Monday, June 27, 2016

Garbage-In-N-Garbage-Out

In recent years it has become a weekend ritual for Mrs. Toy to pick up burgers and fries from Wendy's on her way home from a busy day of church musicianship. This weekend we thought it might be fun to alter the routine and try out the new In-N-Out Burger joint in Seaside, which opened to great fanfare and excitement about three months ago.

While we didn't expect our meal to live up to the hype, we did expect a reasonably good hamburger and fries, and we left open the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. We didn't expect to be too disappointed, much less a little disgusted.

The bag contained two double burgers with cheese and two “containers” of fries. I used quotation marks because the fries were placed in shallow paper trays that didn't really contain them. They just sort of spilled out everywhere. The burgers were half naked with the other half wrapped in a flimsy paper shell. Unlike normal fast-food hamburgers, which come in a clamshell box or completely wrapped in paper or foil that can be opened up and used as sort of a plate, these In-N-Out burgers had no real protection, nothing to keep them warm on the drive home, and required plates from our cupboard.

As I expected, the hamburger was nothing extraordinary. In fact the taste was almost indistinguishable from the Wendy's product, and the ingredients were essentially the same. But it was a good deal messier. Once I had eaten the exposed half there was the problem of how to separate the wrapped half from the tight wrapper. As someone with limited manual dexterity due to chronic pain and muscle stiffness, it was especially challenging.

I decided just to rip the paper off. I almost didn't notice, which means I almost ate, a microscopically thin layer of paper that remained clinging to the bun. It looked and felt like the film that you find between layers of an onion, and it was devilishly hard to remove from my food.

Once the second half of my burger was free, I had a hard time holding it together, and before I could raise it to my mouth it collapsed into a mess on my plate. What remained looked more like a serving of hamburger casserole than a hamburger. I ended up eating the individual components separately.

Meanwhile, I found the fries, which In-N-Out fans rave about, to be almost flavorless. They certainly didn't taste like potatoes, not even an undressed baked potato. Mrs. Toy thought they tasted undercooked, and she called them “inedible.” This word came from a woman who, in the 35 years I have known her, has no more than once or twice turned up her nose at any food put in front of her.

The only thing that saved the meal from total disaster was my chocolate milkshake. It tasted pretty good, though as shakes go it was a little on the thin side. A truly good milkshake takes a little work to suck through a straw. This one was too easy.

To make matters worse, our In-N-Out meal didn't settle in our stomachs very well and now, about 22 hours after the fact, we both still feel a little bit queasy. We're still waiting for the "Out" part of In-N-Out to happen.

So our first In-N-Out burgers were also our last. And we are now completely puzzled as to how an unimpressive, overstuffed hamburger and bland French fries in poorly designed packaging has gained such a cult following. It's not unlike the Donald Trump phenomenon, a lot of hype and no substance seems to have a hypnotic effect on some people making them very giddy over junk.

If you want a truly excellent hamburger, and a great milkshake too, I suggest you skip the chains altogether and pay a visit to our locally owned R.G. Burgers in Carmel and Monterey.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Two simple rules

To Donald Trump protesters: DO NOT engage in any form of violence, threats, or bullying! It only makes you look bad and makes Trump and his supporters look like the victims. Instead, think like Gandhi and Martin Luther King - practice peaceful, nonviolent noncooperation.

To Donald Trump supporters: Because your guy has systematically insulted huge numbers of Americans in order to gain your favor, don't expect to be greeted with tea and cookies.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why Hillary voted for the Iraq war

Let's get something straight. When people (mostly Bernie Sanders supporters) complain that Hillary Clinton "voted for the war in Iraq" they're missing the larger context.

The vote was to "authorize the use of force" against Saddam Hussein if he didn't open up Iraq to UN weapons inspectors and comply with American demands that he destroy any weapons of mass destruction he was believed to possess. The Bush Administration sold it to Congress as a way to use the threat of force to get Saddam to comply. And it worked! The mere threat of force did indeed compel Saddam to readmit the UN weapon inspectors who found absolutely nothing.

It should have stopped there. But Bush didn't accept the inspectors' findings and started the war anyway. I don't know how Hillary reacted, but many members of Congress who voted for the authorization for its threat value felt betrayed by Bush.

Remember, in early 2003 Bush did not yet have the reputation of being a lying weasel, so Congress took Bush at his word that he would use force "only as a last resort."

A lot of good people in Congress were deceived by Bush, not just Hillary. A lot of good Democrats among the public at large were also deceived. Hillary is not responsible for the mess that followed. The blame rests entirely on George W. Bush. Period.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Monterey's cross deserves its day in court

As someone who advocated repairing the wooden cross that was vandalized on Del Monte Beach in 2009, I have mixed feelings about the metal cross that suddenly appeared in its place on Easter weekend. For starters, a metal cross is historically inaccurate. And my sense of law and order dictates that one should not place things on public property without permission. On the other hand, that same sense is still outraged that vandals got away with a crime thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Monterey cross

So I am grateful that the issue is back on the public radar. A little civil disobedience on the part of those who made this metal cross may be a good thing. Since nothing was destroyed, and something new was created, one might call it a constructive form of vandalism.

News reports said that passersby were delighted to see a cross back on the concrete pedestal, indicating that this controversy was never really settled in the public consciousness. For that reason I think it is time for the Monterey city council revisit this issue.

When the original cross was toppled, council members wanted to repair it as quickly as possible. But the ACLU threatened the city with a lawsuit on the grounds that a cross on public property violated the principle of separating church and state. This occurred during the economic crisis when the city was struggling to pay routine expenses, so a costly court fight was out of the question. 

The council agreed to repair the cross only if a legal defense fund of $50,000 could be raised through private donations. Unfortunately, the city made no real effort to solicit donations. There was no way to contribute online, and no use of social media to spread the word. Only checks were accepted by mail, and the address was publicized by the local news media for just a few days. Still, they managed to raise 10% of the goal with this feeble effort before donations petered out. After a couple of months the city gave up, moved the cross to San Carlos Cemetery, and returned the donations. As a result the ACLU's interpretation of the law became public policy by default.

They will deny this of course, but any way you slice it the ACLU took advantage of a crime and the city's weakened financial condition to force Monterey to do things their way. So despite the common belief that this matter was settled, the legal and moral questions surrounding this issue actually remain officially unresolved, still simmering in many people's minds. Hence the mysterious appearance of a homemade cross on the beach and the joyful welcome it received on Easter weekend.

In the absence of a fair and impartial judicial review, we do not know if the old wooden cross was legal or not. True, it had obvious religious connotations, but this particular cross primarily had a secular purpose in replicating a historic artifact that was directly involved in the founding of Monterey. In 1769 the Portola-Crespi expedition itself used the cross for the worldly purpose of signaling their supply ship. Is the law really not flexible enough to accommodate public historical monuments that happen to have religious significance as well as secular historic importance?

Monterey needs to resolve this question once and for all. As I see it we have three options.

1. Do nothing and continue to let the vandals know their crime was successful.

2. Put the wooden cross back up on the beach and not be intimidated if the ACLU challenges it. If a legal defense fund is still needed, make use of social media, crowd funding, and every other available resource to maximize donations. And be patient! It takes time to raise $50,000.

3. Find a way to compromise.

Option number 1 should be unacceptable to anyone who respects due process of law. Option number 2 would settle the issue definitively. But if challenged it would be time consuming and expensive with no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

As far as option number 3 goes, two things have recently come to my attention which may lead to an amicable solution. The first came from a cross opponent (and boy was he cross!) who said we needed more monuments to the local natives. I agreed with him on that point. The second was a letter published in the April 1st Monterey Herald from ACLU attorney Michelle Welsh, the same one who stared down the Monterey city council in 2009.

In her letter she wrote:
"...the city violates both the United States and California Constitutions if it places a solitary religious monument on public property or allows someone else to install a solitary religious monument on city property.” 
The word that stuck out to me was “solitary,” and I seemed to recall that in 2009 she said that a cross might be acceptable if it was part of a larger display.

With those two points in mind, I suggest putting the cross back up and adding life-size statues of local natives decorating the cross as described in Father Juan Crespi's journal. In 1770 Crespi and Portola returned to Monterey and found the cross had been encircled with arrows stuck in the ground, mussel shells were piled at the base, and a string of sardines was hanging from one arm. Recreating that scene would represent the “first contact” moment between cultures and make it clear to observers that the purpose of the monument is to honor a historic event, not to promote religion. 

But if the ACLU shows no willingness to compromise the city should proceed with option number 2. We must have a formal resolution of this issue because we cannot allow vandals and bullying lawyers to unilaterally dictate public policy, as they did so brazenly in 2009.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Project Bella: What's the rush?

Last Wednesday the Pacific Grove city council approved a special election, scheduled for April 19th, asking the townsfolk to change the zoning of the American Tin Cannery site to allow for a new hotel on the property. The hotel, code named “Project Bella,” is being billed as an economic necessity for PG, and a much better use of the site than the existing indoor retail mall that never lived up to expectations. 

Project Bella may indeed be the best thing to happen to Pacific Grove since Holman's, but why is a special election necessary when a regularly scheduled election will come just eight weeks later? The answer is simple. A special election favors the developer. 

Special elections tend to attract fewer voters, those most interested in the subject, so the results may not reflect the town as a whole. Also, it gives voters less time to scrutinize and discuss the project, giving the developers more control over the information presented to voters. It therefore comes as no surprise that the developer, Domaine Hospitality Partners, is perfectly happy to pay the full cost of the election, about $40,000 according to KSBW News. 

So far Domaine has had complete control over the messages to the community, and they've painted an awfully rosy picture of their hotel plan. They boast that Bella “will be designed, built, and furnished to the highest standards shared by only a very few of the world's best hotels,” a tall claim considering even the local competition, much less the world. And, strangely enough, they expect to fulfill their promise of unparalleled luxury with an architectural design reminiscent of the industrial history of the cannery building that currently occupies the site. 

Which brings me to my biggest concern. Both the developer and civic leaders who are supporting Project Bella have been pretty vague about the fate of the historic American Tin Cannery building, which turns 89 this year. It was the only Cannery Row cannery built in Pacific Grove, and arguably has the most attractive facade of any cannery on the row. 

After the local sardine industry shriveled the building was occupied by NAFI (National Automotive Fibers. Inc.), a division of Chris-Craft Industries. NAFI (pronounced “naffy”) manufactured carpeting for automobiles in the facility for many years. When I was third-grader at Carmel River School, locally made NAFI carpeting was installed in our classrooms. After NAFI went the way of the sardines, the American Tin Cannery entered its retail phase, first as a big box type store called Ardan and later the outlet mall we all know, but rarely patronize. 

I know this little bit of history because my dad was an accountant at NAFI in the 1960s. His office was near the base of the smokestack a few steps from Eardley Avenue. One day he gave me and my mother a tour of the plant. I think it was just after quittin' time because there were very few people there. I remember the cavernous space with north-facing windows built into the angled roof which provided a source of light. On the floor I saw rows and rows of industrial strength sewing machines, the kind you see today only in documentaries about Chinese textile mills. It made a strong impression on my seven year old mind. 

Descriptions of the proposed hotel in the local press have been hazy as to how much, if any, of the existing building would be incorporated into the new. Most reports ambiguously say the hotel will be built “at” the American Tin Cannery. Nowhere have I seen it stated explicitly that the American Tin Cannery will be demolished, but neither has it been said the building will be spared. One recent report suggested that the hotel will be an “homage” to the cannery. An artists rendering of the interior displayed on the developer's website shows features that look similar to the existing structure, but the aerial site plan shows the hotel with a very different footprint, most of it set well back from the street. Curiously missing from the website are any street-views of Project Bella. 

Put it all together and it becomes evident that the American Tin Cannery will be no more. Yet for some reason PG preservationists don't seem to have picked up the signals yet. If the demolition of an old pump house could attract their attention, the destruction of the American Tin Cannery should raise alarms like mad, yet they haven't said a word. 

Do Pacific Grove voters really know what they'll be getting on that property? I suspect Project Bella supporters don't want Pagrovians to know too much just yet. It appears they want to lure voters to the special election with glowing promises of economic benefits and unsurpassed luxury before the townsfolk realize they must sacrifice a unique piece of the town's heritage – hence the need to conduct the vote two months before the scheduled June 7th election.


The Rugged Shore of Pacific Grove

Friday, December 4, 2015

Have technocrats taken over Carmel city hall?

What's up with Carmel these days? The city council has engaged in some very un-Carmelish behavior of late. 

About this time last year the council began a six-month experiment with parking meters, devices long considered to be the ultimate insult to the dignity of the village. The council hoped to demonstrate that meters would solve a long-standing problem of too many cars and not enough parking spaces. 

Parking “kiosks” (single meters designed to serve an entire block) were installed up and down Ocean Avenue to see what would happen. As I expected, locals avoided them by parking on every other street where parking was still free, while tourists, who didn't know any better, paid up. But city officials didn't interpret the results that way. They saw that Ocean Avenue parking spaces opened up more often and, based on that criteria alone, they declared the experiment a success. When almost nobody else agreed with that two-dimensional analysis, the city removed the meters. End of story. 

This week the city council ventured down a similarly dubious path. By a slim 3-2 majority they approved the first reading of a controversial ordinance to declare beach fires a “public nuisance,” which would bring an abrupt end to a century-old social tradition. With a single vote on a simple subject, the council has set a course destined to leave a lot of their constituents very upset. Unless at least one of the three shows a willingness to compromise, the ship called City Hall is going to run aground on Carmel Beach as early as next month. 

Beach fires have become a bit of a problem mainly due to their increasing numbers. Carmel is one of the few places left on the California coast where your family and friends can still gather around a fire to toast hot dogs and marshmallows on a foggy summer evening. For that reason people flock to Carmel beach to enjoy this simple social ritual that humans have engaged in since caveman times. Lots of people mean lots of fires. Lots of fires mean lots of smoke and lots of black ashes discoloring Carmel's famous white sand. Too much of a good thing has gotten very messy. 

Earlier this year the city had a plan to manage fires by placing 26 fire rings along the beach between 10th and 13th Avenues. The rings would contain the filthy ashes, and the number of fires allowed at any one time would be limited. Still, I thought 26 was too many. After all we're still talking about eight to nine fires per block. In years past a busy night might see maybe a dozen fires, so 26 seemed overly generous. Unfortunately, some folks took the opposite view and decided 26 was too restrictive. They appealed the plan to the California Coastal Commission hoping to get a better deal. The CCC will consider the appeal next week. 

Meanwhile, the city council grew concerned that the smoke from so many fires might get the city in trouble with state and regional air quality bureaucrats. Last summer an air quality monitor placed at a nearby residence detected unhealthy levels of smoke on just two nights, once in June and again on the 4th of July. Apparently something in that smoke made city officials go batshit crazy and they abruptly changed course. 

The city passed a temporary emergency ordinance banning fires on weekends until proper studies could be done to find the best solution. But the Coastal Commission didn't think two nights of bad air over three months was sufficient justification to declare an emergency. They told the city not to enforce the ban. Miffed city officials essentially said “screw you” to the Coastal Commission and escalated the conflict beyond reason. They decided they could make an end run around the Coastal Commission ruling by declaring beach fires a “public nuisance.” With mayor Jason Burnett leading the charge, they drafted the ordinance to permanently ban all fires. This may have satisfied their egos, but it has ignited the anger of beachgoers. 

It's troubling enough to see the city council so willing to dismantle an important component of Carmel's unique social culture. Even more disturbing is how they are doing it, effectively bypassing the normal avenues of forming public policy. The proper course, which the city was following until recently, is to gather public input, study various alternatives, find ways to mitigate potential problems, and develop a plan. It's a somewhat tedious process, but it usually works out for most of us. The 26 fire ring proposal grew out of that process. Now, it has all been chucked out the window and a total ban is being imposed on the community with minimal debate. In fact mayor Burnett has made it clear he is not open to alternatives. In Wednesday's Herald he was quoted “For me it comes down to the health impact of the smoke, for me, it’s an area where I can’t compromise.” 

Yet the smoke reached unhealthy levels on only two evenings. Two. In fact, the proposed ordinance doesn't cite fires as the problem per se, only the “excessive number of beach fires during peak use periods” such as Independence Day festivities. The key to a fair and reasonable solution, then, is not a complete ban but a limit on the number of fires allowed at any given time. 

I think limiting fires to about 10 or 12 fire rings is a fair number, especially if they must be confined to the three block segment of the beach where fires are currently allowed. Some experimentation with their placement might further reduce smoke drift into the surrounding neighborhood. These steps should limit smoke to historical levels, which folks seemed comfortable with in the past. The rings would confine coals and ashes to keep the beach clean and safe. To keep things simple, fire rings would be available on a first-come first-served basis, much as with picnic tables in parks. though a reservation system might be helpful for busy holiday weekends. I think this is a reasonable compromise, and should be satisfactory to almost everyone. 

The question is whether Carmelites can convince at least one more council member that compromise is reasonable. I fear the mayor is a lost cause. That leaves Victoria Beach and Ken Talmage, but they're coming across as more fearful of what the air quality bureaucrats might do than they are of the townsfolk they supposedly represent. As with the parking meter program, the council majority seems primarily interested in the technical aspects of the issue while disregarding the social and cultural implications of their actions. In a tightly knit community like Carmel, with deep-rooted social traditions, that is a huge political mistake.


Carmel Beach Bonfires

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Comprehensive and Slightly Irreverent Guide To Local Water Politics

About three years ago I posted a “Pocket Guide to Local Water Politics” to help poor confused people like me sort out the crazy quilt of interlaced complexities of competing interests. A lot has changed since then, so I thought an updated guide would be in order. Unfortunately, things have become so insanely complex that I must increase the guide to briefcase size.

Background:
In the mid 1970s California experienced a severe drought. Here on the Monterey Peninsula residential water users were rationed to 50 gallons per person per day, a huge inconvenience in the days of 3 gallon per flush toilets and 5 gallon per minute shower heads. In 1978 the State Legislature created the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, commonly known as the “Water Board,” to find and construct a new water supply so we would never have to go through that again. Nearly forty years and three droughts later almost nothing has been done. Despite the cries of “not me” echoing throughout the region, pretty much everyone is to blame.

Here are the players. Their specific names have been removed to protect me from the guilty:

1. Monterey Peninsula Voters who, in the mid 1990s, voted down two perfectly good water supply projects that would have solved our problems long ago.

Important Details:
  • The projects were a modest desalination plant in Sand City and a New Los Padres Dam on the Carmel River.

  • The desal plant would have provided us with a drought-proof supplement to sporadic rainfall. It was rejected by voters in 1993 on the grounds that it would cost much more per unit of water than a new dam, which they said was just around the corner.

  • The dam would have provided ample storage to serve the population and help the poor fish by restoring year-round flows to the overdrawn Carmel River. It was rejected in 1995 because voters perceived it as too expensive, growth inducing, and environmentally damaging.

  • Had local voters approved both of these projects we would not be in the legal mess we are in today and the current drought would be just a minor inconvenience.

  • What in blazes were they thinking?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  • For the record: I voted for both projects.
___________

2. A State Water Board which determined that the local Private Water Company was legally entitled to only one third of the water it was pumping out of the ground in Carmel Valley, the Peninsula's primary source of water for over 100 years. The board issued a cease and desist order (CDO) to take effect at the end of 2016.

Points to ponder:
  • Everyone on the Peninsula is desperate to find a new water supply.

  • There is a general consensus that a desalination plant is the best option.

  • If we don't meet the deadline the Private Water Company will be forced to pay huge fines, or limit water deliveries, or some combination thereof. Nobody knows how the State will enforce the order.

  • Oh crap: We're not going to meet the deadline.
___________

3. The County which arbitrarily passed an ordinance saying that any desalination plants built in Monterey County must be publicly owned.

But wait:
  • There is some question as to whether or not The County has legal jurisdiction over utility companies. Some say that is the domain of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). If that is true then The County's ordinance is probably not enforceable.

  • The County doesn't seem to have a problem with private ownership of the Carmel Valley dams (see below), so why do they care if the same company owns a desal plant?

  • And why single out water? If the same logic applied to other utilities, then electrical generation plants should also be publicly owned, right? But that's a topic for another day.
___________

4. The Local Water Board which devised and presented two water supply projects to Peninsula Voters for their approval.

The results:
  • Voters rejected both projects (see above).

  • After voters rejected the two projects the Water Board could find no credible alternatives and has basically been adrift ever since.

  • The Water Board has since developed a reputation, not fully deserved, as a do-nothing agency.

  • Throughout its history, the Water Board has been accused of abusing its authority over new water uses to control development on the Monterey Peninsula.

  • Its reputation was so bad that in 2002 Monterey Peninsula Voters passed an advisory measure asking the state legislature to dissolve the Water Board. Presumably, had the legislature complied – which it didn't – that would have left the Private Water Company (see below) on its own to develop a water supply.
___________

5. The Private Water Company which has been the Monterey Peninsula's water provider for as long as water has been needed here.

Some facts:
  • Although The Company has “California” and “American” in its name, the parent company is actually based in Germany.

  • In the first half of the 20th Century, the Private Water Company built two dams on the Carmel River called San Clemente and Los Padres.

  • The Company has been criticized for not dredging the two reservoirs periodically, instead letting sediment build up which significantly reduced their capacity.

  • The San Clemente reservoir filled almost completely with sediment. The Dam is currently being dismantled at customer expense.

  • For over three decades The Company let the Local Water Board take the lead in finding a new water supply project.

  • When the Local Water Board failed to deliver, and with the CDO deadline fast approaching, the Company entered into a complex agreement with a Neighboring Water District (see below) to build a Regional Desalination Project (RDP) outside the Private Water Company's service area.

  • After the agreement with the Neighboring Water District collapsed (see below), and with the CDO deadline immanent, the Private Water Company understandably gave up on working with incompetent public bureaucracies and decided to build a desal plant on its own. Plans call for it to be built within the boundaries of the Neighboring Water District which has generated considerable friction between The Company and the Neighboring Water District.

  • The most optimistic construction schedule shows The Company's desal plant won't be operational until 2020, thus missing the CDO deadline by about four years.

  • The Company has skirted the County requirement that desal plants be publicly owned through some sort of agreement that resolved whatever disputes arose between The Company and The County during the failure of the RDP.

  • The Company hopes to employ “slant well” technology to draw ocean water into the desal plant. Slant wells are drilled near the shore at an angle (as opposed to straight down) so that the intakes are located in the soggy sand just below the ocean floor.

  • Slant wells are preferred over “open ocean” intakes by environmental groups and regulatory agencies because they will not suck up ocean life along with the seawater. However, critics in the Neighboring Water District believe the slant wells will also draw some fresh water from the Neighboring District's groundwater supplies, and they are accusing the Private Water Company of stealing their water.

  • Earlier this year The Company drilled a slant well for testing purposes to determine if the technology will work as expected. The test well was challenged in court by the Neighboring Water District, but a judge allowed the test to proceed.

  • The slant well testing is so far inconclusive. The Company discovered a drop in groundwater levels in the neighborhood of the test well. It is not yet known if the drop was caused by the slant well or nearby agricultural wells. The Company says it is the latter while the Neighboring Water District says “Nya, nya, we told you so!” The test well is currently shut down pending further analysis by actual scientists.

  • Egg on their faces: It turns out that one of the consultants hired by The Company to analyze the test well results has a conflict of interest in that he also holds some patents on slant well technology.
___________

6. The Neighboring Water District came into the picture a few years ago with a proposal to save the Private Water Company from the ineffective Water Board. It was called the Regional Desalination Project (RDP).

Here's where everything went completely bonkers:
  • The RDP plan involved three public agencies. 1. The Neighboring Water District which would own the desal plant, 2. A County Water Agency which would own the pipes to get ocean water into the plant, and 3. A Regional Wastewater Agency which would be in charge of the salty residue discharged back into the ocean.

  • The Private Water Company would be the plant's primary customer. The Neighboring Water District would also use some of the water produced for its own needs.

  • The Neighboring Water District would have control over the plant management and operations.

  • The Private Water Company's customers would pay for the plant, but have no significant influence over its management. This raised alarm bells among Monterey Peninsula residents who felt that they would be at the mercy of the Neighboring Water District, which at the time was widely regarded as so dysfunctional that the Peninsula's useless Water Board looked like King Solomon by comparison.

  • The California PUC's Division of Ratepayer Advocates had similar concerns.

  • Due to the sheer complexity of the plan and the distrust it generated among Peninsula residents the project would probably have collapsed under its own weight eventually. Its demise was mercifully hastened when it was discovered that a key player in the project's development had a serious conflict of interest in that he was working for both a public agency and a private contractor advising the same agency.

  • As I predicted in 2010 the RDP players are now suing each other, trying to recover the money they spent on this unworkable scheme. Each side claims the others were at fault, and nobody is taking responsibility themselves.

  • Meanwhile, the Neighboring Water District, being no longer on speaking terms with the Private Water Company, is trying every legal trick in the book to stop the Private Water Company from building its own desal plant within the boundaries of the Neighboring Water District.

  • Last May the local Congressman actually suggested that the Neighboring Water District be disbanded because “They just haven’t conducted themselves in a very professional way. They’ve been fighting everybody else, and they’ve been sort of selfish and arrogant.”

  • Isn't this fun???

  • Only if you can watch it from a safe distance!
___________

7. After the RDP collapsed it became evident that none of the relevant public agencies were competent enough to find a new water supply. So the six Mayors of the six Monterey Peninsula cities got together and formed a plan: Create a new public agency! They call it the Water Authority, and the Mayors put themselves in charge.

Their mission:
  • Get all of the players, the public water agencies, the Private Water Company, the Business Association, and the Citizen Groups into one room and hash out a solution agreeable to everyone. It's sorta like herding cats, and has turned out to be just as effective.

  • The Authority analyzed three competing desal plant proposals (see above for one and look below for the other two) and voted the Private Water Company's project as Most Likely To Succeed. This pleased the Private Water Company (see above) and local Business Association (see below), and really upset the Citizen Groups (see below) and the Neighboring Water District (see above).

  • Just to be safe, The Authority declared the Deep Water project (see below) as their second favorite. They directed the Water Board to oversee the Deep Water project on a parallel track as a “Plan B” in case the Private Water Company's project fell apart. Good idea.

  • The Authority is also exploring the best ways to grovel before the State Water Board to request an extension of the CDO deadline.
___________

8. A Prominent Local Businessman who, for several years now, has claimed to have the perfect desal plant idea called The People's Project.

All you need to know:
  • It would be built on property he owns adjacent to the Moss Landing power plant.

  • It would use existing seawater intakes (built in the 1940s) used by a previous business on the same site. The Prominent Local Businessman theorizes that using existing intakes will be okey-dokey with the ocean protection people.

  • One problem: His property is currently under threat of foreclosure.
___________

9. Deep Water Desal is the “Plan B” of the Water Authority.

The basics:
  • That's actually its real name. I couldn't come up with a generic pseudonym.

  • It is so named because the ocean intakes would be located in a deep part of the ocean where fewer critters live to get sucked into the pipes. Its proponents believe that this will be acceptable to the ocean protection people, but nobody knows for sure.

  • According to recent news reports the project directors claim that they can get the plant up and running sometime in 2017, missing the CDO deadline, but only by a few months instead of several years. However, their website does not show a timetable, not even on their “Costs & Timeline” page which only mentions costs and financing.

  • The project does not yet have an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will take the better part of a year to prepare. Construction can't begin without it.

  • Ahem.... 2017 is only 16 months away!
___________

10. A handful of Citizen Groups are also in the mix. Their favorite activity is writing mind-numbing guest commentaries in the Local Newspaper, almost every week for the past few years.

What they say and do:
  • They say the Private Water Company is a greedy, heartless corporation that is only interested in profits and doesn't care about its customers.

  • They blame the Private Water Company for all of our water problems. To justify that conclusion they have implied that Peninsula Voters, the Water Board, and the Neighboring Water District are all perfectly angelic innocent victims of The Company.

  • The are absolutely convinced, and believe it should be obvious to everyone, that only thing that will save us from the Private Water Company is a public takeover of the Private Water Company.

  • Twice in the last ten years they have put measures before voters to study the feasibility of having the Local Water Board take over the Private Water Company. Yup, we're talking about the same Local Water Board the voters voted to remove from the face of the Earth (see above). Needless to say, both ballot measures failed.

  • Members of these groups reluctantly admit that they underestimated the depth of public animosity towards the Local Water Board, but they still insist that the measures would have passed if the Private Water Company hadn't spent so much money on the NO side of the campaign.

  • Golly, they're so cute when they fantasize.

  • They oppose the Private Water Company's desal plant, and support the other two (see above).

  • They declared that the Private Water Company's slant well test would be a failure even before the test well was drilled. They have even accused the Private Water Company of knowing it would fail before it was drilled. When asked for evidence they tend to get unusually quiet.

  • To their credit they have rightly questioned why businesses pay lower water rates than residential customers.

  • But they're into conspiracy theories. For example, because the Mayors' Water Authority supports the Private Water Company's desal plant, they say that the Authority is in cahoots with The Company to keep business rates low and residential rates high.

  • They're really into conspiracy theories. They say the conflict of interest problem that killed the Neighboring Water District's Regional Desal Project was deliberately manufactured by the Private Water Company to kill the RDP and leave The Company free to build its own plant so it could keep all of the profits. Problem with the theory: The Company was free to join or not join the RDP agreement, so there was no need to resort to devious means to get out of it.

  • They insist that if the State Water Board imposes fines on the Private Water Company for failing to meet the CDO deadline, then The Company's stockholders should pay the fines, not water customers. Their reasoning: we all know that the Private Water Company is to blame for everything, and the Voters and Local Water Board are completely innocent. Right? Right????
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11. Finally, there is a Business Association, which is solidly backing whatever water project looks most promising at any given point in time.

More details:
  • Their spokesperson is a well known general manager of a prominent Monterey hotel.

  • The Association is scared to death of the CDO because if water deliveries are forcibly curtailed then many, many businesses would be forced to cut back services and eliminate jobs. Hotels and restaurants would be especially hard hit. It's a legitimate concern.

  • Even if the State Water Board imposes fines instead of water cutbacks, the cost of water would increase the cost of doing business, costs which may have to be passed onto customers.
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So there it is, the whole situation in a nutshell. No, that's wrong. It's a freakin' nuthouse! Don't feel bad if you don't understand it. It is all quite incomprehensible to any sane person. If, by chance, you think you do understand it you are advised to seek psychiatric help as soon as possible.