By Royal Calkins
It is almost certainly true that the erosion of the newspaper biz contributed significantly to the scandal that sneaked up on residents of Bell, an L.A. suburb, a decade ago.
It was such a big deal that it even has its own Wikipedia entry, “The City of Bell Scandal.”
Various investigations showed that city officials were paying themselves the highest municipal salaries in the nation, financed by especially high property taxes imposed on people who couldn’t afford them. Seven city officials were convicted.
It isn’t a coincidence that the shenanigans started around the time the Los Angeles Times stopped following the goings-on in Bell as the newspaper closed suburban bureaus and started focusing on digital clicks instead of public service.
Which brings me to the point. The latest thing to make me smile was Tuesday’s email from Seaside City Councilman Jon Wizard with a preview of today’s council meeting. Wizard sent it to just about everyone he knows, not just to me.
It amounts to a short but useful preview of the meeting highlights: A discussion of how the city should replace City Attorney Don Freeman, who is about to retire from that position, and a report from Freeman on the recent audit of council spending, precipitated by some extravagant spending by former Council Member Kayla Jones. It also mentions that the council would be voting on the City Hall solar project.
It made me happy to see the message, but a bit wistful as well. Happy because Wizard is taking some smart steps toward engaging the public in the murky processes of city government. It’s a lot easier for the citizenry to digest Wizard’s missive than it is to try to download and dissect a computerized council agenda. Wistful because this is what newspapers used to do on a very regular basis – tell the readership about items of public importance coming up before city councils, boards of supervisors and the like, and then actually covering those items.
I’d encourage council and commission members everywhere to take Wizard’s lead and help their own folks follow along. In order for the full story to emerge from the city halls of Marina and Carmel, Pacific Grove and Monterey, it would take similar efforts by multiple officials in each jurisdiction. It would be better if they came from observers rather than officials or at least officials with different perspectives on what is and isn’t useful info.
Even then some key stuff would undoubtedly be overlooked, things like the nonsense that followed Don Freeman’s retirement as city attorney in Carmel, but an incomplete account is better than no account at all.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF WATER
Whenever anyone proposes the recycling of waste water, someone in the crowd believes it’s part of a government plot to poison us all. Someone like John Moore, the retired Pacific Grove lawyer who spent years warning us, correctly, that some local government pensions are proving to be unaffordable.
Now, via emails and Facebook posts, he’s on a new crusade, this time arguing that the Pure Water Monterey recycling project is ignoring science by planning to include polluted agricultural runoff in the mix to be treated to turn effluent into potable water. He was on firmer ground when talking about pensions.
It is certainly true that ag runoff is a stew of troublesome ingredients, what with all the pesticides, fertilizers and other substances used in modern farming, not to mention salts and other natural substances. It is also true, as Moore contends, that the numerous agencies involved in regulating such things do not yet have one single test capable of detecting every possible element in farm runoff such as the heavily polluted Blanco Drain.
But that does not mean the authorities are looking the other way. What cannot be accomplished by one test can indeed be accomplished by a series of filters and tests.
This is not amateur hour as Moore wants people to believe. Pure Water Monterey is a joint venture between the Monterey Peninsula Water Management Agency and Monterey One Water, which used to be known as the Monterey Regional Water Pollution Agency. Those agencies are headed by Dave Stoldt and Paul Sciuto respectively, battle-tested water experts, and the recycled water that eventually will flow from your tap will have been studied more closely than just about anything else you ingest. The agencies involved have competent staffs and solid boards of directors who use the same water as everyone else.
Stoldt told me this week, via email, that “The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has already reviewed all the water sources and issued the permit (which requires considerable testing and monitoring).”
He included a copy of the monitoring and testing requirements, including the testing required for water containing pesticides. They can be found here.
“The drinking water regulators clearly understand what this project is doing,” Stoldt said.
SPEAKING OF WATER
The Peninsula’s water purveyor, Cal Am, informed the state Public Utilities Commission that it is not ready to start negotiating with the Pure Water Monterey folks to buy any of the reclaimed water because the PWM project isn’t far enough along yet.
Cal Am also informed the PUC there is “no reason to believe” that its long-delayed, terribly controversial and exceedingly expensive desalination plant won’t be up and running by December 2021. (Someone at Cal Am should mention that to someone else at Cal Am because the timetable on the Cal Am website says the plant will be pumping fresh water hither and yon a year earlier than that.)
Others who know about this stuff say the company’s time estimate could be reasonable from a permitting and construction standpoint but that the prospect of significant legislation over water rights and other issues puts the timeline in jeopardy.
Here’s the take of Stoldt, the water management district chief:
“Cal Am has said repeatedly they will build it, even if there are lawsuits. Hence the question will be (A) will the Supreme Court take the case? (B) Will there be some other lawsuit (e.g. coastal development permit)? (C) Will any lawsuit enjoin them from building? And (D) if not enjoined, but under a lawsuit, will they actually follow through on their promise to build even while being sued?
“Since none of these specters have materialized yet, Cal Am gets to say ‘no reason to believe that there will be a delay’ … . Queue ominous music.”
If you drive Highway 68 between Monterey and Salinas, you’ve likely noticed the widening work on the bridge over the Salinas River. And if you make the trip regularly, you’ve likely noticed it and noticed it and noticed it and noticed it and noticed it.
No, the project has not gone on forever. It only seems like it. It started back in the spring of 2016. At last count it is scheduled to be completed in April. According to Caltrans spokesperson Susana Cruz, that’s only two months behind schedule. Weather mostly.
Though I figure I have driven over the bridge a couple hundred times during the construction, I never had a clue what the work was all about until I asked Cruz. It’s about adding bike lanes, one in each direction.
Cruz said the cost has gone up but not dramatically, from $17.9 million at the start of construction to $18.6 million now. Figuring the bridge is about a quarter mile long, that works out to about $1,176 an inch.
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter or leave a comment below.