June 25, 2011
Monterey Herald
Guest Commentary by Ron Weitzman

Like Lord Byron's "wolf on the fold," a lady and two gentlemen representing the local hospitality industry came down on me and on WaterPlus (Opinion page, June 21) in direct response to a June 5 Herald letter I wrote suggesting that Bob Brower had a conflict of interest because of his intimate ties to both the industry and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

The lady first. As an executive committee member of the Monterey County Hospitality Association, Brower strongly supports a Cal Am proposal to the Public Utilities Commission that it alter the local water rate structure to favor the hospitality industry over residential ratepayers. In her June 21 letter, Bonnie Adams, executive director of the Hospitality Association, claimed that this is not a conflict of interest and that a consultant hired by the district suggested the change. Other than Brower's dual affiliation, why did the district hire the consultant?

The proposed change involves both residential and non-residential water users. Currently, the lowest-tier users pay no more than 50 percent of the average residential rate. The proposal would remove this restriction.

Large non-residential water users like the hospitality industry would benefit most from the change.

It is like a seesaw. When the amount paid by non-residential users goes down, the amount paid by the lowest tier of residential users goes up. Surely Brower has a serious conflict of interest in his support of lower rates for his fellow hospitality industry members and higher rates for many of his district constituents.

Now the gentlemen. In their June 21 Herald commentary, John Narigi and Michael Zimmerman called WaterPlus "a misguided effort, based on erroneous assumptions and data, and is simply an unnecessary distraction from the community effort to comply with the cease and desist order" of the state Water Resources Control Board to limit the water that Cal Am has been taking from the Carmel River basin.

First, regarding the "misguided effort" and "unnecessary distraction," Narigi and Zimmerman say they are concerned about the cumulative impact of the cost of the Regional Desalination Project "and other rate increases currently under consideration," but they offer no way to reduce costs other than their divisive effort to moderate them for the benefit of their industry at the expense of conserving residential water users.

WaterPlus supports any cost-effective solution to the local water-supply problem, including desalination, but we are an advocacy group for all ratepayers, not just for a special-interest group of them. In its effort to have a public agency purchase Cal Am, only WaterPlus has proposed a way for all Peninsula ratepayers to control the cost of their water. So whose effort is misguided?

Regarding erroneous assumptions and data, all WaterPlus data come from the PUC and a professional appraisal that we have of Cal Am. We make few assumptions, which we carefully specify and which have minimal effect on our overall calculations all of which we meticulously spell out in our formal proposal to the district that it purchase Cal Am.

Narigi and Zimmerman should read this proposal, which can be found at waterplusmonterey.com. There, they will find that all ratepayers, including those in their industry, might expect to save more than 370 percent on their future water bills relative to their current ones if the owner of our local water utility were public rather than private. In contrast to that, they should ask themselves how much they expect to save if the PUC approves the divisive change in rate structure that they seek.

Every organization faced with the prospect of an uncontrolled, steeply rising cost of water on the Peninsula is doing the right thing in looking after its own interests Cal Am to make a profit, Marina Coast Water District to control the cost of desalinated water for its ratepayers, the hospitality industry to moderate its costs, and others. Everyone, that is, except the residential ratepayers, who should vigorously support the purchase of Cal Am by a public agency.

That is why a group of concerned ratepayers formed WaterPlus as a local ratepayer advocacy group. Without our efforts, the local residential ratepayer would just continue to be a docile cash cow vulnerable to predatory special-interest groups.

Ron Weitzman of Carmel is president of WaterPlus.

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