Thursday, May 5, 2011
Like pelicans diving on a sardine run, water wonks are swooping for bites of the Regional Water Project’s $400 million budget.
On Thursday, May 5, the California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to consider awarding Surfrider Foundation almost $286,000 for its input in the proposed desalination project, including an economic analysis of the project alternatives. If approved, the cost will be reimbursed by California American Water (and its ratepayers).
Sarah Damron, Surfrider’s Central California regional manager, notes the nonprofit isn’t requesting money for its own staff. Instead, it wants payment for the experts and lawyers it hired over the course of the 21-month proceeding.
“Cal Am has the money to hire big-bucks lawyers,” she says. “If those are the only people able to play at the table, we all know what the outcome would be.”
But Monterey County Planning Commissioner Keith Vandevere takes umbrage on his blog, www.xasauantoday.com. “Why, exactly, an organization whose primary work is to advocate for clean beaches and surfing spots would be tapped to perform an economic analysis of industrial plant siting isn’t clear,” he writes. The implication: Surfrider’s being rewarded for signing off on the highly controversial desal project agreements. “Obviously the value they bring to the table is their environmental credibility,” Vandevere says. “It’s the gravy-train way of going about things.”
More than $196,000 of Surfrider’s claim is for economic consultant Steve Kasower, principal at Sacramento-based Water Energy Partners Co. and a long-term leader in regional water project discussions. “I’ve never in my whole life earned that much money!” Kasower says. “I don’t want to jinx it, but wow.”
Kasower says his $315-per-hour rate (which the CPUC reduced from $325) reflects his institutional knowledge of Monterey Peninsula water politics. Before working for Surfrider, he led the Water for Monterey County Coalition, which helped scuttle an environmentally questionable desal alternative in Moss Landing.
CPUC spokesman Andrew Kotch says the intervenor compensation policy aims to give nonprofits and grassroots groups the financial resources to be heard. “The PUC, in its effort to get a good picture from a proceeding, opens it up to parties that want to participate,” he says.
Another nonprofit intervenor, Public Trust Alliance, has a pending request for $185,472, including $535 an hour for PTA Executive Director Michael Warburton.
Kasower blames the project’s critics – particularly the CPUC’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District – for running up bills. “This project would have been a lot cheaper without the antagonism that some of the groups in the public decided to take,” he says. “My work continued as long as there was consternation in the process.”