cemex plant davenport california
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CEMEX’s Strange Behavior Means Uncertainty for Davenport

With the multi-billion dollar profits, Mexican company dodges paying for water repairs, this week in briefs

Since CEMEX shuttered its Davenport plant, county spokesperson Jason Hoppin says the company's been "like an absentee landlord."

As county public works employees scramble to repair CEMEX’s broken water line, Davenport residents are hoping the water keeps flowing. The snafu forced the Davenport Sanitation District—and the 100 households it counts as customers—to switch from San Vicente Creek, its normal source, to nearby Mill Creek.

“We expect, and we hope, that the lines will be repaired before Mill Creek runs out and before water has to be trucked in,” says District 1 County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.

CEMEX, a multibillion-dollar company, is trying to avoid footing the estimated $220,000 bill, and the county legally isn’t allowed to cover the cost, prompting concern that the expense could eventually fall to the people of Davenport, a federally recognized low-income community home to many farmworkers and retirees. Paying nearly $4,000 a year, they already have some of the highest water and sanitation bills in the state.

Coonerty won’t say if county staff are pursuing legal action, but stresses they’ll “use every avenue” they can.

Andy Schiffrin, an analyst for Coonerty, says the situation’s a little complicated because, technically, it isn’t 100 percent clear who owns the pipe infrastructure—or the water rights, for that matter—and is therefore responsible for the problem. The odd thing, though, is that CEMEX claims to own both, and has been trying to sell those rights for millions of dollars. If the district owned the infrastructure, it could have gotten FEMA money for the repairs, since the breaks happened during this winter’s torrential storms, says Schiffrin, a former Santa Cruz water commissioner. “Normally the water purveyor has the rights to the water and owns the infrastructure, so this is an unusual situation,” he says.

Another looming question is what to make of CEMEX’s complicated relationship with Davenport, which formed at the same time as the plant more than 100 years ago. The plant changed hands a few times, but 30-year resident Ann Parker remembers the thick, soot-like grey dust—coating her car, roof and clothesline. She recalls the chromium 6 scare and the constant noise, too, from the factory and trucks. “When they backed up, they would go, ‘beep, beep, beep.’ They were running all over the place,” she says.

But CEMEX also made generous donations every year to Davenport’s Pacific Elementary, and it still leases land for the town’s fire station at $1 a year. County Fire Chief Ian Larkin says his department’s always had “a great relationship” with the Mexico-based company.

More recently, though, CEMEX was at the center of controversy locally for its reluctance to comply with a Coastal Commission order to halt unpermitted sand mining near Marina—the last coastal mine in the state. It finally reached an agreement last month to wrap that up in three years.

In Davenport these days, they’ve almost become “an absentee landlord,” says county spokesperson Jason Hoppin. Still, the county’s economic development leaders are studying options to reuse the site—a pivot that would presumably involve CEMEX selling its land. Multi-year partnerships and collaborations created a reliable working relationship.

What will it mean for future efforts if the foundation comes crumbling down? JACOB PIERCE


GATHER ROUND

Who says summer camp is just for kids?

A new series of workshops tackling issues like militarization, racism and poverty is targeting anyone and everyone, ages 15 and up. Militarism may not seem like any everyday issue for some people, but Drew Glover, programs coordinator for the Resource Center for Nonviolence, believes local law enforcement has shown signs trending toward increased militarization—like when Santa Cruz Police participated in a Department of Homeland Security raid in February, with officers showing up in armored vehicles and busting down doors, as flash bangs went off and a helicopter circled the skies.

Glover, who plans on running for Santa Cruz City Council again in 2018, says sometimes the best way for anyone who feels disenfranchised to take action is through nonviolent protest. Summer Nonviolence Camp runs from July 27-31, and Glover says 20 spots are still available. It isn’t so much an outdoor experience as a crash course in social justice. CALVIN MEN

Visit RCVN.org for more information. 

 

News Editor at |

Jacob, the news editor at Good Times, won the 2014 award for best local government coverage from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. A longtime basketball and football fanatic, Jacob has evolved into a shameless fair weather fan and band wagoner for hot West Coast sports teams. He also enjoys arguing with others about where to find the best burrito in town.

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