Into the Shallows…Squid struggles to keep up with the news some weeks, trying to keep count of who’s really in and who’s really out of the Democratic presidential field. Squid hadn’t even finished filling out Squid’s bracket to place bets on who would advance to the general election when candidates started dropping out.
Squid thought it would be much easier to keep up with a local news story, albeit one that has plenty of twists and turns. That story would be the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project, California American Water’s answer to a state cease-and-desist order that mandates the bulk of the region’s water supply come from anywhere besides the Carmel River.
Part of that project is a $329 million desalination plant, which would feature intake wells on Marina’s beaches and promises to work some (very high-priced) magic and convert seawater into freshwater. The desal plant has faced opposition every step of the way based on cost, footprint, impacts to ocean ecology, energy consumption and whether said intake wells, which draw seawater into the plant, will negatively affect the groundwater that Marina relies on.
Cal Am has gotten through a few essential steps to making this mega-project a reality, but a number of requirements remain. Among them: securing a coastal development permit from the city of Marina to build the intake wells.
Cal Am anticipated a lot of hostility to this permit, and rightly so, given that the group Citizens for Just Water in Marina has deployed a small army of volunteers to wade through mountains of water-related documents with the mission of showing that the desal plant would harm Marina’s water supply, and violate water rights rules. (Cal Am’s analysis, naturally, shows no harm, no foul.)
The latest stack of documents in this battle is a 431-page agenda packet that was originally slated to go to Marina City Council last week, on April 30. But then Cal Am sent the city a letter hundreds of pages long demanding that three of the five council members recuse themselves because of their alleged bias against the desalination plant. That would’ve left only two council members—not enough for a quorum, not enough for a vote.
Squid was already melting butter for the popcorn Squid was going to snack on during the April 30 meeting, anticipating a heated and vigorous discussion about what constitutes bias. But then, one day before the meeting, Cal Am suddenly withdrew its appeal.
What? Squid was confused—everything Squid knew about Cal Am’s strategy before that date included this hearing. Cal Am knew the Marina Planning Commission would ixnay their permit (check), and that they’d have to then file an appeal to the Marina City Council. They anticipated the “biased” council would also reject the permit, and next they’ll appeal to the California Coastal Commission.
So Squid was confused to see Cal Am suddenly change course. Even though the company withdrew its appeal, Squid oozed on over to Marina City Hall on April 30 anyway. Before the meeting started, local officials were overheard exchanging bewildered speculation about Cal Am’s “chess game” strategy. Was it a blunder or a checkmate?
Meanwhile, public water advocates filed in to the chambers, clutching the remarks they had prepared. But the meeting lasted only several minutes. The council members and the city attorney said they’d been thrown off and needed more time to respond. Was that Cal Am’s game plan all along?
Squid’s not sure, but City Council appears to be proceeding as if nothing happened. The meeting has been rescheduled for today, May 6, with the same 431-page packet.
Squid wonders if you can have a meeting about an appeal that’s been withdrawn. Is that like the sound of one hand clapping? Whether the meeting is a go or not, Squid will be listening hard to hear the sound of Marina pushing back against Cal Am, and Squid expects it to be spirited—much louder than the sound of one hand clapping.