In the News

Records request reveals Soquel Creek water director suggested lawsuit
Rick Meyer said he was 'naively' trying to help moratorium supporter

J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9/17/14

APTOS -- Email released by the Soquel Creek Water District as part of public records requests filed by challengers for two board seats reveal an incumbent suggested a lawsuit against the district might swing a colleague's vote about a future moratorium on development.

On June 3, the board decided 3-2 to revise a new service offset program rather than a blanket moratorium. The next day, a dissenter from that vote, Director Rick Meyer, explained in an exchange with a constituent who favored a moratorium that there was legal precedent in Mendocino County for forcing agencies to take such an action. He provided supporting documents with the caveat that a local suit would be more complicated because water rights in the Soquel-Aptos groundwater basin are not settled.

"It often takes many years and is very expensive, so there would be a huge hurdle in getting a final judgment," Meyer wrote from his district email address, which is subject to public disclosure. "However, a legal process could be begun at little expense and might be sufficient to get the swing vote of Bruce Jaffe. The moratorium issue can be raised again by the board at any time."

Jaffe voted June 3 not to side with Meyer and Director Bruce Daniels, who favored a moratorium. Yet, Jaffe joined Meyer and Daniels that evening in supporting the district's declaration of a groundwater emergency and is now running with Meyer on a slate for re-election Nov. 4.

"I'm a critical thinker and make up my own mind based on what's best for protecting the water and would weigh all the facts," Jaffe told the Sentinel on Tuesday regarding Meyer's suggestion that his vote could be swayed by a suit. "Rick is very concerned about water resources and is a very dedicated member of the board and committed to protecting our aquifer."

During the past year, the board has explored an array of options to restore the overdrafted basin, including the moratorium, a ban on conditional "will serve" letters for building projects and a mandated conservation program. The district is simultaneously considering several supply generating projects, including construction of a recycled water facility or a seawater desalination plant separate from a joint facility with Santa Cruz that the city suspended a year ago amid political resistance.

Meyer, who was appointed in 2012, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that he wrote the email to Aptos resident Maria Marsilio, in which he tells her he does "not want to make it public." Marsilio has since become one of seven challengers in the election but is not part of a pro-business slate whose members filed the public records request.

"I was just observing that it happened in Mendocino and that a group of citizens got what they wanted there," Meyer said Tuesday, explaining that he was "naively" trying to help Marsilio. "Whether (a lawsuit) would be an appropriate thing to do, I hadn't thought through at all. As a board member, I am responsible for defending a lawsuit not generating one."

Meyer said Tuesday he actually wasn't sure in June that a moratorium was the right move. He said he voted against revamping the offset program in place of a moratorium because the plan wasn't fleshed out, but he said he doesn't intend now to raise the moratorium again.

"It's been settled," he said.

General Manager Kim Adamson said Tuesday she was surprised by the June 4 email exchange and was not aware of it until the records requests were acted upon. Meyer relinquished his district iPad at Adamson's request Tuesday to continue compliance with the records requests.

The records, some of which have been obtained by the Sentinel, contain numerous emails on a variety of topics, and the newspaper has filed a request to obtain all the records.

In the June 4 exchange, Marsilio wrote to Meyer that she intended to start legal proceedings but told the Sentinel she never pursued a suit because she was "not sure what purpose it would have served" and that her views on a moratorium have since evolved, including that projects should be examined individually.

During a board meeting Tuesday, Dan Kriege, a nearly 40-year director whom Meyer replaced upon his retirement, confronted Meyer about the email, called for his resignation and suggested Jaffe dump his running mate. Kriege said "integrity and honesty" were important to board members in the past, and, "Mr. Meyer, I don't believe those words match with you."

The email released also reveal Meyer had concerns about the ability of Twin Lakes Church, a 5,000-strong congregation in Aptos, to offset new water use created by a school addition. Kriege said Meyer boasted during a recent Aptos Chamber of Commerce meeting that he supported the church's plans, but email from Meyer demonstrates otherwise even though he voted favorably on items that advanced the project.

Three weeks before an April 29 decision granting a conditional will serve letter to the church, Meyer wrote an email to board ally Daniels reacting to a memo from the general manager suggesting the district must file its own will serve request for a renovation at district headquarters.

"What an ingenious way to obstruct the moratorium," Meyer wrote to Daniels. "Once we pause all conditional will serves, we have to keep doing so to not be discriminatory. However the district needs its own conditional will serve. Therefore the pause on conditional wills serves must be undone for everyone?"

After Marsilio wrote Meyer on June 4 with concerns about the viability of the church's offsets, Meyer wrote "we see alike" and recommended that a way to match the hundreds of church members who packed meetings was to turn out people with opposite views. He also told Marsilio he could call during a meeting for cutting off debate, adding, "Let me know how I can support you, as always behind the scenes."

Meyer said he was trying to be humorous with the email to Daniels and he now "has confidence" the revamped offset program, which requires developers to pay fees for conservation projects rather than doing their own offsets, will make a measurable difference.

"Democracy requires you to move forward," he said, pledging to work with other board members on a resolution for the basin. "We're not going to stop looking at every possible solution."

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