Huntington Beach respectfully asks Coastal Commission to shitcan Poseidon.


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Last we left our plucky Huntington Beach City Council – before that irritating distraction with the fire pits – they’d been discussing…  Wait, let me back up.  Way back.

Why the whole County needs to worry about Poseidon

If enough Orange County agencies and governments sign onto Poseidon’s unnecessary, expensive, desalinated water, it will make ALL of our water rates go up much higher than they would otherwise.  (To be honest water rates will continue to rise in any case because of the necessary upkeep of our water infrastructure;  but Poseidon would add a LOT to that raise, unnecessarily.)  On top of that there are aspects of the plant that would be subsidized by California taxpayers, and given that it’s an unnecessary subsidy to a private corporation, screw THAT noise!  [For more documentation, click the evil water drop to the right.]  [His name is SOAKY! -gad]

And so this is a story all Orange County should be following.  But obviously the struggle is ESPECIALLY important to Huntington Beach – because it’ll be located here, spewing thick briny bilge into the beautiful sparkling coastal waters we HB’ers admire, swim, surf, and fish in, and which is also the lifeblood of our tourist industry.   Furthermore it could be said that Poseidon is OUR BAD, and so it would only be right if we were the ones to kill it off, if we can.

Poseidon, the Water God. Is this behemoth really undefeatable? Scroll to the bottom of the article to see.

That’s because it was approved by past incarnations of our Council, which at one point (2009-10) boasted a 6-to-1 majority in favor of this monstrosity – all six wined, dined, and heavily campaign-financed by the corporation.  The sole voice of reason during those two years was Jill Hardy, which explains the viciousness of Poseidon’s stealth campaign against her last year (and her righteous vengeance now after her huge victory.)

That was then, this is now, and the tables are dramatically turned, with 5-to-2 OPPOSING Poseidon.  Shills and shady push-pollers like Adam Probolsky will dispute this, but that reflects a shift in public opinion as well – the positions of Boardman, Shaw, Hardy and Sullivan on this burning local issue were well known to voters when they kicked ass.

Of course it’s the 2010 iteration of the Council that approved the project – that horse has left the barn.  But the Council is not left without cards to play.  There is a vital permitting hearing before the California Coastal Commission (previously scheduled for this month, now postponed to some time in the Fall.)  Mayor Connie Boardman’s idea, last May 6, was for the Council to send the Commission a letter, for which she expected a 5-2 vote, to ask them to deny Poseidon the vital CDP (Coastal Development Permit.)

Poseidon supporters – the two sorts of guys who would do that.

First, let’s look at those two holdouts – or, as Don Rumsfeld might call them, the Poseidon Dead-enders – why do they back the project?  That would be Joe Carchio, a somewhat doddering and very slightly loveable retired football coach who echoed the short-sighted construction unions’ calls for (very temporary) JOBS JOBS JOBS, and fretted mightily about how businesses would never again trust the word of the Council if it changed its mind this time.  

And our other Poseideon Dead-ender is career-politician/technocrat, Mayor Pro-Tem Matt Harper, whose eyes shone as he spoke rapturously of Desalination Being The Future.  It was disquieting because he sounded for all the world like OCTA toll-trolls Don Hansen and Miguel Pulido rhapsodizing about how bright and futuristic it will be When All Our Freeways Have Toll Lanes.  I say it was disquieting because Harper is Our Man on OCTA and we need him to HOLD FIRM for the Corridor Cities AGAINST 405 toll lanes!  Please, dude – stand strong and don’t forget why we put you there!

So anyway, that still left the Mayor with a 5-2 majority for sending the letter, right?  Well, here’s what happened earlier that day:  Poseidon sent an e-mail to HB attorneys THREATENING A LAWSUIT if this letter were sent.  The fear of an expensive lawsuit didn’t shake the stalwart Boardman, Hardy and Shaw, but it spooked Dave Sullivan and Jim Katapodis enough that the majority was gone, and a substitute motion prevailed for each councilmember who cared to to send in their own individual letter.

And that provided quite a moment of comedy actually, as the Weekly‘s Brandon Ferguson reported:

The evening was provided some levity after Mayor Boardman said the council had received a letter from Poseidon Attorney Chris Garrett threatening a lawsuit. Councilmember Joe Carchio said this wasn’t true and asked Garrett to come to the podium and explain himself.

Standing before the council, Garrett said that Poseidon had not made any such threat. As he walked back to his seat, Carchio then looked to the city attorney to ask if this was true.

“We did receive a letter from Poseidon’s attorney threatening litigation. Yes,” the city attorney deadpanned as the room erupted in laughter.

The funniest part, which Brandon left out, was a befuddled Carchio looking around and mumbling, “I don’t know what’s so funny.”  Oh and then, with the closed-session cat out of the bag, the Mayor took the liberty to read the once-secret letter into the record!  City council junkies were rolling in the aisles.  Well… maybe you had to be there.

(Greg “Gericault” Ridge, in his perceptive way, took to the blogs the next day.  You see, Poseidon has been trolling the county trying to get “letters of intent” from any town that will sign them, assuring them that such letters would be in no way binding.  “Remember this night,” Gericault intoned, “if you change your mind, POSEIDON WILL SUE YOU.”)

Anyway, so here we are.  Five anti-Poseidon letters from five councilmembers?  I wanted to see them, and reprint them.  I don’t know, that just sounded interesting to me, as a connoisseur of politicians’ slightly different styles, quirks, and ideologies.  So here we have ‘em, may they fall on receptive ears:

Dave Sullivan

We’ll start with the shortest and sweetest letter, from former Mayor Dave Sullivan.  The crusty old maverick Republican and decent environmentalist has been a Poseidon foe from the beginning, largely because he is EXTREMELY unimpressed with the company and its record.  At the May 6 meeting he more than once used the expression “White Elephant” in regards to what he DOESN’T want his beloved city to be stuck with.  His letter was characteristically laconic and to the point:

I am opposed to the Poseidon project in Huntington Beach.  I oppose the project because Poseidon has never built a successful desalination plant!  Under these circumstances, I feel that it is unwise to allow Poseidon to build a major project on our coast.

I urge you to wait until the Carlsbad project [another current, unsuccessful Poseidon effort] has been proven successful before considering an additional desalination plant.

Jim Katapodis

We were a LITTLE nervous about Jim, who’s brand new on the Council.  A moderate Republican and retired police captain, he’s assured us he opposes Poseidon, but that puts the union guy on the other side of some powerful unions, AND he seems to think the world of our new assemblyman Travis Allen, who seems to be carrying Poseidon water (as much as an assemblyman can.)  Still, Jim’s letter stands up:

As a concerned citizen of the City of Huntington Beach and a strong advocate of responsible government, I respectfully request that the CDP [Coastal Development Permit] application of the proposed Poseidon desalination Project, pending appeal to the Commission, be given a more thorough review.

Although the HB City Council approved CDP permit #10-014 in 2010, the unfortunate decision was appealed by several organizations, including Coastal Commissioners Sara Wan and Ross Mirkarimi, and based on the objections on substantial issues that the CDP did not adequately enforce several provisions of our Local Coastal Program.  Attachment A and B have been enclosed for your convenience.

The proposed Poseidon project is in dire need of more advanced technology that will have less negative impact on the environment and marine life, and lacks the utilization of more cost-effective process in its current form.

I hope you will find that approval of such a desalination project in its current form is not feasible.  (Then Jim appends 27 pages of supporting material, which you could read here if you were so disposed.)

Jill Hardy

After so many years of fighting Poseidon but being on the losing side, after being utterly SAVAGED by them during the last election with disgusting mailers (laundered through OC Business Council and Atlas PAC, as uncovered by Gus Ayer’s detective work) practically accusing her of being a child molester, Jill has become the avenging anti-Poseidon VALKYRIE now that she finally has a majority with her.  On May 6 she eloquently explained her steadfast opposition, but most memorable was when she said something like “At one point the science seemed pretty compelling on both sides… until I caught one of Poseidon’s scientists LYING” – and her eyes flashed fire – presumably at some cowering bought-off “scientist” sitting in the audience.  Here’s Jill:

I am writing to request that the California Coastal Commission deny the Coastal Development Permit for the Poseidon Desalination project.   As a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, I have had the opportunity to evaluate the project three times, and have voted against the Environmental Impact Report and the project each time.  There are four main reasons I believe the EIR and the project are deficient:

  1. Negative impact of the intake/outfall pipes into the ocean.  The EIR assigns negative impacts to the existing AES power plant that currently uses the pipes.  AES has proposed a new state-of-the-art generating station that eliminates the need for once-through cooling.  When completed, all impacts from the intake/outfall pipes will be the result of Poseidon’s project.  If power plants using the once-through cooling process are required to end the use of intake/outfall pipes because they are harming the coast, why would Poseidon get approval to continue the use of such pipes?
  2. Growth-inducing impacts.  Since Orange County’s water agencies can purchase adequate supplies at one quarter to one half the cost of Poseidon’s desalinated water, the only buyers for this water would be those communities that must demonstrate a sufficient supply of new water for new development in compliance with SB 610 and SB 221.
  3. Poseidon’s water is simply not needed.  The technology Poseidon proposes is costly and already dated.  Before the facility is built, it is already obsolete.  Water conservation has increased, and total water use has decreased, even though the population has gone up.  Projected water needs for North Orange County are met for the next 25 years according to every Urban Water Management Plan in the county.  The 25-year projections do not predict a crisis at the end of that time period, but rather that is only how far studies predict into the future.  Poseidon is offering 30-year purchasing contracts.  There is no need for the water for nearly the length of the contracts.
  4. Climate impacts.  The EIR states that the analysis on impacts of greenhouse gas emissions is “based on the assumption that the imported water that would be replaced would be in the State Water Project supply.”  First, per Metropolitan Water District, this project does NOT replace imported water.  Second, agencies do not get to “choose” whether their water comes from the state water project or the Colorado River.  Poseidon’s analysis is bogus and the energy consumed to run this plant, 315,360 MW hours per year, should be analyzed for compliance with California’s climate targets.

The “benefits” Poseidon provides to Southern California are not beneficial at all.  They will include continued use of environmentally damaging intake/outfall pipes that are already half a century old.  Poseidon’s project will increase growth.  It will only succeed in encumbering agencies with 30-year obligations to purchase expensive water that is not needed, and the project will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

I urge you to oppose the Coastal Development Permit for the Poseidon Desalination project.

Joe Shaw

On May 6, small businessman Joe Shaw took, by the horns, the canard that a governmental body that resists being pantsed and castrated by a large powerful corporation is somehow “anti-business.”  His argument against THAT bullshit was how disastrous the higher water rates caused by Poseidon would be to the small and medium-sized businesses that are the lifeblood of a town.  Opposing Poseidon is PRO-BUSINESS, he concluded.  And then in his letter (because what does the Coastal Commission care about business and jobs?) he made other good points:

I am joining four other Huntington Beach city councilmembers in writing to oppose the Poseidon Desalination Project In Huntington Beach.

In April, the majority of our City Council was prepared to authorize Mayor Connie Boardman to send you a formal letter from the council opposing the Poseidon project. However, Poseidon, through its attorneys Latham & Watkins, presented us with a letter saying they would sue us if we issued a joint letter opposing the Poseidon project. Therefore, to avoid legal fees, we have written five separate letters to you. I have attached the original letter we were going to send, which has many of our reasons for opposing this project under the Coastal Act.

There are a variety of other reasons why this project is bad public policy including the issue of privatization of water, the extravagant costs of Poseidon’s water, the fact that Orange County does not need the water and the extraordinary amount of energy this plant will use to produce water.

Speaking directly to the Coastal Act, I would like to add two areas of deficiency that I believe exist in Poseidon’s application.

First, I believe the application is deficient in addressing the effects of climate change and sea level rise. As a director serving on the board of the Orange County Sanitation District, located only a mile or so down the coast from the proposed Poseidon plant, I am aware of the concerns that agency has about sea level rise. Both the OCSD and Poseidon’s proposed plant are at similar elevations ranging from 9-12 ft. above sea level.

The OCSD has the following concerns about sea-level rise:

  • Rising sea level impact on operation of our ocean outfall and pumping system.
  • Rising sea level impact on outlying sewage pump stations near the coast.
  • Rising sea level impact on potential flooding of Plant No. 2 in Huntington Beach.
  • Potential for changing precipitation patterns, such as larger more destructive winter storms resulting in higher peak flows.
  • Potential for warmer temperatures resulting in increased corrosion in the collection system.
  • Potential for warmer temperatures resulting in more frequent power outages during the summer.

I believe these concerns are very real and would also impact Poseidon’s proposed plant. However I do not believe these issues have been addressed in Poseidon’s application.

Second, I believe that there is inadequate mitigation for the greenhouse gases that the proposed plant will generate.

Poseidon’s application states that it will possibly install solar panels to offset some of the energy use, however doing so would still only offset one percent of the 315,360 MWh per year it will take to run the proposed plant. Less than one percent.

Finally, imagine what it must be like to be a resident of Adelaide, Australia. Their water authority tripled their water rates to pay for a $1.8 billion plant one of the largest in the world. But guess what? They don’t currently need any of the water! That’s right! This $2 billion plant will now sit idle at a cost to ratepayers of $30 million a year.

For all these reasons, plus those laid out in the attached letter, I add my letter to the four letters my council colleagues have already sent you.

Mayor Connie Boardman

Finally, our beloved Mayor, who is actually a scientist – a biologist – and seems to have written this letter with a lawyer at her side (I can only guess whom.)  I must warn you:  If this starts to seem a little dry, first of all, don’t believe that there is a water shortage, we are ok for decades;  secondly, you can skip down to where it’s not indented any more, to once again enjoy my dancing snarky prose.

At the May 6 meeting of the HB City Council, I placed an item on our agenda for the Council to communicate to you that the Council no longer supported the plan to construct the Poseidon water desalination plant in Huntington Beach.  Based on statements made by Council members during the discussion of the item, I believe I had the votes to pass this item.  However, earlier in the day, Poseidon sent an e-mail to one of our City Attorneys threatening to sue the city if we as a body sent such a letter to the Commission.  I have attached the e-mail from Poseidon that I read at the Council meeting and it is part of the public record.

My suggested action in no way reconsidered the project or changed any prior approval.  However, given the threat of an expensive lawsuit, the Council decided that individual Council members would write their own letters to the Coastal Commission.

I am requesting that the Commission deny the CDP for the Poseidon desalination plant when it comes before you.  I have detailed my reasons below

In 2010, the Council approved Coastal Development Permit No. 10-014, conditionally approving the “Poseidon Seawater Desalination Project” (Poseidon CDP.)  The city’s approval of the Poseidon CDP was appealed by several organizations, as well as Commissioners Wan and Mirkarimi.  Subsequently, the Coastal Commission found that “substantial issues” were raised in the several appeals.  Neither the City nor the Applicant opposed the Commission’s finding of “substantial issues” in the several appeals, but the Applicant did submit comments regarding those findings.

I agree with the Coastal Commission’s finding of “substantial issues” and that the issuance of the CDP did not adequately enforce several provisions of our Local Coastal Program (LCP), and recommend that the Commission deny the CDP.

The Applicant can re-apply for a Project CDP from the city that is consistent with our LCP.  However, I believe that significant changes to the project may be required to resolve the substantial issues that were in violation of our LCP.

I believe that it would be premature for the Coastal Commission to issue a CDP for the “retained jurisdiction” portion of the project prior to the Applicant presenting a revised proposal consistent with our local CDP [sic - LCP?]

Below you will find a list of my reasons I believe the project violates our LCP in regard to the “substantial issues” adopted by the Commission in 2010………

Then, Connie goes on for pages and pages, detailing ways in which the project is not compliant.  I AM NOT GOING TO TYPE IT ALL OUT, or expect you to read it either, but if you WANT to here’s the PDF.  Amusingly, perversely, it looks like in several instances their efforts to comply with one or two important provisions would put them in violation of one or two other important provisions – damned if they do, damned if they don’t.  Couldn’ta happened to a more devilish entity.

You finally reach the conclusion, as we hope the Commission, and eventually Poseidon themselves, do, that it’s just not possible to build this facility in compliance with our vital environmental regulations and still make the huge profits Poseidon hopes for.  Especially as local governments and agencies wake up and refuse to subsidize this scam.  So go away.  Please.

The once-fearsome water god Poseidon slinks away in disgrace.

I just spoke with Debbie Cook, who is as waist-deep in this struggle as any human being.  She estimates we have a 50-50 chance at the Commission, and that if the CDP is denied, Poseidon can either go back and put buku man-hours into developing a new plan that may be compliant but will be a lot more difficult and less profitable on their end – or hopefully they will just throw up their hands and sell off the whole thing, maybe to our Metropolitan Water District, after which it would at least be an actual public project if it ever happens.

But she’s pretty damn sure we’ll beat them the other way – the way that Gus Ayer suggested before his untimely demise:  Poseidon just doesn’t have enough customers interested in their water, as OC’s local governments and water districts all come to realize how unnecessary and expensive this water will be.  It would be nice if we activists could take credit for that, but sometimes it’s just the case that the truth becomes inescapable.  And so it goes…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.