Water Board Faces Heat--again
The Monterey City Council will consider a plan to dissolve the board, as a petition circulates to overturn the ban on water credit transfers.
Thursday, March 28, 2002
''We''re trying to stop the abuses of the water-credit transfer system," says Kris Lindstrom, chair of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board of directors. "We''re trying to keep people from selling water to the highest bidder."
Board members Lindstrom, Zan Henson, Judi Lehman and Molly Erickson say they kept their promise to their constituents last month when they voted 4-2 to completely eliminate all water-credit transfers.
A growing number of people--including city officials, business owners, developers and the hospitality industry--want the transfers back and the elected board members out.
"They went too far," says Monterey Mayor Dan Albert, referring to the water board''s Feb. 28 vote. "I just think they went over the line. Water is being used at business X and you want to move that water to business B and they say no, you can''t even do that? It just doesn''t make sense."
At its April 2 meeting, the Monterey City Council will discuss a November ballot measure urging the state to dissolve the water board. Even if Monterey residents voted in favor of dissolving the district, it would only be an advisory vote--only the state legislature can dissolve local water districts. But it would carry significant symbolic weight.
As does a $5,100 campaign, spearheaded by the Peninsula Chamber and the Hospitality Association, intended to collect signatures in a move some people consider another step towards recalling the water board.
The petitions demand that the board repeal Ordinance 102 (which eliminated the water credit transfers), or submit it to the district''s voters in the November election.
The groups need to collect 3,650 valid signatures by the end of March. At press time, they had collected almost 2,500, Chamber Chair Kathleen Eckerson said.
Eckerson says the Feb. 28 vote is anti-business, anti-seniors and anti-schools.
"Say there''s a senior project proposed for PG and suddenly you don''t have the water to open a project. Or if MPUSD wants to open a new school down the road and suddenly you don''t have water to operate a new site.
"If a business wanted to expand--which is a good thing and should be encouraged--they might then leave the Peninsula and we might lose jobs."
Local environmentalists, however, say it''s just another attempt by big-water users to overthrow the district.
"Every time they lose an election, they get upset," says Carmel Valley environmentalist Fran Farina, a former water board member.
In November 2001, the environmentalist''s candidate was Judi Lehman, who beat incumbent Ron Chesshire.
What some businesses are doing, says board member Erickson, is making huge profits by selling a limited resource.
"In the last four elections, voters voted in favor of directors who did not support water profiteering," Erickson says. "We welcome public comment and stake-holder input. Our vote was not based on that one night. It was based on the previous two and a half years of public testimony and information from our staff."
Erickson says she and her colleagues voted to ban water-credit transfers because they encouraged water profiteering.
"The petition suggests elderly care and daycare centers had lost in some way because of Ordinance 102, when in fact, if you look at the transfers that have taken place, there was nothing ever envisioned for the elderly or for daycare. All the transfers went to high-end, commercial resources. Not anything that looked remotely like childcare or seniors.
"There are still plenty of opportunities to run a business. This ordinance has nothing to do with running a business."
The concept behind water-credit transfers originated about 10 years ago, after an environmental study reported that the Monterey Peninsula was using more water than nature could provide. The original policy, adopted in 1993, allowed business-to-business transfers only, keeping the local economy healthy in spite of the water shortage.
At the time, no one considered the possibility of water marketing or the private sales of water for big profits.
In 1995, under pressure from the Peninsula''s cities and their wait-listed property owners, who wanted to build houses or add bathrooms, the Board acquiesced. It told the cities they could do whatever they wanted with their water credits.
Ordinance 102 opponents--including water board members Alvin Edwards and David Pendergrass--say the district could solve the problem without banning water credit transfers altogether.
"We should at least allow business-to-business transfers," says Edwards. County Supervisor and boardmember Dave Potter was absent, but had previously voted against the ordinance.
"It''s not our job to do land-use management," Edwards continues. "I''m for the petition [opposing Ordinance 102]--as a matter of fact I signed it. If the environmentalists sitting on the board think they can slow down development in this community through water, they are wrong."