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Santa Cruz Indymedia | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections

Damage control. City entangled in CalDesal’s advocacy and lobbying activities
by Paul Gratz
Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 2:16 PM
Last week, the City of Santa Cruz issued the unusual news release entitled “Santa Cruz Water Director Key to Non-Profit CalDesal Success. Bill Kocher Named Vice-President of the Board.” The PR piece appears designed as a damage control tactic to both reframe and obfuscate the city’s role as a prominent member of the CalDesal advocacy and lobbying organization. [Attachment: City issued news release extolling the key contributions of Bill "Desal or Die" Kocher makes towards advancing the activities of the lobbyist firm known as CalDesal]

Santa Cruz -- Last week, the City of Santa Cruz issued the unusual news release entitled “Santa Cruz Water Director Key to Non-Profit CalDesal Success. Bill Kocher Named Vice-President of the Board.” The PR piece appears designed as a damage control tactic to both reframe and obfuscate the city’s role as a prominent member of the CalDesal advocacy and lobbying organization.

However, no amount of spin will help avoid the myriad of inconvenient facts coming to light concerning Bill Kocher’s and Water Commissioner’s Walt Wadlow’s extensive participation in CalDesal’s aggressive efforts to promote desal and reduce environmental protection regulations. Interestingly, the city’s CalDesal news release coincides with the release of its draft EIR evaluation study for building controversial regional seawater desal plant complex along the shores of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary.

Here are several examples of facts omitted from the city’s news release:

* The City of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District are founding members (2010) of the 3-year old lobbyist organization CalDesal. The water industry organization politically advocates for desal development/deregulation and opposes anti-desal legislation. Registered with the Secretary of State (http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov/Lobbying/Employers/Detail.aspx?id=1336512&session=2011), CalDesal is a secretive organization and is not required to disclose its executive committee, membership or business plan. The general public and news media are not allowed at CalDesal meetings nor is it generally given meeting agendas and minutes. Also, the Public Records Act does not apply to CalDesal.

* The CalDesal Board of Directors has private sector members as well as public agency members and it sponsors legislation (http://www.caldesal.org/about-caldesal/our-coalition/). According to the organization’s business plan, “It is the mission of CalDesal to be an advocate at the political, policy and regulatory level for desalination as a vital new source of Water for California. Our goal is to create a positive environment statewide for the acceptance of desalination and to reduce the impediments to its implementation.”

* Since 2010, Bill Kocher has served as the Vice Chair of the CalDesal Board of Directors Executive Committee. Laura Brown, former Director of the Soquel Creek Water District, also served on the CalDesal Board of Directors. The annual membership fee for each agency is $5,000.

* The CalDesal Regulatory Workgroup includes Mr. Kocher where he actively participates in making presentations, membership recruitment, meetings/conferences, workshops, planning retreats, hearings, and conference calls. Also, he serves on the Program Workgroup. Heidi Luckenbach, City of Santa Cruz Water Department Program Coordinator, is a member of the CalDesal Policy Research and Technical Paper Review Workgroup.

* CalDesal advocacy activities/tactics include regular “CalDesal in Action” alerts sent to members only when letters, calls, and participation are needed on legislation and regulatory developments.

* Mr. Kocher and City of Santa Cruz Water Commissioner Walt Wadlow are CalDesal executive committee members. Also, Mr. Kocher staffs the Water Commission (http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?page=3880). In 2012, Mr. Kocher and Mr. Wadlow assisted in the preparation of the desal advocacy document for the City of Santa Cruz entitled “Request for Proposals for a Public Education and Communication Plan for Water Supply Reliability.” (http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=29401).

* The City of Santa Cruz contracts an array of consultants (http://www.santacruzlive.com/documents/consultlist.pdf) to study, plan, and promote the proposed desal project who along with Mr. Kocher are also members of the CalDesal Board of Directors. They include: Carollo Engineers, Black & Veach Corp, Camp Dresser &McKee, Dudek, Kennedy-Jenks, and Tenera Environmental.

* In 2010, Kennedy-Jenks and CalDesal made political contributions to oppose Marin County ’s Measure T -- the community-driven “right to vote on desal” ballot measure. Also, Kennedy-Jenks and URS Corp. were the principle consultants working on the EIR for proposed Marin County Water Department desal project (http://www.marinwater.org/controller?action=opennews&id=43). At the time, the City of Santa Cruz and Soquel Water District were members of CalDesal and authorized the use of public and water ratepayer funds to support a variety of CalDesal political activities.

* At the behest of CalDesal Executive Director Ron Davis, a registered lobbyist, Mr. Kocher wrote on September 8, 2010 to the State Water Resources Board indicating opposition to the adoption of specific environmental protection regulatory actions designed to limit hazardous seawater desal practices.

* Last year, Mr. Kocher presented at both CalDesal’s Annual Conference sessions held in Sacramento (Oct. 25-26) and Irvine (Oct. 29-30). Closed to the public and news media, the conference came only a week before the passage of Measure P (http://www.caldesal.org/downloads/Kocher%20CalDesal.sc.portfolio.pdf). As a City of Santa Cruz employee, his travel, lodging, and food costs were allowable expenses.

* The City of Santa Cruz awarded $4,000,000 in service contracts through 2013 for consultants to conduct desal EIR evaluation, preparation, and promotional activities. The firms are Kennedy-Jenks/Data Instincts ($1.8M), URS Corp ($1.7M) and Dudek Consulting ($0.5M). Kennedy-Jenks and Dudek representatives are CalDesal Board of Director members together with Mr. Kocher (http://www.santacruzlive.com/documents/consltlist.pdf and http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=25847).