Give the Desal Hydra an inch. Just see what happens.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Starting in the 1990s, Laura Joffee Numeroff and Felicia Bond produced a series of adorable children’s books based on the premise that if you give a creature one treat, it will not only develop a taste for it – it also will want more of the good things in life. “If you give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk,” reads the opener of the seminal book. The mouse, after a series of adventures, ends up wanting another cookie.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was followed by If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Bear a Brownie, among others.
You get the idea: Wanting leads to more wanting.
It appears the various heads of our creature, the Desal Hydra (also known as the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, Marina Coast Water District and California American Water) perused these tomes before putting out their latest wish lists for the $400 million Regional Water Project.
Gentle reader, some of this is wonky stuff. But hang in there: We’ll go through the story together.
First, if you give the county and Marina Coast wells, they’re going to want more – just not the kind and not in the place already approved in the project’s environmental impact report. (Psst, Salinas Valley Basin – they’re coming to take your groundwater!)
MONEY NO LONGER FLOWS LIKE WATER. QUIT ACTING LIKE IT DOES.
The original EIR has Marina Coast and the Water Resources Agency approved to drill six vertical wells north of Marina to supply the brackish water to feed the desal plant. But a new round of documents submitted to the California Coastal Commission late last month has the Hydra wanting not only the vertical wells, but slant wells that would pump water from the 180-foot aquifer of the Salinas Groundwater Basin, water they may have no legal right to pump.
If you give the Hydra the ability to hire outside help, like Marina Coast hiring a San Jose labor attorney to figure out if board member Jan Shriner hurt general manager Jim Heitzman’s feelings (and then a conflict mediator so Shriner will stop hurting Heitzman’s feelings, and so board members Ken Nishi and Howard Gustafson will stop acting like, well, their crotchety selves), they’re going to want to hire more outside help.
Marina Coast, God love ‘em, put out a request for proposals a few weeks ago for a public relations agency to help clean up the board’s crazy-pants image, and push the hobbled desal project to the finish line. In the past week, they vetted four finalists, including one that, if hired, would charge a monthly retainer of $5,000, plus $375 an hour (not including admin help) to distract people from the fact that Marina Coast does things like recruiting a public relations agency that costs $5,000 a month just for the retainer.
Marina Coast, welcome to 2011. Money no longer flows like water; quit acting like it does.
And a lesson for the rest of us: If we give the Hydra the impression that it’s OK to maneuver in secrecy (such as former Water Resources Agency board member Steve Collins taking $160,000 in consulting fees from an engineering contractor whom he helped land the $28 million desal project management gig), it’s going to want more secrecy.
Thanks to a Public Records Act filed July 21 by The Open Monterey Project, we now know that the mayors, city managers and attorneys of six Peninsula cities (those poor schmucks in the Cal Am service district: Seaside, Sand City, Del Rey Oaks, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea), along with Cal Am, have decided they don’t want to talk about the desal project this summer, as the Weekly’s Kera Abraham reported July 29.
Arguments are swirling as to whether the “confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement” (posted at www.mcweekly.com/buzz) was meant as a wholesale gag order for the signatories (and their unwitting City Councils and staffs) not to talk about the Regional Project at all, or to keep mum on Collins and a pending lawsuit by the Ag Land Trust. But the line instructing “communications concerning the project be kept confidential for the immediate future” seems clear.
Why did the mayors and city managers agree to this? (“It wasn’t our idea,” Cal Am’s Catherine Bowie told me.) Is it even legal for mayors to bind cities to something seemingly so unenforceable?
One water wonk suggested they struck the deal because they needed “breathing space,” to which I say, “Elected officials and government managers don’t have the luxury of breathing space.”
Just getting the document was a fight, according to TOMP attorney Michael Stamp. None of the cities had a copy of the agreement, and essentially played dumb to knowledge of its existence. In the end Don Freeman, a private attorney contracted by the cities of Carmel and Seaside, handed it over “in the interests of transparency.”
The Hydra, it seems, will never learn. But maybe by reading about it, the rest of us will.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.