Thursday, March 3, 2011
A citizens’ group that wants to dissolve the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District and take over Cal Am’s local water system says it plans to start circulating petitions mid-March in an effort to get the measure on the ballot.
“Our mission is to persuade or create a public agency to purchase the local water company,” says WaterPlus’ Ron Weitzman. His group met with LAFCO executive officer Kate McKenna on March 1 to discuss the petition. “We’re going down both paths. If we can’t persuade a public agency, then we’ll do it.”
At its Feb. 28 meeting, the Local Agency Formation Commission released its legal opinion, which says dissolving or changing the water district’s organization falls under LAFCO’s jurisdiction.
“To me, it’s not as interesting as Kate McKenna’s earlier memo that laid out what the process would be for WaterPlus and all of the various hurdles they would have to overcome,” says Cal Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie.
In a Feb. 17 letter to Weitzman, McKenna outlines that process. She says WaterPlus must pay for the Election Department’s work related to the petition, as well as a financial feasibility study, environmental analysis and “all actual costs of staff, legal, consultant and other expenses incurred in processing the [LAFCO] application.”
“It would be a huge undertaking for this community,” Bowie says. “It would be expensive and lengthy and divisive. The costs of going through the LAFCO process are one thing, and those will be significant, but the cost of actually purchasing our assets through a hostile takeover – nobody knows that number because it is only determined by a jury.”
Bowie claims in every other case where this has happened, the ultimate cost to the community, whether through increased water rates or increased taxes, has been in the order of five times what the proponents originally say. “It doesn’t make any sense to take on another enormous investment that brings no additional tangible benefit to our customers.”
Weitzman dismisses Cal Am’s response as “scare tactics.”
“Cal Am is going to make people think it’s so expensive you don’t even want to get near it,” he says, adding that WaterPlus is currently producing a cost estimate with the help of its lawyers.
“People are concerned about the local rate payers having to pay half a billion on desal? This will give them a seat at the desal table. At least they’ll know what they are paying for and how their money is spent.”