In the News

Talk it out: Key desal figures explain power of collaborative communication

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel 9/16/13

SANTA CRUZ -- Five-time former Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin, a vocal proponent of the city's seawater desalination proposal, will join leading critic Rick Longinotti for a discussion Sept. 29 on how competing sides of controversial issues can differ without getting heated.

The two have debated desalination many times in public, but have sought to keep the discourse civil, unlike some who they say have extreme views and distrust the other side. Longinotti, a founder of the Center for Transformative Communication and Santa Cruz Desal Alternatives, invited Rotkin, a retired lecturer in UC Santa Cruz's Community Studies program, to explain during the "Conflict Improv" event how the two employ nonviolent communication as they argue about the water supply project.

The pair, who each arrived on bicycle for a downtown interview Monday, agree supporters and opponents of desal share fundamental values around protecting the environment and limiting growth, at least to some extent. But they said the real disagreement is on strategy.

"I think he thinks my position is dangerous, but not that I'm irresponsible," Longinotti said. "I think his position is mistaken, but I understand how he arrived at it. If you have that foundation and commitment to actually sit in a room together and pour over the information, then I think you find you may shift your own position or shift the other's position."

The tone of the Sept. 29 event exemplifies the kind of broad-based, respectful meeting of the minds city officials say they want to have in coming months around threats posed to the water supply by drought and fish habitat protection. Mayor Hilary Bryant and City Manager Martin Bernal plan to ask the City Council to suspend pursuit of a desal plant in favor of engaging the public in a greater understanding and range of possible solutions.

"We have to find ways to listen to each other in a way that might create some consensus," Rotkin said.

For instance, when Longinotti once challenged a key argument of Rotkin's -- that nothing but desal could address the city's water needs -- Rotkin acknowledged some alternatives had the potential to be part of the solution. Likewise, Longinotti agreed to remove from an anti-desal flier claims about water quality that Rotkin said were false.

The two will open for improvisation players, who are part of the Center for Transformative Communication founded in 2004, to take suggestions from the audience about areas of conflict and debate them using nonviolent techniques. The free event will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Quaker Meetinghouse, 225 Rooney St., Santa Cruz.

Follow Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown at Twitter.com/jmbrownreports

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