Thousands of people in Marina are being blocked from full representation on the board of a regional water agency, a casualty of a larger battle over the water future of the Monterey Peninsula.
The agency is Monterey One Water, and it is responsible for treating sewage. For a while, the 10-member board of M1W was united, supporting the Pure Water Monterey project, a new cutting-edge facility that promised to help alleviate a chronic local water shortage by cleaning wastewater and recycling into the drinking supply.
But the expansion of that project hs become controversial, a proxy in the bigger battle over California American Water’s proposed desalination project, with opponents of desal – including Marina Coast Water District, which opposes the desal project – lining up to support Marina’s additional vote.
In 2019, M1W’s board voted unanimously to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an environmental impact report to expand the recycled water project. In April 2020, they were divided, and suddenly the board’s voting structure came under scrutiny, with implications for multiple multi-million-dollar projects.
M1W’s governing board and other regional boards like it (such as Monterey-Salinas Transit and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority) are made up of city council members and other elected leaders who are appointed to represent their constituents’ interests. The M1W board has an unusual voting structure, meant to account for the differences in population each member represents. Some get one vote: Del Rey Oaks, Sand City, Boronda County Sanitation District, Castroville Community Services District, and a Monterey County supervisor. Some get two: Pacific Grove and Marina Coast Water District. Some get three: Monterey, and Seaside. Salinas gets six.
For a long time, these numbers held steady, but last year Marina Coast started arguing its population has grown, crossing a threshold entitling it to a third vote. Marina Coast’s claim is now a fact, established by an official population estimate from the California Department of Finance. But when it came time on April 27 to honor the extra vote, some directors demurred.
“We have a census that’s going to take place,” Gloria De La Rosa, a Salinas councilmember, said. “Why can’t we wait for that?” John Gaglioti of Del Rey Oaks suggested that Marina Coast shouldn’t get its extra vote until all the jurisdictions were audited for population size.
Tom Moore of Marina Coast, Tyller Williamson of Monterey and Jason Campbell of Seaside were outnumbered. Marina Coast claims its additional voting weight is being denied for political reasons and is threatening to sue.
It’s not just a matter of principle. Marina Coast’s extra vote could prove consequential. There have been two votes on the Pure Water Monterey expansion project in the past few months. One vote was 11-10 against, the other 11-10 in favor. The sole swing voter has been Linda Grier of the Boronda County Sanitation District.
The result is an impasse. The opponents of the expansion have managed to block it but not to kill it. The next battle takes place on June 29 when the M1W is expected to take up the matter of Marina Coast’s extra vote demand.