As I stood about waiting for Wednesday’s marathon Coastal Commission hearing to begin, and beheld our nemesis, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni, stomping about scowling, I resolved to shake his hand. (Hell, I’ve shaken Matt Cunningham’s hand, how much dirtier can I get?) And the swarthy-skinned, boyish-voiced VP declared in a pained tone, “Whichever way this goes, I just can’t wait for it to be over.”
What are you going to do next, if the Commission rules against you? “Oh, they’re not going to rule against us.” (He was already sure of that somehow!) “But I’m pretty sure they’ll throw some curve ball at us that’ll keep this whole thing going even longer.”
That prediction was correct and Scott’s wish for closure remained unfulfilled. If you haven’t already read, Poseidon, rather than cut into their profits by spending extra on more environmentally friendly intakes, withdrew their application to buy more time – ostensibly to conduct credible feasibility studies on those better intakes, but knowing them, probably to have more time to lobby, both for their project and against new stricter regulations, AND hoping for a more pliable Board next go-round.
Tell us about these “infiltration galleries!”
I know, huh? So many cool terms you learn at these scientific hearings. Entrainment, collocation, infiltration galleries…
First let me re-iterate for the nth time that there are many reasons to be against Poseidon that have nothing to do with the environment – The Weekly‘s excellent Brandon Ferguson just listed ten of them last week, and THAT list was itself an addendum to Nick Schou’s decade-ago list of ten reasons. I won’t distract by listing any of those here, because at Wednesday’s Coastal Commission hearing ONLY environmental concerns were relevant.
It is not the Coastal Commission’s concern to create jobs. It is not the Coastal Commission’s concern to make sure that all the money, time and effort Poseidon and their shills have already poured into this project does not come to naught. It’s not the Coastal Commission’s concern to protect taxpayers and ratepayers, or even to guarantee us an extra source of water for the coming decades. The Coastal Commission’s ONLY concern is (or should be) to protect California’s coast.
It’s invigorating to listen to the staff scientists of the Coastal Commission, especially after an hour of self-interested spin from the water profiteers. It can be a way of fine-tuning your sense of honesty and truth. You sit on the edge of your seat in fear of missing gems like “Poseidon assures us that they will be legally bound by such and such a regulation, but they fail to mention that they’re currently attempting to get exemptions from those regulations.”
The CCC staff scientists and Connecticut-based Poseidon have a history, that’s for sure. A history of deception, obfuscation and footdragging from the company leading to a fierce skepticism and impatience from the scientists. Poseidon’s the kind of company that will pass off studies as objective and disinterested until investigators discover the authors were (previously) on their payroll. And then suddenly overwhelm the commission the night before the hearing with what purports to be a brand new serious 300-page study… but turns out to be all the same old shit repackaged.
Poseidon’s watchword is “collocation,” as in, they specialize in commandeering old power plants that are about to be phased out, inheriting their ghetto-rigged, 1950’s technology and saving themselves a buttload in construction costs. This is exactly the case in HB, where they plan to use the AES plant’s ancient “open ocean intake pipes,” which pull in 127 million gallons of ocean water a day, while sucking in (or “entraining”) “more than 80 million fish larvae, eggs and invertebrates along 100 miles of the Southern California coast, including a number of Marine Protected Areas.”
For this reason the staff recommendation was that if the desal project was to be approved it should instead use subsurface intakes just below the ocean floor – also known by the beautiful phrase “infiltration galleries” – which would draw seawater through a few feet of sand into perforated pipes, keeping out the tiny but precious organisms.
Poseidon and their paid scientists were all, it’s really not such a big deal these 80 million larvae, because there’s a lot more where they came from, and plus if you stuck em all together, they’re so tiny they wouldn’t even weigh all that much. And these infiltration galleries are totally “infeasible,” they’ve never been used for a desal project this size, they’ll be so expensive they’ll kill the whole project. Plus the ocean floor at Huntington is just too damn muddy, can’t be done; AND if it IS done, it will make a terrible mess of the ocean, MUCH more destructive than what Poseidon has planned. All SUCH naked bullshit, and also answerable by several commissioners’ suggestion that they go find a different site where they can do this thing the right way.
Here’s yet another example of Poseidon’s incorrigible deceptiveness: Aware of the fact that the open intakes on power plants including the AES are going to be phased out by 2020, and aware of the fact that the State Water Board is developing new rules for desal plants which will probably require subsurface intakes, Poseidon solemnly stood there and vowed that, if they were required by law to rebuild their whole plant with subsurface intakes, why then they would just have to buckle down and do that. Meanwhile they were ALSO fully aware – as fortunately a few commissioners also were aware – that the new rules will probably only apply to plants that had not yet been built, and Poseidon would be grandfathered in with its archaic, ghetto-rigged, larvae-slaughtering technology. As you’ll see, the Commission dodged that bullet with some quick thinking.
Our Secret Wish
It can be admitted now that those of us who want to see this project defeated for a whole “gallery” of reasons were hoping that the Commission’s insistence on the more expensive subsurface intakes would kill the project, would just make Poseidon throw up their hands and give up. But then on the other hand, if they did agree to the intakes, well, we would still be stuck with a boondoggle that we don’t need, enriching a very dishonest, manipulative and undeserving gang of water pirates, but at least it wouldn’t be quite so destructive to our coast so there’s that. Still, as the fix seemed to be in for approving the plant’s permit, we were rooting for it to be approved only on condition of the new intakes.
And by the way, I’ll mention this here – during the Commission’s deliberations later we learned that, even though Poseidon claims installation of these infiltration galleries MAY cost them an extra couple hundred million at the outset, it turns out over the course of the decades they supposedly plan to run the plant, it will SAVE them money overall – eventually make it a LOT less expensive to operate. So Poseidon isn’t even stressing over its profits, Poseidon is stressing over its IMMEDIATE, SHORT-TERM profits. How very twentieth-century of them.
Hall of Shame: OC’s Politicians earn their Campaign Money
FIRST, kudos to the few straightforward electeds who spoke up in defense of our coastline and pocketbooks, for denying the permit altogether – there were only six I can think of: The HB council majority of Mayor Boardman, Joe Shaw, Jill Hardy and Dave Sullivan; former mayor Debbie Cook and Costa Mesa’s “Femme Wonkita” Sandy Genis. All of these except Sullivan can be fairly categorized as AYERITES – friends and proteges of the late Gus Ayer – that is, Democrats (except for Sandy) who place the interests of the taxpayer and environment over short-term jobs interests and the blandishments of subsidy-demanding corporatists. WE NEED MORE AYERITES – in BOTH parties!
The next best were the politicians who sent in letters supporting desal in general and this project in particular, but also insisting that the staff recommendation for subsurface intakes be required – that would be just Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Senator Dianne Feinstein. (We heard nothing from Boxer.)
THIS WAS ALSO SUPPOSED TO BE THE POSITION OF LORETTA SANCHEZ, but what happened, GASTON? During a break I saw Loretta’s District Director, the very helpful and smart Gaston Castellanos, and asked him if he would be speaking for Loretta (yes) and what her position would be. He said it would be the “mixed” one – approve the plant, but insist on the subsurface intakes. But by the time he got to the mike later, he’d forgotten all about the intakes and just gave another uncritical Poseidon cheerleading speech like 90% of the politicians there, on behalf of Loretta. What happened? Did he determine that, after Tom Daly and Lou Correa’s cheerleading, it was politically safe to dispense with environmental concerns? Or that it was politically dangerous to insist on a condition that Poseidon found burdensome? Did Gaston check with the Congresswoman by phone before castrating her position? I want to know!
Oh, and to wrap up the very few politicians who are not on our shit list: Nothing was heard from Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, but several Sacramento politicians boasted that “Orange County’s bipartisan Sacramento delegation unanimously supports this plant.” Of course readers of this blog know that Sharon rescinded her support and told Poseidon to stop claiming it, so I stepped up to correct the record. You’re welcome, Sharon.
As for EVERY other politician who showed up, sent a spokeperson, or wrote a letter, well, as Joe Shaw said in HIS speech, “When EVERY politician from both Parties speaks up for a project like this, you better hold onto your wallets!” Sure enough, as Diamond and I attempted to itemize the Poseidon campaign contributions to Tom Daly, Matt Harper, Travis Allen, Lou Correa, Mimi Walters, Shawn Nelson, Denis Bilodeau, Joe Carchio, Bob Huff, Allan Mansoor, Jim Righeimer, Jordan Brandman, Dana Rohrabacher, water board sellouts like Roger Faubel and Cathy Green, and many more, the task appeared “infeasible” – as there is not only the direct-from-Poseidon cash but TENS OF THOUSANDS laundered through entities like OC TAX and HB VISION PAC. (Just like last year when Poseidon laundered money through Atlas PAC to paint their opponent Jill Hardy as a borderline child molester.)
Couple more tidbits: There were SO many “former Mayors of Huntington Beach” in attendance and in support – unlike Boardman, Cook, Hardy and Sullivan, either corrupt or senile – that a running joke became, “Please state for the record if you are NOT a former Mayor of Huntington Beach.” And ubiquitous, wily little State Senate candidate Jose Solorio popped his head in but wisely said not a word about this tar baby – he wants EVERYONE to like him right now!
Hard Hats and Orange Vests
Times are tough right now for the working classes and the unions, I know. It seemed like half the people there in that crowd of 300 were dressed in hard hats, reflective vests, and other accoutrements of organized labor. And as a few admitted to us, they were paid to be there. Paid by the hour, in desperation for the “thousands of union jobs” that Poseidon was promising them and their bosses. And every now and again, you’d hear their crusty old compromised leader Jim Adams clap his hands together and bellow “Building Trades! Over here!”
So I expected some hostility when I created the sign you see to the right, which various Poseidon opponents took turns holding. But that’s not what happened. Politely and with sorrow and trepidation, multiple union guys would approach whoever had this sign, and ask, “Is that true? I know our people tell us one thing, your people tell you another.”
In fact I’d heard that there would be only twelve permanent Poseidon union jobs once the plant’s made, and now I find that it’s actually twenty-five. In any case, WORLDS AWAY from the 2000 jobs the boosters constantly trumpet. Those are just for the construction.
Sure, 2000 temporary jobs is not nothing in this economy. But, brothers. ALL of us, union and non-union, are going to be stuck with more expensive water and a jacked-up coastline, forever. Not to mention having to live in the same world as some filthy-rich, swarthy-skinned, boyish-voiced water pirates laughing all the way to the bank.
Push comes to Shove: The Commissioners Debate.
This hearing went nine hours; your unpaid correspondent got up at 5:30 am to get a seat there and didn’t get home till after dark. I won’t put you through all that here. I’ll wrap up quickly.
The Coastal Commission’s superstar seems to be the brilliant Dayna Bochco, an attorney, former TV producer, and environmental activist. Starting the proceedings by moving that the plant be approved but only with the staff-recommended subsurface intakes, she launched into a BLISTERING 30-minute critique of Poseidon, which I just wish I had on video. (I haven’t mentioned but nobody there spoke against desalination in general, which is probably in California’s future, but we have at least a 30-year window to do it RIGHT.) She and fellow commissioner Jana Zimmer, who seconded her motion, were in accord on what Poseidon should do if they found the infiltration galleries “infeasible”: go find some other location where you can do it right.
From there we took an intellectual nosedive to the two fellows you see on the right: Robert Garcia and Mark Vargas, who took half an hour minimizing and ridiculing environmental concerns. (Robert’s the one coaching Poseidon scientists to “go ahead and tell us, how much would these 80 million fish larvae WEIGH if you stuck em all together?”) I’m not sure HOW a vote would have gone on Dayna’s motion, as we didn’t get to hear most of the 13 commissioners speak, but Martha McClure had a substitute motion:
She wanted a CONTINUANCE (*sigh*) to give Poseidon a chance to conduct a SERIOUS, OBJECTIVE study on the feasibility of subsurface intakes, which they’ve not bothered to do yet; when it became clear that the 90 days involved in a continuance would in no way be enough time for such a study, that continuance became something longer and more dramatic. But in retrospect I realize McClure added something invaluable to her (unanimously passed) substitute motion: Poseidon, when they came back with their study and revised application, will now be considered a NEW project. So they can’t sneakily get “grandfathered in” when the State Water Board comes out next year with their expected new rules requiring all NEW desal plants to use subsurface intakes. Well done, ma’am!
And somewhere in the middle of all that, Poseidon gobsmacked everybody by suddenly withdrawing their application, to give themselves time to deal with all this and come back at a time of their choosing. Reactions to this new development range from Debbie Cook’s “likely a cynical ploy by the company to buy time so it can continue lobbying state officials and build the plant on its own terms” to Coastkeeper’s celebratory:
Completing the studies requested, re-applying for a permit and resubmitting their project will take at least a year (most likely two years) and millions of dollars. Poseidon investors may decide to pull the plug. This really was the best victory we could achieve given all the politics we were fighting.
We still have work to do, and will be keeping a watchful eye on Poseidon. Again, we thank you for helping us stop this project today, and we will count on you to stop this project again if/when Poseidon makes another attempt at it. We will be sure to keep you informed.
What this means to me is we can forget about this fucking thing for a few months and get back to fighting against toll lanes on the 405 – that’s what Gus would want!
A Final Word: Newport Civic Center’s Native Landscaping.
This was my first experience of Newport Beach’s prodigious $140 million new civic center – I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for it, but it sure is nice! And somehow it was very appropriate, or maybe ironic, to hold this Poseidon hearing right behind such a spectacular, environmentally sound, front yard of native landscaping. Because, check it out. Did you know a full 50% of our water usage goes to keep our stoopid lawns green? If more of us – if all of us – had beautiful front yards like this, our need for water would be cut in half, and any perceived need for these Poseidon pirates’ “service” would shrivel up and die. The following photos of Newport’s landscaping (as well as images #2, 6, 7, 10 and 11 above) are by Marselle Sloane: