I spoke at June’s Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors meeting to ask once again who the members of the “Long Term Water Supply Alternatives” committee were and how they were chosen. I neglected in my several earlier requests to ask how many were on this committee, but corrected that oversight this time. Each time I have made it clear that Cambria’s citizen/stakeholders should have “a seat at the table” when these alternatives for future water are considered. Two of those times were at each of the recent Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) public presentations about our water future held in the Veterans Memorial Building. At these meetings, several times I had to correct the discussion moderator as he seemed intent on reinterpreting what I said and meant. (I believe you can watch the meetings on public access TV. You can also see how our citizens’ vigorous interest in environmental concerns being given top priority were evaded until a board member told the presenters to include environment in the variables being ranked. Their prior response had been, in essence, we’ll consider environment eventually. Which is why I wanted and want citizens “at the table” from the beginning on through to the end.)
The directors were there as a board (i. e., on their thrones) and discussed content of the ACE presentation with attending citizens immediately afterward. I mention this because they heard our (more than 50 citizens) concerns about being involved in the process before decisions were made about eliminating or dismissing alternatives and thus narrowing possibilities for our town’s water future. They had already cut 30 alternatives down to 12.
Not once after all those requests did any board member reveal that according to their rules, private citizens were prohibited from being involved in the deliberations and thus, of course, had and would have no official say in the matter or the process used for eliminating or selecting water alternatives.
At the June board meeting, after I pushed the questions again about who was on that committee and how many members there were, did board President Allan MacKinnon reveal that the water alternatives committee was limited to two people (by the Brown Act) and they had to be board directors. As to who the committee members were, Mr. MacKinnon revealed they were himself and Director Muril Clift. And this after another speaker asked MacKinnon whether he still favors a desalination facility.
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MacKinnon’s response? “Yes, I do.” Further, Director Clift has stated in the past in open board meeting that he, too, supports desalination, though his mind may have changed.
Some CCSD directors apparently did not even know of the limits placed on membership of this ad hoc committee. Clearly, much if not all of the public did not know.
Why did our board of directors not reveal this earlier and, perhaps more to the point, did board President MacKinnon choose an ad hoc committee as the vehicle to move along the crucial path to our town’s water future? He who clearly and rapidly stated that he favors desalination.
Lest anyone think that I’m campaigning for a “seat at the table,” there are several Cambrians who have done far more research on water issues and thus have far greater knowledge at this point than I do. I suggest that these people have more current knowledge than much of the upper CCSD staff and directors. Yet, they are kept out of the process because Mr. MacKinnon and perhaps other board members do not want them at the table.
Here is a case in point regarding the board’s lack of forethought and need for help: The board has discussed in recent years siting the desalination plant in a flood plain — right next to our town’s sewage plant, about a quarter mile from the ocean. Does the word tsunami come to mind?
Final point: Whether you are in favor of desalination as the way of Cambria’s water future or prefer some combination of less costly, more environmentally friendly methods, we all should want our local government to be open and responsive to its citizens.
Stephen Figler is a Cambria resident.