Commentary: Why Desalination is Dead in California

By Conner Everts
Desal Response Group

Drinking water from the Sea?

Sounds like a great idea. JFK once said that it would be a greater achievement than putting a man on the moon, and most polls have shown a 70 percent acceptance rate of the idea.

So what is the problem?

The corollary to JFK’s statement would be “when economically and environmentally feasible” and therein is the challenge.  However, the first question that should be asked is do we need ocean water desalination (often called desal) in California and would it hurt or harm the environment compared to its alternatives?

In 2006 there were 29 proposals for ocean desal projects along the California coast, with many attached to old coastal power plants, now there are only nine.  While industry proponents blame California’s protective environmental regulations and a few environmentalists’ opposition, there were three main issues that stalled the proposals.

First, despite the State Desal Task Force convened by legislation, there is no consensus on a regulatory order or state-wide direction. So each proposal lumbered through the multi-agency process.

That’s as it should be because if there is a large scale desal plant built in California it will be the first on the Pacific coast and largest in the Western Hemisphere.  The first proponent out of the gate was Poseidon, a private corporation from Connecticut that failed with its first desal project – the largest in the nation at 25 million gallons a day – in  Tampa Bay, Florida, and then proposed two more plants, each with twice that capacity, one in Huntington Beach in Orange County and the other in Carlsbad in north San Diego county.

While working hard to gather political support for its southern California desal projects, Poseidon failed to respond to repeated information requests by the Coastal Commission or to follow its permitting guidelines. Meanwhile, local opposition grew and water agencies weighed into issues of the marine environment, which they little understood, and were forced to navigate California’s complex and arcane water supply laws as well.

Second, conceived in a time of drought, the most recent crop of desal proposals depended on a fear of limited water supply while demand was high for new development. This was especially true where desal plants were proposed on the coast, thus allowing entry points for previously undeveloped areas with limited water supply.

With the collapse of the global economy, developments now sit idle and the need for desal as a redundant water supply for more growth is being questioned.  Promoted as an offset to water pumped over the Tehachapis and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the opposite is true. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) states in its subsidy contract that the water produced by desal would not curtail deliveries of any imported water source.  Rather blood would be let on the floors of the MWD boardroom before anyone at MWD would give up any sacrosanct water rights.

Furthermore, the promises that these proposed desal plants would offset water taken from the SF Bay Delta turned out to be false. Given the long history of getting water back to fish and the environment, there is no regulatory process to make that happen. Just look at the 20 years of litigation that has taken place over Mono Lake.

Third: first things first. There are untapped and cost-effective local water resources that must be developed and that have environmental benefits, unlike desal, such as maximizing serious water conservation and water reclamation, capturing and treating urban and storm-water runoff, expanding now legal greywater and rainwater cistern systems, and fixing leaky infrastructure or pipes.

Combine that with a systems approach with watershed management and we begin to get to the point that Australia, Spain, and Israel did before they invested in desal – which meant reducing per capita water demand to 30-50 gallons per day. Compare that to 174 gallons for California as a whole and 121 gallons for Los Angeles.

Many areas across the state, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, have had serious reductions in water demand and eliminated the need for desal—it’s not in Los Angeles’ 20 year supply plan and Long Beach is reconsidering after careful research.

California spent $50 million of Prop. 50 water bond monies on researching this issue and while not all the grant results have been revealed the emerging consensus is that proponents’ promise of a technological breakthrough that makes desal feasible or necessary hasn’t been realized. This is a case of its not the technology, stupid, it is the lack economic considerations and available capital.

And then it rain, and rained, and continues to rain.  Reservoirs filled and spilled.  Snow pack reached record levels in the Rockies, from where a portion of our imported supply originates.  If we had only realized the potential to capture rainwater and redistribute stormwater back into our depleted underground aquifers, this would have been a great winter to replenish the bank of locally stored water.

A quick historical perspective shows that ocean water desal plans come and go in California.  In the 60s and 70s it was twin nuclear power plant islands to be built offshore and provide all the water we needed and a small plant that was sent from the navel base in Point Loma to Guantanamo in Cuba.

In the 80s and 90s it was the Santa Barbara plant that was built in the middle of the six-year drought and was idled before it ever was connected by El  Niño spring. While it is still being paid for it is more cost effective not to run it.

At Catalina Island in the late 80s a small plant was built as a back up to allow a developer to build condos.  It sat idle for many years until Southern California Edison took it over, and in the only place where they sell water it takes 70 percent of the island’s electricity to produce 20 percent of its water.

Internationally, where there is often no other choice, limits have been reached but with a price. Australia is now deeply indebted for billions for plants that sit idle and have been flooded.  Even the Middle East is having problems with desal with huge demands for energy and subsidized water in Saudi Arabia and discharge levels that increase salinity and therefore energy demands in enclosed areas.

Ocean desal is promoted heavily by a cabal of membrane manufacturers, including GE, power plants operators hoping to keep their old fish-killing machines operating, water agencies looking for large capital projects built with some else’s money, engineering consultants and even Las Vegas.

But the bloom is off the issue. It looks good on the outside but once you delve into the inside there are problems, like fast food might sound good at the moment of hunger but the results of eating it are negative.  Investing in the current crop of desal plants is like buying an old Hummer with today’s gas prices.

Concerned citizens who organized statewide and locally to inform the public and fight the desalination surge can now declare victory and focus back on appropriate multi-benefit local water resources.  It does not mean we won’t continue to monitor these projects but to focus on only the fight would validate an issue that, once again, has passed away. After ten years, this time, we should celebrate a successful fight that brought this to the light of day and the fact that California is not ready for ocean desal and it is not ready for us.

There are many other issues around desal including energy intensity, huge marine and fishery impacts and the alternatives, drinking water quality, sea-level rise with industrializing the coast and the true costs of water. Go to the website for more than you would want to know and links to the many references made in this article.

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Concerts in the Park: Free Summer Series 2011 starts June 26 5 PM

Sundays at 5 PM – Free

Huntington Beach Central Park behind the library

The Huntington Beach Concert Band has been performing for Southern California audiences for thirty-eight years. Founded by John Mason in 1973, this non profit volunteer community concert band today is conducted by Thomas Ridley and provides concerts to the greater Orange County area throughout the year.  The Band’s purpose is to provide a creative opportunity for all musicians age 18 or older to share musical talents and bring enjoyment to others through public performance.  We are formally organized as a California Non-Profit Corporation.

The band plays 12-15 concerts a year throughout Orange County.  This includes two concerts as part of the annual Sunday Summer Concert Series  The band is proud to have organized and sponsored this series for many years, increasing the number of concerts  from a low of four to eleven for the past four years.  Another highlight is playing a concert on the grass at Verizon Amphitheater and then joining the Pacific Symphony Orchestra onstage for the 1812 Overture.

June 26         Huntington Beach Concert Band ♫ Americana and patriotic band favorites for everyone….Let’s wave the Red, White and Blue!

July 3             Orange County Concert Band ♫ Favorite selections for concert band, something for everyone

July 10           Henebry’s 1920’s Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra ♫ The original musical sounds of the Golden Age of Radio with Flapper Vocalist Ginger Pauley

July 17           Bones West ♫ A trombone choir performing in the Big Band style along with more traditional brass favorites

July 24           Los Angeles Police Swing Band ♫ Jazz standards for all to enjoy

July 31           Huntington Beach Concert Band ♫ An eclectic program of film music, marches and classic & popular melodies

August 7     Laguna Beach Community Band ♫ Performing a variety of music from marches and classics to swing and jazz

August 14      Swing Cats ♫ Sure to get you off your feet swingin’ to sounds of the Big Band era

August 21      Night Blooming Jazzmen A traditional Dixieland band

August 28      Bob DeSena ♫ A program of exciting Latin jazz and fiery rhythms in the legendary tradition of Tito Puente and Cal Tjader

Sept. 4            Mike Henebry Orchestra ♫ An internationally acclaimed orchestra authentically recreating music of the famous Big Bands of the Swing Era

“A Huntington Beach tradition for years”

Bring your whole family, friends, chairs, blankets and picnic dinner!

For additional info – or 714-891-6856

Click the map below, then click it again after it reappears to see a large version.


Coastal Commission to Surf City: Reassess parking and stop beach curfew

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Photo: Visitors find a use for the Strand, otherwise largely devoid of business on a Sunday afternoon (June 16)

Surf City planners and council members got a step closer to realizing their dream for a supersized downtown tourist mecca last Wednesday (June 15) when the California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the revised Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP) with mostly minor modifications.

The city’s new plan would increase allowable commercial densities, according to the commission—up to 400,000 square feet in the core Pier/Main Street area—while decreasing the ratio of required downtown parking spaces in the same area, based on a previous study showing that many visitors go to multiple venues during their stay.

The city’s previous parking downtown master plan has already maxed out at 715,000 square feet of development in a current 42 acre area, so that plan will be replaced with the new lower ratio parking plan in order to allow additional development in an enlarged core area.

The DTSP is the subject of a lawsuit by a local residents group, Huntington Beach Neighbors, which claims that the city violated the Coastal Act by inadequately studying its potential effects on the environment.

Neighbors is concerned with quality of life issues for downtown residents that would be raised by increased commercial densities and tourist traffic called for in the revised plan—adding to the current problems with drunken behavior from visitors to the area’s many alcohol serving establishments.

But the commission’s legal jurisdiction focuses only on beach access for residents and visitors, so it was concerned only with whether the city’s new plan hindered access to the beach area, not if it would make life more miserable for residents tired of excessive traffic and rowdiness outside their homes.

Still, there was some good news for those residents because the commission, skeptical of the assurances of sufficient parking, will require the city to reassess its parking plan after the first 150,000 square feet of development are completed. If parking is deemed inadequate at that time, the city would be required to take other measures to ensure that visitors have adequate access to downtown commercial services and the beach.

The commission would prefer to solve parking problems through any combination of alternative traffic control plans that the city has suggested but has not committed to using rather than by wasting more coastal land for parking lots.

Those alternatives include additional bike lanes and bikeways, additional bike parking, street realignments for more efficient traffic flow, improved access to transit stops, a trolley system and remote parking with shuttle access.

Last summer, the city operated a bike valet program and a shuttle service that traveled between the City Hall parking lot at Yorktown and Main and downtown. The shuttle service is operating again this summer through Labor Day on weekends, as well as every Tuesday for the weekly Surf City Nights street fair.

Weekend and Labor Day operating hours are 10:00 am to 10:00 pm and on Tuesdays the operating hours are from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm. Parking at City Hall is free and so is the shuttle, which also stops at Main and Orange streets and at Orange and 5th at the Strand. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes.

The only other significant problem with the DTSP that needs to be resolved from the Coastal Commission’s point of view is the city’s current 10 pm to 5 am beach curfew.

Tidelands, submerged lands, and public trust lands cannot be subject to curfews, which means that the city cannot legally stop access to the portion of the pier that extends over the tide nor can it stop people from walking or fishing within 20 feet inward of the tide’s edge. Even beach closure after that point requires a permit that must ensure public access to the tidelands.

City officials said they are concerned that ending the curfew would present public safety problems and make it harder to keep the city’s beaches clean. But commission staff said that the problem is solvable—as it proved to be in Laguna Beach—and an expected arrangement is in the works with the city that would presumably ensure a balance between required coastal access and public safety.


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Surf City’s Stimulus Plan (Get Tourists Drunk) Captured on Film

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Surf City’s now infamous reputation for drunk driving and rowdiness, most of it stemming from its bar infested downtown, is usually expressed in statistics and as a necessary side effect of the city’s plan to stimulate economic development through tourism.

An HBPD study released last year clearly implicated the high concentration of combined restaurant/bars in the downtown area as a major cause of the problem.

Huntington Beach has the highest number of DUIs for any California city in its population range, is ranked third for DUIs of any California city and is ranked seven in the state, regardless of population, for drunk driver collisions as of a year ago. Last year five people died in drunken driving crashes in the city.

Downtown late night scene
Police tend to a downtown visitor who seems to have had too much to drink. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

“Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety problem we have in Huntington Beach,” HBPD Chief Kenneth Small told the City Council last January.

Mayor Joe Carchio recently gained headlines for “cracking down” on downtown bars. Critics say his plan is a good first step but much more needs to be done to deal with the problem.

At a recent meeting of the California Coastal Commission when the city was seeking permits under the Coastal Act for its revised Downtown Specific Plan, Councilmember Keith Bohr said that the downtown area was a victim of the city’s successful program to attract tourists to its 8.5 miles of beaches and to its downtown attractions.

“We’re a very popular area,” he told the commission. “We have lots of folks come and our police force does a great job of enforcing our DUI [laws], hence our numbers are higher than others probably because we take advantage of the grants and enforce that and it makes people comply with our laws.”

Even accepting Bohr’s unlikely scenario—that other California cities don’t also take advantage of grants and try their best to enforce DUI laws—for downtown area residents the problem with drunks goes beyond statistics and affects their quality of life.

Richardson Gray, a downtown resident, complained to the commission about drunks overrunning downtown and waking up residents while walking back to their cars after the 2 a.m. closing time for bars. Other residents have long complained about late-night wandering drunks having sex in their front yard bushes and urinating, defecating and fighting on their lawns, or recklessly driving through their streets at high speeds while drunk.

“We have to live with the headaches of too many drunks on our streets and crime in our neighborhood,” Gray complained.

Surf City tourist nearly passed out on the ground.
Surf City tourist looks skyward. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

A recent late night tour of downtown Main Street conducted by the HBPD for members of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association, Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby and Councilmembers Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman helped illustrate – literally – those headaches.

Photographer Paul Edward captured the essence of the problem with video and in 24 photographs taken in less than an hour on what Bixby described as a “slow night” starting at about 1:30 a.m. Some of Edward’s photographs are within this article. The entire batch and the video can be viewed at

But Bixby’s tour notes help give the context for Edward’s photographic essay. “It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he wrote. In his own words, this is what he witnessed just before and after the final call for alcohol downtown:

  • Males fighting and being arrested, with one being taken away in an ambulance;
  • Females having a loud altercation on the verge of fighting;
  • People staggering around under the influence;
  • At least one establishment allowing people to finish their drinks after the posted closing time;
  • People making out in dark shadows;
  • A guy being arrested after passing out;
  • Code-required sidewalk clear passage area being used for entrance queuing at Sharkey’s/Killarney’s (sic);
  • Definite uptick in altercations at the 2 am witching hour;
  • An inebriated guy standing in the middle of Main throwing fist-fulls of hard candy into the ari landing with a scatter onto the asphalt and subsequently crunched with a “pop pop pop” as a police cruiser slowly drove by;
  • A guy helping his near-unconscious buddy into the DRIVER’S Seat (!) of their vehicle;
  • And all of this was on a relatively “slow” night.

Although tax revenues establish the fact that downtown Surf City’s bars and alcohol serving restaurants help bring in the money for their owners as well as the city, no study has been done yet to study the costs to taxpayers of the kind of law enforcement Bohr touts but that is—as Edward’s photos show—woefully inadequate, no matter how valiant, for the task. Perhaps even more important to the residents of downtown and the rest of the city is the human cost of the city’s habit of only measuring success in dollars and cents.

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Bixby Report: Usmania Halal Restaurant Entices, Exceeds Expectations

By Mark Bixby
Special to the Voice

Tonight Julie and I dined at Usmania Halal (Pakistani/Indian) Restaurant in Westminster after both of us independently discovered it on Yelp today.

It’s located in a scruffy part of town on the forlorn southeast corner of Westminster and Olive. Despite there being a large pole sign on the corner, Julie and I both drove right by it initially (we were driving separately because she was going to the OC Arts Center afterwards with her mom).

I had my doubts when I arrived first. The building hints at a failed fast food heritage, has a garish paint job and the parking lot has weeds growing through cracks in the asphalt. But as I was standing outside waiting for Julie to arrive, the enticing aromas emanating from within were making me hungry.

Julie arrived and we were seated. We were the only customers in the place for our entire meal. The interior ambiance is nil, the food was better than I expected in such a setting.

Usmania Halal (Photo: Yelp)
Usmania Halal (Photo: Yelp)

I started with the lentil soup, which was one of the thickest lentil soups I have ever had. And it came moderately spiced too, which is always a plus for my palate.

For my main entrée I had the vegetable korma. I don’t usually order kormas in Indian restaurants due to the heavy, bland cream sauce they normally come with, but this did not have that typical heavy sauce. It was a lighter sauce, “lighter” being relative since many dishes from that part of the world do tend to be a greasy/oily indulgence, and it had more of a tomato orientation than a cream orientation. There was a decent assortment of vegetables. I ordered it “medium” spicy and it turned out about right in the heat department, only producing a mildly runny nose.

Julie ordered the chicken tikka masala with “mild” spiciness. At mild it was on her upper level of tolerance, but she does not have the Bixby spice-loving genes that I was born with. I sampled some of her masala sauce and it had an intriguing smokey complexity to it.

We both shared an order of garlic naan bread. Size was generous, and it was assertively garlicky. I ordered a mango lassi to drink since so many Yelpers gave it good marks and I’d rate it pretty good too.

I mentioned that this is in a scruffy, forlorn part of town. While we were dining, a tall homeless guy shambled into the restaurant and briefly begged us for spare change before the staff shooed him out. That was a first for restaurant dining for us.

So to sum it up: food, better than expected; ambience, much to be desired.

Map (click to enlarge)

Since on the pole sign “Halal” is in a bigger font than “Pakistani” or “Indian,” and since “Pakistani” is listed before “Indian,” this is probably mostly Pakistani cuisine. And, face it, who would have thought there would eve be a halal Pakistani joint adjacent to Huntington Beach?

If you’re looking for something new and out of the ordinary, give the Usami Pakistani/Indian Halal restaurant a try.

For more information, including photos of entrées, go to

For other reviews on this dining establishment, go to

Editor’s note: Mark Bixby is a member of the Huntington Beach Planning Commission as well as a computer nerd by profession and a community activist in his free time. He also writes occasional restaurant reviews.

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Curb Exposure to Harmfull Chemicals by Changing Your Diet

By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Voice

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic substances known to play havoc with hormone and organ systems in lab animals, and it’s well-documented that the urine of most Americans  tests positive for an alarming number of them. EDCs are found in a wide array of everyday consumer products and also find their way into air, dust and even foods.

A new study confirms for the first time that dietary practices – like whether you select fresh versus canned fruits and vegetables, microwave foods in plastics, or drink from plastic bottles – have a rapid and hefty impact on one’s body burden of at least two EDCs known to interfere with normal organ development in animals and maybe humans: bisphenol A (BPA) and di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).

BPA is a key component of shatter-proof polycarbonate plastics, like many personal sports bottles or 2-5 gallon water bottles, as well as the epoxy lining of canned foods and soda. BPA is known to migrate into the contents of such containers, and it is well-established that BPA mimics the hormone estrogen.

A large body of evidence pointing to a possible role of BPA in such diverse medical conditions as obesity, diabetes, infertility and breast & prostate cancers has led to legislation in a number of states to reign in human exposure, especially in infants and young children who are thought to be most vulnerable to developmental derailments from EDCs. In the European Union, BPA is classified as a reproductive toxicant.

DEHP is another EDC produced in high volume and found in many consumer goods, including food packaging like some food wrap films. It is commonly used as a softening agent in plastics made of polyvinyl chloride, and because it is not chemically bonded to the plastic polymer, it too is free to migrate out during routine use.

Effective 2009, the U.S. federal government banned the use of DEHP (and other phthalates) in children’s toys and child care products, and several states have passed similar restrictions to reduce exposure in youngsters based on research showing that DEHP can inhibit testosterone synthesis and might disrupt the development of the male sexual tract and impair semen quality.

While most research on BPA and DEHP has, by necessity, been conducted on lab animals – leaving the impact on humans uncertain – it is appropriate that health conscious consumers and parents have an interest in limiting their own and their families’ exposure to known EDCs while scientists sort out the actual threat to humans.

BPA and DEHP are well-suited for a study of how dietary choices impact human exposure to EDCs because both can be monitored through the urine. Furthermore, their biological half-lives (a measure of how quickly the body gets rids of them) are short enough that the effects of a manipulation should show up in the urine within a few days.

Researcher Ruthann Rudel of the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts headed the study which followed five families of four (two parents and two children each, aged 3-12 years) during a three-day dietary intervention designed to eliminate obvious food-related sources of BPA and DEHP. Exposure levels to BPA and DEHP were determined for a few days just before, during and right after the three-day intervention by measuring BPA and the breakdown products (i.e. metabolites) of DEHP in daily urine samples.

The families were all from the San Francisco area and were selected based on the likelihood that they were being exposed to BPA or DEHP in their usual diets by way of consuming canned foods/sodas or at least two of the following: drinking from personal water bottles or 2-5 gallon polycarbonate bottles in office coolers; microwaving foods in plastic; or eating restaurant food.

Families maintained their usual eating habits for two days before and for three days after the intervention period. During the intervention, they ate a uniform menu from a caterer who prepared meals from fresh and organic fruits, vegetables, grains and meats and without use of plastic utensils or non-stick cookware. Glass storage containers were used in which microwaving was allowed too, but only after the plastic lid (non-BPA) had been removed.

Coffee made with a French press or ceramic drip was allowed but not from a plastic coffee maker or from a café.

Because there was considerable person-to-person variability in the baseline concentrations of the EDCs detected in the urine samples, the researchers arrived at an estimate of the “typical” level by using a conservative measure of the group’s “average” called the geometric mean which is designed to compensate for such variability.

The most impressive findings of the study were that, during the intervention, BPA in the urine of adults and children fell by about two-thirds and the metabolites of DEHP were reduced by more than half. The individuals whose exposure to BPA and DEHP was highest while eating their routine diet showed the greatest drops during the intervention.

BPA in the urine reverted back to nearly pre-intervention levels as soon as families were free to resume their usual diets, and the metabolites of DEHP also rose again within a few days but not yet to the point of a statistically significant difference at the time of the final urine collection.

The upshot of this study is that food ingestion seems to be a major source of human exposure to BPA and DEHP and, because the body is able to eliminate these chemicals in a matter of days, moving to a “fresh foods” diet can have a pretty rapid and measureable impact. The study authors surmised that plastic food packaging and restaurant meals were the most likely dietary sources of BPA and DEHP for the participants in their study.

Perhaps the other take home message is that the old adage “you are what you eat” still holds but with the unhappy twist that, because synthetic chemicals have come to define most aspects of everyday modern life, unless you choose foods mindfully you’re probably eating plenty of questionable stuff you didn’t bank on.

The study was published in the online 30 March 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. For six simple steps to avoid BPA and phthalate in foods, visit The Silent Spring Institute (

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Response to Mayor Carchio: Good first step, but more needs to be done about downtown

By Angela Rainsberger

Editor: Rainsberger is the director of Huntington Beach Neighbors.

Dear Mayor Carchio:

Thank you for the letter regarding your proposed solutions to reduce the DUI fatalities coming from the downtown establishments. I believe this is a step in the right direction to reduce the DUIs and I hope that we will see some meaningful reduction over time. I believe the key is to make certain that these voluntary suggestions become requirements of entertainment permits as they come up for renewal or as new EP are issued.

In addition for new restaurants it is important to find a way to add restrictions to the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to prevent restaurants from morphing into bars. I expect you will see far less protests and activism from citizen groups in the downtown if we can insure that a restaurant stays a restaurant.

There are other cities in Orange County that have areas of heavy concentration of establishments serving alcohol who have found ways to manage the consumption to reduce the risks to life and quality of life. I would encourage you to meet with the city staff of Fullerton who crafted their successful ordinances and policies to understand what has worked for them.

In addition to your bulleted suggestions, I would add the following requirements:

  • No drink specials should be sold after midnight. This would include redemption of coupons such as the ones being sold on Groupon for two times the value of anything purchased. A managed decrease in the volume of alcohol consumed after midnight will decrease the level of intoxication at 2 am.
  • Maintain a full listing of establishments with the details of their entertainment permit restrictions, allowances, occupancies, and closing times to be used as a planning tool and reviewed in total, before any new establishment or any entertainment permit renewals are approved. Adjust closing times to stagger them as entertainment permits come up for renewal. This will reduce the 2 am flood of intoxicated drivers into the streets, by batching them in smaller more manageable groups, that the police will better be able to control.
  • Work with BID to increase the number of cabs available at night; as a cab shortage is a current problem. Taxi vouchers add no value if one must wait for an hour in a taxi queue.
  • Drinks need to be served to the person who will be consuming the drink. Currently there are establishments where drinks for large groups can be ordered by a single person at the bar and then carried back to a group. This prevents the servers from being able to apply the RBS/TIPS training and ABC max drink limitation or to monitor the ratio of drink per person. Require that the serve can verify that drinks are being sold are at the 1:1 ratio per order.
  • Require restaurants to clearly post occupancy permits for each area of their establishments (sidewalk patios, back patios, inside dining room and balconies) so that the police can clearly see when the occupancy of a given area has been exceeded. Currently, many establishments are not posting their patio max occupancy signs and in the evening hours are clearing tables and chairs off the patios and converting the patios to standing room areas with significantly more people than allowed. By posting these signs clearly the police will be able to quickly identify when occupancies have been exceeded.
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Mayor Sets New Rules for Downtown Bars and Restaurants

By Joe Carchio
Mayor of Huntington Beach

Editor: The following letter was sent by Mayor Joe Carchio to all restaurant/bars with entertainment licenses in downtown Huntington Beach.

One of my primary goals during my term as Mayor of the City of Huntington Beach is to enhance and improve public safety for our residents and visitors. Information released by the California Office of Traffic Safety revealed that there were 195 fatal an injury related traffic accidents in our city involving driving under the influence in 2009. That number resulted in Huntington Beach being ranked number one out of fifty-six cities our size in California. It is my hope that through a combination of enforcement and education, we will be able to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on our roadways, and thereby reduce the number of fatal and injury related traffic accidents, in future years.

I have been advised by the Chief of Police, and data maintained by the police department supports, that may people arrested for driving under the influence have been drinking in downtown establishment that offer entertainment prior to their arrest. As the owner, or manager, of a downtown restaurant that serves alcohol and offers entertainment, I request that you strongly consider adopting the following policies. I believe implementation of these policies by all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment would help to achieve my goal of enhancing and improving public safety for our residents and visitors.

Proposed Policies:

  • No new customers allowed 30 minutes before closing.
  • “Last Call” at least 15 minutes before closing.
  • Only single sized drinks, and no multiple drinks after midnight.
  • Signage, posters and advertising “Do Not Drink and Drive.”
  • Mandatory “Responsibly Beverage Service (RBS)” training and certification for new employees within 90 days and existing employees every 12 months. The training shall be provided by an ABC approved RBS training provider.
  • Installation of a high quality video surveillance system that is available at all times to the police department.
  • Provide taxi vouchers through the night and to customers leaving at the end of the night.

It is my hope that all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment will voluntarily implement these policies. IN my meeting with Chief of Police, I formally asked him to impose these policies on any establishment where the Police Department has determined there is a problem related to intoxicated customers. If these conditions are imposed by the Chief of Police, it will occur at the time your Entertainment Permit is renewed.

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Surf City Goth: Developer turned novelist rewrites downtown plans

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A handful of residents sat in the audience section of the city council auditorium in the early evening of May 11. The room was dimly lit and the ambiance was boring, even a bit depressing.

Each person in the tiny group waited quietly for a turn to tell the Community Services Commission to reconfirm the name—Triangle Park—given 99 years ago to a 1.1 acre triangular-shaped patch of parkland that encloses the historic Main Street Library on the northern end of downtown Huntington Beach.

Sitting quietly among them was Richardson Gray, a 56-year-old downtown resident and retired Boston real estate developer turned Gothic novelist. He lives alone in a second-story condo that overlooks the park.

Gray is thin and stands at average height with shoulder-length grey hair. He dresses plainly and there is nothing obviously Goth-like about him, but he calls himself a “Goth of the Electric Chair variety,” referring to the Main Street clothing store that caters to a younger clientele more commonly associated with the Goth lifestyle.

“My life is like a Goth romance novel,” he confides, describing his novel in progress as “Sid and Nancy with a happy ending.” Even his car license plate reads GOTHS.

Gray goes to the podium to speak, carrying a stack of papers under his arm. It’s not the draft of his novel but a petition he wrote signed by 7,000 downtown residents. Gray gathered most of the signatures himself two years earlier.

The petition says nothing about naming the park, but calls upon the city to save the library from a grandiose plan to replace it with a large tourist center. But Gray tells the commission that “I am convinced that all these 7,000 people would want Triangle Park to keep its historic name.”

Gray reminds the commission that 7,000 approximates the number of residents living in the downtown area and that it took about 14,000 votes to elect someone to the city council in the last election.

“In my opinion,” he concludes, “voter sentiment to preserve Triangle Park is overwhelming. Triangle Park, so named in 1912, doesn’t need a new name.”

The name, however, seems to have fallen out of use after the library was built in 1951. Until recently, the park area was commonly referred to as the Main Street Library, although its original name has never been officially changed.

After a short discussion, the commission unanimously voted to recommend to the city council to keep the current name—an important symbolic victory for local residents who value the few bricks of the downtown’s history that haven’t been replaced by redevelopment with restaurant-bars and mall boutiques.

Gray’s initial efforts to save the park evolved into much larger and well organized efforts to stop the developer-controlled council from super-sizing downtown’s residential and commercial density and to deal with neighborhood disturbances caused by the growing overabundance of bars and wandering drunks.

Gray’s activism, like his writing, is more personal than ideological. “My work to Preserve Triangle Park absolutely is a self interested NIMBY issue,” he explains. “I am trying to keep my home as a nice place to live for the rest of my life.”

But Gray understands the value of historical preservation for its own sake as well as anyone. While living in a Victorian neighborhood in Boston’s south side for seven years he worked for a real estate firm that did historical renovations. After that he moved to North Carolina and worked for three years with a real estate endowment firm.

Four years ago Gray decided to retire in Huntington Beach because of his life-long love of surfing and to write his novel.

He bought his $525,000 condo because of its view of Triangle Park—which he assumes accounts for about one-fifth of its purchase value. He also believes that his dream home has lost 20 percent of of that value due to the housing market crash, and possibly more from the effect of the city’s “threats” of developing a “major tourist attraction” on the park.

As a self-professed NIMBY, Gray was understandably outraged when he saw the specs for the new Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP) that went public in late 2008.

It’s proposed revisions would result in more than 1.3 million additional square feet of commercial development in an area that technically covers 336 acres, but much of which would be in the Main Street area. Not to mention Pacific City a few blocks to the south which would bring 512 condos and a 165 room hotel/spa resort, according to previously approved plans.

The original DTSP revision plan would have allowed the library to be replaced by a 30,000 square foot cultural arts center—a tourist attraction that would draw between 300,000 – 400,00 visitors a year and provide a counter “anchor” to the pier located at the other end of Main Street on Pacific Coast Highway.

“I went nuts,” Gray recalls, and within a week he was gathering signatures for his petition. But Gray does not shut the door completely on change.

“If the library does not survive long term,” he wrote in an e-mail blast, “I think that most residents are open to another neighborhood-friendly, modestly-sized cultural center to take its place. But I do not think most residents want a major tourist attraction and parking garage in the middle of our established residential neighborhood.”

The Mime
Standing perfectly still on a sidewalk Gray looks like a mime artist, usually holding his notebook-paper-sized sign that says “Save Triangle Park & Main St. Library: Sign Here” or some other sign expressing support for a related cause.

He never speaks to passers-by until he is spoken to. But given the opportunity to explain his cause it can be difficult for his audiences to get a word in edgewise. When going house to house he is no less determined, as this writer discovered when he visited my home.

In less than a month Gray had gathered almost 250 signatures on his own, prompting the Independent to report on his fledgeling crusade in January, 2009.

He told the paper, aptly enough, that he was involved in a “David and Goliath battle.” City officials reacted by claiming that nothing specific was planned, that the library project idea would be fully vetted in public hearings and that Gray’s concerns were premature.

But Gray knew that the conceptual dreams of city planners tend to become runaway trains. So naturally he continued to sound the alarm. Eventually he walked to every home in the downtown area, personally gathering over 5,300 signatures to save Triangle Park. Another 1,700 signatures were collected by other local residents who jumped on his bandwagon.

Richardson Gray
Richardson Gray demonstrates his signature gathering technique on a downtown street corner. Photo Surf City Voice

One of those residents was Kim Kramer, who also lives across the street from Triangle Park but on its other side. Together, they revived the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents’ Association, a citizens group that had been active in the 90s in response to Fourth of July inspired riots on downtown streets. They gathered with several other activists, formed a steering committee and began talking to city officials with a sense of urgency.

“We had this terrible threat that the council was coming up with,” Gray recalls, adding that he wouldn’t have had the courage to meet with city leaders without the help of Kramer and others.

Gray signed up the group’s first official 587 members in the same way he gathered signatures to save the library, laying the foundation for a group that could become influential in future city elections. He also contributed $7,000 to help pay for a letter written by the group’s attorney to the city in opposition to the DTSP revisions and he gave another $5,000 toward fliers and mailers associated with the group’s political efforts, he says.

If Gray is hard working and generous with his time and money, he is also determinedly uninterested in—and perhaps incapable of handling—personal political power. His mild mannered ways were no match for Kramer’s top-down leadership style and domineering personality, so policy disagreements quickly developed between them.

Gray wanted to sue the city and investigate alleged conflict of interest by Steve Bone, the hotel developer and president of the city-funded Marketing and Business Bureau who was promoting the Cultural Center (Bone wanted to build an aquarium on a 50,000 square foot site).

But Kramer disagreed on both counts. Then Gray was booted from the steering committee. A few months after that Kramer registered HBDRA with the county recorder’s office under his business name, KSK Financial Group.

Despite the apparent betrayal, Gray shows no animosity toward Kramer. He lightly scolds him for not being more democratic and tolerant of other voices, and he was “annoyed” about the fictitious business name coup—it was a “momentary lapse” on his part—but he dismisses accusations of Kramer’s bullying of downtown business owners as “much ado about nothing” and praises him to the limit.

“I just think that Kim Kramer has done great things for our downtown neighborhoods and I want him to keep doing it,” he wrote in an e-mail message to other local activists. Gray says it’s hard for him to call Kramer an ally after their differences over the years, but that their goals are the same and they work parallel.

In Dec. 2009, the city council blessed the DTSP revisions, including the potential cultural arts center. A month later, in response to the complaints generated from Gray and HBDRA, the city downsized the cultural arts center to 24,660 square feet (still a 14,700 foot expansion) and wrote in a provision encouraging, but not requiring, preservation of the library. Underground parking and retail amenities, such as a gift shop and small cafe, were still part of the plan.

In September 2009 a new downtown residents group was formed, in part by former and current allies of Kramer who were displeased with his tactics and wanted to expand their reach to other downtown issues besides the library and park—something that both groups have long since done. The group named itself Huntington Beach Neighbors and today it is a registered non-profit with about 2,000 members.

HBN president Angela Rainsberger, like Kramer, has high praise for Gray’s contribution toward the formation of her own organization and to building public awareness of important downtown issues.

“He single-handily dedicated time and resources to researching and defending the [library] site against the threats of redevelopment.” If not for his efforts, she says, “citizens would have lost this community library to developers.”

But Gray’s fight to save the library and the rest of downtown from over development has not been won.

HBN filed a lawsuit in Feb. 2010 challenging the compliance of the city’s DTSP to environmental law. The court ruled in favor of the city on all counts, but HBN will probably appeal, informed sources say.

Gray, who contributed $23,000 to pay for HBN’s lawsuit, is not discouraged despite the city’s first round knock out. His time and money have been well spent, he says.

“I feel like they [city officials] deserved to be sued,” he says. They need to get the message that the city should take a “more friendly neighborhood approach” in its plans.

Gray is hopeful that the public involvement in downtown issues that he helped to build will pay off in the near future. “In another election cycle or two, we will have a resident friendly majority on our city council,” he predicts. And the city “will finally get serious about improving the downtown for residents.”

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Water Privatization & Desalination: Lessons from Australia

By Ian Douglas
Special to the Surf City Voice

Australians are battling to come to terms with the impacts of the oft-criticized process of national water reform. The ongoing, abrasive debate surrounding the Basin Plan being drafted by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, outrage over the spiraling costs of currently redundant desalination plants and public protests about sky-rocketing water charges typify the predicament.

Australian water reform was conceived in 1994 by the Council of Australian Governments; nurtured by the prevailing mantra that free-market exposure was the ultimate panacea for undercapitalized and inefficient public utilities. COAG went one giant leap further, in deciding to establish a national water market; arguing that this would direct water to its most productive use.

In the years since these sweeping changes were announced, the wisdom of applying free market principles to the management of an essential natural resource has been largely discredited by events overseas: In the water-supply sector, major corporate players have been accused and, in more than a few instances, convicted of price-gouging, anti-competitive behavior, corrupt practice and fraud. On all continents there are moves to wrest control from private corporations. Globally, more than 90 per cent of water services are now publicly owned.

In Australia there are valid concerns that water reform is leaving crucial decisions, with respect to the “where”, “when” and “how” of water distribution, in the hands of entities whose priority is profit rather than socially and environmentally responsible water use. Questions are being raised as to why our governments have been prepared to implement these radical policies without seeking and obtaining prior electoral mandate and in the absence of adequate constitutional protection of water.

The unbundling of water rights from land title has been the lynchpin of water reform, enabling water entitlements to be leased, treated as equity, bequeathed or permanently traded. In less than three years’ time, there will be no limit on the volume of water access entitlements that can be traded permanently between hydrologically connected irrigation districts anywhere in Australia.

Australian water is now effectively commoditized: allocated to whoever is willing to pay the going price. The market cares not whether you intend to drip-irrigate vegetables, cultivate cotton by flood irrigation, water golf courses – or merely hold your allocation as an investment for a rainy, or not so rainy, day. We are told that water trading will promote the allocation of water to “high value” uses, but the concept of “value” is far from precise. Large-scale agribusiness enterprises may reap high returns from the water they are well positioned to acquire, but their profits are largely internalized, increasingly to overseas interests, minimizing benefit to local communities.  More traditional farming may result in lower profit at the farm gate, but is believed to have a more marked flow-on effect on local economies.

In 2008-9, water trades totalled 2.74 billion dollars. In the same year, whilst urban water users faced severe restrictions, water use for irrigated agriculture increased 3 per cent on the previous year, but the gross value of production from irrigation fell by 358 million dollars.In that year, following localised inflows into the northern Darling catchment, but whilst the vast majority of the Basin was enduring the peak of the worst drought in living memory, the cultivation of cotton and rice consumed 981 gigalitres of water.

This figure equates to the combined water consumption of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide (990 gigalitres) over the same period, to produce a crop with a combined value of less than 650 million dollars, in a year when the gross value of national agricultural production was in excess of $46 billion.

In consuming around 850 gigalitres of water, 23 per cent of the total volume diverted for irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin, the 2008-9 cotton crop contributed only 4 per cent to the total value of agricultural production in the Basin. Our self-sufficiency in terms of food production also suffered: while the value of the cotton crop increased by 198 per cent over the previous year, irrigated vegetable production fell by over 350 million dollars.

Lou Correa and Scott Maloni
Sen. Lou Correa cuddles up to Poseidon CEO Scott Maloni to support desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Photo Arturo Tolenttino for SCV.

Unrestrained exploitation effectively hamstrung the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and its predecessor the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, in its statutory responsibility to manage the Basin’s water resources in the national interest, and dramatically impaired the inherent ability of the Murray-Darling river system to resist the effects of prolonged drought.

In 2005, Wendy Craik, Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, confirmed the impotence of her organisation admitting, “We just have to hope it pours with rain”. Two years later, then Prime Minister, John Howard, refusing to deviate from market-based water management and resisting calls to invoke emergency powers, urged the nation to pray for rain. For eight long years, the nation’s most vital river was not allowed to flow to the sea.

The water market conspicuously failed to live up to the expectations of the National Water Initiative, driving down water storages in the Murray-Darling Basin to critically low levels at a time when conservation should have been paramount. The dire consequences for the environment, communities and economy of the Basin were clear for all to see.

In recent months, the raft of resignations from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority – including both the Chair and CEO – the distancing of recently appointed Chair and the Federal Water Minister from the Guide to the Draft Basin Plan, and the current Senate Inquiry into the Provisions of the 2007 Water Act, are further indications of the resolve of proponents of market-driven water reform.

The pressure being exerted by pro-marketeers was reconfirmed just last week, with the disclosure that the Authority is expected to recommend a paltry 2,800 gigalitre increase in environmental water allocation; prompting the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists to pull out of the Basin Plan consultation process, stating that it did not wish to be associated with an initiative which was destined to fail and waste billions of dollars.

The number of offshore players active in Australia’s water market bears testament to the rich pickings to be made speculating on the nation’s water reserves. It is believed than around 300 million dollars worth of water licences are currently in the hands of investors and this amount is steadily increasing. However it is impossible to confirm the precise figure: the National Water Commission has advised Fair Water Use that the Water Act prohibits public access to details on water entitlement holders.

Unlike the majority of our traditional farmers, investors are typically guided by global market trends and not merely the prevailing cost of Australian water. There are genuine concerns that, as more speculators, multinational agribusinesses and financial institutions enter the market, the inherent variability in water prices will be potentiated, particularly during drought; threatening the viability of previously profitable rural businesses and increasing pressure on rural communities.

The website of one such organization, US-based, Summit Global Management, contains the following observation: “Water is the most essential life-sustaining substance on earth and the most critical industrial input to the world’s economy. Demand for clean water has expanded unrelentingly as populations soar and societies modernize, and we now face crisis-level shortages for this most basic and necessary resource.”

In 2009, Summit Global’s chief marketing officer, Matt Dickerson, famously stated “There are few areas where we can execute our strategy, but Australia is one of them”. Summit, which in 2009 acquired at least 20 million dollars worth of permanent entitlements to Australian water, last month announced, through its Adelaide-based agent Blue Sky Water Partners, that it is seeking an additional 100 million dollars worth of water rights, focused on main systems such as the Murray-Darling.

In 2010, Australian-based Causeway Asset Management commenced a global drive to raise 100 million dollars of investment capital, to be used to acquire permanent entitlements to Murray-Darling water, stating: “There is a chronic supply/demand imbalance for Australian water which will result in higher water prices. Owning Australian Water Entitlements provides investors with direct exposure to water prices”.

It is clear that such investors are targeting the high returns to be made under leaseback arrangements during periods of water scarcity – an all too regular occurrence in this country. Where is the fundamental national benefit of exposing our water to such activity? What will be the impacts on the farming community, public water supplies and the environment?

In a statement on urban water policy released last month, the Chair of the National Water Commission, the statutory body responsible for driving the process of water reform, urged further deregulation and the construction of more desalination plants and dams – but tellingly made no mention of initiatives to reduce consumption in a country which, in 2004, was rated as the third largest per capita user of water in the world.

This blind commitment to growth, which also suffuses the policy platforms of the major parties, is being used to justify public-private partnerships and the construction of ill-conceived and untenably costly water infrastructure, most notoriously desalination plants. Our governments appear quite comfortable entering into public-private partnerships with multinationals whose track record in terms of corporate responsibility on the global stage is, at best, in-glorious.

In July last year, the Water Services Association projected that increased urban water consumption through to 2025, as a result of a 47 per cent hike in Australia’s population, to 31 million, could largely be met by the combined output of existing desalination plants and those currently under construction. Australians continue to be massaged into accepting this high tech, but inefficient and environmentally toxic industry; governments insisting that desalination is necessary to ensure water security, whilst largely ignoring the potential of “greener” and more efficient alternatives.

It is highly significant that the Productivity Commission itself has recently criticized the move towards desalination plants on economic grounds alone, irrespective of the environmental costs.

Following the change of government in Victoria, it has been revealed that the water bills of Victorian households are set to double over the next five years, as a direct result of costs associated with the Wonthaggi desalination plant. Irrespective of whether the plant is required to operate, Victorian taxpayers face a bill of close to 20 billion dollars over the next thirty years. When former premier Steve Bracks first announced the plant in June 2007, Victorians were informed that it would cost $3.1 billion.

In December last year, the South Australian Water Minister, Paul Caica, confirmed that operational costs of the Port Stanvac desalination plant are projected to total $130 million per year. This figure is additional to construction costs of $1.8 billion. It bears stating that the Government could currently acquire permanent water licenses for 100 gigalitres, the maximum output of the plant, for around $150 million.

In attempts to stave-off persistent criticism of “white-elephant” infrastructure, it is probable that conservation of urban water supplies will continue to be a low government priority, other than during periods of severe drought.

Last year, Mr Caica was also quoted as stating, “I have always said that we will consider lifting the restrictions when the desal plant comes online”.

In 2007, the value of state-owned water assets was estimated at 70 billion dollars: clearly a major temptation for state-governments seeking to balance their budgets.

Nationwide, the corporatization of water utilities has resulted in price hikes and an accent on fixed rather than consumption-based charging; stimulating concerted public protests, such as those currently taking place in south-east Queensland, amid fears that corporatization is a precursor to privatization.

To date, South Australia is the only state to have dabbled with privatization of water supplies – and Adelaide consumers have literally been paying the price: last year the State Government announced that it would not be renewing its contract with United Water, a wholly owned subsidiary of Paris-based, water colossus Veolia Environment, due to allegations of over-charging, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Nonetheless, publications such as that released by Deloittes in March 2010 seem to be priming Australians for the progressive sell-off of public water utilities.

It bears repeating that the stated aim of water reform is “to implement a strategic framework to achieve an efficient and sustainable water industry“: but on whose terms? – and to whose benefit?

Despite the fact that polling has indicated that at least 70% of Australians are opposed to it, water privatization is being imposed on the nation, under the guise of water reform; as a result of a closed-door agreement made, nearly twenty years ago, by the then Prime Minister, State Premiers, Territory Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association.

Water reform need not and should not equate to privatization, a process largely incompatible with the protection of water as a public good. Australians have the right to indicate which path they wish to follow, via state-by-state plebiscite if necessary.

Free-trade agreements, which have laid out the welcome mat to overseas speculators, should be renegotiated or scrapped, at least insofar as they apply to water.  This is consistent with data released by the Productivity Commission last month revealing that the benefits of free-trade agreements are oversold, creating unrealistic expectations and resulting in only small increases in national income.

Socially responsible water reform cannot proceed in the absence of sound legislated protection of water as a common good.  In 2009, the High Court of Australia found that there was “a common law notion that water, like light and air, is common property not especially amenable to private ownership and best vested in a sovereign state”. First drafted over a century ago, our Constitution does not refer to water rights other than related in very general terms to navigation, conservation and irrigation. Section 100 requires amendment if the nation’s water is to be adequately protected in the 21st century and beyond.

Irrespective of whether the 1994 vintage of COAG had a full understanding of the implications of its decision, sincere governments would now admit that water reform is privatizing an all-too-finite and easily abused natural resource – and, by so-doing, poses a serious threat to Australia’s water future.

Ian Douglas is national coordinator of Fair Water Use (Australia). He is currently national coordinator of Fair Water Use (Australia), an independent and national lobby group, formed in early 2008 by Australians who share the vision of a revived Murray-Darling basin and the sustainable environmental, community and economic benefits that would flow from its recovery.