Thursday, October 23, 2003
And to quote Spiderman''s Uncle Ben, "with great power comes great responsibility," along with a healthy dose of political intrigue and rivalries, and a few multi-million dollar battles over water rights.
But here it goes beyond that. Because, whether they like to admit it or not, the water board majority also controls the land. It can turn the faucet on or off to future growth. So it holds a noose around the necks of would-be hotel and golf course developers, as well as homeowners who want to build mansions, or just add a second toilet.
It comes as no surprise that the politics surrounding the Nov. 4 election, in which voters will select three new members to the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, are particularly nasty. They''re also fairly cut and dried.
All of the candidates vying for the three open water board seats fall into one of two camps. There''s the environmentalist slate, endorsed by the Sierra Club, former Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman and the current water board majority, among others. This slate consists of incumbent Zan Henson, an environmental attorney, plus newcomers Kristi Markey, a public agency attorney, and Bob Pacelli, a filmmaker and United Nations staffer. These three philosophically align with sitting water board directors Kris Lindstrom, Molly Erickson and Judi Lehman, all of whom (along with Henson) campaigned, and were elected, on a no-dam, no-water-credit-transfer platform.
The board majority--and its favored predecessors--favors slow-growth (some say no-growth). They want to build a small desalination plant in Sand City that would supply only enough water to satisfy a state order to reduce draws from the Carmel River. They oppose water-credit transfers, which can allow businesses, municipalities and individuals to buy and sell water rights.
Their foes say the current board is arrogant and doesn''t listen to the will of the people. They say the sitting directors really have no interest in finding a water supply, because once a new source of water exists, the board will lose its power and its control over land-use questions.
The other three candidates--Larry Foy, Marc Beique and Michelle Knight--supported Measure B, the "dissolve the out-of-control water district" initiative passed by voters last November. They also supported state Sen. Bruce McPherson''s plan to dump the water board and replace it with a panel of Peninsula mayors.
This is why Henson, Markey and Pacelli say that their opponents want to "take away your right to vote on water projects."
According to their neon green campaign flyers, Henson, Markey and Pacelli oppose "special interests," meaning the hospitality, development and real estate industries. A vote for Henson, Markey and Pacelli is a vote for the current board''s slow-growth agenda.
Foy, Beique and Knight have won the endorsements and financial support of the dissolve-the-district crowd, namely the Peninsula mayors, the tourism and development communities, and others who stand to gain from a change in the water board''s direction.
Nevertheless, Foy, Beique and Knight insist they are just as green as their opponents. But they say "future growth" can coexist with the environment in perfect harmony.
But their resumes make some environmentalists wary.
Foy is a former California-American Water Company manager and serves as president of the Monterey County Hospitality Association.
Beique''s a Monterey architect, whose former clients include developer Dan Summers, who has long pursued a dream to build a big hotel on Cannery Row.
Knight serves as vice president of the Monterey County Hospitality Association, and resigned from the Pacific Grove City Council so that she could buy water to build a big house on Asilomar Dunes.
All three say they support "moderate growth," and they want to build a project that will provide enough water for the Peninsula''s future population. This is why they support Cal-Am''s favored project.
In its current proposal, the water company''s plan would yield 10,730-acre-feet a year--the amount that the state says Cal-Am overdrafts from the Carmel River--through a Moss Landing desalination plant and Seaside groundwater storage and recovery facilities, called injection wells.
However--and this is what worries no-growthers--the Moss Landing project could also fuel massive growth.
While no one has studied the maximum amount of water Cal-Am''s plant could ultimately produce, it''s widely seen as a "regional project," intended to supply water for future growth, from Pajaro to Prunedale, to Pebble Beach and beyond.
"I don''t want to say it''s infinite," says one water district technician. "The source water is the cooling water for the power plant. At Moss Landing, the maximum capacity is huge because of what is available."
On two other hot-button issues, Foy, Beique and Knight agree that considering the current "environmental and political climate," a dam on the Carmel River won''t be built. They think water credits, if managed properly, are a good thing.
Division 3: Monterey; Kristi Markey
and Marc Beique
Newcomers Kristi Markey and Marc Beique are polar opposites.
Markey says most of the Peninsula is already built out. Beique says growth will happen. Markey supports a small desal plant.
"The Sand City plant will solve our water needs today," Markey said at a recent debate.
She wants a publicly owned water system, controlled by the district itself. (A Moss Landing project would be owned privately, by Cal-Am, and would be outside the district''s management purview.)
If the Peninsula needs "a little more water in the future," she advocates conservation and reclamation. Markey attended law school at Hastings, in San Francisco, and says she doesn''t want to see the Monterey Bay area look like the other Bay Area.
"There really isn''t room for more growth," she says.
Markey''s a brunette with an easy smile and a short, no-fuss haircut, who looks equally comfortable in a navy skirt suit and pearls as she does in jeans and a wool sweater. She says she''s always been community-service oriented and politically active, from her days as church youth group president, to her college years where she worked for women''s rights and visited South America, to more recent times participating at both Quaker meetings and Sunday morning Dharma talks. She works at Lozano Smith law firm as a public agency attorney, and she''s an avid hiker.
"I don''t know if I''m no-growth or slow growth," she insists. "I don''t want to see Carmel Valley subdivided any further. I love the Ventana Wilderness. People talk about, ''what about the person who bought a lot and wants to retire on that lot?'' I''m sympathetic toward that. But if it''s someone who bought a lot and wants to subdivide it and make a million bucks--more than a million bucks--I''m not sympathetic towards that."
Markey may also be the current board''s most vocal cheerleader.
"The board of the last two years has been doing what the voters have asked them to do. They''ve allowed second bathrooms. They''re working diligently on a water-supply project. We have this momentum on the water board, and I want to see it continue.
"The water board has been doing its job and it has been under constant criticism by factions that want a huge water project to fuel their hotels, golf courses and subdivisions. Their motivation is financial. Our opponents don''t want to dissolve the district. They want to take it over."
Marc Beique denies he and his fellow candidates want a hostile takeover. "What I say is we need more water," he says. "Any other distraction is a sideshow in this circus."
Beique says the water district''s favored Sand City desal plant is too small. He wants the board to find more water, and get out of land-use planning.
"There''s no correlation between the water supply and growth," he says.
Beique looks like a young Ben Stein and speaks with a slight Texas twang. He grew up in dry West Texas. He stays on message, speaks in architectural parlance, and doesn''t talk about hobbies.
Beique and his wife also lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the early ''90s, during a severe drought period. "They were rationing water in the strictest sense of the word," he says. "They turned the water off for 48 hours at a time. I think this community is pretty close to being in that situation."
He says he supports a dam on the Carmel River or a Moss Landing desalination plant.
"There is no way our community is going to turn into San Jose or Los Angeles because most of our community is built-out anyway. We are not willing to call growth what growth really is. Growth is people. Growth is not the horses, the pigs, the chickens asking for a two-bed, two-bath."
And don''t get him started on charges that he represents "special interests."
"The fact of the matter is the other three are doing the bidding of the local Sierra Club. The local chapter of the Sierra Club has one position and one position only: The environment at all costs.
"I am not anti-environment. My wife and I had been married for 23 years, and it wasn''t until we returned to Monterey in ''96 that we bought a second car. We lived in Houston, Texas and I walked to work in 100 consecutive days of heat over 100 degrees with humidity around 97 percent."
Beique''s just warming up. He says the current board has lied to the community and they have no intention of finding a new water supply.
"Why? Because it''s a lot more fun for them to play in land-use planning. That''s where they get their power. Once there''s more water, all the power goes away."
Division 4: Pacific Grove and Pebble
Beach; Bob Pacelli and Michelle Knight
Two tiny kittens run around Bob Pacelli''s kitchen in Pacific Grove. A plastic octopus and a paper monarch butterfly hang from the ceiling. Pacelli tells stories of traveling the globe, interviewing foreign dignitaries and refugees. He''s funny, and talks in a rapid-fire style.
"You know, I''m supposed to interview the Dalai Lama this weekend," he says. "If I do go meet him, it will probably be one of the high points of my life. But if I don''t, I''ll be able to campaign."
Pacelli''s a UN staffer, journalist and filmmaker who produced Monarchs of Pacific Grove. He''s a long-time affordable housing advocate--it was a major tenet of Pacelli''s ultimately unsuccessful PG City Council campaign last November--and he and his wife are currently remodeling a triplex in Seaside to be turned over to a nonprofit for low-income housing.
He doesn''t believe the Foy-Knight-Beique camp when they say they''re committed to affordable housing.
"My opponent makes her money renting kayaks and bikes to tourists. By the way, Michelle''s a very nice person. I have no kicks with her."
He picks up one kitty and holds it up close to his face.
"Why should people vote for me?" he muses, talking to the cat in a baby voice. "Michelle''s prettier. She''s got more money than I do. But does she have kitties like this?"
Then he gets serious.
"If people want somebody who''s going to be representing the residents, to keep their right to vote and to represent the people over and above the interests of industry, then vote for me."
He says "appropriate growth" means second bathrooms and homes on legal lots of record.
"First of all, let''s assume there''s going to be growth. So then, how can we protect the environment?" His specific ideas are either pipe dreams or visionary, and include: "buying the water company and replacing the infrastructure," and "waterless urinals in all the hotels."
Pacelli says he supports a Sand City plant, but he''s also got all kinds of other ideas about how to solve the Peninsula''s water woes. He talks about osmosis, conservation and water storage. "What if every hotel in Monterey used recycled water to wash their dishes?" he says. "In PG, imagine if we fixed all the laterals [to the sewer system] so that the low-flush toilets would actually work? Think about it--the numbers add up pretty quickly. There are solutions, they just happen to be the ones that don''t make a buck."
He starts talking, and he''s on a roll.
"I was really dismayed that there were merchants in Pacific Grove who came up and told me, I really am going to vote for you but I can''t publicly support you. I think there''s really something wrong when people can''t say what they mean for fear of, I don''t know, financial retaliation. I think that''s kind of like this creeping fascism. Because obviously the powers don''t want us to be heard. I don''t know if I should have said creeping fascism."
He slams his left fist into his right palm. "Yes, it is creeping fascism. I think people need to take back democracy.
He steps out onto the back porch and lights up a cigarette.
"I''ve started smoking again."
Michelle Knight sits at a round table at Adventures by the Sea, a site on the Del Monte Beach she owns with her husband, which hosts kayak and bike tours, live entertainment, and can be rented out for corporate retreats, weddings, parties and the like.
She concedes she and her husband are reliant on the tourism industry: "It''s the second largest industry in the county and I am not ashamed of the tourism industry."
From where we sit, one can look out the windows and see men in SCUBA gear walking across the sand, and kayakers pulling their tiny boats out into the surf.
Knight''s got a Ph.D. in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz and a master''s degree in urban planning from UCLA. She supports a desal project in Moss Landing. People won''t like looking out their windows and seeing a plant in the Sand City dunes, or the power lines carrying its electricity, she says, adding that the environmental impacts of the district''s proposed project haven''t been sufficiently studied. "And if we build the Sand City project, there won''t be one drop of new water in our communities."
Knight''s got wavy blond hair and hazel eyes. She''s smart, fiery and well-spoken, and she''s angry that the current board wants to paint her as anti-environment.
"It''s become a battle of who''s greener than whom," she says. "I sit on the board of Friends of the Sea Otter, but I''m not green enough. It''s so silly. We make our living out of having people go out and appreciate the natural environment. It''s in our best interest to keep it that way."
Knight says growth on the Peninsula is "inevitable," but she doesn''t think the water board should try to control who will live here.
"One thing that the water district has done well is environmental protection, but that''s only one half of their job. I feel the board''s focus has been on managing the water for the good of the environment rather than the good of the people, and I think there needs to be a marriage of the two."
She''s angry about the flyers produced by the Kristi-Pacelli-Zan camp.
"Half-truths," she calls it.
The flyer describes Knight as a "former PG councilwoman who resigned so she could buy expensive private-market water to build her mansion on Asilomar Dunes (thereby leapfrogging over the water waiting list)."
Three years ago, Knight, her husband and 14 other families on Pacific Grove''s water waiting list made a deal with a commercial property owner to buy credits for new houses or remodels. They paid about $54,000 an acre-foot for the water--three times the going municipal rate at the time--and the other couple dozen on the waiting list signed agreements indicating they didn''t object to the process.
"First of all," Knight says, "it wasn''t private water. It was commercial water in PG. Second of all, it wasn''t just us. And a mansion--it''s 4,500 square feet. It is a large house, but I don''t believe it is a mansion.
"We went to every single person on that list and offered them the opportunity to buy water with us. Some did, some didn''t. But even the ones who didn''t agreed it was a positive thing because it improved their position on the waiting list. Everything I did was completely legal and according to the rules of the district. I''m not the bad guy. Do I think I should have paid extra for that water? No. I blame the district."
District 5: Carmel, Carmel Valley,
Carmel Highlands; Zan Henson and
Zan Henson agrees to show me one of his favorite places on the Peninsula, so long as I don''t print its location. "You can only say it''s a tributary to the Carmel River," he says.
Henson''s an environmental attorney who surfs, hikes and flies small planes in his spare time. Endorsed by former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, he is also an incumbent water board member, the only one running for re-election.
In ''99, Henson filed one of the September Ranch lawsuits, in which a Superior Court Judge ruled against a proposed subdivision because the developer failed to provide sufficient evidence of water rights for the project.
He also represented Measure M proponents, who fought and won the battle to keep new commercial facilities out of Rancho San Carlos.
Some attack Henson as a no-growther who uses water to control land and keep people out of the Peninsula.
"Do I think there can be further subdivision in Carmel Valley? Absolutely not. Can there be further intensification in Fort Ord? Absolutely. I would describe myself as a slow growther. I do firmly believe people should be able to build on existing lots of record.
"And," Henson adds, "I really want to see this community solve its water woes by developing a small, voter-controlled desal plant at Sand City. It will provide drought protection for the community. It will protect the Carmel River. And it won''t be growth-inducing."
He says voters have a clear choice in all three races: Cal-Am''s Moss Landing project, or the district''s? While Cal-Am has announced its intention to construct the desal plant, it has yet to file a formal application to build it. Henson says the water district will release a draft environmental report on a Sand City plant by the end of the year. "And we''re going to have a vote on it by next November. In my next term, I''m going to oversee the building of this plant."
Most people believe that in Monterey, water equals power. Henson says it''s true. "Land is plentiful. Water is not. The reason I''m running for the water board is to protect the environment of the Monterey Peninsula."
Larry Foy, a local consultant who serves as president of the county Hospitality Association, moved to Carmel almost 20 years ago to work as a Cal-Am vice president.
Foy''s charming and friendly, and has volunteered for just about every business and community service group in the county.
He''s also active in political campaigns and played a major role in the "Dissolve the District" Measure B campaign.
As general manager of Cal-Am, he supported building a dam on the Carmel River. Now, Foy says the most viable project, and the one he supports, is a Moss Landing desalination plan.
Foy''s running to sit on a board that regulates the water company that he used to work for. Steve Leonard, the current Cal-Am manager of the Monterey division, has endorsed Foy. Because of this, some of Foy''s opponents have questioned whose interests he would be looking out for, if elected, and described him as the wolf guarding the hen house.
"It''s not a conflict at all," Foy says. "I have no ties financially to Cal-Am. I have no stock in the company. As far as Steve Leonard, Steve is a friend."
His expertise, Foy says, is water, and building a project to supply more of it. He''s critical of the current board, and he says they''d rather control land use than find a water supply.
"In this community, it comes down to a concern that whatever you build will increase growth. Some say absolutely no growth. Well, you put a fence around this community and we''re still going to grow."
Then Foy says something that cuts to the heart of all three races. Water policy and politics on the Peninsula regulate the land. So who do voters trust to build a water supply project?
"The board has put themselves in a position to do land-use planning," Foy says. "They have never done what the state legislation said: augment the water supply. They have never had any interest in that."