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Desal Democracy

altSANTA CRUZ > Former mayors rally for vote on water options

About 40 desalination plant critics gathered on West Cliff Drive on Saturday, April 7 to demand the right to vote on the proposed project. Santa Cruz Water Department officials estimate the plant will cost between $70 and $140 million, which will be largely financed by bonds. Right To Vote On Desalination (RTOVD) spokesperson Paul Gratz says that local residents should have the right to vote any time tax dollars are used to construct or maintain the plant.

If voters approve funding for the construction, however, that could be perceived as a mandate to spend future funds for maintenance and expansion of the plant’s production, which is currently estimated to be 25 million gallons of water per day starting as soon as 2016.

“The right to vote will apply to the financing [of construction] and if the plant is expanded,” Gratz says. “If the voters should pass it, it follows that they have OK’d financing for future operations and maintenance.”

Rick Longinotti, the founder of Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, was master of ceremonies and introduced five former Santa Cruz mayors and Gary Patton, who served on the County Board Of Supervisors from 1975-1995. They spoke from the cliffs above Mitchell’s Cove before the crowd marched to the site of proposed plant. Patton said that residents can not just vote leaders into power and then stop holding them accountable for decisions they make.

“Our democratic society isn’t just about electing people to run our lives for us,” Patton said. “It’s also about us engaging in the conversations and decisions that lead up to the actions that define what kind of world we are building for the future.”

Patton spoke about a plan by local officials to build a convention center and hotel on Lighthouse Field in 1974. He ran for office on a platform of “slow growth,” largely inspired by his opposition to the hotel plan. During his 20 years as a supervisor this philosophy reigned supreme throughout the county and its four cities.

But since the ’90s, the tone of the city council has shifted with more pro-business leaders, former mayor Chris Krohn says. In 2011, streamlining the business permitting process and a study of how to increase retail activity were priorities of the council. Supporters of the desalination plant have said that future economic development could stall without water supply options that guard against droughts and population growth.

Krohn says that a long view should be taken when considering moves to boost growth that could affect the small city feel and natural environment here.

“It’s as much about what is not built on the coast that makes us who we are,” he said to the crowd of about 40 people. ”Why it doesn’t look like Miami Beach here.”

For the desalination vote to be a truly democratic exercise, Krohn wants to see other options put forward to voters, rather than simply a decision between desalination or water shortages. He says that the city subsidizing water saving appliances for homes and loans for installing drought resistant landscaping should be on the table.

“I think people would turn out in droves for something like that,” says Krohn. “If you are going to talk about $140 million dollars, you should look at what you can do with $10 million.”

He is also concerned that he doesn’t see a new generation of conservation-minded candidates rising to the task of holding public office.

“I’d love to see a college student or someone who has recently graduated run [for council],” he says.

No current city councilmembers or county supervisors attended the rally.
 

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