I’ll Have the Fancy Water, Please
Several months ago, Our Town Tustin wrote about the shady dealings with Poseidon Surfside and their 20 year push to build a desalinator in Orange County. The idea is to use land where a power generating station stands in Huntington Beach and suck water out of the ocean, several miles from shore to make clean, potable water at the expense of the marine ecology. Of course, everyone from the Sierra Club to the Surfrider Foundation has rightly objected to the project. The most important reason, however, is that Orange County simply does not need a desalinator as they are not and will not be short on water any time soon.
The company has made every play in the book to get their project off the ground, despite the enormous opposition. They even had their choirboy, Gavin Newsom, take out a major stumbling block to insure passage over the last hurdle. That stumbling block was Santa Ana Water Board member, William von Blasingame, an outspoken critic of the project. Newsom then replaced him with our very own City of Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark. Clark, a second term member of the city council, has so far failed to make a public statement regarding her position on the project.
Step back in time, once again, to OTT’s post regarding Gavin Newsom’s faux pax at the ritzy French Laundry, a restaurant in the Napa area. You may recall that Newsom attended a large gathering to celebrate a birthday of one of his close friends and lobbyist, Jason Kinney. Neither Newsom or, as far as we could tell, any of the guests were wearing masks or social distancing. Newsom made a lame apology for getting caught and hoped it would all go away.
There’s just one little problem.
It seems Newsom and Kinney are BFFs. And, until recently, an entry on his firm’s website boasted of his close connection with the governor saying he has been advising Newsom for over 14 years. That wouldn’t be so bad except Kinney is a professional lobbyist and has some big name companies he lobbies for. In fact, one of his biggest clients is Poseidon Surfside which, over the last year and a half, paid Kinney’s firm Axiom Advisors, $500,000 to bend the ear of the Governor and other officials. They also contributed $25,000 to Newsom’s inauguration party.
It’s not hard to put two and two together to realize that there is a rancid conflict of interest with Kinney’s friendship with Newsom. Unfortunately, it has been clear from the beginning of his term that Newsom believes he is invulnerable. In the same manner he has recklessly wielded his executive power over the Covid-19 debacle, he has worked to clear the way for Poseidon.
The desalination project is prime example of corrupt politics. Poseidon is owned by an international holding company that stands to make millions off this project for its (mostly) foreign investors. That is, of course, what international conglomerates do. Through Kinney’s firm they have invested heavily in lobbying efforts to see their project through. But the billion dollar project will be built at the expense of every resident and business in Orange County. And for what?
Current estimates put desalinated water from the project at $1800 an acre foot while current groundwater cost is about $600 for the same amount. Orange County now imports about a quarter of its needed water at almost twice the cost for groundwater. An MWDOC study stated that, even in the worst case scenario, Orange County would be short 23,000 acre feet in a drought year. The Poseidon project would generate a minimum 50,000 acre feet of water per year with no place to sell it. Yet, if this project is approved, ratepayers will be on the hook for drastic increases for water they cannot use.
Poseidon execs refute the study, saying the governor’s abandonment of the Delta Tunnel project means that Orange County could actually suffer a 100,000 acre foot shortage. Uh….no, the governor did not abandon the project. He did downsize the project to one tunnel but the water is still coming (eventually). And, the cost of the tunnel will be borne by the entire state and serve 25 million residents. It seems Poseidon stretched the truth a little.
So, where does this leave us? More precisely, where does it leave Mayor Clark? In past discussions, it was clear that the Santa Ana Water Board, which must pass approval for the project to go forward, was split on the issue. von Blasingame was simply the target Newsom aimed at. There are other dissenting voices on the project. Unless they have changed their minds, Clark may hold the deciding vote on the board.
Most cities in Orange County have shown little interest in seeing this project go forward. As far as we know, Tustin has not made a public statement on the desalination project, even though it would impact customers of the city water department. Clark’s position is likewise unknown. The Santa Ana Water Board has not agendized the matter for discussion or vote. When it does, Clark should do what is good for the city and county and join other dissenting votes to put this project to an unglorified end.