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SC City Council: Oppose Desal Marketing

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
4:30 PM - 7:30 PM
Event Type:
Location Details:
Council Chambers
Santa Cruz City Hall
809 Center Street
Santa Cruz

Post Measure P Passage Greetings!

On Tuesday night, the Santa Cruz City Council will vote to extend for the sixth time the controversial Kennedy-Jenks (K/J contract ($336,000). In essence, K/J is the lead consultant for coordinating and advancing all aspects of the regional desal project, including together with URS Corp. the EIR.

Embedded within this lucrative multi-year agreement is an $86,000 subcontract with Data Instincts, a SF Bay area marketing firm, which openly promotes itself as a specialist in product branding, building trust, and improving public/political acceptance of unpopular and risky water projects, including desal.

Since 2008, Data Instincts has strategically planned, designed and executed the project's "outreach, education and communication" activities. This "acceptable" phrase is course a euphemism for "marketing and promotion" clearly aimed at manufacturing consent at expense of voters and ratepayers.

Please join together Tuesday night to demonstrate our opposition to using scarce public funds to sell the desal plant! Also at this time, submit letters to the City Council (citycouncil [at] and the news media.

Agenda Item #23:
Added to the calendar on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 5:25PM
November 30, 2012

Dear Council Members,

Subject: Damage control -- Restricting spending for the Kennedy/Jenks-Data Instincts consultant contract

Hardly surprising after your community-responsive November 27 vote restricting desal spending associated with the extension of another Kennedy/Jenks-Data Instincts contract amendment ($390,000), that Mark Millan, President of Data Instincts, was prompted to send an anxious and self-serving letter to Don Lane and David Tarrazas.*

Your important decision coupled with the court’s invalidation of the city’s Sphere of Influence EIR aimed at giving UCSC more water comes at a time when the future of most of California’s seawater desal projects is in doubt. It is an irrefutable and undeniable fact when we look at the markers, the tide is turning against desal.

Although over $1.4 million has been spent on retaining these two partnering firms since 2008, it remains difficult to accurately measure what benefits our cash-strapped city has obtained from their ongoing services.

Furthermore, it is unclear how the City Council monitors and provides oversight with regard to the multiple Kennedy/Jenks contracts executed to date. This is especially important to know since this San Francisco based engineering company is working together with URS Corp. to coordinates all aspects of the scwd2 regional desal plant EIR and program support.

Sonoma-based Data Instincts in partnership with Kennedy/Jenks promotes itself as a specialist in product branding, building trust, and improving public/political acceptance of unpopular and risky water projects, including desal. Interestingly enough, the City of Santa Cruz appears to be this PR and marketing firm’s first and only desal client.

With regards to the scwd2 desal project (, Mr. Millan in March of this year wrote:

Public opposition to major water projects, specifically the implementation of desalination projects, poses serious challenges for utilities and local governments in California .

In addition, opposition began to materialize and the full scope of the planning process became convoluted and was publicly downplayed as old and outdated. Claims were also made that exaggerated the size of the project, environmental issues such as marine impacts and promoted energy use, and the notion that desalination was an unproven technology.

Many of Mr. Millan’s extensive and forthright writings are extremely informative as well. ( For example, the following excerpts from “CAN WHAT WE DON’T KNOW HURT US?” PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE: WHAT’S WORKING, WHAT ISN’T? (March 5, 2007):

Four things to remember.

1. Unfortunately, people do NOT trust government – on any level. At all!
2. We, as a collective people, want information on demand, when it is convenient for us. Period! We live in a 24/7 world.
3. One person can undue your project making a one-to-one approach viable and relevant.
4. Community relationship management is something many projects do not even consider until it is way too late.

The combination of environmental scarcity of water and sustainable practices has significant appeal, which begins to move the perception toward “doing the right thing” or “being Green.” The connection works for people because they can
relate to it.

“Green” means several things, including sustainability, environmentally friendly and natural processes. In our culture, there is a sense that natural is better; that nature is inherently better or “right.”

The money effect. If people’s health and safety fears are not enough, how about the impact funding these projects can have on a community? If you are a developer, you could be facing dramatically increased demand fees. If you are a ratepayer you might be facing double digit increases for the first few years….

These increases, along with infrastructure replacement costs, force communities to make tough choices between critical community needs. If water supply is being increased, then people tend to be more empathetic.

But if your project is not tied to increasing the water supply, if it is only to meet new regulatory requirements, then you will likely not receive a great deal of support.

Be responsive where you can and, if possible, find a pathway that ratepayers and developers can potentially support, or at least understand.

For too long, the scwd2 desal backers have advanced a patronizing line of reasoning implying that the community simply does not understand the need for a regional desal plant. Therefore it follows, that the best strategy for the desal proponents is to pitch ever more publicly-funded pro-desal “outreach and education” messages -- hoping that an expensive marketing campaign targeting the “misinformed confused” voters and ratepayers will result in a desal victory at the polls in 2014.

However, some would argue that given the overwhelming passage of Measure P along with the ongoing participation by informed and activated residents demonstrates that our community clearly understands what is at stake.

To be sure, it is understandable as to why Mr. Millan and several other desal consultants would be extremely worried now -- as their lucrative business opportunities could be in serious jeopardy.

Note that between 2004 and June 2012, nearly $11M in city contracts were arranged to retain a stable of “expert” pro-desal consultants with Kennedy/Jenks receiving approximately 14% of the total. Other worthy of note water supply and desal projects recently undertaken by Kennedy/Jenks, include:

Technical advisor to the Marin Water District’s seawater desal project, Kennedy/Jenks served as the prime consultant in conducting the desal pilot program, led the public outreach and cost estimating effort, and assisted URS Corporation in preparing the EIR. In October 2010, the company donated $5,000 to the pro-desal ballot Measure S campaign. In August 2011, however, the EIR was struck down by a Superior Court ruling and the entire desal project was indefinitely shelved.
Prepared the Poseidon Company’s Huntington Beach Desalination Project – Energy Minimization and Reduction Plan
Co-prepared with URS Corp the controversial UCSC Long Range Development Plan EIR
Lead consultant for the Regional Water Demand -- Santa Cruz County Conjunctive Water Use and Enhanced Aquifer Recharge Study

Given the changing water reality, is it not time for the City Council to a step back and take this opportunity to reassess desal and the alternatives, exhibit cost transparency, and provide the community with a Plan B?


Paul Gratz
§Working with the Task Force on EIR outreach
by via Right to Vote on Desal Coalition
November 28, 2012 -- Subject: Working with the Task Force on EIR outreach

Dear Mayor Lane and Councilmember Tarazas,

We at Data Instincts look forward to continuing our work with you and the other Task Force members as directed last night by council. At this time, I would like to clarify that Data Instincts is a unique consultancy providing guidance to communities for communications needed and required by CEQA during the environmental review process. Our focus is on water issues only and we work with several municipalities, agencies and engineering firms (not just Kennedy/Jenks).

The Draft EIR is still in progress. When it is completed and available to the public, interests like Desal Alternatives and others in the community will realize that their concerns and desire for a “Plan B” are in fact being considered within the alternatives provided in the document. In other words, desalination is not the only alternative being weighed. Comments and concepts raised by the public during the initial project scoping meetings are also being considered and their evaluation will be included in the final document.

The need to inform, educate and make members of the community aware of the process and how they can participate, and ultimately make an informed decision, is paramount. For the general public and, you, as community leaders and decision-makers, the challenge of weighing a great deal of information and options is exacerbated by complex technical components, climate variability issues and a variety of changing regulations. In addition, there are two water service areas, plus Live Oak, that need to be reached. Our initial budgeting included meeting these informational demands, albeit an expensive effort.

Again, we look forward to working closely with the Task Force on these concerns.

Best Regards,

Mark Millan, Principal
§Related Links
by via Right to Vote on Desal Coalition
Bay desalination plant cost skyrockets. Report suggests new price could reach up to $173 million
Marin Desalination Program Receives Industry Recognition
Last-minute dollars flow into desalination measures
Marin Blocked From Tapping Bay for Drinking Water
Costs and Financing of Seawater Desalination in California
Election Changes: Poseidon Desalination Plan Isn’t Popular with New Huntington Beach City Council
Future of California Desalination Plants In Doubt
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