Peninsula mayors consider staff, budget for new JPA water; Burnett cozies up to PUC.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Dip your toe in the waters of desalination, and you’d best hire an attorney. That’s the message from Monterey City Attorney Christine Davi to City Manager Fred Meurer in a July 5 memo regarding the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority, the joint powers authority formed by the six Peninsula cities in January.
“The risk to the Water Authority to continue to operate without designated legal counsel is significant,” Davi wrote. “Current issues surrounding the Peninsula’s water supply are highly charged and prone to litigation.”
City attorneys and staffers currently share a rotation to support the authority, which leaves public records scattered. As the mayors flesh out the JPA’s future, they’ll need staff and legal support, which also means they need cash, says Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala, authority chair. The board will discuss staffing needs at its July 23 meeting.
A proposed annual budget of $170,000 recommends each city pay in proportion to its water consumption, with Monterey covering 46 percent, and Sand City 1 percent. That’s not including an estimated $250 to $350 an hour for legal counsel, according to Davi’s memo.
The largest line items are $80,000 for a project evaluation study, and $50,000 for California Public Utilities Commission representation.
Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett met with PUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval and her aide Stephen St. Clair at the Portola Hotel on June 28, where they talked about California American Water’s proposed project.
“Burnett noted his desire that ‘we’ avoid a legal fight over the county ordinance banning the private ownership of the desalination facility,” according to the meeting minutes.
Carmel and Seaside City Attorney Don Freeman filed those minutes publicly July 3. But PUC General Counsel Frank Lindh then asked Freeman to withdraw that public notice, which he did July 10.
“I was just trying to be extra cautious and transparent, but there were unintended consequences,” Burnett says. Sandoval would’ve been obligated to meet privately with all interested parties under PUC rules.
“She was facing a situation where she’d potentially have to have 48 cups of coffee; [the withdrawal] was to make her life easier,” Burnett adds.
PUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper says the public notice wasn’t necessary simply because Burnett was representing Carmel – not the JPA – and the city isn’t considered a party to Cal Am’s proposal. (The JPA is.)
“Withdrawing it only makes people wonder what’s going on,” says George Riley of Citizens for Public Water, which is considered a party to the project. “Once you said it, you can’t withdraw it because it’s out there.