Weekend Open Thread: Meanwhile, Back on the Beach….

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While I’ve been trying to chronicle and prod the candidate filing process and Vern has been trying to get the Kenneth Batiste campaign up to cruising speed, we’ve both had some of our attention on another big matter: the continuing saga of Poseidon. of which the present chapter was supposed to come to an end on Friday.  (And here you thought that our mentioning “the beach” was signaling another Covid-19 story!  Just wait a week!  Don’t worry, SARS-CoV-2 will still be there!)

We (and we hope you) have gotten great benefit from the prompting of John Earl and his site, Surf City Voice, which has kindly allowed us to reprint some background pieces, but for the day-to-day coverage of the hearings themselves there has been no rival to the work of Voice of OC, which has slogged through the hearings so that you and we don’t have to.

Putting public interest before private profit makes Kris Murray very sad.

This chapter of the saga involving freedy hedge fund managers’ bid for an environment permit approval for their scam is set at a hearing by the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board. Therupon which sits ethically compromised longtime big Poseidon-campaign-contribution recipient Kris Murray, who had refused to reveal her conflict until the VOC found it out (and that link is a definite must-click) and now refuses to recuse herself from the decision. (To my mind, the Murrbot, via her presence in the discussion process as a de facto Poseidon lobbyist, has already compromised it beyond repair.) That hearing was long advertised as coming to an end today.  But it didn’t!

Brandon Pho’s coverage of the declared final day of hearings is a must-read, not least for its depiction of our new hero, Irvine’s William von Blasingame, and Poseidon’s increasingly whiny and desperate Vice President, Scott Maloni — who, as the saying goes, “had ONE JOB!” — and now sees it slipping through his fingers like tiny sea life through an intake valve as hungry larger fish forlornly look on and try to remember how to get to Catalina.

Here are some highlights:

(1) Directors are largely focused on what “environmental mitigation” should be required of Poseidon, on the theory that damage done by the desalination plant can be compensated for by doing slightly more good elsewhere, such as the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. This is obnoxious in itself — taken alone and at face value, it could address the environmental objections to the plan while leaving untouched the problematic consumer and ratepayer protection aspects of the plan.  (Luckily … well, read on.)

I’ve come up with an analogy that has grown too large to resist in the next paragraphs, so other than reminding you that it is not liberal, I will surrender to it.  OK: It’s like saying that the company should be allowed to torture nine people to death so long as it hires people to prevent the torture of ten other people.  Even if you decide that that sort of deal is a utilitarian bargain, the details (“uh, you’re going to rescue who, where, and when exactly?”) are something that you’d expect to be fully figured out prior to their getting a green light.  (A wave of the hand with “yeah, yeah, we’ll do it” isn’t really comforting, especially as contacts are designed to be breakable, often for a little cash compensation.)

The Board’s staff seems pretty solicitous of Poseidon, but they have their limits.  Staff “told board members it was Poseidon’s responsibility to go out and collect data and the right studies to put together a full mitigation plan, but that the company hadn’t done so.” [Emphasis added.]

VOC quotes board director William von Blasingame of Irvine, who has apparently spent weeks marveling at this temerity.  “This has been months, years, and my understanding is staff has been available, the state’s people have been available … They (Poseidon) have to do the studies. That hasn’t been done — nothing has been done. They’ve given outlines, but not a fully complete plan.”

Irvine’s William von Blasingame, at left. At right, “lovable” Soaky, out for guaranteed exorbitant cash from consumers at any cost.

I mean seriously — can you imagine?  (“We said that we’d rescue ten people from torture!  Isn’t that enough?  Do we really have to make it eleven?  It’s an unfair imposition, but maybe we could do that.”)

Kris Murray at an earlier hearing asked, with her eyes no doubt opened widely in horror, what the heck Poseidon was supposed to do?  Do they have to start the process all over again?  (“There are people out there who need torturing, you know, and other people who need to be saved from torture somewhere, someday.  You want to let them die?“)  (Note: that’s not an actual Murray quote.  Sadly, I do feel the need to clarify.)  Murray’s insistence on seeing the entire matter from Poseidon’s perspective, with their having a moral right to approval if they piled up enough favors, is the sort of perspective you’d expect for someone who was not only “bought” — but literally “paid for.”  (And how!)

Poseidon Veep Maloni blamed everyone involved but the company.  Those mitigation plans require other agencies’ approval, you see, and the requirements for what they have to do keep changing.  (Going back to the analogy I’ve been using that is not at all true, except perhaps as applied to wildlife: the staff may not only want them to rescue eleven people from torture, but they want Poseidon to limit the number of people they torture to death to seven. “Seven! How is that supposed to sake our thirst?”)

VOC quotes Maloni thusly: “The reason we don’t have final details isn’t because Poseidon is unwilling to provide them, it’s because we can’t. We can’t advance it because the earth under our feet keeps shifting.”

This makes a certain kind of sense if you were intent on doing the absolute minimum you were required to do and not willing to say, for example, that saving another two people from torture would require $X, and saving four people from torture would require $X+Y, etc., just in the interest of expediting approval.  Yes, doing so raises an idea that you might not want to raise — more costs to be passed along to ratepayers, because the profit margin itself is sacrosanct! — but if you really care about being expeditious you would work out the contingencies that regulators might find of interest — especially if you had a demonstrable bad prior track record!

(This is a good point to remind you that Poseidon doesn’t actually have a right to build a desal plant on the coastline.  They don’t even have the right to be the one to construct and operate and profit from a desal plant on the coastline, if one is ever built.  If there needs to be such a plant, Orange County and California can go out and find someone who can do a better and less exorbitant job.)

Finally, the discussion reached the question of economics, or “the boondoggle problem.”  State law actually requires that people, especially the poor and frail, have access to safe and affordable water.  And while we can currently get water for around $1100 per acre-foot, Poseidon wants to require OC consumers, over a few decades, to pay a guaranteed $2250 per acre foot.  (Please, please, click on Brandon Pho’s VOC story for more details than I can quote or choose to characterize.)

Uh … more than double the price?  Well, it’s actually worse than that for most of us.  Poseidon wants the Orange County Water District to guarantee the price — and the water to be piped down to thirsty and growing South County.  OCWD doesn’t cover South County, though!  So this is really about the less wealthy parts of the county subsidizing the wealthiest part — which is obscene.

Poseidon’s argument is that the price of water not coming from desal will rise enough to match the rate charged from the desal plant after, oh, half a decade or so.  (Or however long.  Whatever.)  Of course they won’t rise so much if, as we’ve recently shown is possible, we can substantially conserve water during an extended drought!  And, if the profit margin really needs to be that huge, we could and should be working on alternatives ourselves, seeking out the best bids, considering multiple smaller scale projects, including waiting for the inevitable increased efficiencies of future technologies — if it ever truly becomes necessary.  That’s responsible governance — but that doesn’t give the hedge fund guys the incredible fixed profit margin they want.   And at this we can imagine the Murrbot’s eyes widening in horror.)

Fun times, but perilous too.  Anyway, this is your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of environmental safety and consumer protection for the sake of generations to come.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)