Public Water Now gathers signatures to make November ballot

Public Water Now gathers signatures to make November ballot

MONTEREY, Calif. - With Monterey Peninsula water costs among the highest in the nation, some are making a push to put it in government control.

Public Water Now is taking the next step to turn thousands of peninsula faucets from private to public.

Heading toward the November ballot is a request to conduct a feasibility study. This will find if the cost for the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District to buy local Cal Am operations is even possible, and what water bills are expected to be under public control.

"If the study shows its beneficial to the community, both financially and as a public interest issue, then they must initiate the process," says George Riley with Public Water Now.

Public Water Now blew passed the roughly 6,000 needed signatures, but the rest of the work is just beginning. Costs to take over Cal-Am could cost the local government hundreds of millions of dollars.

“That number, if it's ever decided, will be decided by a jury. Cal-Am is not for sale," says Catherine Stedman with California American Water.

This has been a multi-year effort to take control away from Cal-Am. Public Water Now lost the battle at the ballot box four years ago. But now, they're touting a watchdog report listing the area as having the highest water costs in the country.

"There were a lot of promises that Cal-Am made, they said the water supply solution is right around the corner. It is four years later, we are no closer to a solution," says Riley. 

But Cal-Am says there is no guarantee costs will go down, if Public Water Now gets their way. 

"In every place this has played out in the country, the ultimate cost to customer has increased," Stedman says. 

The Water Management District is not part of the effort, but can approve the study themselves, instead of the voters. However, costs for future court dates with Cal-Am is too great of a risk.

"Seven directors aren't going to take on millions of dollars of potential liability, without that direction from the voters," Dave Stoldt, GM of Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, says. 

Opinion on the street Tuesday was mixed. 

"I think all utilities should be publicly owned," Carmel resident, Dick Crispo, said. 

Eric (no last name given) said his bill "is up to 150 to 180 dollars a month, and I'm really not happy about it."

However, Keith Robinson believes it should stay in private hands, citing "tremendous costs and legal costs."

The County Registrar now was 30 days to make sure the Public Water Now signatures are valid. As for the study, the group says they request it be completed in fewer than nine months, if approved in November. 

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