It might be an overstatement to say Santa Cruz's desalination discussion has been blown out of the water, but it definitely just changed. Mayor Don Lane and City Councilmember David Terrazas have announced they will propose an ordinance at the next city council meeting that would put a desal plant to a vote sooner rather than later. The two released a statement today announcing their intentions.
The move comes just weeks after anti-desalination group Desal Alternatives announced its own plan to put desal to a vote in hopes of stonewalling it, as reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It looks like Terrazas and Lane will acknowledge at the Feb. 28 meeting that there is intense community divide on this issue. But their statement goes beyond that. It refers to "a flawed ballot measure" put forth by activists.
A draft environmental impact report on the proposed Westside plant, which will likely cost over $100 milllion, is due out in April.
Terrazas and Lane's statement is below:
A flawed ballot measure has been put forward by desal opponents which does not offer a timely opportunity for democratic decision-making to address our community’s water needs. Unfortunately, that measure unintentionally would create an expensive delay in community decision making and would lead to greater uncertainty in our water planning process.
This new ordinance, should it pass at the February 28, 2012 City Council meeting, would provide a simpler and more straightforward way to ensure a democratic decision about water and desalination.
This new proposal would provide a fair and timely ballot choice to Santa Cruz City voters by:
- requiring the Santa Cruz City Council to obtain voter approval for the City to participate in the construction of a desalination facility;
- structuring the ordinance to allow for a citizen vote as soon as practicable rather than unnecessarily delaying the people’s vote on water issues for an extra year or even more;
- saving the community money in terms of duplicative election costs and in terms of project costs that increase with long delays;
- ensuring that the ballot measure is neutral on the issues, in contrast to the competing ballot measure, which contains questionable assumptions and biased rhetoric;- ensure the vote comes after completion of the Environmental Impact Report (likely in the first half of 2013).
In anticipation of concerns that a city ordinance could be undone and deny voters their right to weigh in, Lane explained the strength of the ordinance’s commitment: “Once adopted, if the City Council ever moved to repeal it, a single voter could file a simple referendum petition and suspend that repeal. That relatively simple filing action would keep the ordinance in place until the people had a chance to decide. The voters would still have the final word.”
Terrazas added: “There is strong community consensus for a public vote on this issue and the question will ultimately be going to the voters one way or another. Let’s provide this opportunity now – to guide our current decision making and to help shape the substantive discussion and decisions required to meet our long-term water needs.”