current post, Figueroa is unlikely to win a championship. The Central Coast is a water polo backwater compared to Southern California and the Bay Area. But this former Olympian improves everyone he coaches, both as an athlete and as a person. I played a little masters polo under Gary just so I could tell my old water polo friends that I had played with him. They figured I was probably lying.

Gary_Figueroa

Gary Figueroa

BEST WATER POLO OFFICIAL: Gary Figueroa.

NICEST FELLOW ON LOCAL TV NEWS: Felix Cortez.

BEST REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON: Steve Hunt, Sotheby’s. No one will work harder to make the sale or the purchase.

BEST PLACE FOR FISH: Massaro & Santos on at the Coast Guard Pier (first right after going through the tunnel southbound.) Upstairs. Order anything and enjoy the view.

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT: There are a bunch of really good Italian restaurants, especially in Carmel and Pacific Grove, but if you want really good at prices you can afford, try Frutti del Mar on Reservation in Marina. It’s run by a Salvadoran family that worked in all the pricier places hereabouts and learned all the secrets.

BEST BASKETBALL PLAYER AT THE MONTEREY SPORTS CENTER, TUESDAYS AND THURSDAYS: Jon Ordonio.

2433-jon-ordonio

Jon Ordonio

BEST BASKETBALL PLAYER OVER 70 AT THE MONTEREY SPORTS CENTER: Billy Thompson.

BEST POLITICAL CANDIDATE: Tie, Jane Parker and Mary Adams. Parker is the District 4 supervisor and is being challenged by Dennis Donohue of Salinas, who is essentially the carpetbagger in this race. Adams is challenging Supervisor Dave Potter in District 5 and she’s a class act in every respect.

BEST ENDORSEMENT: To the surprise of most everyone, former Supervisor Lou Calcagno has endorsed Parker but there has been almost no publicity about it. I called Lou twice to ask him to talk about it  but he hasn’t called back. I’d love to hear from you, Lou. It’s 484-5068

OK, that’s all for now. I tried to come up with others. I wanted to find a category Cal Am could win but I was stumped. Maybe I could have named it the Best Reason to Have Your Own Well. I thought about picking on GOP activist and troublemaker Paul Bruno again, maybe by naming him as the Best Reason to Be a Democrat, but I decided to give him a break. People have been picking on him all his life. The local Democrats just issued a dual endorsement for District 4 supervisor, picking both Potter and his challenger, Adams. Maybe I will make that the Best Reason to Keep Local Politics Non-partisan.

I could go on and on. I do that sometimes. But let’s turn it over to you, the Best Readers of Any Blog in Monterey County. What say you about my picks? And what categories and honorees would you add? Just click on the comment button below and have at it.

{ 20 comments }

????They once promised to be the solution to one of desalination’s biggest drawbacks. Most of the world’s 14,000 desalination plants draw seawater directly from the ocean, sucking in varying amounts of sea life. But slant wells, sharply angled in order to pump water from below the ocean floor, would use the sea bed as a natural filter, leaving all the aquatic critters where they belong.

That idea turned into a noble but failed experiment as California American Water began the long and expensive process of building a desalination plant to solve the Monterey Peninsula’s water problem. At the direction of state regulators, including the California Coastal Commission, Cal Am adopted slant wells into the design and for the past several months has been testing one such well at the plant site next to the Cemex facility on the Monterey Bay shore north of Marina.

The testing was delayed because of political opposition, concerns about feasibility and questions about whether the environmental impact of the testing itself had been fully considered. Once it started, it encountered additional delays for technical reasons and the discovery of a glaring conflict of interest. One of key hydrologists involved in the design and execution of the testing turned out to be a patent holder on the technology being tested, calling into question the advice he was giving his employers, both Cal Am and Cal Am’s chief regulator, the Public Utilities Commission, a compound relationship that created yet another conflict.

At one point, the testing was halted because a monitoring well showed that groundwater in the area was dropping significantly. Among the factors being tested is the desalination plant’s impact on area groundwater and, most specifically, an underlying aquifer that extends all the way to the Salinas Valley and supplies much of the water that sustains Salinas Valley agriculture. Though the intent is to draw seawater exclusively, the test well in fact draws a significant amount of its water from the brackish oceanside edge of the aquifer. If the desalination process draws too much water from the aquifer or aggravates the existing issue of seawater intrusion into the fresh water aquifer, the desalination plant’s design and/or location seemingly would be doomed, absent a purely political solution.

According to Cal Am’s declarations to state officials, the testing remains highly inconclusive but the company says it has learned enough from the exercise to plunge ahead into the overall plant approval process and then into the construction phase, which would result in the drilling of an additional nine slant wells. According to water activist George Riley, the company has already started awarding well-drilling contracts despite the absence of any data supporting that decision.

If the plans continue on that track, the Marina plant would be the first in the world to use slant wells. Recent tests of the same technology at a proposed Dana Point plant failed dramatically, taking in as much fresh water as salt water, and operators of a proposed plant at Huntington Beach, also under state pressure to use slant wells, recently announced the technology there to be unfeasible.

Against that backdrop, an array of speakers at a forum sponsored by Public Water Now lined up Tuesday night in Carmel to explain why the slant-well plan should be abandoned in the name of maintaining some semblance of control over the desal costs.

Public Water Now founder George Riley ran out of descriptors as he labeled the slant-well approach “a sham, a hoax, a fraud” because it provides none of the benefits that its supporters promised and carries with it unacceptable costs and complications. The most recent cost estimates show that water from the proposed Cal Am plant would cost more than double the costs expected in either Dana Point or Huntington Beach.

Public Water Now was formed to pursue public ownership of Cal Am, an idea that Monterey voters narrowly rejected a year ago. Riley and the organization support desalination as a solution to the region’s water-supply problem but they argue that the state Public Utilities Commission will be making a huge and expensive mistake if it does not order serious study of alternate, cheaper proposals, the People’s Project and Deepwater Desal, or does not toss out the slant-well approach on grounds of inefficiency and expense.

A partial solution to one of the slant-well technology deficiencies was announced Tuesday, when Cal Am revealed a plan to sell fresh water to the Castroville area. The fresh water to be sold is same fresh water that the slant wells will draw into the desal plant, where it will be processed along with the sea water. That agreement settles one of several potential water rights disputes that Cal Am faces but it is an imperfect solution to a problem that would not exist if the slant wells worked as intended. The volume of freshwater pumped from the aquifer essentially increases the size and cost of the desal plant, an expense borne by Cal Am customers, but Castroville is not expected to pay a commensurate amount.

Among the revealing presentations Tuesday was one by retired mathematician and computer language expert David Beech. He demonstrated how Cal Am has misled the public and even the Coastal Commission by repeatedly suggesting that the test well would extend 1,000 feet into the sand below Monterey Bay. In fact, Beech showed, the drilling angle and the location of the inland wellhead reduce the overall length to just 724 feet and the net effect is that only the final 35 feet of the well are in contact with ocean water.

Most of the water pumped into the desal plant under the current design would come from the freshwater aquifer, Beech and others concluded, which strongly suggests that there is no reason to use expensive slant-well techniques when vertical wells drilled directly into the aquifer would produce approximately the same result. The idea of switching to vertical wells was even endorsed Tuesday night by Paul Bruno, president of Monterey Peninsula Engineering, an aggressive backer of Cal Am’s desalination project. EDITOR’S NOTE: Bruno now denies having said this. He said his comment was that vertical wells would be less expensive than slant wells. 

Another speaker, water activist and retired teacher Michael Baer, complained that Cal Am and its contractors still have not fully tested the potential ramifications on the groundwater despite repeated urging from a hydrologist working for Salinas Valley ag interests.

Ron Weitzman of the Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula, another proponent of public ownership and alternate proposals, used computer modeling to demonstrate his assertion that Cal Am has intentionally manipulated its measurements of sea level and groundwater levels in order to make its plans appear logical.

Riley noted that the cost of the testing has risen steadily, adding additional costs to a project that will result in astronomical water bills throughout Cal Am’s local service area. The initial estimate for the testing was $4 million, which rose to $7 million as a result of both avoidable and unavoidable delays. It rose next to $10 million, which doesn’t include the costs of special review by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The overall cost of the plant is now estimated at more than $300 million.

If Cal Am shareholders were responsible for the costs, they would have ended the slant-well experiment long ago in favor of something more efficient and less expensive, Riley insisted. Unfortunately, though, common sense does not prevail when the regulators and the utility know that the costs of every misstep will be passed directly to the water ratepayers.

Riley said there is no longer any question that a desalination plant will be built. A looming cease-and-desist order on the overuse of Carmel River water has created enormous political pressure to find a solution and nothing on the horizon presents meaningful competition to desalination, Riley acknowledged. It is entirely likely, he said, that the various state agencies will approve the overall project even before the environmental impact study for the plant has been completed and before various other water rights issues have been adjudicated.

What is important now, he said, is for Cal Am customers and their elected leaders to persuade state officials to stand up to the momentum and take a long and deep look at the costs of staying on the current path. Both the alternate plant proposals and simpler well technology promise lower costs for the ratepayers, he said, and it is the responsibility of officialdom at the local and state levels to do everything they can to take the sting out of future water bills.

{ 23 comments }

Cal Am rate increases, all lined up as far as you can see

Red 3d 40% text on white background. See whole set for other numbers.

Your Cal Am bill is going to be going up again. If you’re thinking 30 percent, you’re getting warm. Thirty-five? Warmer. Forty? Good guess

RATES UP FOR MOST BUT DOWN FOR COMMERCIAL USERS

When I received my most recent letter from Cal Am, I knew it wasn’t a late Christmas card. The first thing I noticed was the little blue box in the lower corner. “See inside for important information about your rates.”

Based on experience, I was pretty sure this was not signal of lower rates. I was right, but only half right.  More on that in a bit.

The mailing announced a Jan. 27 workshop on California American Water’s application to modify some of the conservation and rationing rules that affect most of the company’s customers in Monterey County, and to make some changes in the “rate design.”

On the last page I discovered that this means an increase in my water rates. As a somewhat typical water customer in a single-family home, I can expect to see my bill go up by about 40 percent. I should count myself lucky that I don’t live in an apartment because if I did, my bill would be going up about 43 percent.

Why is this happening? Didn’t Cal Am get a rate increase like 20 minutes ago?

I read the whole thing rather thoroughly and couldn’t find anything about improvements to the system or to service, fixing leaky pipes, or solving the water supply problem or saving fish in the Carmel River. None of that frivolous stuff. I didn’t see any talk about the rising cost of taking Public Utility Commissioners to dinner. As far as I can tell from the four-page letter, my bill is likely to go up because Cal Am wants to change the way it calculates bills, the way it applies conservation rates and how it does other things that have no impact on me other than increasing my bill.

Cal Am says, without explanation, that it wants to charge increase “the service charge to recover 30 percent of residential fixed costs, compared to a 15 percent recovery currently.”

Perhaps we should be relieved. What if Cal Am had picked 40 percent or 50 percent instead of 30 percent?

According to the letter, Cal Am also wants to charge me more by collecting money in the future that it should have collected from someone, who knows who, in the past. In other words, someone slipped up and failed to wring every dollar out of us at some point and the company thinks it should be able to remedy that. I have to presume that I was not the person or persons who should have paid more in the past because I am fairly certain that Cal Am has never missed an opportunity to get every possible nickel from me.

This is not a done deal, of course. It is part of an application before the Public Utilities Commission, which, if the past is a good predictor, will likely approve the requested increase and present Cal Am with an award for creativity and accounting prowess. This also is not a full reflection of what is likely to happen to your water bill in the near future. Cal Am rate increases are a lot like El Nino storms. Right behind this one, there’s another one taking shape.

But what of the lucky others whose rates aren’t going up? Those would be the Cal Am customers in the commercial category. They apparently aren’t being affected by most of the changed accounting procedures Cal Am wants to implement but they would be impacted by the effort to collect money that previously uncollected. On account of that, commercial ratepayers can expect to see their bills go down by about 9 percent.

If this is explained in any meaningful way in the letter, it is written in invisible ink.

It is difficult to see why commercial rates are to go down. Based on the information at hand, it could be that Cal Am thinks the uncollected money in past years should have been collected from residential customers and that commercial customers overpaid.

Or it could be that Cal Am just likes commercial customers than it likes the rest of us, or that it is more interested in keeping commercial customers happy.

You may recall that is was just a couple of years ago that Cal Am dramatically cut rates for commercial customers, or at least any commercial customers who were willing to sign a paper certifying that they really into conserving water whenever possible. They did that for various reasons, some of them sound. But I and a few other cynical types suspect that it was part of a deal. Something like this: Back us up on our desalination plans, the rate scheme for the San Clemente Dam removal and on other issues as needed, and we’ll lower your rates, and lower them again at the next opportunity.

Can I prove that? Heck no. In the byzantine world of utility accounting, it becomes ridiculously difficult to prove much of anything.

Now before someone gets all doesn’t-he-understand-that-what’s-good-for-business-is-good-for-everyone on me, I get it, I get it. What I don’t like is that decisions on such things are being made in places where I’m not normally invited and are being reached by people who don’t live anywhere near my neighborhood.

Which takes us to my final point. While there are some good Cal Am watchdogs already – people like George Riley and Ron Weitzman and Charles Cech as well as the fine people at the PUC’S Division of Ratepayer Advocates – I submit that they cannot possibly keep up with the all the rate storms lining up in the Pacific and heading our way.

Cal Am is regulated, and its rated set, by the state Public Utilities Commission, but that body in recent years has been preoccupied with keeping PG&E shareholders happy and overwhelmed by the need to monitor each public utility in this huge state.

Here’s what I think. We need someone in Monterey County, some highly credible person with great accounting skills, to take on the task of analyzing and reporting on all Cal Am rate increase requests and analyzing the company “rate design” and everything else it has or does that impacts our water rates.

Once upon a time, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District had some role in regulating Cal Am. That function has mostly gone away, but it seems entirely reasonable that the district hire someone to perform the function I propose.

Another possibility is the mayors’ water authority. Its primary function is to advance the Cal Am desalination project, the biggest storm of all, and to provide some level of public scrutiny over that venture. Seems to me it would be well equipped to take on the task.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors could make it work as well if the members really wanted to, though the county wouldn’t be my first choice.

I see this person issuing public reports on Cal Am rate proposals and representing area residents at rate hearings before the PUC. A key function: educating Cal Am customers to the point that we could represent ourselves at rate hearings.

Some of the work would duplicate work already being done by the Division of Ratepayer Advocates. The difference is that the division is responsible for the entire state and must constantly change its focus. This person would have one mission – making whatever Cal Am is up to make sense.

There are those out there doing some of this work now. The George Rileys and Ron Weitzmans. But they cannot keep up with the volume it on their own, without someone able to devote full time to the effort. Rate applications consume hundreds of pages of fine print and tie into previously approved side deals, surcharges and recalculations. Only someone devoting full time to the challenge has any hope of ever understanding all of it.

Expensive? Kind of. What isn’t? an energized and effective person in this role could save Cal Am customers, including businesses and government bodies, more than enough to cover expenses, more than enough many times over.

Right now, Cal Am has us right where it wants us. Divided. Confused. Overwhelmed. The PUC has no motive to fix that and neither does anyone else. We need to create our own seat at the table.

About that workshop, it’s at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 27 at the Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave., Seaside. Presiding over the sessions will be an administrative law judge for the PUC. 

{ 15 comments }

????

The following is my Aug. 7 letter to the California Coastal Commission’s executive director, Charles F. Lester, regarding the Cal Am test well:

Dear Mr. Lester,

Public Water Now (PWN) is the group that discovered the patents owned by Dennis Williams and Geoscience. PWN alerted the public about potential conflicts of interest. PWN is also the group that has harped on the phrase issued by the State Water Resources Control Board about pursuing subsurface intakes, “if feasible,” prior to pursuing other options.

I am writing to alert you to related issues that I hope you consider in the review of an amended permit for Cal Am, and the follow up monitoring and evaluation of data and circumstances re this test slant well.

PWN is well aware of the desire by you, the State Water Resources Control Board, California Public Utilities Commission, and others in the state that want a successful subsurface intake for desal facilities. PWN is also aware of the environmental reasons, and we do not disagree.

But PWN strongly objects to several factors that are in play, and you have a role in considering them.

How does the CCC remain objective and focused on the facts when it has a obvious public policy to support subsurface intake? PWN questions the depth of objectivity CCC will bring if the overlying policy goal is a successful subsurface intake for desal. Will CCC go the extra mile to guarantee its objectivity and interest in validated data and analysis? Is the CCC open to looking beyond the face value of the data it receives?

The patent royalty relationship between Dennis Williams/Geoscience and the driller –Boart Longyear – has not been queried. Is it possible that substantive financial relationships exist between these two that could cause the data to be skewed to serve ulterior motives? Will CCC look into the contract relationship between Williams and Boart Longyear? Will CCC determine there are no royalty and shared self interests in the contracts or in the actual test well operations that could skew their reports?

Will CCC question the financial relationship of these key sources of data and opinion?

PWN has felt for some time that the specific test period got cavalier treatment by the CCC. I made this very point at your hearing in November 2014 on the initial permit. Since slant wells are not in use anywhere in the world, how can CCC not absolutely insist on a valid test period? Not knowing what is a valid period, surely sophisticated professional attention is required. What is a valid test period? Will CCC opine on this? Will CCC prescribe a valid duration for the test period?

The only known subsurface intakes for desal have occurred in California – Dana Point and Sand City.

1) Dana Point results after 18 months of test slant well pumping are these: no conclusions on viability; some sand infiltration problems; and pumping efficiency declined from over 90% to about 55% over 18 months.

2) The data from the Sand City vertical subsurface wells for a small 300 acre foot/year plant shows actual pumping efficiency over 4 year of operation to be in serious decline:

From Sand City Public Works, calendar year:

  • 2011 96.8%
  • 2012 69.6%
  • 2013 64.8%
  • 2014 60.8%

From Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, water year

  • 2011 91.9%
  • 2012 80.7%
  • 2013 62.3%
  • 2014 59.5%

This data on Sand City tells a very negative tale about reliability, and therefore viability. Why does pumping efficiency with subsurface intake decline so significantly over a few years? Dana Point and Sand City data clearly make this point! Has the CCC considered this? This is why a valid test period is critical. Experience so far does not dictate a “full speed ahead” mentality. In fact it screams out for caution. And to be skeptical about any optimism about short term data. The telling will be in the testing, and in the duration, not the first data available.

Will CCC require a legitimate test period of two years or more? Remember, Cal Am originally proposed a two year test period. But with unexplained lower performance at Sand City, is two years adequate?

Every diagram example in all sources describe slant wells as penetrating far enough under the sea floor to extract water from beneath the sea floor. The intent is clear – to avoid aquifer interference, and perhaps to avoid related water rights claims. But the Cal Am test well does not penetrate the vertical line at the mean high tide line. It stops landward of that line. Would this “test well” meet your normal standard for a test of under sea floor intake? The fact that it did not extend under the sea floor area should raise questions about design or engineering?

Was the drilling length too risky or difficult? Was the drilling capacity limited in some way? Is this an issue for feasibility? Was the design under the patents too limiting? Should horizontal directional drilling still be an option? Are there more experiments that should take place? Did the insistence on the removable casings create engineering demands that were excessive? Could the guidelines from the State Water Board have established too high a level of outcome that was too expensive for success? The fact of a shorter test well length than intended (by the proponent, the patent holder and the public promotion) must get questioned regarding its use as a “test”?

Furthermore the plan of Cal Am to proceed directly from a short test period into a development permit for nine production wells makes a farce of all the publicity about the “test well” being a legitimate test well! The plan of Cal Am is based on assumptions, not tests. There are enough questions about long term performance reliability and cost acceptability that should ring alarm bells at the CCC, and elsewhere.

Working out the details and the costs of this experiment should not fall on the ratepayers. This is a state-sponsored requirement, and should have significant state funding. I doubt you have access to funding assistance. At least you might acknowledge the unfairness of the state, and the corporate utility, foisting this unproven and little scrutinized experiment on ratepayers.

The CCC, having jurisdiction over the efficacy of slant well impacts, and having a deep interest in the long term success of subsurface intakes, should have a particular interest in seeing that it is done right. This is too new for the CCC to feel comfort in self-interested promoters and contractors.

Whatever happened to the precautionary principle?

If there is to be a successful test, there must be conscientious and professional attention to the fact that slant wells have never been successfully constructed and become operational anywhere in the world.

Costs can become astronomical, and should not fall exclusively on local ratepayers. State resources must be made available, since it is a policy goal of several state agencies for subsurface intakes. And the facts of declining pumping efficiency should also raise alarms.

We sincerely hope you will take these issues into account during deliberations and analysis of Cal Am’s amended permit.

Respectfully,

 

George T. Riley
Managing Director
Public Water Now

Emailed to: tom.luster

{ 11 comments }

Vote no campaign and protest signs for a political or social issue in an election resulting in a group demonstration protesting to stop a law  or policy made by a politician on an isolated white background.BILLS FOR SOME HOMES WOULD JUMP 43 PERCENT

Public Water Now is launching a protest to Cal Am’s recent request for a rate increase. Although Cal Am may feel under-funded, we ratepayers are under-represented and under-appreciated.

Public Water Now has settled into the role of watchdog, but now feels the need to pursue action with a stronger and stronger voice. Because we were relentless in seeking a review of the water rate structure, Cal Am recently acquiesced.  Our main interest was to compare and understand the significant differences between residential and commercial rates. We are not convinced that things are fair. And so far, neither Cal Am, nor the commercial interests, has been able to explain how the stark differences are fair.

We did get a meeting with Cal Am officials a few weeks ago on the new rate design. We were told to expect 1) removal of the allotment system, 2) a compressed rate structure, and 3) a shift of costs to the fixed meter charge and away from volume and usage charges. The community’s success at conservation has Cal Am in a tizzy. When the Herald carried the news of the specifics, I was stunned because only days earlier Cal Am had not shared with us the size of the increase (averaging 29% for residential), nor the commercial decrease (averaging 14%), nor the short time period for protest, ending on Aug. 12.

I remember a California Public Utilities Commission workshop in 2012 where Cal Am proudly announced its research showed that higher rates would not cause reduced use. The Peninsula was different, Cal Am said. Cal Am’s view of price elasticity was the opposite of other research Cal Am shared that was unanimous in concluding that the higher the price, the lower the demand. I remember calling Cal Am out on this, in front of about 25 interested and mainly local parties, about its counter-intuitive statement. I was criticized by Cal Am for doing so. It seemed wrong then, and it surely has proven that Cal Am’s research expert was totally wrong.

Cal Am has a serious under-collection of revenue because it misjudged the elasticity of demand. For a protected utility without competition, it has no experience in the business of economic dynamics. Why so many seemingly savvy local business people support Cal Am is mysterious. It boggles the mind to witness such corporate incompetence.

Cal Am’s current rate request is on this link.

My conclusions and the points of protest are these.

  1. Cal Am is using conservation, and the cease-and-desist order and drought crises, to piggyback its under-collection performance. The underlying pitch is to shore up its revenue stream. Guaranteed revenue is the point. This is an inappropriate rationale, timing and method to restructure Cal Am’s entire revenue picture.
  1. The proposed protest period is excessively short, ending Aug. 12
  1. Cal Am has called for workshops, but none has been scheduled by Cal Am or the water management district. This shortcoming undermines the deadline.
  1. The residential rate for Tier 1 users goes up 43%, far exceeding the reported average of 29%. This is where the main water conservers have ended up, so now Cal Am will get its piece of gold from them. It is also where most voters will begin to feel the heat of Cal Am costs. The more we conserve in the public interest, the more we serve the corporate interest.
  1. The commercial rate decrease is not explained, which calls into question if the commercial rates still create an incentive for conservation as advertised.
  1. The fact of under-collections proves Cal Am has not had a rational revenue structure, or it proves Cal Am is inefficient in its management.  Both should be evaluated.
  1. Cal Am revenue reports, contained in its application (link) shows plenty of income after expenses.  Where and how is Cal Am under-financed?
  1. Cal Am claims, but does not explain, how it is less costly to have these new rates.

Protests can be filed by email (below).  In correspondent to the PUC and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, you should refer to the case number, which for now is  A.15-07-?  (The question mark is correct for now)

Public Utilities Commission: public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov

Office of Ratepayer Advocates: richard.rauschmeier@cpuc.ca.gov

Monterey Peninsula Water Management District: arlene@mpwmd.net

Monterey Herald: mheditor@montereyherald.com

Monterey County Weekly: mail@mcweekly.com

Monterey Bay Partisan: calkinsroyal@gmail.com

Riley is managing director of Public Water Now.

{ 8 comments }

????

STATE HAS MADE CAL AM DESAL PROJECT A TEST CASE

OFFICIAL IN CHARGE OF EIR WAS PROJECT’S FIRST CHEERLEADER

TIME PRESSURE GIVES OFFICIALS EXCUSE TO CUT CORNERS

To hear some people tell it, one of the big problems facing Cal Am’s desalination project in Marina is criticism from those concerned about the environmental and economic impacts. Project supporters go so far as to blame the critics for the various delays that have forced repeated changes in the pre-construction timetable.

But after following the process closely for a decade now, after being counseled interminably by project proponents and reading environmental impact reports, feasibility studies and all manner of other paperwork, I have come to the opposite conclusion. I believe one of the venture’s biggest problems is that it has too much support. By that, I mean that agencies that should be honestly evaluating the project are advocating for it instead, leading to lapses in judgment and errors in execution. Peninsula business interests, meanwhile, panicked by the threat of water cutbacks, have taken a full-speed-ahead posture that could help produce a flawed and incredibly expensive answer to a problem that has other solutions.

When a previous incarnation of the desal project fell apart, it wasn’t because naysayers had put up too many obstacles. Key factors in its demise were a politically awkward management structure and the fact that money was being passed under the table in an effort to advance the project, not destroy it.

Now, proponents and participants in the project have proved again to be their own worst enemies, first by making overly optimistic projections about the composition of the water to be desalted and by ignoring glaring conflicts of interest built into the process of testing the water at the plant site north of Marina.

In defense, those in charge cite the heavy deadline pressure, with the state threatening to force untenable cuts in the Peninsula’s use of Carmel River water. They say time is so tight that they must push on or else the Peninsula’s economic well being will be in grave danger. Such thinking plays right into the hands of Cal Am, of course, which makes its money no matter how many times it has to start over.

When I was opinion page editor of the Monterey Herald, we came out in favor of desalination because of the shortage of practical alternatives. We were one of the first entities in the community to voice support. I now feel that the alternatives are becoming more attractive and that the project in its current configuration presents even graver danger to the well being of Cal Am customers on the Peninsula, who will be forced to pay for it no matter how expensive it becomes—even if it never produces a drop of drinkable water.

PENINSULA PLANT COULD BE A MODEL, FOR A PRICE

Creating additional pressures and costs, the state is using the project to test its preferred water-intake technology with minimal compensation to the Peninsula. As it stands, Peninsula water customers will be required to cover millions and millions of dollars in expenses regardless of whether the test is a success. Remember when Cal Am and its supporters were breathlessly arguing that testing of the intake method needed to begin as soon as possible, and that anyone who said otherwise was an obstructionist? That testing is on hold now for reasons that informed and objective observers could have seen coming, and the money meter continues to spin.

Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, an almost full-time participant in the desalination process as chair of the Peninsula mayors’ water authority, agrees that the financial burden created by the experiment should be shared by state taxpayers, and he indicated he is working on it.

Tap drippingEven now, while the testing and environmental impact review are both stalled, Cal Am is going after yet another set of rate increases to help pay for the plant that may never be built and to offset income it has lost because its Peninsula customers have done such a good job of conserving water. Residential customers, who already consume and conserve some of the most expensive water in the state, would see rates increase by 29 percent under a request Cal Am filed last week with the Public Utilities Commission. At the same time, businesses would see a rate reduction of some 14 percent even though some business interests already pay discounted rates in what amounts to a reward for supporting the desal project.

Cal Am’s ability to obtain rate increase after increase from the PUC helps explain why the utility is comfortable doing whatever the state wants, no matter how illogical or expensive. In the cost-plus world of utility accounting, bigger expenses mean bigger profits.

PENINSULA IS A DESAL GUINEA PIG IN A COSTLY EXPERIMENT

Few people quarrel with the need for a desalination plant or some other means of stretching the Peninsula’s water supply. We have nearly destroyed the Carmel River, our primary water source. State officials were correct to issue a cease and desist order that will require Cal Am to greatly reduce pumping from the river in stages, which local officials are desperately attempting to postpone until the plant comes online.

Compounding the challenge significantly, the project has become an important test case that will help decide what type of water intake should be employed by other desalination facilities now on the drawing boards up and down the state.

They make it sound super complicated. It isn’t. It is worth your attention if only because it will help you understand the latest conflict of interest issue that has thrown a wrench into the process.

The easiest and least expensive intake is known as open ocean, which means pumping water straight from the ocean. The problem is that all manner of marine life is pumped into the plant along with the salty water.

Environmental groups and the various regulatory agencies greatly prefer the idea of subsurface intake, which involves pumping from below the ocean floor, using the sand and other sediment as filters to protect aquatic life. In the best case from an environmental standpoint, the wells would be drilled some distance from the shore and slanted so that their intakes would extend below the ocean floor.

Unfortunately, there is some guesswork involved in deciding exactly where to drill the so-called slant wells and there are few successful examples.  Cal Am’s project presents the state with one of the largest and most meaningful tests of the slant well technology so far.

Racks of filters in a desalination plantAlso unfortunately, not everyone involved in the project has the same agenda, and the state apparently ignored some well-established principles of how public works projects should be organized and assessed.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate that is to examine the shifting roles of the man now in charge of preparing the all-important environmental impact report for the current project. That’s Eric Zigas of the San Francisco firm of Environmental Science Associates.

Zigas may be a familiar name to those who have followed the desalination follies from the start. He also one of the architects of the previous incarnation of the desalination project–the version that devolved into a web of litigation. Before that he was a key part of the Public Utilities Commission team that decided desalination was the best solution to the Peninsula’s water problem.

PROJECT’S CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL MONITOR STARTED WITH A VERY DIFFERENT ROLE

The current desalination proposal grew out of what became known as Plan B after plans for a dam on the Carmel River fell apart. The Legislature put the Public Utilities Commission in charge of finding an alternative and Zigas was hired to help draft the plan. He teamed with officials at UC Santa Cruz and various state and local agencies to help craft an ambitious scheme for a desalination plant at Moss Landing with a long list of environmental amenities such as a garbage-powered energy supply. The PUC then assigned Zigas to tout the plan to various Peninsula business groups, service clubs, news outlets and others. He effectively helped sell the community on desalination.

But for various reasons, most of the bells and whistles were later removed from the plan, and the project became a cumbersome joint venture between Cal Am, Monterey County and the Marina Coast Water District. Despite Zigas’ earlier role as the official cheerleader for the project, his firm was hired by the PUC to prepare the environmental impact report on that proposal before other factors caused it to be shelved.

Today, Zigas leads the environmental analysis of the process he helped initiate. Those who have worked with him say his experience on the Peninsula gives him unmatched knowledge of the issues involved, which are many. The project is complex, including a plant processing countless gallons of sea water, disposing tons of brine, and dispatching fresh water through a new network of pipelines. The expectation, of course, is that the analysis will be scientific and unbiased. A draft of the EIR is now circulating and the technical community now examining the document will determine whether has Zigas successfully switched hats. Considering how much controversy the process has created, the final EIR is very likely to be tested in court.

(When the first draft of the official environmental impact report incorrectly concluded that there were no functional agricultural wells near the plant site, Zigas briefly defended his team’s work before adopting a no-comment stance. )

eric-zigas

Eric Zigas

Zigas isn’t talking to the press, at least not to the Partisan, and he hasn’t publicly addressed his role in the latest delays.

The EIR process has been pushed back a few months because of a conflict created by the involvement of a firm that holds a patent on the slant-well technology. To help assess the test well, Zigas’ firm had brought in a company called Geoscience, headed by noted hydrologist Dennis Williams. In addition to the potential conflict presented by his patent, Williams also was working for Cal Am on the same project.

The PUC’s project manager, Andrew Barnsdale, was reassigned last week because of the revelations, which were brought to light by project critics. At the same time, a PUC administrative law judge, Gary Weatherford, issued a lengthy order requiring ESA and Cal Am to provide the contracts of everyone involved and to explain the degree to which the testing process may have been tainted.

It should not be forgotten that the Geoscience situation surfaced after the Coastal Commission suspended pumping at the test site last month because the well apparently was taking in more fresh water than anticipated. After the testing began, the groundwater table started dropping, which Cal Am blamed on agricultural pumping though it had insisted previously that there was no agricultural pumping in the area. Critics of the project had nothing to do with that.

GEORGE AND JASON LOOK AT PROJECT FROM DIFFERENT PERSPECRTIVES

George Riley has followed the project’s process as closely as anyone, and has a unique perspective. While he is an activist and head of a group that advocates public takeover of Cal Am, he also has been an accredited participant in the PUC processes as well as a member of a technical advisory committee advising Peninsula mayors on desal matters.

He agrees that the process has been marred by inter-connections.

“A quiet alliance of advocates, appearing as specialists, has emerged,” he said by email. “All are also quietly supported by the ruling state agencies. The ruling water elites at the state level have a greater role here, and has not been discussed.  And Monterey Peninsula as guinea pig is useful for them.”

Riley said Zigas and Environmental Science Associates do deserve credit, both for helping get the well testing process on track after Cal Am’s dawdling had worsened the time crunch and for pushing for well testing data to be included in the environmental impact report. The idea, Riley said, is for the final EIR to become “the vehicle for tooting the horns for slant wells” strongly favored by the various state agencies.

In Riley’s view, the fumbles that have marred the process would not be so worrisome if the state was helping to pay for the slant well testing and if the state would do more to encourage competing proposals that possibly could address the Peninsula’s water needs more quickly and less expensively.

Burnett, in a telephone interview Saturday, said he supports the PUC’s decision to call a brief timeout over the patent issue and examine where things went wrong with the test well team. He said it is important now to view Geoscience as a “proponent” rather than an arms-length analyst.

But Burnett disagrees that the process is fundamentally flawed or that the project’s management structure should be overhauled. He said he has great faith in Weatherford, the administrative law judge who is reviewing the testing conflicts.

(Burnett, by the way, has taken quite a beating politically in some quarters for his role as a leading advocate for such a controversial project. His detractors should be reminded that he helped  create a financing package for the plant that should save ratepayers millions of dollars over time and managed almost single-handedly to impose some level of public oversight over the project despite serious resistance from Cal Am.)

Antique water fountain, detail of a source for drinking water, drinking waterSUCCESS SHOULDN’T REQUIRE SETTLING FOR SECOND-RATE

From where I sit, it seems clear that the PUC needs to do more than study the known conflicts and then continue on the same course if this project is to be salvaged. Soonest, it needs to join with local politicians and work with the State Water Resources Control Board to eliminate the artificial pressure caused by the cease-and-desist order deadlines before they result in a hopelessly flawed and expensive project.

Barnsdale, the now departed PUC project manager, is a bureaucrat, a permit processor, not a construction or desalination expert. His replacement needs to be someone with real world experience rather than a purely regulatory background.

The PUC also needs to do what it can to support alternative measures such as wastewater recycling and stepped up conservation and to take a closer look at the competing proposals, the Moss Landing plans being pursued by Nader Agha and the DeepWater group, to see if they could effectively supplant some or all of the Cal Am project.

Obviously, the PUC also needs to take a long look at Cal Am’s rate structure for the Peninsula and drill into the company’s argument for two classes of rates, one set for the relatively helpless residential customers and a discounted set for the more politically powerful business class.

Finally, Cal Am and its supporters need to stop attempting to vilify anyone who raises questions about the process. All major public works projects encounter problems and this one is  more complex than most. Clearly, outside scrutiny will make it stronger, not weaker. As a community, there is strong agreement that we are obligated to stop abusing the Carmel River and unless someone works some magic and soon, we seem to be stuck with desal as the solution. That does not mean, however, that we must accept a project that carries a bloated pricetag and creates as many problems as it solves.

{ 14 comments }

Some stories stand alone. Others aren’t quite long enough to justify all that precious cyber space, so the Partisan hereby initiates “Shorts,” an occasional column about politics, public affairs and whatever else is cooking.

SCORE ONE FOR MILLER

The Bernal for sheriff camp was landing quite a few punches against Sheriff Scott Miller, mostly low blows, but Miller left the Bernal team dazed and confused with a flurry of jabs over the last few days.

For some reason, deputy Bernal’s handlers, led by Brandon “Tricky” Gesicki, thought it would be a good idea to get an endorsement from UFW icon Dolores Huerta even though she is about as popular as mildew among the grape growers and other agriculturalists who are the base of his support. I’m guessing they were hoping to capitalize on an earlier Miller misstep, hiring a retired DEA agent as his campaign spokesman despite the agent’s not-so highly evolved views on immigration and related issues.

Speaking of missteps, the Bernal people breathlessly announced the Huerta endorsement late late week. On Huerta’s behalf, Sen. Bill Monning announced the next day that it was a mistake. And Miller announced Tuesday that he now holds Huerta’s endorsement. Miller is hard to categorize politically but if you look in your neighborhood, you might notice that the Rush Limbaugh listeners on your street aren’t putting up Miller signs.

Gesicki went ballistic over the news coverage, of course. He does that. This time, he accused the media of lying, lying, lying. That’s because Huerta mistakenly said it was Bernal adviser Chris Marohn who had misled her about the candidates. The misleader was actually Bernal adviser Chris Schneider. Late Tuesday, it could not be determined whether Gesicki had calmed down.

 DRAMA IN THE DESERT

In a field of strong Monterey City Council candidates, retired police officer Ed Smith has escaped much notoriety but he has one out-of-town critic who’s hoping to end that. The critic is Dean Gray, who edits a watchdog-oriented website in Desert Hot Springs, the Palm Springs neighbor where Smith worked after leaving the Monterey Police Department.

Starting late last year, Gray’s Desert Vortex News published  several stories critical of Smith for his association with Tony Clarke, the would-be promoter of what was to be the Wellness and World Music Festival in Desert Hot Springs. Here is a link to the most complete article, which he sent to the Partisan over the weekend. Its a safe bet that others in the race are well aware of it by now.

Monterey City Council candidate Ed Smith

Monterey City Council candidate Ed Smith

The gist is this: While working as a police commander in the desert town–a “well-respected police commander,” Gray wrote at one point—Smith was assigned to assist Clarke, largely because Smith had had considerable experience with large events in Monterey. The city also forwarded $265,000 to Clarke to help with the effort. After Smith retired from the Desert Hot Springs Police Department, he went to work with Clarke to try to finish the job. It turned out, however, that Clarke was not a music promoter as he claimed to be and they only thing he was really good at was spending the city’s money, Gray reported. Smith made presentations on Clarke’s behalf but he told the Partisan this week that he never reached a formal agreement with Clarke and never got paid for his work.

To give some context to it all, Smith noted that Desert Hot Springs is a troubled town, with more than its share of scandal and controversy. It has had eight police chiefs in just 11 years.

“I’m glad to be back in Monterey.”

RILEY RESPONDS TO CAL AM SABER RATTLING

 When California American Water formally accused water activist George Riley of illegally breaching a settlement agreement by speaking up on a key desalination issue, the utility might have figured he would shut up and go away. Cal Am has a kennel full of lawyers and seems to enjoy unleashing them.

But Riley isn’t backing down. In a letter to the company on Monday, he denied breaching anything and made it clear he will continue exploring ways to make the proposed desalination project more effective and less expensive. Here’s the letter: Breach Response

The accusation from Cal Am was that Riley had publicly declared that slant wells are not feasible for the project and that he would attempt to prevent a test of that technology at the Cemex cement plant site near Marina. In one of the several legal proceedings associated with the desal project, Riley was among the folks signing agreements not to disclose this or that. In Riley’s view, the agreement didn’t and doesn’t prevent him from speaking out about his concerns.

(Slant wells are drilled slightly inland but angled so that their intakes are in the sand and stone under ocean water. The design of the intakes is a critical component of each desalination plant as engineers seek to minimize the amount of damage to aquatic life.)

Riley wrote, “I treat your letter as a soft form of a SLAPP suit, intending to intimidate or censor me. You refer to comments before the Mayors Authority and the Water Management District, neither of which are in the permit track for the test well. You did not quote me. You did not summarize my comments. You did not show evidence of the impact of my comments. You have not identified any permit or easement hearing that I even participated in …

“I will continue to look at ways to support a water supply at the lowest possible cost, and on a schedule that meets local needs. And I will continue to seek reasonable discussions of a fast track that may have higher risk and cost, and may have unintended consequences. In my opinion, the pressures of the compressed schedule are driving out rational discussions. This is my focus these days.”

MAYBE THEY WERE TRYING TO SAVE ON LEGAL FEES

Speaking of Cal Am and slant wells, the company spent much of 2014 seeking approval from Marina officials to install a test well at the Cemex cement plant property on the Marina shoreline, but the request was denied. Later, Cal Am acknowledged that it had no formal agreement with Cemex but it is going to court to try to force a Cemex to cooperate.

Here’s an interesting sidenote that might explain how things went sideways. Local land-use lawyer Tony Lombardo has been representing Cal Am in its effort to find a location for the desal plant and I’m told by people who should now that Cemex has been using Lombardo for some time to represent its local interests as well. It’s a Mexican company.

Was Lombardo negotiating with Lombardo? Who knows. Lombardo hasn’t returned my calls in years, including the one I made Monday.

{ 6 comments }

Clean Drinking Water The water supply drama continues. Key urban and agriculture representatives continue to hammer away at a mutually beneficial agreement for using industrial wastewater. The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District continues slowly to fortify a backup plan for a desal source if Cal Am falters. It is working with Deep Water Desal on a plan for desalted ocean water at Moss Landing.

Then there is Cal Am’s desal proposal, using slant wells north of Marina. This project is supported by the Mayors Water Authority, most elected officials, and about 16 other interested parties in a settlement agreement that was filed about 18 months ago with the California Public Utilities Commission. I am one of those parties, but I have always been baffled by Cal Am’s insistence on proceeding with slant wells, inland wells drilled on an angle to take in seawater for desalting. Though the technology is intended to minimize the intake of sea life, it is a novel and risky approach with high costs. Why is Cal Am taking this approach? What strengthens Cal Am’s resolve? There are several angles to the issue:

  • Slant wells for potable desal are not operational anywhere in the United States.  Cal Am claimed in a recent report that they are in use in Europe, but it has failed identify any. There is one extensive test site in Orange County with 14 years of effort and test data, but it is not operational.
  • Cal Am has no new water rights anywhere along our coast, and has not applied for any. However it continues to collect data in the Marina area to bolster its plan for slant wells.
  • It appears that Cal Am will use the data and the local water-supply crisis to justify an argument for a “physical solution” (the idea that practical considerations might bypass existing law). However the state Supreme Court disavowed the physical solution argument in a 2000 decision. Will Cal Am challenge that decision and add litigation costs and delay, thus avoiding the need for obtaining water rights?
  • The environmental impact report for the failed regional desal project praised slant wells as the “environmentally superior alternative.” Thus slant wells give Cal Am the imprimatur of protecting the environment.
  • However there are no state requirements for subsurface intakes (slant wells). Granted two very important state agencies – the State Water Resources Control Board and the Coastal Commission – have expressed preference for slant wells as an environmentally superior option, if feasible. There are not extensive criteria for determining “feasibility,” however. There needs to be some practical limit on the cost and amount of time spent on evaluating feasibility. This is a discretionary and subjective determination. So far, we have left it in the hands of Cal Am.
  • Cal Am has built momentum for slant wells to the point that continued investment will be proposed so as to not waste the prior investment. This is a slippery slope.
  • The city of Santa Cruz studied and rejected slant wells as too complicated and too costly.
  • Cal Am ratepayers have paid the full bill for stranded costs from prior Cal Am failures—totaling about $32 million so far, and with another $20 million on the line in legal proceedings ($15 million to $18 million is at stake in litigation with Marina Coast Water District and $3.4 million is at stake in litigation with Monterey County. Ratepayers will be outraged if another failure leads to more stranded costs on our bills. So far the bill for slant wells is probably under $10 million.
  • The mayors have stated that “failure is not an option” on the desalination front. Is this failure of Cal Am, or failure to obtain a new water supply? These two are not linked, or are they?

So why is Cal Am so determined to go the extra mile for slant wells? The answer is “tuck ins.”

Call Public Water Now paranoid, but we see a connection between this project and the defeat of Measure O, which was meant to lead to public ownership of Cal Am’s local operations. Cal Am spent an enormous amount of money to campaign against the measure — about $2.3 million — to protect its local interest. It proved the point that Public Water Now has been making, that the Monterey Peninsula is a cash cow for Cal Am and its parent company, American Water Works.

Public Water Now recently connected the dots with language from Cal Am’s corporate holding company, American Water Works. Its 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2013 describes the corporate growth strategy to be “tuck ins.”

“Growth of service providers in the investor-owned regulated utility sector is achieved through organic growth within a franchise area, the provision of bulk water services to other community water systems and/or acquisitions, including small water and wastewater systems, typically serving fewer than 10,000 customers that are in close geographic proximity to already established regulated operations, which we herein refer to as “tuck ins.”

—American Water Works 10-K filing with SEC for 2013, page 4.

This national corporate growth policy called “tuck ins,” further documented in other SEC filings, is intended to establish water supply ownership/control/dominance in smaller communities as a prelude to serving the growth potential of that community. PWN contends that Cal Am is overly exuberant for slant wells for one dominant reason: it gives Cal Am a permanent foothold next door to Fort Ord, the Peninsula’s only site of predictable growth in the future.

Now it seems clear why Cal Am is so determined to capture the CEMEX site for slant wells. It is using the fragile justification for slant wells to establish itself in the Fort Ord service area. And do not think its legal battle over the $15 million to $18 million debt of Marina Coast Water District is not playing into this calculus.

This national corporate policy to use “tuck ins” for growth should be a concern to Marina, other Fort Ord interests, and the wider community. It sure will be to ratepayers.

Riley is the managing director of Public Water Now and a longtime advocate for public ownership of water utilities.

{ 20 comments }
????

At 7 o’clock this evening, Tuesday Aug. 19, at Monterey City Hall, Cal Am customers get a chance to discuss the rate schedule that provides commercial users with a low, flat rate for water while residential customers pay higher tiered rates.

It was a result of negotiations between the Public Utilities Commission, Cal Am and Peninsula industry representatives. The schedule was adopted last year with no input from residential users. The water management district was party to the discussions but apparently just went with the flow.There was some coverage in the Herald and an editorial criticizing the arrangement but the hospitality industry kept quiet about it, hoping people wouldn’t notice and the issue would go away.

It didn’t.

Here are talking points that water activist George Riley sent to members of Public Water Now in advance of tonight’s session. He does a good job of summing it up as succinctly as possible.

Why the new commercial water rates are unfair to residential ratepayers and to commercial customers:

  • Unfair w/ flat rates vs tiered rates
  • Stealth proceeding, No chance for residential customers to comment
  • Shifted costs to residential customers
  • Without tiers, commercial has no incentive to conserve
  • Successful residential customers (well to do) have highest rates. Well to do commercial customers have lowest rates.
  • Caste system is applied to commercial–Less well off businesses with less resources are penalized, whereas most well off with the most resources are rewarded.
  • Pressure to conserve is a one time investment for commercial, whereas similar one time investment by residential user will not remove the pressure of high tiers to conserve.

Some narrative on talking points.

  1. It was a stealth procedure with no clear warning nor opportunity for public input or understanding.
  2. It is a flat rate. Therefore there is no incentive to make further changes in attitude or performance.
  3. Bill spikes are eliminated. The average commercial use over time makes spiked use a non-issue. Not true for residential users.
  4. Any increase in use can be attributed to a better economy, with no attention to improved conservation.
  5. The 4 categories of commercial rates reward the richer businesses (lower rates) and penalize the struggling businesses (higher rates). Not true for residential ratepayers. Even the most investment does not remove the tiered rates nor the attention needed to actual use.
  6. The lowest commercial rates apply to investment choices (more water saving devices), not on behavior of customers or service personnel. A one time choice removes conservation from further owner/management attention.
  7. The commercial water bill contains a bar chart on usage, which gives a monthly use picture instantly. Not true for residential users, who have a distinct need to see their monthly use pattern because of the spike potential and the need to conserve to reduce costs. Residential bills do not have bar charts. Cal Am removed them about a year ago.
  8. So the tool useful to residential users to conserve and reduce costs was eliminated by Cal Am without ratepayer input nor warning.
  9. Without the useful bar chart to get an instant picture of use, the interested residential user must review prior bills and tally use data.This is ponderous and discouraging to any person wanting to understand their water use.
  10. The flat commercial rates apply to all types of non-residential users–cities, school districts, medical facilities, golf courses. In other words, it is the entire community of users that have flat rate benefits that are not available to residential customers.
  11. The perception of unfairness is real, when the voting customer has a harsh daily reminder of conservation, yet the flat rate can be a one-and-done action.
  12. The caste system for commercial users is unique and terribly archaic to modern fairness in this democracy. The well to do residential users (the richer) pay more and help subsidize the lesser well to do (poor and struggling). The new commercial categories of favoritism rewards the ‘rich’ with low rates, and penalizes the lesser successful and struggling businesses (poorer) with higher rates.

{ 3 comments }