Anti-desal activist Rick Longinotti had a lot to be happy about on Nov. 6.

Anti-desal activist Rick Longinotti had a lot to be happy about on Nov. 6.

Activist Rick Longinotti had a lot to smile about on election night at the Measure P party, held at the De Anza mobile home park.
His friend Micah Posner was about to secure a city council seat, and Measure P, Longinotti’s Right to Vote on Desal measure, had won by a convincing majority—72 percent. The measure, which was basically the same as a city ordinance passed last February, says leaders must take their controversial desalination to voters before breaking ground on the controversial $120 million-plus plant.
As the vote tally grew, so did the ambition of the anti-desal camp. 
Earlier in the evening, Right to Vote treasurer Mathilde Rand had characterized voters’ statement in passing Measure P as “We just want the right to vote.” But as it became clear it was obviously a landslide, Longinotti said “This changes everything.” 
“City council will know they can’t win a vote on desalination,” he said. 
Three days later, Longinotti reiterated his confidence in a mass email: “Since 71% of the voters in Santa Cruz passed Measure P, the prospect of voters ultimately approving a desal project seems iffy,” he wrote.
Desal supporters say that’s just typical posturing by the wining side. “It’s pretty common after the election to interpret everyone else’s vote in their own interest,” says Mayor Don Lane, a supporter of the proposed desalination plant. Lane proposed the separate city ordinance, which also guarantees an election on the plant, possibly as soon as June 2014. “I think it’s normal post-election commentary.”
But he could be underestimating his adversaries on this issue. Longinotti told the Weekly he doesn’t think the city councilmembers who will be up for reelection—Hilary Bryant and David Terrazas—can run in 2014 without opposing the proposed plant. Neither Bryant nor Terrazas know if they’ll run, but they deny that the Measure P results will fundamentally alter the shape of the race.
“Every time you’re running for office, there are so many issues. That’s going to be one of many,” Bryant says, adding that there are still a developments looming.
“There’s going to be a lot that’s going to happen between then and now, and that makes knowing impossible,” she says.
One thing everyone is waiting for is the plant’s environmental impact report’s first draft, which was originally due in September 2011, but has been delayed three times. Over the summer, desal program coordinator Heidi Luckenbach hoped it would come before Christmas, but now she says staff is aiming for March 2013. “We have a lot to do, however, between now and then. And with the holidays, this may slip another month,” Luckenbach wrote in an email.
The costs, both environmental and financial, might be unknown, but Lane says it wouldn’t be responsible for city leaders to abandon plans for desal now.
“People have said they want to make the decision,” Lane says. “So I think it’s important the city to give them as much information as possible on those choices.”
Longinotti, though, says it’s time for city council to start focusing on plan B, just in case voters don’t approve the plant. To Longinotti, “Plan B” means putting city resources into possible water swapping with Soquel Creek Water District, an option currently being studied by the county. It means increased conservation. And it means creating a water-neutral growth policy, like the one Soquel Creek Water District has—something that could have ramifications for UCSC and the tourism industry if done in Santa Cruz. 
Longinotti worked hard to help water customers earn their shot at democracy, but now he says a vote isn’t his first choice.
“My personal feeling is I hope it doesn’t come to an election on desal,” Longinotti says, “because I think that the city has an opportunity now to work with these neighboring districts, to initiate pricing systems that encourage conservation and to initiate a water-neutral development program.”
  • Mark Stephens

    Longinotti might be conflating voters’ support for their right to vote on the issue with their support for his ill-conceived ideas about water swapping and other measures. Indeed, many in the anti-desalination camp appear to not understand the combination of factors that are likely to lead Santa Cruz Water District customers to vote in favor of the environmentally sensible and responsible once presented with all the facts, including:

    - California Department of Water Resources and Cal Fish and Game are requiring increased flows in the San Lorenzo River in order to improve native salmon habitat, which makes water swapping untenable and creates greater supply issues;

    - Santa Cruz has gone further than any other area in California with conservation, which means there is little more than can be reasonably done on conservation short of severe water rationing and price incentives that will disproportionately hurt low income families;

    - Most Santa Cruzans have voted many times to support both ecological and economic concerns and are likely to do so on this issue when the economic impacts of drought or water rationing are brought to light.

    Longinotti’s feeling that voters’ approval of Measure P should hopefully dissuade the City Council from moving forward in putting the issue to the voters is a curious contradiction given his earlier insistence in having it on the ballot.

    Of course all of this is getting a bit premature given that we’ve yet to see the EIR!

  • Bill Smallman

    The Desalination plant was ill-conceived.  It wasted about 14 million on plans that will not be used.  The City pollutes the bay with 4 times the amount of water of desal, which could be recycled at less cost and energy. Instead, it pollutes the bay 24/7. It could easily be piped in a 24” pipeline down the railroad corridor and pay for a bike path.  The Desal plant only for drought and Soquel WD right?  So, how can anyone argue that it will restore the fish habitat?  The only real way, which should of been done years ago, is pump water during large storm flows fill large storage reservoirs which will provide water during the dry months, recharge the groundwater basin and provide recreational areas.  Conservation and neutral growth is what the majority wants.  I think we owe Rick a huge thank you for his “conflation”.  The pro desal, pro growth crowd are going to use fear of drought and useless data from their EIR plan to persuade voters for desal. Do not be fooled, and take a look at and support the alternate plans.

  • Bill Smallman

    Andy,  I’m aware of the 20,000 ac.ft. Zayante Reservoir which was proposed in the 70’s and ruined a long stretch of fish habitat.  However there are several sites today where reservoirs could be built with little environmental impact.  The environmental benefits of having reservoirs, vs. dry month water collection, is something which will win over “enviro” support IMO.  The Hanson and Olympia sand quarries, (5000 ac ft each), are perfect candidates.  There are several other sites.  On reclaimed water, South County can use up this water easily, and with a pipeline along the RR corridor, the option of service branches is available, if and when people accept the recycle use.

  • Andy Gere

    Any hope of adding additional reservoir storage was killed long ago by the enviros.  Read up on the history of water supply in this county and statewide in California before offering up this kind of solution.  Reclamation sounds great, but I doubt this community is ready for direct potable reuse.  The technology used for treatment would be essentially the same, and so would the cost.  There’s not enough demand for non potable reclaimed water in Santa Cruz, and the cost of the purple pipe infrastructure to get it to the few places it can be used would be costly as well.  It amazes me how many self-proclaimed water experts there are in this town, but I’ve yet to see a viable alternative form any of them.