In the News


City leaders have failed

By Peter Nicols
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6/1/13

Why do I feel like Mike Rotkin is trying to bully me (Sentinel op-ed, May 26)? Just because I'm not as convinced as he is that desalinating ocean water is the only solution to Santa Cruz's water problems. Am I being naive to think that city leaders have let us down when it comes to managing our resources? Or am I just being stupid?

Mr. Rotkin holds up the recently released desalination Environmental Impact Report as if it had all the answers, considered every alternative, covered every base, and was actually objective in its conclusions. So, why do I have my doubts? According to Mike, I'm either "dishonest," "ignorant," or "pernicious (deadly, destructive, evil)."

He describes the EIR as a "scientific environmental document" confirming the need for desalination and denying any "dire consequences" associated with it. I'm surprised he would offer such a characterization since he's had experience with such documents in the past. EIRs are not scientific documents. Far from it. They are legal documents. They do not follow a rigorous scientific method leading to their conclusions, and they are no more objective than an attorney defending his client in court. An EIR's function is simply to satisfy statutory requirements prior to project development and to do so well enough to stand up in a court of law.

The California Environmental Quality Act, the mother of EIRs, requires that a project identify impacts on the environment. Alternatives must to be considered and significant impacts mitigated prior to the issuance of permits. Intentionally long and laborious to read, these reports are created on behalf of local governing bodies often at significant public expense. Though public comments are encouraged, input comes primarily from the people vested in a project's completion. The problem with EIRs is they do not seek the truth and should never be trusted to evaluate environmental impacts in a way that protects the environment. And no EIR, worth the wood pulp required to print it on, ever drew a conclusion inconsistent with the needs of whomever is paying for it.

Which brings me to Mike's impassioned defense of city water director Bill Kocher and his association with CalDesal, a nonprofit advocacy and lobbying group that, according to its website, is "solely dedicated to advancing the use of ocean water and groundwater desalination." Listed among its members are various water agencies and districts and numerous for-profit firms that are in the desalination business. Kocher co-founded the group and now serves as its board vice-president.

Mr. Kocher's conflict of interest regarding his association with CalDesal probably isn't criminal, but it is a conflict of interest. I can't understand how council members can trust his motivation. Is he dedicated to managing the city's water effectively, or does he want to be the Johnny Appleseed of desalination? All too many city water directors, up and down California's coast, are trying -- albeit unsuccessfully -- to build desalination plants. Whoever manages to get the job done first will have a significant feather in his or her cap along with a very lucrative future in California's ongoing water wars.

Santa Cruz's declared need for a desalination plant proves to me that Mr. Rotkin and council members who have come after him have failed in their guardianship roll and have abandoned their mission to manage critical resources in a sustainable manor. Too bad.

Peter Nichols is a Santa Cruz resident.

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