A River Re-Runs Through It
Get current with the Regional Desalination Project drama series.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Editor's Note: This timeline picks up near the end of Part I, which details the Monterey Peninsula's water history from the pre-1880s to June 2010.
March 2010: After months of closed-door negotiations, California American Water, Monterey County Water Resources Agency and Marina Coast Water District release the water purchase and settlement agreements, spelling out the details of their partnership in the Regional Desalination Project. The state’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates and Monterey Peninsula Water Management District object, raising concerns about the project’s cost and governance, which excludes Cal Am’s Peninsula-area ratepayers.
April 2010: After six months of legal wrangling, the courts put the State Water Resources Control Board’s cease-and-desist order in effect. The order sets a phased schedule for Cal Am to end illegal diversions of about 10,500 acre-feet of Carmel River water by the end of 2016. Ag Land Trust files suit against the project partners, challenging their right to pump coastal water that could impact the Salinas Valley Basin.
June 2010: Monterey County residents weigh in on the Regional Project at public hearings in Seaside and Monterey. Many voice concerns about transparency, governance and cost. Others urge the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the project agreements, and allow the water-constrained Peninsula to move forward with plans for a new water source. Despite some skepticism, Citizens for Public Water signs onto the project agreements.
August 2010: Monterey Peninsula cities gain a “municipal advisor” seat on the Regional Project’s advisory committee; critics dismiss the role as toothless. Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala and Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud are later selected to share the single seat.
September 2010: A new ratepayer advocacy group revives calls for a public buyout of Cal Am. The group, which later names itself WaterPlus, proposes that a MPWMD takeover of the private utility would give Peninsula ratepayers more control over the Regional Project. www.waterplusmonterey.com.
November 2010: A private desalination venture, Moss Landing Water, proposes to draw deep water from the Monterey Submarine Canyon and desalinate it for Cal Am customers at a fraction of the Regional Project’s costs.
December 2010: CPUC approves the agreements governing the $400 million Regional Project, including roughly $300 million for the desal facilities in Marina and $100 million for Cal Am’s pipeline to the Peninsula. Cal Am tells its customers to expect their water bills to double, but DRA warns they could quadruple.
Jan. 25, 2011: A judge gives Cal Am the go-ahead to freeze new water hookups on the Peninsula. CPUC later approves the moratorium, halting redevelopment projects in Seaside and Monterey until a new water source is developed.
Jan. 27: An analysis by investment bank Wedbush Securities casts the Regional Project as a risky investment, in part because “the financial risk falls directly on Cal Am ratepayers, with little recourse to the public project owner-operators.”
March 24: The Weekly breaks the news that MCWRA Board Director Steve Collins recused himself from voting on the $28 million contract with RMC Engineering to manage the Regional Project. Collins’ financial disclosure form later reveals he accepted about $160,000 in consulting fees from RMC while serving on the board, and while voting on issues related to the Regional Project.
April 6: An appeals court allows the Ag Land Trust lawsuit against Marina Coast to proceed.
April 11: Steve Collins resigns from the MCWRA board after 16 years in the seat appointed by the Grower-Shipper Association, while denying allegations of conflict of interest. The next day, the County Board of Supervisors launches an independent investigation of Collins’ conduct. Meanwhile, MPWMD officials begin discussions with the Naval Postgraduate School about the potential to build a smaller desalination plant in Monterey.
April 25: Cal Am informs the DRA it has known about Collins’ contract with RMC for almost a year, but felt no need to alert CPUC because Marina Coast, and not Cal Am ratepayers, paid for it.
May 3: Brenda Lewis is elected to the open seat on the MPWMD board. Her victory may create a slow-growth majority on the seven-member board.
May 5: The CPUC agrees to charge Cal Am ratepayers almost $500,000 to pay two of the three nonprofit signatories of the Regional Project agreements – Surfrider Foundation and Public Trust Alliance – almost $500,000 for their time. The third nonprofit “intervenor,” Citizens for Public Water, does not request reimbursement.
May 10: The Seaside-based waterWATCH Coalition asks a judge to throw out the Ag Land Trust lawsuit because any delay in the Regional Project will cause “massive job displacement” in the Peninsula’s water-dependent hospitality industry, disproportionately hurting the area’s low-income Latinos.
May 12: Grower-Shipper Association names Mike Scattini as Collins’ replacement on the MCWRA board.
May 18: The California Supreme Court denies Marina Coast’s request to toss out the Ag Land Trust case. Trial remains set for Sept. 29. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission begins an investigation into Collins’ possible violation of the California Political Reforms Act.
May 24: The Marina Coast board declines ethics training in conflict-of-interest recusals; the board agrees to hire a lawyer to look into Marina Coast boss Jim Heitzman’s allegation that board member Jan Shriner is creating a hostile work environment. The same day, the Supervisors appoint Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma to an open seat on the MCWRA board over Pacific Grove Mayor Carmelita Garcia, rankling Peninsula mayors already feeling left out.
June 7: The Monterey County District Attorney’s office confirms it is working with the FPPC to investigate Collins. The DA's role focuses on Government Code 1090, which prohibits public officials from making contract deals in which they have financial interest.
June 16: The Weekly reports that Collins billed RMC (which in turn billed Marina Coast, which in turn billed Cal Am) for Regional Project-related meetings with a number of public officials, including Supervisors Lou Calcagno and Dave Potter, MCWRA head Curtis Weeks, Marina Coast’s Heitzman, and several county attorneys.
June 21: The Board of Supervisors releases the partial findings of an independent investigation into the Collins matter. The “Remcho Report” claims Heitzman arranged for RMC to hire Collins in January 2010 to advocate for the Regional Project. The finding that RMC paid Collins for his official work as an MCWRA director puts the validity of the project agreements in doubt.
June 23: The Weekly reports that MCWRA boss Weeks used his county credit card for mutliple meals and hotel stays in excess of the allowed amount, prompting a slap from the county auditor. Weeks’ receipts show he often dined out with other Regional Project boosters, including Potter and Calcagno, Heitzman, Collins and county attorneys. That week, Potter is named the Board of Supervisors’ desal project “watchdog.”
July 1: Marina Coast releases its own iinvestigation, the “Markman Report,” which shifts blame for the Collins debacle from Heitzman to Weeks, Calcagno, Potter and county attorneys. The report notes that Collins and Weeks formed a consulting company in January 2010, when Collins began working for RMC. Collins passes a polygraph test claiming Calcagno and Potter asked him to push for the Regional Project, and the supervisors knew of his consulting gig. Calcagno and Potter deny any prior knowledge that Collins was on RMC’s payroll.
July 6: In a letter to MCWRA General Manager Curtis Weeks, Cal Am President Robert MacLean questions MCWRA’s request for $458,000 in additional credit for Regional Project management, and slaps the agency for failing to obtain project financing on the agreed-upon deadline.
July 7: MCWRA attorney Kevin O’Brien attempts to initiate a dispute resolution process with Marina Coast. The county now considers the water purchase agreement void because of Collins’ alleged conflict of interest, he writes.
July 12: The Marina Coast board approves $495-an-hour legal defense for Heitzman, who is now a subject of the DA and FPPC investigation. Calcagno calls for Weeks’ resignation.
July 15: MCWRA counsel Charles McKee flatly rejects Collins’ request for indemnification, and instructs him to cut off all contact with water agency officials.
July 21: Marina Coast lawyer Lloyd Lowrey rejects MCWRA’s calls for dispute resolution, maintaining that the water project agreement is valid.
July 22: County lawyer O’Brien smacks Lowrey back, writing, “A point-by-point rebuttal would at this point be counterproductive.”
July 25: Citizens for Public Water rescinds its support for the Regional Project because of the apparent Collins conflict.
July 28: The Weekly confirms that the mayors, city managers and attorneys of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Rey Oaks, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Seaside and Sand City, along with California American Water, signed a confidentiality agreement agreeing to keep mum on the latest legal threats to the Regional Project until mid-September. The Open Monterey Project obtains and releases the agreement.
July 29: The Marina Coast board considers hiring a public relations firm for damage control on the Regional Project, the Weekly reveals. The embattled board later backpedals.
Aug. 12: Regional Project partners ask the California Coastal Commission for permission to test a slant well as a potential source of brackish water for the desal plant. The commission unanimously agrees to delay any decision until the Collins matter and the pending Ag Land Trust lawsuit are resolved. Cal Am notifies MCWRA and Marina Coast that they’re in default because they haven’t secured the project’s financing on time, and calls to initiate the dispute resolution process. The letter gives the project partners 90 days to fix the problem, or head to mediation.
Aug. 23: Cal Am hosts a second public forum on the Regional Project. The California Superior Court holds a case management conference on Cam Am and MPWMD’s appeal of the state water board’s cease-and-desist
Keep up with Weekly coverage of desal drama here.