Bait, Switch

“It’s important to take a pause, so residents and the council can get a handle on this new law, SB9,” said Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby when discussing a water moratorium.

Ostensibly, Seaside has a water problem: The Seaside Basin, which is part of the water supply that serves the greater Monterey Peninsula via California American Water (which has the rights to pump a certain amount of water every year from the aquifer), has long been overdrafted. The water rights for users of the basin, including pumping limits, were adjudicated in court in 2006.

Another notable user of the aquifer is the Seaside Municipal Water System, which is a city-owned utility that’s like an island amid the vast majority of Seaside that gets its water from Cal Am. Roughly, its service area is encompassed by La Salle and Hilby avenues to the north and south and Yosemite Street and Gen. Jim Moore Boulevard to the west and east. It delivers water to about 750 homes, the fire department, two churches and two apartment complexes.

And while the basin has been overdrafted for decades, the city put no restriction on new water connections within its system until Nov. 4, when the City Council voted 4-1 to approve a moratorium that would preclude subdividing a property and adding a new water meter.

The moratorium came on the heels of Senate Bill 9, a new state law to address the housing crisis signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September. That law, meant to boost the state’s housing supply, exempts a housing development of no more than two units from a discretionary review or hearing. In other words, a property owner could build another house on their property in an area zoned for single-family homes and not have to go in front of an agency board for approval.

In a report to City Council from City Attorney Sheri Damon outlining the reasons for the moratorium, the rationale explicitly refers to SB9 as the impetus—the water constraint appears to be merely a window dressing to justify it.

In her comments to the City Council about the moratorium, Damon noted that Cal Am has long had a moratorium on new meters within its service area (as mandated by the state), and that this was long overdue for Seaside.

But then Mayor Ian Oglesby let the cat out of the bag, saying, “My thing is not about the water. It’s about the quality of life for those residents [impacted by new homes].”

The one dissenting vote on the moratorium came from Councilmember Jon Wizard. Although he agrees the basin is overdrafted, he takes issue with the timing. “The water is a pretext to sidestep state law,” Wizard says.

Damon says she plans to ask City Council to rescind its Nov. 4 resolution and introduce another in its place that is strictly focused on a water meter moratorium, decoupling it from SB9.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom was in Monterey Nov. 9 to speak at the California Economic Summit. He spoke about the housing crisis in his remarks: “Everybody talks a big game, but local government continues to be the biggest impediment to new construction in this state—the NIMBYism.”

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(1) comment

Walter Wagner

Many communities will have large water-trucks to truck in water. That is a viable option. Similar to people trucking in natural gas, but much cheaper and safer.

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