Writer's Block

Chad Balesteri collects signatures for Public Water Now at Trader Joe’s in Monterey.

Among those who gather signatures for a living, they’re known as “blockers” – people paid to dissuade would-be supporters from signing a petition.

For the last two weeks, California American Water has deployed such contractors to shadow those collecting signatures for an initiative to buy out Cal Am’s local water system. Cal Am spokesman Kevin Tilden contends, however, that the contractors are not there to dissuade anybody.

“It’s not our intention to block anyone,” Tilden says. “Our intent is to educate, to get both sides of the story.”

Three such contractors were hanging out near Trader Joe’s in Monterey on Feb. 25, and Sean Thompson, who was out collecting signatures, says, “Whenever [I’m] here, they show up… They must be watching from the parking lot.”

Thompson, who had a stack of other petitions in his hand, is not being paid by Public Water Now, the activist group behind the public water buyout campaign. He’s doing it for his own reasons.

“I live in Pacific Grove, I know how much water costs,” Thompson says.

The contractors work for a Washington, D.C.-based company called FieldWorks, the same company, Tilden says, that Cal Am hired to mobilize door-to-door canvassers during the 2014 campaign season to defeat the public water initiative. And, he insists the costs of hiring the company won’t be passed on to ratepayers.

Public Water Now co-founder George Riley says the “blockers” have also been out in Seaside and Pacific Grove, and adds that as of Feb. 25, 11 PWN yard signs have been stolen in P.G.

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