As the time grows near for gaining enough signatures to support a ballot measure that, if passed, will be the first step in replacing Cal-Am with a public water agency, many people remain confused as to which way is better – to keep Cal-Am or to get rid of it.
A good example why there is confusion are the letters just sent out to ratepayers by “Monterey Water Works” asking them to remove their name from support of the upcoming ballot measure. Only the Registrar’s office can erase your name from a form you signed in support of the ballot measure. Another example are the hired “blockers” who position themselves close to where Public Water Now publicly seeks signatures, handing out information designed to keep those uninformed from indicated support by signing.
Historically, most of the arguments, claims, letters and commentaries submitted to the press media relate to Cal-Am – its mistakes, its incredibly high water rates, and its evident good terms with the CPUC, which has routinely always approved the rate hikes sought by the utility. This information is known but there is a big gap as to whether the public has been served by knowing the contexts in which the CPUC has reached its decisions in rate hike matters.
I suggest that the public is not well served in this regard. The media has covered the CPUC mostly by reporting results, such as approved rate increases.. The media, from time to time, also reports on the actions Cal-Am undertakes, including its errors and mistakes. Given that the CPUC decisions are the linchpin allowing Cal-Am to act, I am dismayed by the failure of the media to question why and how those decisions are made and whether they are fair, reasonable and required. This lack of reporting, probably limited by budgetary considerations, still leaves the public only partially aware but left without what we always would hope — a digging into the details to protect and educate the people affected by those decisions.
Since the media doesn’t do it, try to do it yourself by submitting letters or commentaries that do address the hows and whys. First, it’s not possible to do it in a letter limited to 200 words. Second, to describe why and how a CPUC decision was made can also be difficult in a submitted commentary limited to 600 words. These matters are complicated and need to be simplified, but not overly edited down. For example, the most egregious example is the rate increase sought for the San Clemente Dam demolition that rested upon a CPUC decision that involved off-the-record politics, possible undue influence and ignoring the legal record of the rate hearing, resulting in a decision that punished ratepayers $27 million more than a reasonable interpretation of the record would support. If this information had been widely distributed to ratepayers, I believe many of them would be shocked and would question the continuation of private water if those kinds of results would be routinely expected.
So, I challenge the press and electronic media to either publish worthy and factual letters/commentaries that address the hows and whys, even if they are longer than the limit you impose, or cover the issues on radio/tv in some detail. If you won’t stretch your limits, then I challenge you to independently investigate these issues so that the public can be fully educated regarding the future of water supply. Fewer more important decisions are on the table, and it is true that votes cast plus lack of knowledge frequently equals bad results.
Former Executive Director, Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments