In the News

Desal measure heads to November ballot; group narrowly collects enough signatures to qualify


Santa Cruz Sentinel, 7/4/12  

SANTA CRUZ - The city announced Tuesday an anti-desalination group has narrowly collected the required number of signatures to place a measure on November's ballot asking voters whether they want a future say in building a plant.

The Right to Vote on Desal Coalition was required to collect signatures from 15 percent of registered city voters, or 5,442 signatures. The group submitted 8,715 signatures, and the city clerk has verified 5,524 of them - an 82-vote margin equal to just 1 percent.

The City Council will vote July 24 to certify the petition, which asks voters whether they want the right to approve a proposed $115 million facility that removes salt from seawater to produce drinking-quality water. The plant, shared with neighboring Soquel Creek Water District, would produce at least 2.5 million gallons of new supply each day if approved by the council and a host of state and federal regulators.

But the city has already granted voters the right to weigh in.

In February, the council approved an ordinance saying voters must OK the Westside facility before it could be constructed. The vote would take place no earlier than June 2014, the next regularly scheduled election after November.

However, some desalination opponents pressed on with their own initiative out of concern the next council - four of seven seats are up in November - could overturn the rule. Coalition members have urged Santa Cruz to reject desalination in favor of other measures city officials say won't provide enough extra supply in dry years.

"With resources stretched, the city should focus instead on regional collaborative solutions that coordinate water supply and storage management, inter-district water transfers and reuse, water neutral development, community engagement, and robust conservation practices and incentives," Paul Gratz, a leader of the coalition, said in a statement.

City Councilwoman Lynn Robinson said citizen input is critical but fears about a future council overturning the ordinance are unfounded.

"We were making a very firm statement about this going to the voters," she said of February ordinance.

Robinson, who believes desalination is the most viable proposal for boosting water supply, said, "What's important for me is that people get really educated on something that is as critical as planning for water in the future."

Because council elections are scheduled for November, County Clerk Gail Pellerin said the cost for placing the desalination-related initiative on the ballot will be less than if it were a standalone measure. The total cost to the city will be around $2 or $2.50 per registered voter, or roughly $70,000 to $90,000, as opposed to $3 or $4.

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