By Royal Calkins
One of the Peninsula’s leading water activists, Ron Weitzman, is asking the mayors’ select committee to reconsider its appointment of Carmel Mayor Dave Potter to the water management district responsible for exploring a public takeover of the Cal Am Water system.
The mayors’ group had been expected to name Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson to a seat on the water management district board on Jan. 4. But one of Roberson’s supporters, Del Rey Oaks Mayor Alison Kerr, arrived at the meeting 15 minutes late, after the group had picked Potter in what has been described as a “speed-up vote.”
“The obvious question,” Weitzman said in a letter to the mayors’ committee, “is why you did not wait for the sixth member to arrive. Less obvious but even more puzzling is why the two members who favored Clyde Roberson did not excuse themselves from the meeting until the arrival of the sixth mayor. The vote could not have taken place without a quorum.”
The appointment is significant because it places Potter, a longtime political ally of Cal Am, on the board that later this year will hire consultants to study the feasibility of a Cal Am takeover and, if the study supports the idea, to actually pursue a purchase. The procedure is set out by Measure J, a ballot measure well supported by Peninsula voters last November.
Potter’s appointment potentially tips the balance of power on the water management board, technically the board of the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District. The board is now made up of three people supportive of the takeover — Alvin Edwards, Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams, and George Riley, who spearheaded the Measure J campaign — along with Cal Am loyalist Jeanne Byrne, recently appointed member Gary Hoffmann, who professes neutrality, and Molly Evans, who has leaned toward the takeover side in the past but failed to support a takeover advocate in the process leading to Hoffmann’s recent appointment.
Roberson was featured in campaign ads supporting Measure J and he had recently aligned himself with the groups supporting the takeover plan, Public Water Now and Weitzman’s Water Ratepayers Association of the Monterey Peninsula.
While Kerr was en route to the meeting at a Pacific Grove restaurant, the mayors’ group selected Potter to replace former Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio on the water management district board, which would oversee the Cal Am system if the takeover is successful. Potter received his own vote plus those of Seaside Mayor Ian Oglesby and Sand City Mayor Mary Ann Carbone. Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Peake voted for Roberson, who abstained.
Potter later told reporters he was pleased to have received the appointment and intends to use the position to make sure Carmel residents see lower water bills in the event of a public buyout. He could not be reached to comment on Wednesday.
Potter served on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for two decades, during which time the county worked closely with Cal Am in an ill-fated effort to build a desalination plant. That effort continues despite repeated delays that add costs to a project many critics believe would produce unfeasibly expensive water in a service area that already has the most expensive drinking water in the nation.
Other water activists are exploring a potential legal challenge to the Jan. 4 vote on grounds that the agenda was not properly posted before. Some have also suggested that Kerr, the new Del Rey Oaks mayor, may have been intentionally delayed while attending a meeting at her City Hall. She stopped short of confirming that had happened.
“People are concerned about how key appointments that affect the region’s future are being made,” she said via email. “I understand and would be deeply disturbed to discover if my delay and subsequent inability to vote on this particular matter were planned in any way.”
If another vote was taken, it presumably would result in a 3-3 tie, setting off a series of new motions and votes until one member or another captured a majority.
In his letter, Weitzman also suggested that the mayors’ group take a weighted vote based on population in each of the cities, and that it invite a seventh member, Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado, to join the committee. Marina is not represented on the panel because it is not served by Cal Am, even though Cal Am plans to build its desal plant in Marina and its operations would involve the use of groundwater to which Marina claims the rights. A lawsuit over that issue is being played out in court.
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