The desalination plant sites proposed for the Santa Cruz project.

Call it another, smaller victory for opponents of the $120-plus million desal plant project in Santa Cruz, in the wake of Measure P's success. The Santa Cruz City Council voted last week to approve some—but not all—of the $390,000 the water department requested for the project’s next steps.

Water director Bill Kocher had requested the money to finish the plant’s environmental impact report and community outreach on desalination’s behalf, but some councilmembers had reservations.

“I just have some concerns about spending some of that money upfront without understanding why we need to,” vice mayor Hilary Bryant told Kocher.

Council agreed to cover costs for the EIR’s first draft, which is expected this spring—about a year and a half after the report’s original due date. But they also voted unanimously not to approve the outreach spending to inform the public about the plant. Council’s decision sends the revised item back to the Soquel Creek Water Board and to the Desal Task Force, both of which had already approved the funding the first time around. Logically, cost estimates will now go down.

 

But before the item was finished at the Nov. 27 council meeting, there was a second ripple in the discussion. Councilmember Ryan Coonerty wanted the funding to go into effect as soon as the other two groups approve the revised plan, so as to not slow down the EIR. But Councilmember Katherine Beiers asked that the item be brought back to the council with new financial estimates for another vote before the money can be spent—something the majority supported.

So far, council has approved over $5 million dollars in city money to study the controversial desal plant. Once the several-hundred-page EIR is finished, people will have a couple of months to send comments, all (yes, all) of which the city staff will have to respond to. That will take time.

“I don’t know if this is going to be the last extension of this contract,” Kocher said.