Public Water Now co-founder George Riley doesn’t usually eat breakfast, but on Nov. 6, he had a bowl of granola.
“I needed to fortify myself today,” he says.
Hours later, when he walks into the Monterey County Democratic Party headquarters in Seaside at around 8:20pm, he is greeted with cheers by the local Dems gathered there for election night: The first local election results have just come in, and Measure J, the ballot initiative that would compel the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to conduct a study as to whether acquiring California American Water’s local water system is feasible, is up 55-45. Riley, meanwhile—a challenger to take a seat on the MPWMD board—is up 56-44 in the early results, and fellow Public Water Now supporter and MPWMD board candidate Alvin Edwards is up 66-34 in a campaign for a different seat.
After the first results, Cal Am Vice President Kevin Tilden says he isn’t ready to call the election—60 percent of the votes have not been counted, and if 53 percent of the remaining votes are no on J, there is still a shot.
And given all the money Cal Am spent fighting Measure J, it’s understandable why he remains hopeful: Cal Am contributed about $3 million to fight the initiative, and Public Water Now supporters gave just a fraction of that—about $159,000.
But Riley, after letting the initial results sink in, is confident Measure J will prevail, and sees it as a lesson for those inside and outside of the county.
“I’m really pleased that people power can beat money power, and we don’t see enough of that,” Riley says, “but I’m convinced that it works, and I think we’ve just demonstrated how it can work.”
When updated results come in after 10pm, those results haven’t moved for Measure J—it’s still up with 56 percent of the votes. Tilden, while not necessarily hopeful the initiative will be defeated, says he is confident that Cal Am will prevail even if the MPWMD board elects to initiate a buyout of the local Cal Am system.
“There are many points where many things could go awry,” Tilden says.