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Posts Tagged ‘Carl DeMaio’

Committee on Natural Resources and Culture stalls over action plan

Posted by George J Janczyn on February 3, 2011

The first meeting of the reconstituted San Diego City Council Committee on Natural Resources and Culture (NR&C) was held Wednesday February 2. The committee reorganized after last November’s election that brought in two new members to replace outgoing councilmembers.

David Alvarez, Chair, is taking the place of Donna Frye who termed out of her council position. Lorie Zapf is getting Marti Emerald’s seat (Emerald is still a Councilmember but received different committee assignments for this year). Carl DeMaio remains the Vice Chair and Sherri Lightner continues with her membership.

The NR&C Committee’s area of responsibility includes Clean Water Program, Energy, Water, State and Federal Endangered Species Acts, Arts and Culture, TOT, Solid Waste Disposal, Recycling, APCD/Air Quality, Hazardous Waste, MSCP, and Regional Parks and Open Space. I follow the Committee’s doings because it is deeply involved in operations of the Public Utilities Department and especially with water.

Last December, Council President Anthony Young sent out a memo asking committee chairs to submit a 90-day action plan for their respective committees.

David Alvarez responded for NR&C on December 30, indicating that he was soliciting input from colleagues on the Council, the Mayor’s Office, City staff, and other stakeholders and hoped to have it ready by the end of January. He also stated that his own initial three priorities were: 1) Promoting water conservation; 2) Flood protection and environmental preservation; 3) Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Wednesday’s agenda included the 90-day action plan as a discussion item.

For this meeting I thought the committee members would talk about feedback Alvarez had gotten from the various stakeholders mentioned in his memo, then discuss their own priorities and negotiate a final 90-day action plan for the committee. That’s not what happened, though.

While they were working on the last agenda item before the action plan, Carl DeMaio slipped out of his chair, exited the room, and never returned.

I don’t know if Alvarez had other plans and changed because of DeMaio’s absence, but he asked Lightner and Zapf only to mention highlights from their memorandums, and then he had a few comments about his items. That was it. No discussion. No debate. No action plan. In effect, that made everything a priority.

There are plenty of water-related issues in those memorandums. If you examine them, you’ll find there’s a great deal there, perhaps even too much for a 90-day plan.

Lightner wants to completely overhaul obsolete and conflicting water policies and to develop a comprehensive policy for a sustainable water supply in San Diego. Her ideas alone could take six months to plan and prioritize. Carl DeMaio is crusading to reform financial management of the Public Utilities Department and for lower water rates (it will be interesting to see how he balances Council work against his 2012 mayoral campaign). Alvarez has water conservation and flood control concerns along with Zapf.

Nobody mentioned planning a future for indirect potable reuse after completion of the Water Purification Demonstration Project, although Lightner mentions IPR in a generic sense. It’s only a one-year project and I hope more advance planning is done not only for the subsequent production phase but for possibly wider application of IPR beyond that.

An action plan should be fairly specific about things to do. A priority such as “Promoting Water Conservation” needs to be translated into concrete steps. As things now stand, the committee has a collection of memorandums with numerous ideas all competing for attention. It will be difficult for the committee to focus on a selection of them, especially with complex and sometimes mundane demands from a never-ending workflow of projects and requests from the Public Utilities Department.

Aside from the planning deficit and despite the loss of knowledge and experience that Donna Frye and Marti Emerald contributed, I think the committee shows promise.

In his role as Chair, Alvarez performed competently and cordially, the committee members were otherwise well-prepared for some difficult and complex agenda items, and they seem to get along with each other. So despite the committee lagging on a coordinated action plan for important water issues, I’m hopeful that in the coming weeks and months they’ll be able to regroup, organize their ideas, and implement their plans successfully.

 

Posted in Environment, Natural Resources and Culture Committee, Water | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

San Diego water rates to go up in March

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 14, 2010

By now, just about all San Diego city residents should have received a notice of public hearing to be held on January 24, 2011 to discuss a requested water rate increase. The increase is needed to cover the new price of water charged by the San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA) — the imported water wholesaler supplying the City of San Diego and 23 other member water agencies in the county.

Although SDCWA’s price increase to its member agencies takes effect January 1, 2011, the City’s proposed rate increase would not begin until March 1, so there will be a few months where water rate revenues will be out of sync with what the City has to pay for water. The San Diego Public Utilities Department (PUD) believes it can absorb the difference for a few months, but if the March 1 increase does not take effect, something will have to give.

Many water agencies throughout the county have already approved rate increases for the same reason. In addition, some of them have taken the opportunity to bundle in additional operations and maintenance costs into their rate increases, so they are doing more than simply passing along the increased price of water.

San Diegans are not being asked for those extras. The higher price of the water itself is the only thing residents are being asked to pay for. For single-family residences — the majority of San Diego water customers — the increase will amount to about $0.47 per month. [late clarification: that amount pertains only to the increase in the base fee. The overall increase in the bill can be $3.41 for for up to 14HCF of use — see comments]

San Diego is in the middle of the pack. From the 2006 Water Cost of Service Rate Study

Practically speaking, it looks pretty straightforward and non-controversial. But politically there are complications.

For one thing, it is already known that SDCWA will increase the wholesale price of water again in 2012, so San Diego residents will again be asked to approve a “pass-through” rate increase next year.

For another, the City will eventually need to expand its water capital improvement program (to replace overaged water mains, etc.) and cover other higher costs.

The Public Utilities Department has been engaged in longer-term thinking about the water rate structure and the Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC) has been monitoring developments and giving feedback on that topic.

To that issue, yesterday the IROC held a special workshop — a presentation from PUD on the framework for the rate setting process. The nearly two-hour presentation by PUD Assistant Director Alex Ruiz went into detail about the many complex issues involved in designing rates. To list a few of the rate drivers: operations and maintenance; pumps, plants, and pipes; bond coverage requirements; rate affordability; current economy; pensions; trust/transparency; taxes; CIP financing; regulations.

The current rate structure was last overhauled via a four-year capital improvement program in 2007. The 2007 program was based on the San Diego Water Cost of Service Rate Study completed in 2006. FY 2011 is the final year for that program and PUD is now gathering information for a new rate review, with a new cost of service study expected to begin in FY 2012.

Mr. Ruiz also briefly characterized ongoing staff discussions about a future revision to the rate structure possibly incorporating some of the techniques used by the Irvine Ranch Water District for taking household needs into account in a rate structure that encourages conservation and penalizes waste.

Meanwhile, City Councilmember Carl DeMaio is campaigning against the increase by introducing tangental arguments that, especially in the City’s current economic malaise, tend to generate emotional responses. Based on a “white paper” he delivered in September, DeMaio makes charges of “empty promises” and “out of control labor costs” and that “flaws and weaknesses” in PUD’s management and the overall rate structure have not been addressed and therefore (as punishment, I guess) this pass-through increase should not be approved until those issues are addressed.

(Incidentally, while observing the IROC workshop I got to wondering if Mr. DeMaio ever attends IROC meetings. IROC’s administrative support person Monica Foster wasn’t sure how many times, but committee member Gail Welch recalled that did he come to one meeting long enough to inform the committee of his priorities as a councilmember.)

Ultimately, the whole rate structure issue can appear to boil down to this dynamic between costs and rates: on the one hand you can total the costs and then calculate what rates should be to pay for them; or you can determine what ratepayers can afford to pay and then decide which costs can be funded with that amount. Somewhere in that mix is the answer.

The immediate rate increase bypasses those difficult issues for the time being. Carl DeMaio’s diversions notwithstanding, the question is simply whether we’re willing to cover the commodity cost of water that the City has to pay SDCWA.

For further information, here’s a report by the San Diego Independent Budget Analyst (see also the City Auditor’s review of calculations used for the proposed increase).

 

Posted in Independent Rates Oversight Committee (IROC), San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA), Water, Water rates | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Which San Diego politicians really support water recycling?

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 1, 2010

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders just yesterday announced a new recycled water hookup with Canyonside Park for landscaping irrigation (see video of announcement).

In his speech, Mayor Sanders proclaimed “Finding more uses for recycled water is an important way to maximize resources.”

Councilmember Sherri Lightner also spoke, saying “I have always and will continue to support the expansion of recycled water in San Diego as a smart reuse of water and as a water conservation measure.”

Was this really a sign of wholehearted support for water reuse, or was it just lip service?

That item should hardly be making the news. It belatedly brings the City a little closer to compliance with a 1989 City ordinance mandating the widespread use of recycled water. It’s a good, but modest project using only 13 million gallons of recycled water per year.

On the other hand, a few Councilmembers (probably with the Mayor’s secret blessings) actively resist implementation of a water reuse project that could produce an additional 16 million gallons of potable water per day, a project that was approved by the full Council years ago.

Quick history:

  • On October 29, 2007, after considerable debate and public discussion, the City Council voted to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Demonstration Project.
  • On November 14, 2007, Mayor Sanders vetoed the resolution.
  • On December 3, 2007, the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto and directed him to develop a plan to begin the potable reuse demonstration project by July 2008.
  • On November 18, 2008, the City Council approved a temporary water rate increase to fully fund the Demonstration Project.
  • In May 2009, the Public Utilities Department issued a Request for Proposals for Project Management and Public Outreach for the project.
  • On Jan. 26, 2010, the San Diego City Council directed the Mayor to execute “an Agreement between the City of San Diego and RMC Water and Environment, to perform the Project Management and Public Outreach for the Demonstration Project.

In summary: the City got so far as to approve the Indirect Potable Reuse Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (aka Water Purification Demonstration Project), then approved a contract for project management and public outreach, and the next step was to approve a contract to build the facility to treat the water. How did that go?

Two weeks ago, at the June 16 Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting, the contract to build the facility was blocked from going to the full Council because Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio still had objections to the basic premise of the project and they forced a continuation of the matter saying they needed answers to more questions.

Today, the Natural Resources and Culture Committee held a special followup meeting to address those questions.

Lightner, for all her earlier interest in continuing the matter so that her questions could be answered, didn’t even show up for the meeting. That left DeMaio. Marti Emerald quickly made the motion to recommend council approval (Donna Frye obviously would vote yes). DeMaio didn’t bother asking questions and only reiterated that he remains steadfastly opposed to the project and would not vote for the committee to recommend approval of the contract. So the vote was taken and that’s how the matter will be sent to the Council.

We’re obviously dealing with foot-dragging by disgruntled politicians intent on hindering an already-approved project.

Please, it’s time to move on.

 

Posted in Environment, Politics, Water, Water Purification Demonstration Project | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Diego’s IPR water treatment facility sidetracked by DeMaio and Lightner

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 16, 2010

Councilmembers Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio took advantage of councilmember Marti Emerald’s absence at today’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee meeting and threw a wrench into the gears of San Diego’s Indirect Potable Reuse/Reservoir Augmentation Demonstration Project (IPR Project).

The IPR Project is a City Council-approved study seeking to determine whether the Indirect Potable Reuse process can be used to give San Diego an additional high-quality and reliable source of drinking water.

Months ago, the City Council approved a contract for project management for the IPR project. The next step in the project was to identify who would construct the advanced water treatment facility required for the project. The San Diego Water Department put that out to bid in February, evaluated the candidates, and in April made a selection.

A contract for the new treatment facility was on the agenda for today’s committee meeting (I wrote a preview about it on Monday). It was on the agenda as a routine informational consent item that would be sent to the City Council for approval. Marsi Steirer, Deputy Director of the Water Department (morphing into Assistant Director of the Public Utilities Department under a reorganization), was on hand to answer questions.

When Donna Frye, chairing, summarized the agenda for the day, Sherri Lightner announced she wanted to pull the item from the consent agenda because she wanted to ask questions. Shortly, she had her chance.

“What’s the difference between this facility and the one they have in Orange County?” she asked. Answer: no real difference, the same technology is used.

“Then why do we need a study if we already have that information from their facility?” Answer: because Orange County is augmenting groundwater supplies while San Diego would be augmenting reservoir water, and because the source water for San Diego’s project is from reclaimed tertiary water while the source for Orange County is from secondary treatment water. Also because of regulatory requirements.

Lightner didn’t seem to care for these answers and said she doesn’t see why we can’t partner with Orange County and have some kind of cooperative venture with them and that she’d like to see more “philosophical” background information on how that might be accomplished.

At this point, Carl DeMaio made a motion…for a continuance. When pressed to say what for, he indicated that he thinks this project needs more examination, and besides, he thought Marti Emerald really should have the opportunity to vote!

Continuing, Frye allowed that the committee would hear the people who had signed up for public comment. Obviously they had planned their comments without suspecting this untoward development, so they had to think on their feet quickly. They all opted to address DeMaio’s motion to suppress (er, continue).

Jill Witkowski and Bruce Reznik from San Diego Coastkeeper, Jim Peugh from the San Diego Audubon Society, Marco Gonzalez from the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, Angelika Villagrana from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Cary Lowe from the San Diego River Park Foundation, Amy Harris from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, all took turns standing before the committee to plead for them not to use a continuance to impede the project.

Lightner seemed quite annoyed by the comments and at one point indignantly asked the chair, “are they actually commenting on the motion to continue?” To which Frye replied, “It sure seems like it to me. Try listening to their words.” (or something like that). Lightner obviously wasn’t pleased having the public enter the debate on the motion!

The pleas were unheeded, however, and when Frye called the vote, she was alone in voting against a continuance.

So there you have it. Even though the IPR project was vetted and approved by the City Council, DeMaio and Lightner have decided to question the premise of the project just as it’s getting under way, with questions that sound like they’re from someone who is hearing about it for the first time. Further, the stalling technique employed with Marti Emerald conveniently absent seems like immature politics, not the behavior of one with a sincere desire for understanding. Such questions, if genuine, could and should have been asked when the overall project approval was being discussed.

I don’t know if the committee will meet in July; if not, it could be August before the matter can even be sent to the full Council.

I wonder if DeMaio and Lightner will come to understand that this is not a useful way to handle taxpayer time and money. I have a feeling this would not have happened if Marti Emerald had been present.

 

Posted in Natural Resources and Culture Committee, Politics, Water | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »