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The Desal EIR & Lobbying: Plunging trust in SC City Council?
by Paul Gratz
Monday Jun 10th, 2013 7:01 PM
The overwhelming passage of Measure P last year followed by a standing room only turnout at the City’s May 7 desal EIR “Study Session” sent a well-intentioned message about the people’s mistrust trust of local government which Santa Cruz politicians should heed.
The overwhelming passage of Measure P last year followed by a standing room only turnout at the City’s May 7 desal EIR “Study Session” sent a well-intentioned message about the people’s mistrust trust of local government which Santa Cruz politicians should heed.

Sometimes turning points in politics are not obvious on the actual day, but only in retrospect. Let’s hope the day the draft desal EIR was released on May 13 is one of these. If the City Council cannot change its water policy, then chances of maintaining a pro-desal majority at the next election look slim.
For water policy-makers there are many ways of acting. Denounce the mushrooming opposition to desal. Accelerate pro-desal lobbying and marketing efforts. Hope no one is watching where the money goes. Maintain the façade of desal EIR impartial scientific analysis. Deny that desal is turning into a boondoggle.

Or instead, our elected leaders could clearly look at themselves and ask questions: why is public support for desal evaporating? How can we dissociate from decades of mismanagement of our water future? And how can Plan B be instituted?

Democracy is not just about elections. The City Council should respond to the new reality of “water citizen” engagement with humility and accountability, and most importantly listen to what the greater community is saying. They have yet to do so.
Therefore, it should not be surprising that the entire draft EIR “evaluation study” prepared by URS Corp. is an expensive sham and marketing drive entangled in a sleazy web of conflict of interests.

This is not about Bill Kocher’s intelligence, communication style, or ego. Mr. Kocher is a salaried ($184,000) City employee charged with executing City Council policy. This is, however, all about a City Council majority, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, setting water and desal policy as well as appropriating enormous amounts of money without a mandate from citizens and ratepayers.

Since the formation of the scwd2 Desal Task Force, Rotkin, Mathews, Coonerty, Lane, Terrazas, Coonerty, and Comstock have taken turns representing the City Council as steadfast leaders responsible for pursuing all aspects of the project.

Coincidentally, the establishment of the scwd2 desal partnership closely followed the approval of UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan authored by URS Corp with assistance from Kennedy-Jenks. In 2009, prominent UCSC faculty member Brent Haddad was hired as City consultant ($89,257) to help design and facilitate the development of scwd2. Haddad is Director of the Center for Integrated Water Research (CIWR) -- the university’s desal think tank.

The City’s desal core leadership includes many of the same officials who support university expansion while denying any link to desal growth inducement. At this time, any moves towards transparency or an uncomfortable extrication appear very unlikely. Nevertheless, water rates continue to escalate along with unlimited amounts of desal spending and spinning.

Now with nearly $17M spent, does anyone expect these officials to not certify the final desal EIR next year? Then again, could this unraveling scheme teach the ultimate lesson to Santa Cruz politicians about building a “desal legacy” without first seeking voter approval?

Bill Kocher and his staff reportedly are meeting this month with City department personnel to explain why desal will protect their quality of life - code for job security - and there are no desal alternatives.

Similarly troubling is a mainstream news media that shuns the kind of investigative and watchdog journalism that would serve the public by bursting this business as usual desal bubble. Local media silence and acquiesce are due to an imbedded culture of not rocking the political-economic boat, where the press often self-imposes restrictions on conducting probing coverage and fostering well-balanced informative public debates.

Late last year, I began to intensively research, document, and share factual information with the SC Sentinel, Good Times, and SC Weekly concerning the extensive role played since 2010 by the City and Soquel Creek Water Department in founding the very secretive CalDesal lobbying organization. CalDesal remains heavily funded by the desal industry. At least five of the consultant firms retained by the City to plan and promote the desal EIR and the overall project serve on the Board of Directors where Bill Kocher is the Vice Chair.

After being provided with an array of investigative leads and opportunities, where are the inquiring news reports and fact-based editorials? I expect over the next several weeks to obtain many more revealing documents about the City’s deep involvement with CalDesal. Is it not high time for the news media to connect the desal dots and inform the public about government activities that otherwise would remain obscure?

In the meantime, please read my attached unpublished SC Sentinel op-ed “Once again, desal leader Rotkin dismisses plant opponents as dishonest and ignorant” submitted on May 29 as well as my June 5 letter to the editor below.

“Desal Plus” omits reporting on the successful recycled water plant in Scotts Valley. To save costs and resources, since 2001 the wastewater treatment facility (1 mgd) produces high-quality competitively-priced water for unrestricted irrigation uses, including parks, schools, residences, and businesses.

Also, recycled water is permitted for replenishment of water supplies such as rivers, groundwater basins, and reservoirs. However, the plant operates at only 17% capacity while Scotts Valley continues to pursue additional recycled water users.

Annually, the Pasatiempo and DeLaveaga golf courses consume approximately 100 million gallons of potable water or roughly equivalent to the proposed desal plant operating at full capacity for 40 days. Supplied entirely by the SC Water Department, the golf courses are among its biggest non-residential customers and major revenue sources.

What would it take at this time for Santa Cruz to obtain Scotts Valley’s abundant surplus of recycled water for the golf courses and other permitted uses?

Paul Gratz
Co-author of Measure P


Soquel Creek Water District cuts ties to pro-desal group, citing political 'distraction'
'Desal plus': Key document suggests testing recycled water inside desal plant

Scotts Valley ponders selling recycled water to golf course
Peter Nicols: City leaders have failed
Letter to the Editor: Rotkin, you 'doth protest too much'
Jan Bentley: Fees Unjust
Commentary: EIR makes life difficult for desalination opponents
Santa Cruz Water Director Key to Non-Profit CalDesal Success. Bill Kocher Named Vice-President of the Board
In his May 26th Sentinel editorial former mayor and desal leader Mike Rotkin tries to persuade voters and water ratepayers to believe that opponents of the regional desal plant are fundamentally dishonest or ignorant.

Last year, Rotkin advanced the same view when unsuccessfully campaigning against Measure P -- the grassroots “Right to Vote on Desal” Charter Amendment that passed with a 72% yes vote.

With the release of the 6,000-page draft Desal Environmental Impact Report (dEIR), desal proponents are hoping the community will unquestioningly accept the “evaluation study” as a comprehensive, factual, and impartial document. The dEIR doesn't actually describe the proposed project; rather it provides only a selective menu of options and their individual impact, effectively dismissing others not even considered.

Mr. Rotkin and other desal backers fail to mention that the company being paid $1.7M to prepare the dEIR is URS Corp. -- the engineering and construction giant that produced the EIR for UCSC's Long Range Development Plan. URS Corp. focuses on government, military, nuclear, oil, gas, and water infrastructure, including fracking and power project development.

Similarly Mr. Rotkin dismisses the City’s obvious conflict-of-interest in being involved with CalDesal. Bill Kocher, Water Department Director, is the Vice Chair of CalDesal, a registered private lobbyist organization advocating for desal development and environmental deregulation. 

Heavily funded by desal industry firms and consultants, CalDesal’s Board of Directors includes Mr. Kocher, Water Commissioner Walt Wadlow, and five of the desal consultants hired by the City.

Also involved in CalDesal is Kennedy-Jenks, the “team leader” responsible for all aspects of the City’s desal project. In 2010, CalDesal and Kennedy-Jenks each contributed $5,000 in an effort to defeat Marin County’s Measure T, a community-driven ballot measure initiated to stop the Marin Water Board from spending an additional $30M to build a desal plant in San Rafael.

Furthermore, there are other contradictions. The dEIR preparers want to have it both ways, saying on the one hand that desal will only be used to offset the needs of river and stream fish and the city in a drought, but on the other that the plant will not be growth-inducing. The report describes a facility built to expand to almost double its initial capacity (2.5 mgd to 4.5 mgd) for meeting future “needs” while simultaneously denying that the plant is designed to accommodate university expansion and induce regional growth.

This community has a right to know more about the array of reliable alternatives instituted by other communities, instead of hearing the relentless “desal or die, no feasible alternatives exist” chorus sung by desal lobbyists and marketing consultants on the City payroll.

Moreover, there is a pragmatic need to end the push for a pro-desal agenda at the public’s expense – $17M so far to study and promote seawater desal. That agenda would at least double our water bills. Unmentioned is the inconvenient fact that the projected $125M price tag for the desal plant does not include the costs associated with pipeline-pumping infrastructure construction, ongoing operations and maintenance, and debt servicing. Saying it is common for the final price of a public works project to be much higher than projected is not an exaggeration – it’s simply a fact.

Mr. Rotkin's analysis is totally concerned with the dEIR, which is a "draft." The "real" or "final" EIR must include comments and responses to them. The big question: Will that document sustain a claim that there are "no significant impacts" from desal, including quantification of the growth purpose of the project?

There is much we can do to reduce our water needs, but the desal backers want us to ignore them. Desal is not for the people of Santa Cruz.

Please plan to attend the EIR outreach meeting on Monday, June 3rd from noon until 2:30 p.m. at the Seacliff Inn, 7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos.
Paul Gratz is a longtime Santa Cruz resident and retired public health educator, planner, policy analyst, and community organizer. A co-author of Measure P, he is a supporter of and Vote to Stop Desal.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by G
Tuesday Jun 11th, 2013 8:21 AM
Oh, right.

It was interesting to discover, at one of the past public meetings, that the best water local water source (A relatively clean westside spring? I forget.) also had the biggest leaks in the pipes (10% loss? I forget.), and there wasn't much interest in fixing the leaks ('Too expensive'? I forget.). I can't remember if the 'projected cost' was more or less than $1.7 million. The experience echoed the classic flic Chinatown.

A few years back I learned an interesting lesson. There was a water board meeting, during the PeaceCamp2010 presence at City Hall. I wandered in, just to see what I could see. Very uncrowded, which made me noticable, so, whenever someone mentioned money, at all, I would make a show of taking some notes (I wasn't even listening, really, busy thinking about other things, and the notes were little more than doodles, although I do remember a discussion about some 'travel expenses'). The apparent impact was comical. First general unease, then skipping over topics, then pushing items off onto the next, hopefully less observed, meeting. My take away; pay attention to their expenditures, get their names, and get them on record. For the less-than-Cheney's, that alone seems to be at least partially effective, as a deterent. Let's see if Mr. Gratz has success with his excellent effort...
by Community Student
Tuesday Jun 11th, 2013 5:49 PM
I knew I'd seen it somewhere before: