It’s early in 2020 and those in favor of consolidation of the Coastside’s water and sewer districts are already repeating their standard arguments.
1. The Sewer Authority Mid-coastside is dysfunctional.
2. One giant agency is always better than local control.
3. Millions of dollars will be saved in administrative costs.
1. Five or six years ago, SAM worked pretty well and everyone got along. Half Moon Bay then began blocking infrastructure needs it didn’t want to pay for. Next, the city started paying its share, but under legal protest. Finally, city officials sued the two northern agencies to get out of the SAM contract. SAM is only dysfunctional because Half Moon Bay won’t cooperate with the other players.
2. No one has ever shown that one giant bureaucracy better meets the needs of local constituencies than do locally controlled agencies. None of the two northern agencies want to be under the control of Half Moon Bay.
3. The millions of dollars required to merge any agencies will always far exceed any minor potential savings.
The biggest fact that those in favor of consolidation ignore is that there is a standard legal process to consolidate agencies under county rules. The process involves signature-gathering and public voting in the districts. In the 30 years I have lived on the coast, no consolidator has ever attempted to run this process. Why? Because the district citizens get to vote. Does anyone on the coast really think that the ratepayers in the Montara and Granada districts will vote to merge their districts under Half Moon Bay (that is, the agency that just sued them)?
So, here is the main issue. Consolidation under the normal county process will never occur. The consolidators hope that an outside agency (the state or county) will force this on the north district people against their wishes. Arguments for Coastside-wide boards are empty, because the population distribution of the districts will ensure that Half Moon Bay will be in control.
In conclusion, consolidation will never occur. A forced takeover is what’s being proposed. A note to the Northern Coast: It’s time to get involved. A note to all the coast: The millions of dollars spent to pursue and settle the Half Moon Bay lawsuit could have been used to replace our aging infrastructure.
Ric Lohman is a member of the board of directors of the Montara Water and Sanitary District.