Soquel Creek Water District Update and Election Guide
Please note that this update and election guide is meant to provide informational context and clarity only. Civinomics does not endorse individual candidates or measures. This election guide only deals with the 9 candidates running for the 3 open board seats of the Soquel Creek Water District. A full election guide detailing every candidate and ballot measure in Santa Cruz County will be published next Monday on October 13th. To see the Civinomics sample ballot click here.
It has been an interesting year at the Soquel Creek Water District, which is understandable given the severity of their water shortfall. Ever since the city of Santa Cruz pulled out of the shared proposal for a desalination facility, the district has been scrambling to figure out how to address their unique and extremely dire crisis.
For those of you who don’t know, Soquel Creek, which encompasses all of Capitola, Soquel, Aptos and much of Rio Del Mar, gets all of its water from ground wells. The major problem is that they have been over pumping these wells at a non sustainable level for a little over 2 decades–compounded by the fact that there are literally hundreds of unmetered private wells contributing to the overall usage. If the groundwater basin continues to be depleted it will begin to experience saltwater intrusion, whereby ocean water begins to seep into the water table and contaminate coastal wells, a problem that has already occurred in neighboring Pajaro Valley. Once a well becomes contaminated with saltwater it’s pretty much done for, as the costs of treating the water on site are extremely high, and wells can take in the upwards of hundreds of years to recover naturally. So in light of these circumstances, and given some of the decisions being considered by the District Board, it’s unsurprising that there are 9 candidates vying for the 3 open board seats this election. And because this is such a unique and important local election, we have decided to give it a little special attention by releasing this special update and election guide before our larger election guide comes out next week.
Before we look at each of the 9 candidates, however, it might be helpful to review all of the activity that has happened in this past year, part of which is what motivated such a large field of candidates. First and foremost was the controversy surrounding the Board’s reluctance to approve the will serve letter for the Twin Lakes Church remodel back in April. In what many regard as a politically motivated decision, the Board decided to consider whether or not to withhold the will serve letter for the new remodel (basically saying they wouldn’t get water for the new facilities), despite the net water savings of the new project due to on-site efficiency upgrades. The decision to even consider withholding the letter was seen by many as a de facto moratorium on new development, a strange decision given that all new development projects are required to offset their water use. But, after a very public backlash from the thousands strong congregation of the church, and pressure from the local business community, the board reconsidered and moved forward with granting the letter.
What followed were two very difficult and controversial decisions, both of which may still be up in the air and dependent upon the November results; consideration of the various supply options (both short and long term), and the implementation of the CONSERVATIONplus program, which proposes to give each rate-paying household a water budget, and compel business accounts into more stringent efficiency requirements through penalties.
In August the Board received information about multiple “back-up” water supply options including the potential for recycled water aquifer replenishment, whereby treated wastewater is injected back into the aquifer to counteract the unsustainable pumping; short and long term water transfer projects that would require additional infrastructure; and two desalination options, which included purchasing water from the neighboring Deep Water plant in Monterey (still in development), and constructing a stand alone plant, an expensive and seen by many as the less preferred option. Ultimately the Board voted to prioritize exploring the recycled water options and short term water transfers.
During the September 2nd meeting the Board unexpectedly voted in opposition to the staff recommendation to delay implementation of the CONSERVATIONplus program, through a unanimous decision, citing the lack of public understanding and fear of backlash. The program, if implemented, would limit households to a daily water budget of 75 gallons per person per day, or 85 gallons for those who lived alone. Those who went over budget would be charged substantially more for the water they used beyond their budget. Additionally, every business account within the district would also be surveyed for indoor and outdoor fixture and irrigation compliance. The move to delay came as a surprise to many district staff members, who had already started sending out information about the program to customers, and had even gone so far as to hire an outreach team to begin immediate work upon approval (Disclaimer: it was Ecology Action, with Civinomics helping to conduct door to door outreach). The program is likely to be reconsidered early next year.
For further consideration, in light of the difficult board decisions being made and still to come, it is also helpful to note that the County Grand Jury weighed in on the failed SCWD2 desalination facility at the beginning of summer. The primary finding of this non-partisan, citizen appointed body: the proposed desalination facility is the only solution that can meet the needs of both districts, given the expected costs and severity of the crisis. The Grand Jury further stated that the City of Santa Cruz did not effectively communicate the need for this facility to city residents, and that Soquel Creel was really left hanging out to dry (pun intended).
Among the 9 candidates vying for the 3 open Board seats, it is helpful to note that there are two slates of candidates (of 2 and 3 candidates respectfully), and 4 independent candidates. Voters will be asked to vote for any combination of 3 individuals, meaning you don’t have to vote for everyone on a particular slate, or even for a slate candidate at all. The Board seats are also considered non-partisan, meaning that party affiliation should carry no weight in the decision of voters, or once elected, Board members. To see the Civinomics sample ballot with all of the candidates click here. With that said, let’s meet the candidates. (Photos courtesy of Times Publishing Group)
The Incumbent Slate: Dr. Bruce Jaffe and Rick Meyer
As the two incumbent candidates these two should be judged mainly on their decisions as Board members, as described above, and previously in approving the decision to explore the SCWD2 Desalination facility, which was ultimately rolled back because of the city of Santa Cruz, not because of anything the district or Board did. Both describe themselves as moderates according to their campaign materials and website, and admit to “reluctantly supporting” desalination, but would prefer the implementation of less costly options like recycled water. Jaffe is an oceanographer by trade and Meyer is a former green energy analyst. Jaffe was elected to the Board in 2002, and Meyer was appointed in 2012.
It should also be noted that Rick Meyer was the subject of some controversy in August with regards to his correspondence with another candidate, Maria Marsillo, about a potential moratorium on new development. In an email exchange garnered through a records request it was found that Meyer suggested to Marsilio, who at that time was in favor of a moratorium (her position has since “evolved”), that a law suit against the district would likely be enough to help him convince other Board members (among those mentioned specifically, Jaffe) that a moratorium was needed. Other candidates have used this information to extoll their beliefs that Meyer and Marsilio both secretly favor a moratorium, despite both of them publicly saying otherwise as of late.
This slate has been endorsed by State Senator Bill Monning, Assemblymember Mark Stone, and County Treasurer Fred Keeley. They have also been endorsed Capitola Councilmember Sam Storey, and by the local Sierra Club Chapter, along with Marsilio.
The Opposition Slate: Doug Deaver, Bill McGowan and John Prentice
This slate was formed in opposition to the current Board slate, specifically to combat any potential moratorium on development. This group believes that any moratorium will be harmful to the local economy and jeopardize the existing quality of life for the area. Additionally, this group expressed skepticism about the implementation of the CONSERVATIONplus program, saying that ratepayers didn’t understand the program. They also felt the requirements on business were too stringent. This group can also be classified as “reluctant supporters” of desalination, however they have stated that they do favor exploration of alternative options like recycled water and groundwater storage first. This group has been endorsed by a number of local elected officials, including 2nd District Supervisor Zach Friend, County Sheriff Jim Hart and 3 of the 5 current members of the Capitola City Council. They have also been endorsed by the Aptos Chamber of Commerce.
Doug Deaver is a facilities official at Cabrillo College, Bill McGowan is a prject manager at Granite Construction and John Prentice is a promoter for Ocean Speedway.
Independent Candidates: Carla Christensen, Maria Marsilio, Shellie Roy and John Hughes Jr.
Carla Christensen is an environmental scientist who supports the development of new sources that allow for reasonable growth within existing zoning laws, meaning that she does not favor a moratorium. She supports extensive conservation efforts as a short term priority, including the 75 gallon per person per day water budget, as well as the exploration of the groundwater replenishment projects. She has not taken desalination off the table when looking to the future and believes all options should be weighed and that a decision should be made based upon on scientific evidence.
Maria Marsilio is a human resources official who believes that groundwater injection and aquifer replenishment projects should be a district priority. She also supports short term water exchanges, and wants to see more decentralized projects that focus on collecting rainwater. It is unclear as to whether she supports daily water budgets, but has stated that if they were implemented she would work to help ratepayers better understand why and empower them to meet those conservation goals. Her stance on desalination is also unclear, though it is likely that she is less supportive than other candidates. She also states that her position on a development moratorium has evolved, and that single family homes and remodels do not have a substantial impact on the water supply.
Shellie Roy is a former county commissioner from Colorado, and she advocates for a larger, regional approach to water problems within the county. She believes that the four major district should be combined into one larger district that will be better positioned to deal with the overall water management task. She is vocally against a building moratorium, and while she agrees in principle with a water budget of 75 gallons per person per day, she is critical of the current Board’s execution saying that they haven’t created a long term plan with regards to the program, and that they haven’t explored all the technological innovations that could be put to use. She has stated that she is on the fence about desalination, and may or may not be inclined to support it depending on the context.
John Hughes Jr. has virtually no information posted online, and hasn’t attended any the public debates. If you have any information about the candidate or his positions please leave a comment that includes the information source and it will be added .