The Partisan: Truth goes down the drain when the Cal Am spin cycle begins

OPINION | 

By Royal Calkins

Don’t let the Chamber of Commerce or the hospitality industry convince you otherwise. The November ballot measure regarding future ownership of Cal-Am Water is not about the future of desalination on the Peninsula. It is just about future ownership and management of the utility that provides water to most homes and businesses on the Peninsula.

The people supporting the ballot measure — the large and growing number of solid citizens supporting the ballot measure — aren’t trying to control growth or stop the desalination project, even though there are legitimate reasons to do both. All they want is to eliminate a profit-driven private company, part of an international conglomerate consumed by maintaining its profit margin, and to replace it with a locally controlled, publicly owned and publicly managed entity.

A recent letter to the editor of the Monterey Herald from Chamber of Commerce executive Jody Hansen claimed without support that the ballot measure folks are mainly trying to delay the desalination project, something Cal Am has been accomplishing all on its own for years now. The company bean counters understand too well that California’s system of protecting utility monopolies richly rewards utilities for delaying things as long as they keep the spending up as things drag on. Cal Am isn’t in the business of solving anyone’s water crisis. It’s in the business of keeping its shareholders happy.

Hansen makes the argument that Public Water Now, the backbone of the ballot measure, blew the whistle on a serious conflict of interest involving one of the project engineers in order to delay the project. Horse feathers. By her reasoning, it’s better to move right along and ignore possible engineering flaws. It can be reasonably argued that ignoring the conflict eventually would have added years to the timeline and tens of millions to the price. Public Water Now deserves to be rewarded for its diligence, not scolded by an organization more focused on the bottom line than the public good.

Hansen argues that Cal Am’s tests later showed that the conflict of interests didn’t cause any problems. She apparently takes Cal Am’s word for that, a tack that proved unreliable on countless prior occasions. The full jury is still out.

Cal Am will spend a fortune on advertising in the coming months in an effort to maintain its cash cow by convincing you that the other side is stupid. The ads will argue that the ballot measure backers don’t realize how expensive a takeover would be, don’t understand that private enterprise tends to be more efficient than government, don’t realize that government bodies can be just as corrupt as private enterprise. Don’t fall for it.

The folks supporting the ballot measure aren’t a bunch of crazy hippies who live in buses and smoke granola. They are your neighbors. Working folks. Retired folks. Smart and well-educated people who know how to read a balance sheet, run a business and make decisions for reasons beyond their own self interests. Sure, there are some of the usual suspects involved in the campaign. But Cal Am’s out-of-control pricing and cavalier approach to customers relations have driven a sober and capable crowd to the other side. Most everyone involved understands that this is serious business.

Cal Am and pals will tell you that the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board that would run the public utility doesn’t have a great record. There is truth to that. Like other public agencies, it has been run over the years by a mix of people, some good, some card-carrying doofuses. What they won’t tell you is that it is an elected board, and the people behind the takeover effort should be able to shape the board in the public interest within an election cycle or two. And if that doesn’t work, the rascals can be voted out. Try to vote out the Cal Am CEO.

Could a public takeover kill the desalination project? Perhaps, if it hasn’t collapsed of its own weight before then, as it has before. But that’s not the purpose. Backers of the ballot measure genuinely want to make sure the Peninsula has enough water to thrive. They just want to make sure they can afford food and rent as well. If desalination really is the right path, they’ll see that.

Is this an endorsement of the takeover? Heck no. There won’t be any thorough and exacting financial assessment of the takeover plan until and unless voters approve the measure in November. Public Water Now’s George Riley says it pencils out well and his track record on such things is better than Cal Am’s track record on anything except its profitability. The ballot measure certainly seems to be a good idea but the proof will be in the numbers.

Cal Am and its cohorts will try to fool voters by arguing that the voters have already said no. Times have changed since the last ballot measure on the topic. Cal Am’s prices have never been so over the top, and the company’s underhanded campaign tactics have become easier and easier to recognize.

When you see those ads, telling you that a water solution is just over the horizon, remember that Cal Am is simply trying to protect its profits and stopping a process that would enable the public to get a close look at the books in order to make a fully informed decision that will have a major impact on local water bills for decades and decades to come.

(By the way, Cal Am recently announced that water rates will soon decline because of the Trump corporate tax rates, but, then again, yet another rate increase already in the works would wipe out that savings. Sorry.)

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “The Partisan: Truth goes down the drain when the Cal Am spin cycle begins

  1. Thank you Royal, Partisan, and Voices of Monterey Bay. Publicly owned water has no profit margin, has an electable board that must answer to its community, and has the ability to apply for state grants and loans that are not accessible to private monopolies.

  2. Cal Am is a Criminal Corporation. It will to Anything to protect its obscene profits by monopolizing a natural resource. If it is not replaced by a public entity, the quality of life in Monterey County will significantly deteriorate for All of its residents, including people who live in Pebble Beach, as well as, & especially, for people who live in Marina & Seaside, not to mention the population of Snowy Plovers, whose numbers have plummeted since the Cal Am desalinization slant well went into operation (illegally).

  3. Thanks for your insight. I enjoy your columns and highly value your perspective.
    I wonder if you could write something to help me, as a newcomer to the area, understand how the water system came to be privatized in the first place. I suspect I could learn a lot from understanding the history. Thanks for all you do.

  4. Researchers and associates of Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), the U.S. Fish and
    Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR)
    monitored nesting Snowy Plovers at Monterey Bay in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in
    2016 to assess the plover’s response to management efforts by the government agencies to
    enhance the species’ breeding success and maintain its population size. Management actions
    undertaken by federal and state agencies included:
    Roping-off upper beach and river spits to minimize human disturbance of nesting plovers.
    Predator removal by the Wildlife Services Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    Ongoing habitat restoration and management at multiple sites.
    Water management to provide nesting and feeding habitat in the managed ponds of the
    Moss Landing Wildlife Area.
    An estimated 427 Snowy Plovers nested in the greater Monterey Bay area in 2016. Our
    estimate exceeded the USFWS recovery plan target of 338 adults for the region for the 11th time
    in the 14 years since the target was first attained in 2003.
    They had at least 381 nests (Table 2, Appendices 1-13) of which 357 were found as eggs and 24
    as broods of chicks.
    The 54% of nests that hatched in 2016 was below the average of 61% from 1999-2014.
    At least half the nest losses were caused by predators of which avian species were most
    responsible. Ravens may have taken close to 50 nests. Humans were suspected of being the
    cause of 9 nest losses.
    The number of chicks hatching was 452-567 of which 257 were banded.
    A minimum of 202 chicks fledged of which 109 were banded and 93 unbanded.
    The estimate of juveniles fledged per male is 0.9 as calculated by the minimum number of
    unbanded and banded chicks (n=202) known to have fledged divided by number of banded and
    unbanded males (n=224) in the population.
    The 202 chicks that were confirmed to have fledged in 2016 should be considered a minimum
    total number because more unbanded chicks likely fledged than we were able to verify. The
    actual number may have easily exceeded the 1999-2014 year average of 229 fledglings for
    Monterey Bay. Accordingly, the USFWS target of 1.0 fledgling per male have exceeded expectations.

    I am an environmentalist – over 40 years as an environemental engineer, counsel and manager . So I am concerned about the snowy plover. But I do draw the line when good-intentioned persons claim human impacts on certain protected species and their habitats, in order to support their opposition to whatever the human actions are said to be negative.

    In this case, the above is a scientific review of Monterey habitats of the snowy plover and the counts of birds and chicks in 2016. There are natural impacts on the birds from predators, higher tides and other weather. But nothing has been chronicled that Cal-Am nor any other project have specifically had a significant impact. It is better to have facts to support heart-felt opinions.

  5. So, as an ENVIRONMENTALIST, are you trying to prove, with your profusion of data, that the Cal Am slant well has had absolutely NO effect on the habitats of Snowy Plovers in Marina, nor will it ever have in the near or distant future?
    Do you also believe that Climate Change is of no concern, because, as Petroleum Industry apologists claim, “Climate has Always been changing.”

    1. I don’t like Cal-Am any more than you do, and I have seen the impacts of climate change, just like almost everyone has — except Trump. What I was saying that the only scientific paper that looked at the snowy clover at its Monterey Bay habitats, the number of chicks and adults, according to their analysis, went up in 2016 or 17,l whichever it was. – in other words, whatever is out there to impact them, they are actually growing in number. The other point is that no specific factor (and that would include Cal-Am) is named as harmful. That doesn’t mean that Cal-Am is actually significantly the groundwater in that area, for sure. Who can deny that, other than Cal-Am? But I haven’t seen a paper that proves that the snowy plover has been damaged by Cal-Am specifically. If you have that kind of factual support, let me hear it. If not, then what are we arguing about? By the way, I respect your opinions.

  6. Whoops, Bill – it’s late back here in Ohio and I made some typos. It should read “Human factor”. and that CalAm has definitely impacted the groundwater, for sure. ALso, it’s the snowy plover, not clover, although there might be such a plant in Ireland that vanished with the potato famine. . .

    Bill = it’s late back here in Ohio – I made some stupid typos. SHould read “human factors’ and that who doesn’t believe that Cal-Am HAS signficantly impacted the groundwater in that area. Etc. etc.

    j

  7. You need to have a conversation with Bruce Delgado, a Biologist & the mayor of Marina, about Cal Am’s slant well
    effect on the Snowy Plover population…..your abundance of data not withstanding.

  8. Hi Bill – I had an hour-long conversation with someone very involved and very knowledgeable about the issue. What I take from that discussion indicates that current information strongly suggests that what you and many others believe is probably right – trouble is that conclusion cant be proven without a study, badly needed, but not likely to ever take place. If you’re interested, give me your cell and I’ll call you next week and share with you what I know – a lot easier than exchanging emails. Thanks – you have strong opinions about the protection of the plover, which is the right thing to do. I can explain to you why it can’t as yet be proven what Cal-Am’s involvement has been. I look forward to further discussions , once again, if you’re interested. Best, Bill Hood

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