Monday, December 10, 2012
Parte Party…Well-trained at conducting interviews from the deep, Squid’s a pretty good listener, sometimes vigorously taking notes for hours at a time while crazy people spout off about whatever’s bugging them, which usually means the impending drought on the Monterey Peninsula, which looks even steeper and more unresolvable than the fiscal cliff.
Squid’s ability to patiently tune in to the echo chamber might make Squid a good California Public Utilities Commissioner, if recent ex parte communications are any indication. (That’s Latin for “by one party,” as in uninterrupted soapbox.) Anyone can request a few minutes on their soapbox in front of a commissioner or their staff, as long as they file a formal notice of ex parte communication, so the uninvited public doesn’t miss out on any of the unquiet rage of California American Water’s water supply proposal. And if only rage could do the wash, there might be no water shortage problem.
Last week after the county announced its $3.4 million settlement with Cal Am—pocket change, really, considering it came in exchange for the county’s long-standing ordinance that requires public ownership of a desal plant, an ordinance that Cal Am now gets special exception to—the rage was boiling over at WaterPlus, the ratepayer advocacy group.
“The county used its desalination ordinance as a bargaining chip,” WaterPlus President Ron Weitzman wrote in a Dec. 5 email to the Board of Supes, with just about everyone else, including PUC Administrative Law Judge Gary Weatherford, copied. “[The settlement is] a sell-out to ratepayers who will have to pay the bill.”
Then WaterPlus member and web editor David Loye chimed in to the email chain: “This is a triumph for Cal Am's ability to manipulate county political leadership that must inevitably lead to creeping disaster for Peninsula unless somehow blocked for revision.”
That’s when PUC Attorney Peter Allen emailed Weitzman and Loye and instructed them to cut it out, because their “open letters” could count as ex parte communications, requiring public noticing. “I wanted to make sure there wasn’t suddenly this big long discussion,” Allen tells Squid. “I would’ve hoped Mr. Weitzman would’ve known better than to include the commission decision-makers on his letter, but apparently not.”
Which means Weitzman got the last word, sort of. WaterPlus wants to sign up as a formal intervenor party to the desal party, but can’t find a lawyer to rep them who will tolerate the PUC’s bureaucratic process for getting paid. That leaves Weitzman writing angry emails that conclude with painful honesty: “Unfortunately, all we can do now is say, ‘OUCH!’ Which is what we just did.”