In the News

Soquel Creek candidates square off in Chamber forum
Incumbents face slate of challengers, independents

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9/25/14

CAPITOLA — Candidates for the most contentious Soquel Creek Water District election in the past decade squared off Wednesday in a forum focused on managing a threatened water supply and creating sustainable sources.

Incumbent slate Bruce Jaffe and Rick Meyer defended their service on the board against charges from a trio of unified challengers calling for swift action to establish new supplies without draconian measures to force conservation. Two other challengers running independent campaigns also urged better cooperation during the Capitola-Soquel Chamber of Commerce forum, which drew candidates out on the lightning-rod topics of declaring a groundwater emergency, considering a moratorium on new hook-ups and undertaking seawater desalination.

None of the seven candidates in attendance strongly backed desalination, though some said it may be a viable, if not expensive and environmentally precarious, solution.

Jaffe, an oceanographer who joined the board 12 years ago, described himself as a "reluctant supporter," noting other solutions require less energy and have fewer environmental impacts.

"No matter what we come up with, it will be we as a community, there will be a vote," Jaffe said. "Together is how we are going to solve this problem."

Meyer, a green-energy analyst appointed to the board two years ago, said he believed treating recycled water for injection into wells that will recharge the overdrafted aquifer is a less costly solution, a point agreed upon by independent candidate and human resources official Maria Marsilio. The two communicated on email in June about supporting a possible moratorium on development — as discovered by challengers who filed public records requests — though both now say they no longer support one.

"My views have evolved," Marsilio said, adding that her candidacy is founded on listening to ratepayers.

Granite Construction project manager Bill McGowan and Ocean Speedway John Prentice — who along with former Cabrillo College facilities official Doug Deaver formed a slate to unseat the incumbents — said desalination could still be viable. McGowan suggested the costs may decrease over time, and Prentice said he may support a small plant.

Deaver laid out the trio's central point.

"We support more water," Deaver said, adding the current board needs to set aside more money for a supply project rather than mandated conservation. "We are committed to finding additional water."

In June, the board declared on a 3-2 vote supported by Meyer and Jaffe a groundwater emergency, but Jaffe voted with two others to move away from pursuing a moratorium. The district then ramped up personnel and operations to enact a mandatory residential rationing program, but board members voted unanimously earlier this month to revamp it amid a strong customer response to requests for cutbacks.

"We have in fact already met the goals of the ConservationPlus program," Meyer said, calling the rationing plan by its formal name. "That is one reason I voted to put the brakes on it and take another look."

Meyer and Jaffe tried to assure voters the proposed moratorium is dead, but Prentice pummeled Meyer a number of times on the email Meyer sent to Marsilio supporting it.

"You just can't unring the bell," Prentice said. "The bell is rung."

McGowan said a moratorium would "do damage to our economy and culture and way of life. It puts people out of work."

Independent candidate Shellie Roy, a former county commissioner from Colorado, said she might support desal but would fight a moratorium such as one she said devastated the economy in her former community.

"The construction industry — they are the engine that turns our economy," she said. "A moratorium throws that segment of our community into uncertainty."

Candidates Carla Christensen and John Hughes did not attend the forum.

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