In the News

Santa Cruz City Council to consider desal ordinance: County leader wants outside water customers to have a voice

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/27/12

SANTA CRUZ - The chairman of the county's governing board is urging Santa Cruz leaders to include city water customers in Capitola, Live Oak and other areas outside the city in a discussion about whether to let voters decide the fate of a proposed desalination plant.

Last week, Supervisor John Leopold wrote in a letter to Mayor Don Lane that, because close to half of the city's 92,000 water customers live outside the city's boundaries, residents of the county and Capitola who are served by the city should have a say in whether to build the plant, whose more than $100 million cost will largely be passed on to ratepayers. The city's water department said the share of customers living outside the city is closer to a third.

Regardless, the City Council on Tuesday will consider a proposed ordinance saying the city must seek voter approval before building the Westside plant, which could transform at least 2.5 million gallons of seawater each day into drinking water. The council will also consider a plan to make the facility carbon neutral by reducing greenhouse gasses emitted by the plant or conducting offsets.

"We pay for water but have no voice in the decisions of the water district," Leopold wrote. "The non-city water customers represent over 40,000 people, and the decisions that the Santa Cruz City Council makes on water issues have a significant impact on the lives, work opportunities and development possibilities of residents outside city limits."

Leopold said Monday he is interested in having supervisors possibly consider a ballot initiative to gauge voter support. Leopold acknowledged such a referendum would likely be only advisory because it's legally questionable whether the county's voters could bind the city's Water Department, even if they are ratepayers.

"But combined with the city measure, that will give us a clear sense of where ratepayers are," Leopold said.

Lane said the council could consider action at a future meeting to at least cooperate with the county in its efforts to engage city water customers living outside Santa Cruz. But he said he doubted the city could include in its proposed ordinance Tuesday a requirement to put the plant up for a vote among county voters because the city can only call for elections inside its boundaries.

"We're caught between what is legally possible and politically possible," Lane said. "The reality of the political situation is the votes (of county residents) would matter."

Also Tuesday, the council will consider a water conservation strategy related to a proposed expansion of water and sewer service for possible growth at UC Santa Cruz. The strategy could include using fees paid by the university when it exceeds its allotted water use expressly for landscaping replacement rebates and other conservation measures off campus.

The policy proposal is timed to precede a March 7 hearing before the Local Agency Formation Commission, which will make the final approval to extend water service to a portion of campus outside city boundaries.

The council also will consider a recommendation Tuesday by the Planning Department to keep in place limited hours and entertainment for the Cypress Lounge, 120 Union St., for at least another six months. The council approved restrictions in September in response to reports of alcohol-fueled noise and other problems surrounding the property, but agreed to review the case in four months.

During that time police calls for service have gone down and other problems have improved, though there had been an event that drew some complaints. Because of a change in ownership, city staff believe the restrictions will help ensure the rules continue to be followed.

Also, the council could appoint Doug Ley, a managing partner of Redtree Properties, to the shuttered Redevelopment Agency's successor oversight board. Ley, a member of the city's Transportation and Public Works Commission who was instrumental in wooing Forever 21 to lease space in Redtree's building at 1200 Pacific Ave., will represent the city's parking district.

Also serving on the oversight board, which will make recommendations about disposing of the agency's assets, will be Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant and J. Guevara, a member of the city's economic development staff. Both were appointed by Mayor Don Lane. Other appointments will come from the county Office of Education, Board of Supervisors and Cabrillo College.

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown on Twitter @jmbrownreports



FIRST MEETING: City appointments to Redevelopment Agency's Successor Oversight Board, water conservation strategy for future demand increase at UC Santa Cruz, proposed ordinance to create a Local Business Preference for city purchasing, oral communications.

SECOND MEETING: Cypress Lounge permits, carbon neutrality proposal for desalination project, proposed ordinance to seek voter approval before constructing desalination plant.

WHEN: 3 and 7 p.m. today

WHERE: Council Chamber, 809 Center St.


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