January 17, 2015  
Monterey Herald, Monterey, California

Guest Commentary

Ratepayers are shouldering the burden

By Bill Hood

Over the past few years, numerous commentaries/letters published in Peninsula newspapers, including some of my own, have provided a wide range of perspectives on the area's continuing water supply dilemma. I now believe that, no matter by whom or how well written, these communications don't gain any real traction.

Perhaps it's because the issue is very complex, tied up as it is with meteorology, hydrogeology, a complicated water rights environment, special interests and, of course, politics. Add the fact that many contributors fail to recognize their messages are lost in a maze of data, references, their version of history, and so on.

So, if I am to write yet one more commentary on water, I need a new tack one that I hope everybody can understand no historical details, no data, just the bottom line.

Consider:

1. Has Cal Am suffered from its well-known failures and even negligence? No, it has never suffered, thanks to the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC). As a result, they have little, if any, motivation to change course in any way. Who, then, does suffer? Ratepayers.

2. Politicians on the Peninsula and county have abdicated their leadership roles by failing to take a stand to protect the interest of their constituents. Who suffers? Ratepayers.

3, The PUC has routinely approved Cal Am's rate increase applications, even when the facts and hearing records don't support it. Who suffers? Ratepayers, big time.

4. Have politicians suffered if they supported Cal Am instead of the best interests of their constituents? With few exceptions, no. All of the mayors who have supported Cal Am that ran for re-election, won. Who suffers? Ratepayers.

5. Can any of the various water agencies in the county point to significant positive results in solving the water crisis? No. Look at the failed Regional Desal Project, the low "money spent/results obtained" ratio of the mayors' JPA, and the water district and county water agency who talk a lot. So who suffers? Ratepayers and taxpayers as well.

Given all of the above, the following conclusion follows and indicts all of the above: Cal Am will not meet the 2017 cease-and-desist order (CDO) to get off the Carmel River. The politicians' focus has not been on forcing Cal Am to meet the deadline, but rather to seek modification of the order. The modification currently discussed would only reduce the extent of Cal Am's violation. Therefore, who benefits? Cal Am. Who suffers? Ratepayers, particularly if the PUC allows Cal Am to recover fines levied because of its violation of the order. The process for that to happen is already in existence.

Cal Am and all others involved (read individual politicians and their respective government entities) are the ones who should also suffer, not the ratepayers.

Therefore, all concerned ratepayers and constituents should come together to work for the following result:

1. The CDO should not be modified or rescinded. Cal Am should be forced to accumulate and pay maximum daily fines for as long as they are in violation.

2. The PUC must be directed, from all levels of state and local government, to disapprove and disallow any or all accounts from which Cal Am could recover such costs/fines from ratepayers.

3. All elected officials who refuse to stand up when circumstances require for their ratepayers, should be targeted for defeat at the polls, or even recall.

Such a result would, for a change, direct the suffering to those who caused it.

Bill Hood is the former executive director of AMBAG. He lives in Carmel.

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