Friday, February 13, 2015

The myth of better, faster, cheaper water.

For the past several years readers of the Monterey Herald have been subjected to a barrage of guest commentaries relating to our local water crisis. Some have come from the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, affectionately known as “the water board” while others have been written by representatives from Cal-Am, the water company. These have typically been fluff pieces, saying little more than “we're making progress” except they use 600 words instead of three.

But the vast majority of these commentaries have originated with a small cluster of citizens groups telling us the water board and/or Cal-Am are doing everything wrong. The desalination plant Cal-Am is planning to build is a rip-off, they say, frequently adding the opinion that only a public water company will ever give us a good deal. They trot out a mind-numbing array of facts and figures, which most of us average citizens struggle to decipher, to show that a better, faster, cheaper project can be had if we just follow their guidance.

Maybe they're right, but frankly I don't really care. If they can do it better than Cal-Am then great, I'm all for it. But the fact is that the promise of a better, faster, cheaper project has been haunting us for over twenty years, and in my estimation is the main reason why nothing has been done.

The water board was formed by the state legislature in 1978 following a terrible drought that rationed Peninsula residents to 50 gallons of water per person per day for an extended period of time. The purpose of the water board was to develop and build a new water supply project so we wouldn't ever have to go through that again. Three significant droughts later we still don't have a solution, and it is not Cal-Am's nor the water board's fault. It is ours.

In 1993 and 1995 Peninsula voters were asked by the water board to approve a modest sized desalination plant in Sand City and a new Los Padres dam on the Carmel River. This combination would have provided us with ample storage to get both humans and fish through dry periods and a drought-proof supplement to our sporadic rainfall.

I voted for both projects, but watched in dismay as my fellow citizens rejected the desal plant in '93. The prevailing arguments were that desalinated water was more expensive than conventional rainfall storage, desal plants consume a lot of energy, and the salty discharge could harm ocean life. And besides, went the argument, a new dam is just around the corner which will make the desal plant unnecessary. Two years later these same voters turned down the new dam on the grounds that it was too expensive, environmentally damaging, and growth inducing. The anti-dam campaign led voters to believe that a better, faster, cheaper project would soon come along. It never did.

Denied the ability to pick the low hanging fruit, the water board had few options left. It basically went adrift for many years, and became the whipping boy when the state ordered major cutbacks in pumping Carmel Valley groundwater. The water board, according to popular opinion, was the problem, not the solution. The agency had such a poor reputation that Peninsula voters passed an advisory measure asking the legislature to disband the water board. The legislature did not.

Meanwhile, unable to find adequate water within the Cal-Am service area, officials began looking farther afield, entering into insanely complex political and legal wranglings with neighboring communities and their water agencies. One ridiculously convoluted plan involving four separate agencies, each one responsible for owning and operating different components of a single desal plant, went down in well-publicized and well-deserved flames.

After that debacle, Cal-Am understandably began to distance itself from public bureaucracies and set out on its own to build a desal plant near Marina. Somehow this led the better, faster, cheaper crowd to conclude that Cal-Am was the new enemy. No longer was the water board to blame for our lack of water, and certainly not Peninsula voters who could have solved our problems long ago. Cal-Am, we are now being told, not only caused our water shortage, their attempt to build a desal plant to end it is all wrong because better desal plants can be built faster and cheaper than Cal-Am can. They are so convinced that last year they fully expected Peninsula voters to ask the old enemy, the water board, to forcibly take over the private utility company. Somehow they imagined that the board had magically transformed its reputation from incompetent bureaucrats to angelic saviors overnight. When voters sensibly failed to buy that argument the better, faster, cheaper crowed naturally blamed Cal-Am for duping voters with a well-funded campaign. They still don't accept that their own arguments were as weak as cheap tea.

I think the better, faster, cheaper plan is a myth. If it was real, it would have been done by now. In fact, the desal plant in Sand City and the new Los Padres dam would have been much better, definitely faster, and probably cheaper than anything that has been proposed since. Peninsula voters could have saved everyone a lot of grief if they hadn't listened to the better, faster, cheaper crowd two decades ago. If Peninsula residents continue to be seduced by the false promise of a better, faster, cheaper water project, we'll have no excuses to blame anyone but ourselves when the state clamps down and enforces the restrictions on pumping Carmel Valley groundwater late next year.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Herald Boo-Boo Watch part 40

Boo-boos in the Herald's print edition seem to be dwindling somewhat, but they're now appearing on the paper's website with some regularity. I first noticed this a few weeks ago when an individual posted a comment on the Herald's website saying he posted a comment under one article that showed up under an unrelated article. A day or two later the same thing happened to me.

Then a few days ago, I clicked a link to an article and was taken to the wrong article. Back-button, try again, same result.

And sometime last week Tom Karwin's weekly gardening column showed up on the Opinion web page. A mere fluke, perhaps? Nope, Barbara Quinn's nutrition column, which normally runs in Wednesday's food section, showed up on Monday's Opinion web page, with Jim Tunney's weekly sports column right below it.

It's been bad enough that Digital First Media has made so many careless errors in the print edition, but now it appears they can't even get the digital part right, either. Has website design also been moved to Chico?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch part 39

I had hoped we'd get through the holidays without any more boo-boos, but the Herald gave us one for Christmas. The paper printed the same article twice, once on page 1 and again on page 3. The headlines were different, and the one which began on page 1 and finished on page 5 had three more paragraphs than the one on page 3, but the main text was otherwise identical.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

How to get people to watch a bad movie.

I spent almost a dozen years in the movie theater business. About half of them were in Carmel, but I got my start working in two large downtown theaters in Salem, Oregon. I started out in 1978 selling popcorn, and a year later advanced to assistant manager, and later, manager. My boss was a great fellow named Jerry Proctor. His friends called him Jerry, but everyone who worked for him knew him as Mr. Proctor. He was very businesslike, but easy to get a long with, and he loved to tell stories.

One of his favorite stories involved a very bad movie. When he had managed a drive-in theater in Eugene a new coming attraction trailer hit the screen. He couldn't remember the title, but he said it was so offensive he had the projectionist remove it from the film immediately. Too late. A woman in the audience came in and told him in no uncertain terms that she would do everything in her power to keep that movie from ever being shown in Eugene.

She made good on her threat. She launched a letter-writing campaign, petitioned the city council, and got the attention of the local newspaper. She wasn't successful in keeping the movie out of town, but the whole town knew about it. On opening night the curious crowds were so huge the police had to come out to control traffic.

The theater made a fortune that weekend. Everywhere else in the country the movie bombed. On Monday morning the distributor, seeing these amazing numbers from Eugene, called Mr. Proctor and asked “What did you do?!?” I think the story even made into the trade magazine Box Office.

This story seems relevant to this week's news that Sony Pictures has shelved The Interview, a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Reportedly North Korea is responsible for recent hacker attacks on Sony's computer systems, and is threatening further mayhem if Sony releases the movie.

Now, I've seen the ads for The Interview. It doesn't look like an awful movie, but based on my experience, it looks like one that would come and go fairly quickly and not get much attention. But now, thanks to North Korea or some sympathizer, a whole lot of people across the country and around the world have heard of it and are curious enough to want to see it. Good job!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch part 38

Monday's Herald had just one small boo-boo. The opening paragraph of a front page article was printed in two different fonts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Carmel's perilous flirtation

This week, Carmel-By-The-Sea is starting a six-month experiment with paid parking. Ten "kiosks," which are essentially fancy parking meters designed to serve an entire block, have been installed along Ocean Avenue to test the viability of implementing paid parking throughout the business district.

Carmel has flirted with this idea several times in the recent years, but this is the first time they've hopped into bed with it.

The theory justifying paid parking, as I understand it, goes something like this. There are not enough parking spaces downtown to meet demand. Making matters worse, it is believed that downtown employees are parking in on-street spaces, even though they're limited to two hours, taking parking away from customers. It is alleged that employees keep moving their cars to avoid getting tickets. Charging for parking, it is said, will discourage employees from parking on downtown streets and encourage them to park in the free parking spots and lots on the periphery of the business district. This in turn will make it easier for customers to find parking, thus boosting business. Ya got all that?

Supposedly this six-month experiment will test the validity of the theory and provide data to help the city council decide whether or not to install meters all over downtown. I don't get how putting meters on only one street will accomplish that because anyone with any sense will just park on the other ten downtown streets where parking will still be free.

I don't even get the theory. I find it very hard to believe that restaurant and shop owners would let their employees abandon their posts for ten minutes at a time, three to four times a day every day, just to move their cars every couple of hours. Maybe a few tolerate it, but only a few. And where would they move their cars to? According to the theory, street parking is hard to find, so they could spend a lot of time looking instead of working. That does not compute.

Furthermore, business owners must be keenly aware that if employees are taking up spaces that customers need, then they'll lose business. Now tell me, how many shopkeepers will let their employees park on the street letting them drop everything to move their cars, when they know it's bad for business? Maybe there are a few. Maybe. That would account for the origins of the theory, but I hardly think they're the rule.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume employers and employees are parking on city streets within the business district. Will paid parking be good for business as it's proponents claim? They say paid parking will free up spaces, making it easier for customers to find parking, and thus bring more customers into town.

I agree it will free up parking spaces, but not for the reasons they think. It will free up spaces because many local people will stop shopping and dining in Carmel altogether and most of the rest will visit Carmel less often. There will be very few who won't change their shopping habits at all. Most people won't hassle with meters unless they absolutely have to, especially when they can park free at the mouth of Carmel Valley, Del Monte Center, and almost every other shopping area on the Monterey Peninsula.

To illustrate my point look at Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf, the only other areas of the Peninsula that charge for parking. Locals rarely go there. The vast majority of customers there are from out of town, so only touristy shops and restaurants can make it. Is that what Carmel wants? Paid parking has the potential to completely transform the town's economy, and not in a good way. It is therefore a path fraught with peril.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Herald Boo-Boo Watch parts 36 & 37

Honestly, is Herald management even aware that their guy covering Carmel doesn't know the territory? It has become painfully obvious that reporter Tom Leyde has never spent any significant time learning about the town, beyond what he's spoon-fed at city council meetings. I have documented numerous careless errors on his part, most recently in my November 7th Mental Note.

Today, in an article about the town's experiment with parking meters Leyde magically relocated the north Sunset Center parking lot from the corner of Mission and 8th to "Junipero Street between Third and Fifth avenues." That is more or less the location of the Vista Lobos parking lot (on 3rd between Junipero and Torres) which he didn't place anywhere.

At least he finally figured out that Carmel's numbered streets are "avenues" and not "streets."


Elsewhere in today's Herald the weekly "Bits 'N' Bytes" column was published in three different fonts. I've labeled the image below with numbers 1,2, & 3 indicating where each font starts. Number 1 is the standard Herald font. Number 2 is a tiny version of the same font, while 3 is a similar but slightly fatter font with greater spacing between letters. Who does this stuff?