Protect Strong Water Board
Thursday, October 30, 2003
For Directors, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District
All six candidates for the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District are nice people. We'd be happy to hang out with any of them. They're also qualified individuals. All have contributed to the community in important ways, and their candidacies are commendable. Voters trying to choose among the candidates based on personality or qualification would have a tough time deciding.
But Tuesday's water board election isn't about qualification or personality. It isn't even all that complicated: It's about a water supply project. Specifically, it's a question: Which of two current proposals would be best for the Monterey Peninsula? Do we want a small desalination plant in Sand City, or a big one in Moss Landing?
The stakes are high even if the issue is relatively simple, because the two desal plants represent steeply divergent views about the future of Monterey County.
Water board campaigns around here have been contentious and complicated for a long time. For almost a decade, pro-development candidates sought to build a new dam on the Carmel River, and environmentalists fought them off. With that battle now over, the desal plant has taken its place.
We believe the smaller, local plant in Sand City is the better choice, and that is why the Weekly endorses Kristi Markey, Bob Pacelli and Zan Henson.
A small desal plant in Sand City would be designed to provide just enough water to allow the California-American Water Company to stop over-drafting the damaged Carmel River. It is a rather modest project, and could come on line quickly. The Sand City project would provide sufficient water for slow growth (new homes on buildable lots of record, the addition of second bathrooms, and the like). Plus, it would be owned and controlled by the public, not Cal-Am or the state Public Utility Commission.
The Moss Landing desal plant would be a much bigger and more complicated project, one designed to solve regional water problems. It has the capacity to provide much more water that the Peninsula currently needs, and so could potentially (almost certainly) fuel more growth. Marc Beique, Larry Foy and Michelle Knight all favor the Moss Landing plant.
We at the Weekly like Foy, Beique and Knight, and we believe that they are also committed to solving the Peninsula's water woes (as opposed to delivering the water board into the hands of the mayors and the developers, as some of their critics would have us believe). Like their opponents, these three are smart, energetic and genuinely concerned about preserving the Peninsula's environment. But we can't support their project.
Foy, Beique and Knight like to play the affordable housing card. They point out that the Sand City desal plant will not provide enough water to build much-needed affordable housing. Markey, Pacelli, and Henson all promise that, should a developer come before the water board with a project to build low-cost housing on the Peninsula, then they will find the water for it. And we will hold them to their word.
As happens every time seats come up on the water board, pro-development forces scold environmentalists for using the water board as a tool to control growth. Frankly, we wish we could trust the public agencies who are mandated to manage growth to do so, but we can't. There is a huge economic incentive for developers to bring their projects here, and limiting water has been the most effective way to hold uncontrolled growth at bay.
The vote to decide who should run the water district occurs against the backdrop of an advisory measure, taken last year, in which Peninsula voters said they wanted to see the district dissolved.
Foy, Beique and Knight all supported the measure, which would have replaced the citizen-elected board with one appointed by Peninsula mayors.
All three see the advisory vote as a mandate to build a big water project--with the Carmel River Dam dead, they have set their sights on the big desal plant. But years of elections tell a different story. Monterey Peninsula voters do not want a huge water project. They have said it again and again. The Sand City plant is a good compromise, and the candidates who support it deserve your vote.
We believe this is an important election, one that could help determine the face of the Monterey Peninsula in the future. Because it is an "off-year" contest, each voter's choice will count a little extra. We urge you to get out and vote. Or, since this is the County's first all-mail-in ballot, stay in and vote.