Thursday, September 9, 2004
There’s a lesson to be learned here, thinks the girl reporter: Don’t be so quick to jump into bed with someone you hardly even know.
She’s talking about the star-crossed love story of California American Water Co. and Monterey County—a relationship that seems to be rocky these days.
It started with birds singing and flowers blooming. They always do. It was a sunny evening in June when a panel of spokespeople from the water company, the County, and Armanasco Public Relations sat atop the Moss Landing Harbor in a room looking out on Monterey Bay, trying to convince a leery audience that a Cal-Am/Monterey County hook-up would provide a solution to the county’s water woes.
Soft waves slowly rocked the fishing boats while consultants detailed a big desalination plant they want to build in Moss Landing, which would produce about 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. The girl reporter swore she saw stars in the eyes of Cal-Am’s VP, Steve Leonard, and those of Curtis Weeks, who heads the Monterey County Water Resources Agency. She could only imagine the butterflies in their stomachs.
Leonard assured attendees that neither the project nor the partnership were a “done deal” and, in fact, there was a dueling desal plant on the horizon, which would be built and operated by the Pajaro-Sunny Mesa Water District, a public agency.
Despite assurances that the County wasn’t married to Cal-Am’s proposal, there was love in the air, or something like it. That was June.
Fast forward to August, when Supervisors were scheduled to vote on an agreement between the County and Cal-Am. Two Supes, Dave Potter and Lou Calcagno, grumbled about the proposed plant being “fast-tracked.” And on Aug. 17, the day the Supes were slated to formalize their agreement with Cal-Am, the item was pulled from the agenda. It’s supposed to be picked back up on Sept.14, but that’s looking iffy.
On Aug. 30, the Supes met in a special closed-door session with Weeks and County Administrative Officer Sally Reed to discuss a desal site. Rumor was the County got cold feet.
“The Board gave direction to begin negotiations on a property interest that might assist the County in a desal project,” County Counsel Charles McKee told the girl reporter, following the closed meeting. “There are two sites” for a possible plant, McKee continued. “One is the old National Refractories site, and one is at Duke. At this point, we’re looking to discuss Duke.”
And about the rumors that the County may break up with Cal-Am?
“I don’t know any truth to those rumors—or non truths,” McKee said.
But later that same afternoon at Carmel-by-the-Sea’s City Hall, at one of Cal-Am’s many town hall meetings touting the $250 million “Coastal Water Project: A water supply solution for our coastal communities,” the girl reporter (in her new jacket: a trench with tweed—two fall essentials in one fabulous belted piece) realized that Weeks was notably absent.
Weeks had been a staunch proponent of the project at previous meetings. The girl reporter wanted to know if he still was. Weeks finally called her back.
Is the County still partnering with Cal-Am? “That’s yet to be determined,” Weeks said. And no, he didn’t miss the Carmel town hall meeting because he had jetted off to Ibiza for the week, or was busy sipping cocktails at the Plaza Hotel.
“The Supervisors thought it would be appropriate to take a little less visible role as we sort through these alternatives,” Weeks said.
And then Weeks (gasp!) talked about the County-Cal-Am love affair—in the past tense!
“The partnership we were pursuing with Cal-Am would put the [desalination] pipeline in the hands of Monterey County one way or another,” he says. “The County believes we need to be in the leadership role. The Supervisors are looking at other options now.”
So will the Supes discuss a formal partnership with the water company on Sept. 14, as previously planned?
“That’s yet to be determined,” Weeks said.
Hold off buying the wedding presents, thinks the girl reporter. It sounds as if the honeymoon is over before it even began.