By Michael Bartolic
I’ve had opportunity to see the grassroots outreach of the folks at the No on Measure I booth at the Farmers Market — their bake-sale alternative to the proponents’ pricey paid ads — and it’s raised my spirit immensely to experience first-hand how a groundswell of informed public opinion is rising against Measure I, a bad project pumped up by big money.
It’s clear many that Davis residents really get what the central issue of this campaign is: Do we needlessly and precipitately surrender our water system to a cabal of privatization advocates and real-estate speculators, gifting them guaranteed profits at no risk while saddling ourselves under crushing debt for a system larger than needed and beyond what most can afford; or do we plan wisely, acting with fiscal restraint to build modestly and incrementally for only what we truly need, and thereby keep Davis affordable for all?
As a high tide of residents floods the No on I booth every Saturday, carrying off lawn signs faster than they can keep them in stock, and offering help walking precincts or tabling at public plazas all over town, from the sidewalk I’ve engaged my fellow citizens to ask them what got them to move into action on opposing Measure I.
The answers vary. For some, it’s simply that the City Council hasn’t put a cap on the project costs, so voting for Measure I is like issuing a blank check. Some say they’re dismayed we’re overbuilding for an unaffordable, unmanaged peak capacity when their experience living in Arizona and New Mexico shows peak capacity irrigation “needs” can be diminished greatly by the centuries-old watermaster system, where irrigation days and times are set to keep peak use in balance with a fiscally modest water plant.
For others, it’s the City Council’s decision to game the system by not holding a true full election instead of a mail-only election that constricts the voter base. Others cite the last-minute, off-the-ballot change in the terms offered United Water to bring it back into the bidding process by changing the promise to the public that all risk would be assigned to private bidders to a promise to United Water that ratepayers will take over part of a bidder’s risks.
Indeed, many Davis residents balk at the notion we should gift our public water resource to a private operator to sell back to us at a guaranteed profit, period. And many are offended by the constant attempts of Measure I’s apologists to claim the cost of that surface water system would be “only” circa $115 million, when $115 million is just the price: The cost, with debt interest, would be well over $300 million, which is why Measure I would triple or quadruple our water bills.
Last, many ask why we should behave like a Southern California suburb — using water that comes from somewhere else at the expense of the ecology and economics of both the Trinity and Sacramento rivers’ watersheds, while simultaneously we’d help destroy the fresh-water flows of the dying Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
However, while the majority voice some blend of all the very valid concerns above, the final straw cited to me is often one of three things:
* Realization that the surface water system proposed by Measure I was designed by the well-to-do, and highly benefits wealthy land speculators, but will be paid for by common residents of far more modest means;
* Discovery of a 10-year study issued January 2013 by the California Department of Public Health for the California State Water Resources Control Board (see http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/publications_forms/publications/legislative/2013.shtml) of contaminants that might potentially be found in groundwater wells of public water agencies in every California county — an exhaustive, comprehensive and scientifically vetted study, for which the repeated and carefully recorded tests utterly refute claims by Alan Pryor and other advocates for Measure I that our well water in Davis is a source of heavy metals, or any other pollutants; and
* Far from least, Enterprise columnist Bob Dunning’s scoop that the city hasn’t paid for its own water use over the past decade or longer, but has placed the burden of paying for all water produced and delivered by the system on the backs of regular ratepayers. In regard to this problem, Herb Niederberger, current city utilities manager — who I acknowledge didn’t create this situation — had the sad duty to report to me it’s true: The city’s records show zero bills and zero payments for its own water use.
In light of the above, it doesn’t surprise me so many residents are now saying Measure I’s too much to swallow, or that so many no longer trust what city staff, the City Council or paid consultants told the public or the Water Advisory Committee about our water supply, water use or water needs. Many especially don’t trust the solution proposed by Measure I, and say we can and must do better.
Yet nobody whom I’ve talked with wants to wait for a crisis before acting to ameliorate the complex issue of our water needs. Rather, the majority seem aware we aren’t in a crisis, nor facing one, and have time to act wisely by planning a water system affordable for all Davis residents. We can do this by taking only what we need, respecting the environment, and without crushing our community under 30 years of debilitating debt. That’s a positive and pro-active goal.
Join your neighbors in starting the process to achieve that worthy end by saying No on I.
— Michael Bartolic is a Davis resident and a member of the Davis Water Advisory Committee.