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MWSD needs a cooperative approach

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Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 10:57 am

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.

Welcome to the discussion.

11 comments:

  • Cid Young posted at 2:37 pm on Fri, Oct 25, 2013.

    Cid Young Posts: 114

    LATE TO THE DISCUSSION.

    I support the MWSD incumbents, Jim Harvey & Bob Ptacek for re-election in November. As a Moss Beach property owner who has gladly paid the Bond to acquire our own water service these past 10 years, I am skeptical of those candidates that mention consolidation with other districts. I don't want to open the door to a merger that might take away our local control, especially to "cooperate" with one that imports 70% of their water from Hetch Hetchy, and is subject to rate increases from outside entities such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
    The incumbents are doing their jobs protecting OUR assets from the clutches of those in HMB that want to "CONTROL" the rest of us. The more they get, the more they spend... so they can drill their own wells as a back-up plan, as far as protecting their own rate payers from the "imported" water from the SFPUC. As property owners, we funded our water supply here, and I wish to keep it that way.

    CO-OPERATION DOES NOT HAVE TO EQUAL CONSOLIDATION. I have attended a number of MWSD Meetings and saw first hand how Chris T. behaved. His opinion is an expression of his on-going attitude of SOUR GRAPES towards fellow Board members.

     
  • George posted at 7:37 pm on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    George Posts: 605

    Bill, I am not going to waste anymore time on this. It is apparent to me that you are tightly wrapped around the axle on this and I might suggest taking a breath so you don't miss the forest for the trees.

    If you look at and read pae's comment (bottom), you will note that the time frame mentioned was "a couple of years", and that is simply not so. I might suggest that emotion over this matter may have gotten ahead of the facts of the matter. As to pae's accuracy in the past; I know pae to be a work horse and one with incredible articulation skills. Without pae's efforts (all the way around), I doubt the FB recall would have gotten lift, let alone flew the course. That is why I addressed that point - to try to show pae that comments like that challenge all the credibility pae has attained.

    Regarding the recycled water matter; I attended almost all of the public meetings on that and, as I tried to state earlier, the venom was evident and equal from all Board members at every turn. There was no working together for the good of the community, not that I saw. There was mis-trust galore, and barbs flying around like the seven year locusts and each member was just as "to blame' as the next. And the results are obvious - we have no benefit from recycled water because the six of them couldn't play well together. And that is a shame.

    Enough of the back and forth. I'm already in this deeper than I'd anticipated. The itch that pushed me over the edge was pae's erroneous comment (mentioned to death now) and the fact that I would love to see cooperation between coastside Agencies. Whether through consolidation (which I see benefits to) or not - the clear political divides that we have here on the coast are taking (and have taken, and will continue to take) its toll on the constituents the elected are elected to serve. It has been going on for many years and the sooner we rid ourselves of those elected that perpetuate that cancer, the better off our community will be.

    Thank you for your understanding, Bill.

     
  • bkehoe posted at 2:33 pm on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    bkehoe Posts: 16

    George, BKehoe is short for my name, Bill Kehoe (only one on the coast) and is less anonymous than your posting under George, which could be one of many but some of us know who you are, so lets put that misdirection to rest right now.

    Next, there was no claim that MWSDis"always correct" so don't insert a straw-man argument to support your claims.

    Your assumption that "emotions lead over facts" is just that. Thollaug put forth some half truths and one completely erroneous opinion that those of us who follow our the proceedings have the right to challenge. As the saying goes, "you have a right to your own opinion but not your own facts". And that is the trouble, you seem to be willing to let the original opinion piece make unsubstantiated claims and then demand more of anyone who challenges them.And let me be clear, as a sitting board member, his statements should be the most accurate because he access to all the information and he is representing the whole community. Every counterpoint to Mr. Thollaug's opinion I checked and you can too through a public records request.

    As far as the recycled water issue goes, the fault can not be laid on MWSD (or even GSD) as implied by the article since they were pushing for the idea. After all they each have only 25% of the vote to HMB's 50% so singling out just one party is disingenuous. What you have actually highlighted is this myth that cooperating and consolidating to get some economy of scales benefits actually reaches a point of diminishing return very quickly on the coast side.

    I do agree with your comment, "Dealing with the facts, complete and in their entirety" and because I saw the misleading statements be made I was compelled to clarify those issues which I understood. I expected more from a public official. In my role on the MCC, it was always important to me that we serve in a "teaching" role so the community fully understands the issues at stake. That, IMHO, was not done in the article.

    And finally, in an earlier posting you questioned the claim by PAE of 200% rise in CCWD water rate. I do not know the time frame PAE used (but I know PAE has been very accurate in the past) but I was comparing CCWD rates to MWSD rates from 2003 to present. Surprisingly, she was not far off from CCWD's published rate increase. For 2003 - 2012 the cumulative total was 155%. Its that compound interest factor! But I understand why you missed it. Its the gradual raising of rates over a period time that gets you. Kind of like a Main lobster thinking he is sitting in a hot tub but ending up as dinner.

    Hope this helps. Remember BKehoe = Bill Kehoe.

     
  • George posted at 12:06 pm on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    George Posts: 605

    Why is it that when someone expresses their thoughts others find it appropriate to attack the person, as if that will change the facts in the matter?

    How is it also logical that MWSD is fine, respectful and always correct and it's all the other Agencies that are the problem?

    Why is it that emotion always takes the lead over the facts in a matter around here? That does not change the facts, nor is that approach conducive to resolving anything. Alleged facts (without documentation, of course) and personal attacks only reinforce the author's points on the lack of cooperation between Agencies.

    Further, why is it that the vast majority of those that are part of the problem always spew their venom anonymously?

    There are very real issues highlighted by Mr Thollaug's piece that, to be solved have to first be identified and addressed. I wouldn't know Mr Thollaug if I bumped into him on the street, but I can appreciate that he uses his name and respectfully (IMHO) at least gives it a go - only to be met and and stripped by anon responders.

    And we wonder why MWSD has such a bad rep on the coast?

    On the recycling matter, for example, one anon poster claims (in part): "But Lohman, Boyd and Harvey saw the future needs on the coastside and lead SAM on this issue." Assuming for a moment that the poster meant that comment in a positive and productive way, then the first thing I want to do is look at the result. The result was failure - complete failure in every regard. They led the way alright - straight down the old drain (play intended). I was at those meetings and I can say, without any hesitation, that the rancor and rhetoric at those SAM meetings permeated the air so badly that one could scarcely breath; and no one was 'innocent'. Each Board member and all of them collectively acted like two year olds. It was a pathetic display all the way around. And here we sit, with no recycled water, in direct defiance with State requests and requirements.

    Dealing with the facts, complete and in their entirety, will go a long way to resolving disputes. Rhetoric, personal attacks and emotion will only prolong the inevitable and the issue of recycled water would be a good example of that. One way or another, it is coming and it will benefit us all when done right.

    Seems then that the question now would be; do we have the leadership to cut through all the BS and get it done? At this point, the answer is painfully obvious; NO - but it's coming, even if it ends up being the State that takes the lead.

     
  • John Charles Ullom posted at 10:08 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    John Charles Ullom Posts: 1050

    It cost them $8.00 to create an invoice?

     
  • bkehoe posted at 7:54 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    bkehoe Posts: 16

    Mr. Thollaug’s opinion piece, “MWSD needs a cooperative approach” in the HMBR 10-09-2013, is a hit piece by a disgruntled board member because he could not get his own way in district meetings. He either naively or deliberately states vague references to previous actions of the MWSD (the Board which he is currently serving on!) without giving your readers the full story. This is hardly the way to conduct business and is entirely unprofessional. One must ask, “What are his motives?” A little known fact is that Mr. Thollaug was never supportive of our community’s buy-out of Cal-Am (which won with 80% of the community vote for back in 2002).

    As someone who has been attending the MWSD meetings fairly regularly for the past two years, I will try to enlighten the readership with what I have learned by listening and asking questions at their regular meetings. I only wonder why Mr. Thollaug was not paying attention.

    First, Mr. Thollaug misleadingly states “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.” As the other Board members can tell you, it was the County which would not negotiate a fair, long term lease so that MWSD could acquire funds to treat the water according to state requirements MWSD won that litigation but then the County went to the Federal Government which forced MWSD to defend their rights to the Airport Wells. At that time those wells were the primary water producers for our district. Would Mr. Thollaug allow the citizens of Montara and Moss Beach go without water? Would being “nice” provide water at an equitable price? I hope he is not that naive.

    Next Mr. Thollaug says, “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”. He forget to add that numerous communications were made with NCCWD to ensure that the MWSD boundaries would be remain safe from a takeover (prevent prescriptive easement). The community bought and paid for these assets when MWSD took over from Cal-Am and should not be given away without compensation. When NCCWD would not cooperate, it was the Boards fiduciary responsibility to bond holder to protect our assets. Would Chris not protect the community investment?

    The last accusation, “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” is completely wrong. But last night at the GSD candidate forum, Ric Lohman talked about how GSD and MWSD set up the pilot project to prototype water recycling to save water on the coast which would reduce water rates and benefit CCWD agriculture and business rates more than other rate payers. But Lohman, Boyd and Harvey saw the future needs on the coastside and lead SAM on this issue. Where does Mr. Thollaug get his information? Could he have taken the time to ask some SAM board members or staff or read the minutes? Does he honestly believe cooperation will lead to anything but consolidation and the loss of the MWSD rate payer’s investment? Why is he NOT looking after MWSD assets and rate payers while serving on that board?

    Appeasement has never really worked well throughout history so why is this false narrative being put forth here? If Mr. Thollaug really wants to be cooperative, I think all he has to do is go back over the tapes of MWSD meetings from last June through September to see himself berate other Board members, staff and consultants in a public meeting to see who really needs to learn how to work with others.

     
  • Fin posted at 12:18 am on Fri, Oct 11, 2013.

    Fin Posts: 26

    I don't hear anyone from Montara or Moss Beach whining about MWSD's lack of cooperation with CCWD other than Chris Thollaug and a handful of Big Wave supporters.

     
  • George posted at 8:37 pm on Thu, Oct 10, 2013.

    George Posts: 605

    slight correction: above stated - "Many feel MWSD has played well with others over the years and the actions mentioned above would confirm that." - should read - "Many feel MWSD has not played well with others over the years and the actions mentioned above would confirm that." The word - not - should have been inserted as the corrected sentence shows.

     
  • George posted at 8:34 pm on Thu, Oct 10, 2013.

    George Posts: 605

    With all due respect pae, I am a CCWD customer and have been for over 30 years and although the CCWD rates have gone up just about every year over the last decade, your comment (in part), "...at a time when their water rates have increased over 200% in just a couple years...", has not been my experience. I have absolutely no idea where you get that.

    The above piece neither seems defensive nor inaccurate to me, although being a CCWD customer, I may have missed something that customers of MWSD have experienced. I would suggest that the tone of the piece is something that should be viewed as righteous. Many feel MWSD has played well with others over the years and the actions mentioned above would confirm that. It doesn't have to be that way, but it has been.

    Water is a very precious resource to us all. There is a finite amount, few distributors to choose from and an ever growing population. That is not a good mix. I would love to see a mutually beneficial 'project' or two between MWSD and CCWD where they work together for the benefit of all. Perhaps working together for more water storage or additional sources or real recycled water created and distributed jointly at affordable rates might be a good start.

    We are, after all, neighbors. We do drive the same roads, shop at the same stores, send our kids to the same schools, use the same law enforcement and Fire services, and enjoy the same garden of God here on our little slice of the San Mateo coast.

    Despite past animosities, regardless of who any single individual might see as "at fault", we sure can get along. All we have to do is try. Is that really too much to ask? Really?

     
  • pae posted at 6:47 pm on Thu, Oct 10, 2013.

    pae Posts: 140

    I find it interesting that CCWD's push to "cooperate" with MWSD comes at a time when their water rates have increased over 200% in just a couple years and the ongoing availability of Hetch Hetchy water is less guaranteed than it was. CCWD crowed about its superior water source in years past and wanted nothing to do with Montara/Moss Beach when this area was experiencing water shortages. Now that the tables are turned and their water supply is less secure, they suddenly want a tie-in with MWSD. We now have stability in our supply, and Montara/Moss Beach residents have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to acquire and upgrade our water system. Would any of that be returned to us if HMB takes over? Somehow I seriously doubt it. Make no mistake, a tie-in is the first step to sending our water south, risking another shortage here in dry years for the beleaguered residents of this area. If the larger HMB district gains control over our district, we would fare like we always do, as the minority vote on issues that affect us.

    I've lived here 37 years, and I remember very well just how we were served in the past by the for-profit companies who owned our water system and ran it into the ground. I remember turning on my faucet and getting not a drop of water. I remember the poor quality of our water, which was never treated to remove salts and iron or even microbes. Our newer residents missed those "good old days," and i've heard them wishing for the lower water rates HMB used to enjoy. Well, their rates aren't so low any more, and they're going to increase far more in all likelihood. The odds of CCWD paying us for the good reliable system we now have are minuscule. Nor would we enjoy lower rates if we did tie in to that system. So what's in it for Montara and Moss Beach? Nothing!

     
  • Fin posted at 4:16 pm on Thu, Oct 10, 2013.

    Fin Posts: 26

    Why isn't Chris Thollaug running for MWSD? He sounds bitter in the above op-ed.

    He was appointed unanimously by the current board. Maybe he should learn to work more cooperatively with others and put the good of the community before petty griping.

     

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