SANTA CRUZ > The eight candidates for Santa Cruz City Council sat on a panel on Thursday evening, Oct. 4, at the Louden Nelson Community Center while moderator Rick Longinotti grilled them about their stances on the proposed desalination plant.
Longinotti, a spokesman for “Yes on Measure P” and advocate for alternatives to desalination in Santa Cruz, questioned each of the candidates regarding their positions on desalination. At one point, tensions ran high and one candidate—Richelle Naroyan—abruptly departed the forum saying she was uncomfortable with the format of the meeting. Mayor Don Lane, who is among the candidates, also spoke out, saying the format frustrated him due to the amount of time the moderator took to speak against desalination, while candidates were given no more than two minutes to respond.
On the desalination proposal, candidates Cynthia Mathews, Lane and Naroyan believe desalination is the right way to go in order to provide the city with water security in the case of drought. Jake Fusari and Micah Posner spoke about their reservations and endorsed Measure P, which aims to give people the option to vote on building the desalination plant.
Fellow candidates Steve Pleich, Cece Pinheiro and Pamela Comstock also endorsed Measure P and focused their talking points not so much on the issue of desalination, but on giving voters the opportunity to make the decision. Comstock was clear that she felt she did not have enough background knowledge on the issues concerning desalination and said the forum would be a learning opportunity for her.
Those candidates who endorse Measure P also said they would fund alternative water resources before the final decision on desalination is made, so as not to put all their eggs in one basket.
The Environmental Impact Report for the plant has not been published yet, and the candidates who are hesitant about desalination all spoke about needing to review EIR when it becomes available.
Pleich talked about continuing his research on the potential of waste water recycling and also about strengthening the city’s partnership with UC Santa Cruz. There has been a good deal of stress over water-sharing deals between the university and the city.
Mathews spoke about problems with the alternatives to a desalination plant and the politics surrounding its opposition, but said she could make a more definite decision on desalination when the EIR report is released.
She anticipates there being many pros and cons to the desalination option.
She also talked about moderate restrictions on the use of water resources and “massive curtailments during a drought.”
Fusari said he was concerned about desalination from an environmental and financial perspective.
“I want to explore every alternative before we move forward with this,” he said. “You always need to have something to fall back on.”
Posner said he opposed desalination. He talked about his commitment to the environment and about preventingSanta Cruzfrom producing more green house gases. He said he is concerned about the amount of energy a desalination plant will consume and that he does not believe voters will pass the project. He supports researching grey water as an alternative resource and raising the price of city water to fund work on alternatives.
Naroyan talked about her concerns for Santa Cruz if a drought were to happen and that failing to have an alternative water source—like desalination—could be a disaster.
“I wish we weren’t talking about desalination,” she said. “I wish it weren’t an issue, but we do need to deal with it.”
At one point, after Naroyan finished responding to a question, Longinotti paused the forum to correct statements Naroyan had made.
“I didn’t know we had a debate going on here,” Naroyan replied.
Longinotti said he hoped it was a dialogue. She said she felt like she was being debated and that she needed to leave. And then she left the building.
Lane said a desalination plant could very well be the most reasonable source of water security for Santa Cruz but that he will scrutinize all proposals for alternative sources. He does not support Measure P.
After Lane expressed his disappointment about the format of the forum, he invited the audience to another forum in which he would take 30 minutes to talk about why voters should be open to a desalination plant and then provide Longinotti with only two minutes to respond.
Longinotti responded that he feels the same frustrations when he attends city council meetings.
In response to a question about polling the community on whether they would prefer to make cutbacks in their water consumption or pay for a desalination plant, Lane proposed designating a whole year for a trial, to see if people can cut back 35 percent on water use.
“If we succeed [in cutting back], and people are comfortable with that, then we don’t need desal,” Lane said. “But I don’t think it’s adequate to just ask people in a poll. People will always say they’re willing to cut back. Let’s see if we really can.”