VIPs start to line up behind Cal
Published: March 1, 2013
CONGRESSMAN SAM Farr, a former
state assemblyman and a leading Monterey Peninsula
conservationist have announced their support for a water supply
plan from California American Water that includes a desalination
plant in Marina, provided Cal Am accepts some changes proposed
by local mayors.
In recent letters to the California Public Utilities
Commission, Farr and former State Assemblyman Fred Keeley backed
the position taken by six Peninsula mayors who said they would
endorse Cal Am’s desal proposal if the company alters the
project to make it more appealing to ratepayers. Monterey Bay
Aquarium head Julie Packard is also backing the plan.
“I believe the conditions the [mayors have] proposed for the
project go a long way toward building community consensus on an
issue that has long divided the Monterey Peninsula,” Farr wrote
in a Feb. 22 letter to CPUC President Michael Peevey.
Farr’s letter was attached to Feb. 22 testimony by Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett on behalf of the mayors — collectively known as the Monterey Peninsula Regional Water Authority — to the CPUC for consideration of Cal Am’s desal proposal. Burnett is vice president of the mayors group.
On Jan. 31, the mayors issued a position statement saying Cal
Am’s desal plant is the most likely of three proposals to be
built the quickest. But the mayors said Cal Am would need to
accept a large contribution in public funds, offer more public
oversight, limit the financial risk to customers, address
technical concerns and make other changes to the their plan in
order to gain their endorsement.
Cal Am has been receptive to the suggestions and is expected to
make a more detailed statement about the mayors’ position in
Burnett said Farr’s support of the mayors’ position is
important considering Farr represents all of Monterey County,
including the Salinas Valley, where farmers have raised concerns
about the impact of the Cal Am project on their water rights.
Perhaps more notable is the backing from former State
Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who in 1998 — when he represented
Monterey Bay — sponsored legislation to require the CPUC to
develop a viable alternative water project to the defunct Carmel
River Dam proposal. Desal was the option the CPUC proposed.
“It is my opinion that numerous past water supply proposals
have failed, at least in part,” Keeley wrote in a Feb. 20 letter
to Burnett, “because of the lack of united community support and
leadership for a specific project that is technically and
legally viable, cost effective and which affords meaningful
public participation and oversight.”
Keeley went on to say that the mayors group and its leadership may now “assist in achieving a successful project” as long as Cal Am meets the conditions set by the group.
Keeley’s support bodes well, Burnett said, because he was
influential early on in the Monterey Peninsula’s quest for an
alternative water supply to the Carmel River, the Peninsula’s
primary water source.
“I think the CPUC will take note because he is saying our
position is consistent with his original legislation, which is
the legislation the CPUC is following,” Burnett said.
The Monterey County Board of Supervisors, Monterey Peninsula
Water Management District and, the Coalition of Peninsula
Businesses also back the mayors’ position on Cal Am’s proposed
Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium,
sent a letter Feb. 19 to mayors group President Chuck Della Sala
saying the Aquarium supports the group’s position and that a
secure water supply is vital to the Aquarium’s mission as a
“Restrictions on water supply would severely decrease the
number of visitors we are able to serve,” Packard said. “If
hotels have to limit their room availability because of
insufficient water supplies, a majority of our visitors would be
less likely to visit.”
“The Aquarium has, of course, an interest in the community
finding a water solution but to do it in a way that protects the
marine environment,” said Burnett, Packard’s nephew.
In their position statement, the mayors support a desal
operation such as Cal Am’s proposal that uses wells to draw
source water from the ocean instead of open ocean intakes, which
are widely frowned upon for their negative environmental
Not everyone supportive
While Burnett and the mayors groups has been widely praised for
its efforts, Pacific Grove City Councilman Dan Miller contends
the group is ignoring other potentially viable projects.
In a council meeting last week — and in conversations with The
Pine Cone afterward — Miller had harsh words about the mayors’
and specifically Burnett’s role in the water issues.
“I do not any longer want to give money from the city of
Pacific Grove to what appears more and more to me is being used
as a grandstand for the mayor of Carmel,” Miller said.
Miller’s comments were made before the council voted 6-1 —
Miller dissenting — to continue to help finance the mayors’
water group with a $32,000 check.
Miller has long been critical of Cal Am and instead has
supported a competing desal project in Moss Landing proposed by
developer Nader Agha. Last year, the Pacific Grove City Council
voted 5-2 to be the public partner for Agha’s project.
“My belief is that Mr. Burnett is doing all of this and
ignoring [Agha’s] project because his city wasn’t at the
forefront of getting things done,” Miller told The Pine Cone,
referring to Pacific Grove’s backing of Agha’s project.
But Agha’s project has taken some bizarre turns. In December
2012, San Francisco Bay Area businessman Don Lew suddenly
announced at a council meeting he was taking over Agha’s project
and renaming it. Then, a financing deal between Lew and Agha
collapsed, and Lew is no longer involved.
While Burnett wouldn’t respond to Miller’s comments, he pointed
to the overwhelming support the mayors have received for their
“I think that level of consensus has not been seen in this
community for a generation,” Burnett said, “and it’s that
consensus we need to move a water project forward.”