Thursday, September 20, 2012

COMMITTED TO CAMBRIA



I am running for the Cambria Community Service District Board of Directors because I believe that I can be of service to my fellow Cambrians.


In my professional life, I have been the editorial page editor at the Los Angeles Daily News and senior editor at Investor’s Business Daily. I have a B.A. from Stanford, an M.A. from UCLA and an M.B.A. from California Lutheran University. Currently, I am chairman of the North Coast Advisory Council, and was previously the chair of the Land Use Committee. My goal is to listen, plan ahead and work to ensure that the CCSD will meet Cambria's current and future needs.


ON THE ISSUES:


FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: The CCSD has made progress in controlling costs and making up for past mismanagement. More needs to be done. The District faces the same issues, such as pensions and retiree healthcare costs, that challenge local governments all over California. Aging water and sewer systems will need repair, replacement and upgrades. To fund these future needs, we need strong, consistent spending discipline.  As a CCSD Director, I  will make fiscal responsibility my top priority.

WATER: It’s time to stop arguing and start acting on a supplemental water supply. We need a system that is dependable, delivers water at the lowest cost, and is fast to complete. The District has a new brackish-water treatment plan (for more, see "How to Get the Water We Need" below) that appears to meet those tests. I support going forward with it.


I ask for your vote on November 6.

Questions? Please contact me at tsgray@sbcglobal.net or 927.5176.



How to Get the Water We Need

You may already have met me on my door-to-door walks all over Cambria. If so, you may have been one of the people asking a question I hear again and again: "Where do you stand on desal?" My answer boils down to this: The real issue isn't desal; it's getting the water we need. 

And we do need more water. Conservation and efficiency alone are not enough. Cambrians are already the most efficient users of water on the Central Coast; there is no cheap and easy way for them to save much more. They need supplemental water supply for at least three reasons -- to provide a reliable cushion in times of severe drought, to ensure fire protection, and to enable the limited growth (through the build-out of the water Wait List) that will make Cambria's economy and the CCSD's services more sustainable for the long term without changing Cambria's distinctive character.

Is desalination the answer? That depends. If a project using desal technology is the cheapest, quickest to build and most reliable of all the alternatives, then I'm for it. If another method were to meet those tests, I would be for that one. What I see right now is a limited range of options culled from years of studies costing millions of dollars. (It's time to move beyond the study phase, folks!) The CCSD has essentially boiled the choices down to a handful: reservoirs to store water near San Simeon Creek, a pipeline linking Cambria to Whale Rock Reservoir, and a brackish-water treatment plant near the mouth of San Simeon Creek. 

Of these, the brackish-water plan -- using desal technology to treat water that is less salty than seawater -- is the cheapest. You can see it compared with other alternatives on Page 8 of a recent presentation to the CCSD.

Cambrians have been talking and arguing about desal for the better part of two decades, of course. Why does such a plan have any better chance now of getting past the environmental, legal and political hurdles that have blocked others in the past? I would suggest that a good enough plan does have a chance -- and that the brackish-water treatment plan is better than what has gone before. It is similar in size and cost to a water treatment plant built recently by the town of Sand City on Monterey Bay. This project took five years from start to finish, including all the time spent on permits and environmental clearances. I see no reason why Cambria, with the right level of commitment, could not do the same.


In Case You Missed It ...

Here is my Candidate Statement to The Cambrian, published Thursday, Oct. 4, along with answers to The Cambrian's questions asked of CCSD candidates:

My professional life has been spent in journalism – as a reporter, editorial writer, editor and author– and in communications consulting for non-profit and business clients. Through this work I have gained plenty of knowledge about the challenges that local governments face.  And I have come to know Cambria’s particular challenges through my involvement in the North Coast Advisory Council, where I have chaired the Land Use Committee and now chair of the full Council.

My experience has taught me some truths about public office. One is that those who talk the most don’t necessarily speak for the whole community. Another is that governments, even when made up of good people, tend to waste money.

These facts lead me to the priorities that I will follow as a member of the CCSD board.

First and foremost, I will make sure the District is fiscally responsible and will not raise your water and sewer rates. I will work to reduce all long-term liabilities such as pensions and retiree healthcare costs. I will seek out all possible savings to be gained from administrative mergers, contracting or joint efforts with other government entities.

Second, I am committed to building a reliable supplemental water supply for Cambria. The CCSD has narrowed the range of proposed projects to the small number that are technically feasible, could be financed without raising rates for current customers and would not allow excessive growth.  Of these, the most promising is brackish-water treatment near the mouth of San Simeon Creek. I favor moving forward with it, and I think most Cambrians who truly want the water problem solved will agree with me.

QUESTION 1: WHAT IS THE DISTRICT DOING RIGHT? WHERE IS THERE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT?

Fiscal management has improved over the past two years, but the work of squeezing out waste and ensuring long-term sustainability is just beginning. One other area for improvement is feedback to customers. The District should bill more frequently so that residents can better track how well they conserve water. And here’s an idea for better customer service: Find a way to be open for business on Friday.

QUESTION 2: DOES CAMBRIA NEED A SUPPLEMENTAL WATER SUPPLY? WHAT IS THE MOST PROMISING OPTION?         

The answer to the first question is yes. Conservation alone is not enough. Cambria now depends on local watersheds that are vulnerable in severe droughts. These have happened before – when Cambria was much smaller than it is now – and they will happen again. As for options, the most promising is brackish-water treatment near San Simeon. This is the lowest-cost plan being considered by the CCSD and it taps into a water source that is reliable in dry years.

QUESTION 3: UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD WATER AND SEWER RATES BE RAISED?

I see no circumstances under which rates should be raised for current customers. The CCSD should be managed so that it lives within its means. A supplemental water supply can be financed through fees on new construction.