For the past year and a half I’ve served on the board of the Montara Water and Sanitary District, completing the term of Paul Perkovic, a long-term board member who died last year. I also served on the board for eight years in the 1990s.
Since rejoining the board, I’ve become increasingly troubled with the state of relationships between MWSD and other local agencies. For instance: The district initiated an eminent domain action against San Mateo County regarding the Half Moon Bay Airport wells and that escalated into a lawsuit with the federal government. It ended up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses.
The district sued the North Coast County Water District because that district supplied water to Caltrans for the Devil’s Slide tunnel project — all while MWSD was under a longstanding moratorium against new connections and realistically unable to serve the project.
In its role as a member of the Sewer Authority Mid-Coastside, the district opposed efforts by the Coastside County Water District to develop a recycled water project at SAM. Our district argued that, despite the fact that the heavy capital cost was to be funded entirely by CCWD, MWSD was entitled to a share of the resulting revenue.
In each of these situations, MWSD board members thought the action taken was necessary to protect the district, and that they had exhausted all other reasonable courses of action. While their intentions were good, the outcomes were not. I believe the longstanding animosity between agencies (and their representatives) was a significant reason why more constructive solutions weren’t successful.
Going forward, I worry the board feels justified taking an adversarial approach with the county and adjoining districts. In fact, some members seem to prefer that tack. MWSD needs board members who will acknowledge that MWSD bears part of the responsibility for the poor state of these relationships and exercise leadership to improve the situation. The approach I favor is to engage in joint projects with mutual benefit and find win-win outcomes. Here’s a sampling of areas with potential:
In 2008, MWSD and CCWD executed an agreement to intertie their water systems. This would create a link for transfer of water between districts in emergency situations. This is a public safety priority, however the MWSD board is not pursuing the project.
MWSD would like to drill test wells in the Caltrans property in Montara and Moss Beach. The land was made surplus by construction of the Devil’s Slide tunnels (referred to as the bypass alignment, now designated as open space). While the California Coastal Commission requires that a master plan for this property be prepared by the county before any land use is approved, the district has not engaged with the county on the issue.
MWSD spends about $8 to generate and service each customer water bill. Economies of scale help the neighboring North Coast water district spend less than $2 on that same task. It may be possible to reduce cost by outsourcing customer billing to our neighbors to the north or finding another billing provider.
I would like to hear how the incumbent and new candidates for the MWSD board would approach these issues, and, if elected, how they will influence the district’s leadership.
I believe bringing the water system into public ownership 10 years ago was extremely beneficial to the community, and, since acquisition, the MWSD board has worked diligently to improve infrastructure and customer service. The current board members — all of whom (other than myself) served at the time of acquisition — deserve our gratitude and appreciation for these accomplishments and for their years of dedicated public service. Whomever wins in November, going forward, the community would be better served by a board focused on improving interagency relationships and operating MWSD in a more cooperative manner.
Chris Thollaug is a member of the MWSD board. His term ends later this year.