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Santa Cruz to increase desal marketing spending ahead of vote
by via Right to Vote on Desal Coalition
Sunday Nov 4th, 2012 10:01 AM
Santa Cruz – On Monday at 7 pm, the Water Commission is expected to endorse the City's "Desal's October Surprise" -- a sophisticated marketing scheme crafted last month by the water department administration. Then the day after Tuesday's election, the City plans to release its Request for Proposal (RFP) -- euphemistically called "Public Education and Communications Plan for Water Supply Reliability for the City of Santa Cruz."
For Immediate Release – November 4, 2012
Interview/Visual Opportunities
Contact: Paul Gratz
831.419.6441, pauljg45 [at] pacbell.net

Santa Cruz to increase desal marketing spending ahead of vote

Santa Cruz – On Monday at 7 pm, the Water Commission is expected to endorse the City's "Desal's October Surprise" -- a sophisticated marketing scheme crafted last month by the water department administration. Then the day after Tuesday's election, the City plans to release its Request for Proposal (RFP) -- euphemistically called "Public Education and Communications Plan for Water Supply Reliability for the City of Santa Cruz ."

Local observers view the RFP's consultant firm search as simply the launch of the City's fast-tracked effort to publicly fund a political campaign aimed at persuading skeptical voters to approve their "proposed" 2.5 million gallons/day (75% expandable to 4.5) seawater desal factory in 2014. (http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=29401)

According to Paul Gratz, a coauthor of Measure P -- Right to Vote on Desal Charter Amendment) --, “Opponents of desalination plan to attend Monday’s 7 pm public hearing in the City Council Chambers to protest the squandering of "scarce community capital" on the marketing of the City's desal boondoggle. Instead, our City should immediately redirect the funds towards developing a safe, reliable, and sustainable water management system.”

See below Gratz’s November 3 letter sent to the City Council and Water Commission.

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November 3, 2012

Dear City Council and Water Commission Members,

I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments and questions regarding the November 5, 2012 Agenda Item 2. Water Commission Work Plan–Public Education and Communication Plan. Recommendation: That the Water Commission review and provide comments on the Request for Proposals for a Public Education and Communication Plan for Water Supply Reliability.

The RFP euphemistically refers to a "public education and communications plan.” The plan appears to be nothing more than an aggressive marketing campaign designed to garner public acceptance in advance of a vote by residents in 2014 for approving the construction and financing of a contentious seawater desalination complex. How will this consultant-driven campaign provide measureable community benefits at a time of fiscal austerity, service cutbacks, lay offs, and furloughs? (http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=29401)

In light of Measure P's pending approval, how are decision-makers acknowledging the City’s “new water reality” with citizens and ratepayers pro-actively engaged as key stakeholders and policy-making partners?

Santa Cruz area water users are no longer passive disenfranchised customers. Indeed, residents and businesses deserve cost-effective and reasonable water rates, energy-wise water development, environmental protection, robust conservation, regional collaboration, and blue-green jobs. Nevertheless, the RFP appears to be a political maneuver for selling a skeptical community an expensive and risky desalination project.

Additionally, there is no indication of the cost to develop and implement the marketing plan. I am not familiar with a budget and contract management system that does not include fiscal accountability as a central part of the RFP process.

Once again, officials are using public funds to advance desalination without a voter mandate. This slight of hand by the City Council demonstrates contempt for an increasingly water-conscious and activated electorate. This week, the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s on-line opinion poll reveals that 65% oppose desalination, 25% support it, and 10% don’t care or are undecided!

Although over $14 million has been spent to pursue and promote desalination, no significant resources have been allocated to implement a contingency Plan B if voters ultimately reject or postpone desalination. This proposed marketing campaign represents yet another step in the wrong direction. The money could be better spent on adopting a comprehensive set of water management measures such as water transfers, water neutral development, increased conservation, wastewater recycling, and infrastructure repairs. (http://desalalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Recommendations-UWMP.pdf.)

Moreover, where is the evaluation report measuring the effectiveness, transparency, impartiality, and accuracy of the City’s extensive desalination promotional activities conducted over the past five years? (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_18737290?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com)

How much has the cash-strapped City previously spent to retain desalination marketing consultants and sub-contractors, including Kennedy-Jenks, URS Corp., Data Instincts, Civinomics, Gene Bregman & Associates, Brent Haddad, and Tom Burns? (http://www.santacruzlive.com/documents/consultlist.pdf)

Finally, are officials publically discussing the USA TODAY (9.27.12) nationwide analysis of residential water rates over the past 12 years and the implications for Santa Cruz ? The extensive investigative report found that monthly costs at least doubled for nearly a third of the 100 localities studied, including Santa Cruz where rates haven not yet peaked, largely because of the escalating cost estimates to build, operate, and maintain the desalination plant and its infrastructure.

The survey conducted by Raftelis Financial, the water management consulting arm of Black & Veatch, found that average residential water rates nationally have risen 33% since 2000. Among the ten California water agencies surveyed, Santa Cruz ranked third (113%) in increases, behind only the metropolitan San Francisco (211%) and San Diego (141%) water districts.

During this same period, water consumption in Santa Cruz sharply declined by 30% due to conservation efforts coupled with reduced demand from its declining manufacturing sector. Paradoxically, the City has raised water rates four times and the trend toward higher bills continues -- driven primarily by the City’s premature decision to prioritize desalination development.

Last February, Water Department Financial Manager Piret Harmon reported that, “long term trends reveal that an increase in operating expenditure levels outpaces the growth in operating revenue. And in the next 5-7 year time period we will no longer be able to set aside additional funds for capital improvements. As discussed in previous years, it is extremely difficult to accurately forecast yearly cash flow needs for large capital projects due to factors such as lengthy environmental review processes or being short staffed for large number of projects.” Is this not a striking example of the unintended consequences resulting from putting all the City’s eggs in the “desal or die” basket?

The City’s marketing plan comes at a time when many California communities are reassessing, shelving, or cancelling their desalination plans due to escalating costs, environmental risks, and public opposition. (http://news.yahoo.com/desalination-no-panacea-calif-water-woes-174531736.html)

Desalination critics maintain there is actually no regional water supply problem, but a problem of water storage coupled with a lack of both regional problem-solving and collaborative water resource sharing. (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_20561795/jerry-paul-putting-desalination-into-perspective?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com)

Santa Cruz citizens and ratepayers are coming to understand what is at stake and will not be bamboozled. The City’s proposed desalination marketing plan is fundamentally an insulting effort to institutionalize a well-financed propaganda assault on the sensibilities of an educated and attentive community.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, if you should like to discuss any aspect of this crucial matter.

Sincerely,

Paul Gratz
Coauthor of Measure P

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http://news.yahoo.com/desalination-no-panacea-calif-water-woes-174531736.html
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http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_20561795/jerry-paul-putting-desalination-into-perspective?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com
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