H-2-Ohhhhhh…Squid loves attending public meetings, and tries to fit in a few each week around Squid’s hobbies—rewatching every episode of The Wire, knitting cashmere tentacle warmers for Christmas gifts and taking long walks with Squid’s beloved bulldog, Rosco P. Coltrane, just to name a few.
But Squid sometimes gets turned away at the door to some of these meetings. For example, Squid’s “propensity” to leave “a slime trail” as Squid enters the meeting, help Squidself to “all the cookies” on the snack table and “undulate languidly” back to Squid’s seat apparently upset the gentle lady and menfolk of the Carmel Residents Association (at least according to the cease-and-desist order Squid imagines they’d love to send to the lair). But Squid heard that the Oct. 28 meeting of the board of wastewater treatment (and now wastewater recycling) agency Monterey One Water was going to be a barnburner, and what with it being a few days before Halloween, Squid decided to go in disguise. Squid donned a costume of natural fiber sweater in an understated pumpkin color, gray corduroy pants, Lands End duck boots and a hemp-fiber tote bag, and Squid was easily able to pass as a Peninsula progressive.
The cookies at that meeting did not disappoint—and neither did the fiery rhetoric. At issue was a proposal by Del Rey Oaks councilmember and M1W board member John Gaglioti to withhold the planned Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for the Pure Water Monterey Expansion Project until after the California Coastal Commission meeting on Nov. 14, where the commission is set to decide on whether California American Water will receive permits for its long-planned (oh so long-planned) desal plant. (Spoiler alert: Just minutes before the M1W meeting started, Coastal Commission staff issued a 110-page report in which they recommend, in essence, a “hell no” vote on the desal plant as currently conceived, with slant wells on city of Marina property, yada yada.)
In the audience you could find the usual suspects: water activists and the aforementioned Peninsula progressives were out in force, wondering how a public official planned on withholding a public document from the public, along with the usual suspects comprising the pro-Cal Am team (hotelier John Narigi, land-use attorney Tony Lombardo, former state real estate commissioner Jeff Davi and Monterey County Farm Bureau chief Norm Groot among them.) Former golf course manager Gary Cursio conjured Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (remember that flamethrower speech?) in a rant that included at least one “shame on you” for elected officials who espouse affordable housing but then “step in the way of sustainable water that can make it happen.” (Squid is pretty sure he was glaring at M1W board member, the Monterey councilmember/public water and affordable housing advocate Tyller Williamson when he said it.)
And when it came time for the board members to speak their piece, Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips, who had floated a proposal to make it clear that the Pure Water Monterey expansion was meant to be a backup to desal—and not an alternative to it—didn’t hold back his ire that now Pure Water Monterey appears to hold enough promise to fill water demand needs.
But the way Phillips went about it is puzzling.
“Expansion of Pure Water Monterey was never part of our mission. It was pushed on us by opponents of Cal Am desal,” he said. “Many of us were opposed to the expansion,” he said, and instead favored multiple sources of water.
“When the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District then brought (the expansion plan) to us…we said this was strictly a backup situation and a number of us had concerns on how this would be utilized politically,” he said. “We were very clear in our conversations and that lasted for less than an hour.”
Word went out, he said, that the expansion was a substitute for desal and that the county no longer needed desal because of it.
“We’re a partner with Cal Am and we’re being used as a way to obstruct them.”
All of that is pretty common rhetoric for a Cal Am desal proponent, but then came the kicker: “With the expansion of Pure Water and without desal, I don’t care what studies have come up—there’s no way you’re going to meet the water demands of the Monterey Peninsula.”
Let that sink in: An elected official—and not a dumb one by any means, although there are plenty of those in Monterey County—is saying, in effect, screw the science, we want desal no matter what.
Squid wonders if Phillips employed the same thought process in his previous career as a Monterey County Superior Court judge: I don’t care what the law says, I’m throwing you in jail, or I don’t care what the law says, I’m setting you free.
Gaglioti pulled his agenda item on the timing of the release of the SEIR because, with the Coastal Commission staff recommendation, it was kind of a moot point—the SEIR will be released on Nov. 7 as planned, and the Coastal Commission will vote on that staff recommendation to veto Cal Am's permit (on appeal by the utility company after the city of Marina rejected it) on Nov. 14.
But Philips’ item, on whether or not the M1W board should make it clear that the expansion was a backup to desal and not an alternative, went forward and passed by a vote of 6-4.
“A single source of water is very, very risky and I have a serious concern,” he said. “I don’t even know if I’ll vote for expansion if it comes to that.”
Ah, nothing like a science-eschewing, tit-for-tat elected to bring the whole community together around the always murky subject of clean water.