Nothing quite like calling a group of committed activists “stupid” to light an even bigger fire under their already aggrieved asses.
In publishing a factually challenged editorial that uses the S-word five times, “dumbest” once, “narcissistic” once (rubber/glue, anyone?), calls their mission a “little takeover hobby” and compares them to stoners who celebrate 4/20 every day of the year, Carmel Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller gave Public Water Now what I think of as a new sense of resiliency in its mission to bring public ownership of the Monterey Peninsula’s water utility to reality.
Miller’s traipse down the stupid trail came as a companion piece to a story in the Pine Cone headlined “Mayors say ‘quality of life at risk’ from water activists.” The story cited an exchange of letters between Public Water Now leader George Riley and the Peninsula mayors group, Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority. In one letter to the mayors group, Riley had outlined Public Water Now’s concerns about California American Water’s proposed desalination plant. The Pine Cone story claimed the mayors group dispatched a letter saying Public Water Now misrepresents water rights and the science behind Cal Am’s slant well technology currently being tested in Marina.
“We also believe that the efforts by Public Water Now to delay the [water project] are ill advised and put the welfare and quality of life of all water users at risk of rationing,” the mayors wrote.
Then came the editorial, and then came the response from the activists: Bill Hood, former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, sent a letter to the Weekly and other local media pointing out that even as they cut back on water use, Peninsula ratepayers have been hit – repeatedly – with major rate increases to the point that local water costs are now the highest in the country. “It is the past, present and future rate hikes that have caused the activists, most of whom could actually afford such increases, to fervently commit themselves to correcting the situation for all ratepayers,” Hood writes. “A solution that protects all ratepayers going forward simply has to occur and it is clear the status quo will not be the solution. Calling the only group that focuses on the elimination of unfair and unreasonable costs ‘stupid’ is a failure to understand what’s really going on.”
Riley, in a letter to the Weekly and other local media, takes it a step further and says the Pine Cone editorial was riddled with inaccuracies, including that the mayors group didn’t send the letter. (They voted instead to make revisions, softening the language, before sending it. Riley’s requested a retraction and a clarification.)
Local water costs are now the highest in the country.
“Public Water Now has always been focused on the high cost of water from Cal Am. PWN is convinced that public ownership can reduce our skyrocketing costs,” Riley writes. “In 2015 we had the ninth most expensive water in the whole country (fact), but with the latest rate increases we may now have the most expensive water in the country!”
I spoke to Riley on the phone and I thought I could almost hear him rolling his eyes. Only, unlike Miller, Riley would never be that disdainful of someone else’s opinions.
Public Water Now is gearing up for another ballot measure, similar to 2014’s Measure O, which called for a feasibility study to determine if Cal Am should be bought out and the water company publicly owned.
Riley says a number of key factors have changed since 2014. First, the mayors group is not as cohesive as they once were, because former Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett, who carried a lot of water for Cal Am in his day, is no longer there cracking the whip. Dave Potter, who opposed Measure O as a county supervisor, is out of office. And anti-fracking Measure Z, which passed last year, and Monterey Bay Community Power, which is wending its way through local government approvals now, have taught voters valuable lessons about the power of community involvement.
“And Trump got elected and there are a whole body of people looking for something to do,” Riley says. “We think we are likely to have allies we haven’t had before, and not have the same kind of opposition we had before.”