Water politics remain a murky proposition on the Monterey Peninsula.
This is editor Sara Rubin. Again and again, one thing is clear about water on the Monterey Peninsula: It’s murky.
Consider the seemingly straightforward yes or no answer the board of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is supposed to give, as a result of voter-approved Measure J: Is it or isn’t it feasible to pursue a public buyout of California American Water?
The board has taken a number of steps that are, in and of themselves, procedural and bureaucratic and would be required stepping stones if they are ultimately to say yes.
The next two procedural yeses are likely to happen at next week’s board meeting. When the board convenes via Zoom on Oct. 19, they’ll vote on whether to certify an environmental impact report on the potential acquisition. (Before you get too excited about bedtime reading, know that the final EIR opens with three-and-a-half pages of definitions of acronyms. That document, totaling 430 pages—the acronyms are just a warmup!—was published today.)
The board will also vote on whether or not to approve a set of operating plans for the Cal Am system, should MPWMD eventually come to operate it. Assuming the board votes yes on both items—and given that both need just a simple majority vote, that’s likely—the next step in this winding bureaucratic process is to send the proposal to the Local Agency Formation Commission (I need my own acronym guide here) for consideration.
Meanwhile, there’s a formal appraisal underway, and a lot of the other bureaucratic work has been done, such as a rate structure analysis. These are all the steps that water district General Manager Dave Stoldt calls “lining up our ducks in a row.” It is tedious, and a lot less cute than actual ducks in a row.
Eventually, probably come springtime, the big-picture policy question would come back to the board: The board of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District would vote on whether to make an offer to Cal Am to buy the system.
I can already tell you what Cal Am’s answer will be, because they’ve been public about it from day one: Hell no.
It’s the next step that hinges on whether there’s a pro-public water supermajority on the board. If the water district makes an offer and Cal Am rejects it, the board would then need a five-vote supermajority (out of seven) to pass a resolution of necessity to proceed with eminent domain and begin another long and tedious process of attempting to take over Cal Am in court.
That’s a long way of getting to the politics of water. This board may look quite different after Election Day. In Division 5, there’s a staunch public water advocate, Amy Anderson, challenging incumbent Gary Hoffman, a true water wonk who has repeatedly expressed doubt about the water district’s ability to perform. In Division 4, Jeanne Byrne is not seeking reelection, meaning there will be at least one new board member for sure. Neither Karen Paull nor Rudy Fischer have drawn a line in the sand to say whether they are for or against public water—their short answer is, “it depends”—but Paull has the backing of public water proponents and seems prepared to fight for it.
Then there’s the board chair, Molly Evans, who has managed a tough and heated water drama with poise and stayed seemingly above the fray. She is running unopposed on Nov. 3, meaning her name won’t appear on ballots.
But as soon as the election results are certified, she’s moving to New York City to be director of public works at Fort Hamilton, and will resign—meaning the first order of business for the newly seated board will be proceeding to fill her seat. (They’ll have a choice between holding a special election or making an appointment.)
and whoever steps in to replace her will have nearly a full term.
“I’m sad to be leaving the board. There’s so much going on,” Evans says. “The timing’s not ideal, but it’s a great job opportunity for me.” She’ll leave just before the big question on feasibility finally comes to the board.
I asked how she would vote on a public buyout. Her measured response is exactly why it’s disappointing to lose her at this critical moment. “It’s unfair to the ratepayer to already have a decision in mind,” Evans says.
Her advice to the future board: “Try to take the emotion out of the decision and look at it from a purely factual standpoint—just weigh the numbers. It’s hard, but it’s important to the community and we owe them an honest look. I just want them to look at it objectively.”
-Sara Rubin, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org