Thursday, August 5, 2010
F ive of six Monterey Peninsula cities have signed off on a deal giving mayors in the California American Water service area a place on the regional desalination project’s advisory committee.
But opponents say the seat represents only a token voice for ratepayers.
Under Marina Coast Water District’s proposed amendment to the Water Purchase Agreement, now under consideration by the California Public Utilities Commission, the project’s advisory committee would expand from three to four members: Marina Coast, Cal Am, the Monterey County Water Resources Agency and a new municipal adviser.
The municipal seat would be composed of two representatives—appointed by the cities of Carmel, Pacific Grove, Monterey, Sand City and Seaside—serving jointly as a single member. The committee would have technical and financial responsibilities such as selecting contractors and overseeing the project manager.
But unlike the other three seats, the municipal adviser would have no authority to call for third-party arbitration to settle disputes. That lack of teeth is the primary reason the Monterey City Council rejected the modification on July 26, and dropped out of the group of Peninsula cities represented by an outside attorney.
“The Municipal Adviser should have the same voting power and decision-making authority that is granted to [the three governing parties],” a city brief states.
The Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and the PUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates have similar qualms. The district’s brief argues that the proposed seat for cities “relegates the municipal adviser to the role of an observer, and ensures that its voice will be given little weight.”
The district wants its own, additional advisory seat to better represent all ratepayers, including those in Del Rey Oaks and the unincorporated county. Both the district and municipal advisers should be empowered to call for arbitration, it argues.
DRA agrees that adding a municipal adviser falls short of “meaningful representation” for ratepayers. “MCWD’s proposed amendment to the Water Purchase Agreement is mere window dressing,” its brief states.
But Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie thinks the support of five cities indicates progress. “We’ve got agreement now from elected representatives for about 70 percent of our customers on the Peninsula,” she says. “It’s a positive development to see so much alignment among the various represented officials.”
Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud notes that the desal agreements were drafted without input from local mayors. Although she voted in favor of the municipal adviser proposal, she hopes it’s only a first step in gaining ratepayer representation through a joint powers authority.
“If we had been there from the beginning I think things would be different,” she says. “[But] it’s better to be at the table than to not be at the table.”
Carmel’s lone dissenter, Councilman Jason Burnett, says that by accepting the municipal adviser seat, the cities are signing off on everything else in the desal project agreements.
“What was at issue here was far greater than the amendment to include city representation,” he says. “It’s a little premature to be concluding that all those costs of a half-billion-dollar project, for the next 94 years, we find to be reasonable and prudent.”
Administrative Law Judge Angela Minkin is expected to rule on the desal project in October. The PUC will likely issue a final decision by the end of the year.