Tag Archives: Costa Mesa

Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

In January, I sat down for 30 minutes with Paul Shoenberger, the general manager for the Mesa Consolidated Water District in Costa Mesa, California, to talk about CalDesal a non-profit organization whose 70 or so members, according to April, 2011 stats (neither Mesa nor CalDesal will release up to date figures), are about evenly divided between public water agencies and private water-related companies.

CalDesal lobbies for the construction of ocean and groundwater water desalination (although the emphasis is mostly on ocean desalination) and for the “streamlining” of environmental regulations to help achieve that goal.

Mesa Water Directors James Atkinson and James Fisler mix up business with pleasure at CalDesal mixer. Photo: Public records

Shortly into the 21st Century, plans to build ocean desalination plants where proposed for the cities of Carlsbad and Huntington Beach. Most of the permitting process has been completed for both plants but huge financial obstacles remain after construction costs and estimated water rates have skyrocketed.

Poseidon Resources Inc. would build the two nearly identical ocean desalination plants, each of which will suck in over 100 million gallons of sea water each per day to produce 50 million gallons of potable drinking water. They would be the largest ocean desalination plants in the United States at an estimated cost of over $700 million each.

In 2006, twenty-nine ocean desalination plants of various sizes were envisioned for the California coastline all the way to Santa Cruz, including a 15 million gallon per day facility that just finished its testing phase in Dana Point.

But after more than a decade of planning and marketing, and pushing projects through the planning and permitting process, a tight coalition of water industry leaders, real estate developers, and public-sector technocrats is far from realizing its desalination dream.

Only nine ocean desalination proposals remain in contention and not a single one has broken ground or seems likely to anytime soon.

That’s good news for opposition groups who have long claimed that ocean desalination is too costly and damaging to the ocean environment, and that conservation, sewage water reclamation, and increased water capture and storage are the right methods for ensuring an adequate water supply for California in the future.

Shoenberger and other proponents, however, officially insist that ocean desalination is not a “silver bullet” but will be a vital part of California’s water portfolio. They depict the process as environmentally sound and sustainable and say that costs for desalinated ocean water will one day be less than the costs of imported water from the San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River.

In any case, they say, developing ocean desalination infrastructure is worth the extra cost due to potentially disastrous water supply outcomes for California from earthquakes and drought, and that it will help create badly needed jobs.

But public opposition to building ocean desalination plants along the coast has grown stronger over the past decade along with other potential obstacles to plans to construct ocean desalination plants in California.

CalDesal mixer and board meeting
Paul Shoenberger (r) with CalDesal member at 2011 spring board meeting/mixer. Photo: Public records

Once-through-cooling, the intake method preferred by desalination proponents because it sucks in huge quantities of sea water through already existing intake systems attached to electrical power generating plants – like exist in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach – is deemed destructive to the coast’s fragile balance of marine life by ocean scientists, and state regulators have ordered it to be phased out within a decade.

How that ban will apply to ocean desalination, if at all, is under consideration by state regulators. Opponents and proponents are vying for influence in that debate.

In the midst of a weak economy, and as the research and development needed to provide the promised cost-saving technological improvements has reached a dead end, even some long-time ocean desalination proponents are now questioning the efficacy of large desalination projects. Continue reading Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

Commentary: Why Huntington Beach Shouldn’t Partner with Costa Mesa

By Gus Ayer
Special to the Voice

A press release from the city of Costa Mesa announced that “The neighboring cities of Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach will formally explore the viability of combining five municipal services to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars” on (police) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) services; lifeguard services; jail services; animal control services; and police and fire dispatch services.

The press release announced that “Management Partners, Inc. has been contracted to prepare a study. Each city will pay a third of the $81,675 fee.”

Like much of the official news from Costa Mesa, it had a few problems.

None of the three city councils had actually approved a contract to spend money on this study, but the item will be on the Huntington Beach City Council agenda for Aug. 1, the Voice has learned.

So the public will have an opportunity to ask questions.

We don’t need to argue about the idea of combining services. We already have numerous successful models for sharing service between cities, and it is long established that some services are more effective when handled by private contractors. All 34 cities in Orange County are exploring better ways to deliver services at multiple levels and the collapse in revenues during the Great Recession has brought new urgency to the discussions.

We can even set aside the fact that Costa Mesa has been declared ground zero in a war between ideological extremists and the public employees unions, despite the fact that nobody in the city wanted to be on a bloody battleground.

Instead, let’s focus on a more significant question. Why would any city want to partner with Costa Mesa on a study right now?  Sure, take their money to provide helicopter services, but trust them to provide accurate information and make a good decision? The question can be answered by focusing on four areas.

Lack of Senior Management
Costa Mesa has a management crisis. Of all the senior managers for the city, only one, the public works director, has been in place for more than six months. Their city manager retired in March and an assistant was promoted. Their long-time city attorney was replaced at the same time.  A new police chief was just hired from a support staff position in Newport Beach. Their finance director, fire chief, assistant city manager, development services director, and human resources manager are all temps. Staff positions like fire marshal are vacant. The city is eliminating the position of emergency medical services coordinator and other key positions are empty.

Who at the Costa Mesa Fire Department will evaluate the needs for dispatch services?

Ineffectiveness of the City Council
In March, Costa Mesa announced that it would send preliminary layoff notices to hundreds of employees while they studied outsourcing 18 different departments.

Four months into the process, the city was smacked down by a judge and ordered into a court trial. More important, the council seriously underestimated the amount of work that would be involved in analyzing services and preparing requests for proposals to outsource services. Although they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorneys and consultants, they haven’t completed a single proposal request.

One study for a proposal to outsource Costa Mesa’s fire department to the Orange County Fire Authority cost $25,000 and took over a year to make. The majority members of the Costa Mesa City Council obviously hadn’t done their homework, had to ask more questions, and postponed any decision until they could get quotes from neighboring cities.

Much of the problem is related to the lack of experienced management and the huge number of requests that inexperienced Council Members Righeimer and Mensinger keep heaping onto city staff.

Does the Costa Mesa listen to its consultants?
Costa Mesa hired Management Partners to evaluate their police staffing. Their team of experts included the former Police Chief in Brea, Mike Messina, a veteran cop with more than 35 years in law enforcement to his credit.  They produced a report that suggested a minimum number of 136 sworn officers.  The council arbitrarily budgeted for 125 permanent positions, choosing to throw money at privately-owned alleys rather than to fund public safety.

In response, their acting police chief, Steve Staveley, resigned in disgust, sending a sharply worded letter.

Some excerpts:

It is safe to say that the council majority – does not know more about the subject of leadership, or leading police departments or serving as an elected than do I – and yet they do not listen, they do not understand and continue to blunder along in complete ignorance and incompetence….

I say that they (council majority) are destroying this police department with their incompetence and that means only one thing. The community building efforts that this department has invested in for many years will stop and the community will begin to deteriorate. No community can stand still and no community can grow and build itself without suitable police services. The cause of justice cannot flourish without those same services and this council has and continues to undermine this agency ability to do its job and for political and in some cases personal reasons – biases and even personal and individual animosity. As I have noted above, they attempt to meddle in routine department affairs for personal benefit and frankly several of them are rude and ill mannered and frequently boorish.

Ability to follow through on commitments
Even if Costa Mesa were able to provide accurate information and reach an agreement, would it be able to follow through? Let’s look at just one of the five areas – combining SWAT services. Will Costa Mesa be able to honor any commitments that it might make?

As its revenues plummeted during the Great Recession, Costa Mesa went from a contingent of 164 sworn officers to 140 sworn officers, and now its city council is shrinking that to 125.  Costa Mesa is losing some of its best trained and most experienced officers, exactly the ones you might want on a SWAT team. Rank and file police officers, tired of the abuse, have been interviewing with other agencies.  The process isn’t quick, but as the interviews and background checks are processed, Costa Mesa is now losing one police officer a week to other cities.

How will Costa Mesa play its part on a combined SWAT team if they can’t hold onto their experienced police officers?

For all these reasons, we need to ask the Huntington Beach City Council why it would ever want to partner with Costa Mesa.

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Tea Party Rage in OC Sheriff’s Race: “Most of the queers are liberal…Fuck you!”

A local Tea Party enthusiast wants to “tea bag” liberals, denies homosexuality exists in the Tea Party movement and says “fuck you” at a campaign rally for Orange County Sheriff’s candidate Bill Hunt. Hunt was joined by Sheriff Joe Arapaio from Arizona, who is famous for using police state tactics against immigrants and others. Hunt has said that he wants to be like Joe Arpaio if elected to office in November.