Did you find a flyer from Morro Bay Water Future on your doorstep? After reading their talking points, did you feel fearful? If so, you’re feeling exactly the way they want you to feel.
In politics, fear is the absence of fact.
This is what Morro Bay residents received on Thursday, July 26:
The City delayed the Water Reclamation Facility for five years, with 17 alternative sites considered and three preferred locations — two of them rejected without citizen-led delays. Every time they settled on a preferred project, they allocated city resources for new plans, studies and reports. The currently preferred site, which is the South Bay Blvd. location, is one of the most expensive of all the 17 sites originally considered.
Here’s an example of increased project costs without resident delays:
In 2013, the South Bay (Chorro Valley) site was estimated at $110 million in estimated construction costs. (SOURCE: 2013 Second Public Draft Options Report)
In 2017, the South Bay site was estimated at over $150 million in total program capital costs. (SOURCE: September 26, 2017 City Council staff report, pg. 174)
That’s a $40 million increase within four years, including a Prop. 218 water/sewer rate hike.
In 2015, Morro Bay ratepayers approved water/sewer rate hikes for a $75 million wastewater project at a location the City once settled on as a preferred site before negotiations with the property owner faltered. If we compare the project cost we approved in 2015 to the estimated project costs in 2017, we’re looking at a whopping $75 million increase.
Though the estimated project cost was brought down to $128.5 million, the lowered cost is partly attributed to the “one-time” low-interest loan our city has yet to be awarded with at a “low-interest” rate that’s yet to be locked in. With all these estimates and approximations, there’s a reason the city left out the estimated project cost on their new Prop. 218 notice.
Despite the uncertainty and increased costs, MBWF says if residents successfully protest the proposed water/sewer rate hikes, the project could be delayed. Therefore, that delay could push Morro Bay out of the five-year timetable when the city could receive $50,000 a month. Yet in a glossy mailer the city sent to ratepayers, they claimed fines could be $11,000 a day.
What can we believe?
Without resident delays, the City is already out of sync with the water board’s compliance schedule.
The Proposition 218 Hearing is now scheduled for September 11, not August 30, due to mailing issues. Our Final EIR has not been certified yet. But does that matter? Should that matter?
No. According to private correspondence with their officials and public correspondence with city officials on the record, the water board wants assurance that the city is on the right path to compliance and not in disarray.
How about the creation of new plans, studies and reports? Had the city prepared for alternatives instead of focusing squarely on one preferred site, that groundwork would not have to be covered again. With two preferred sites unable to reach fruition, history tells us the city should be better prepared. They’re not. It’s not our problem if a majority of us say we’re unable to afford their preferred, undeniably expensive project.
If the city is concerned about potential lawsuits, they should be concerned about the pushback from residents who waited five years for a project they’re now unable to afford. The potential for a successful Prop. 218 protest is already there, given the series of miscalculations and missteps the city has taken with the project.
A NOTE ON LOS OSOS COMPARISONS
We keep hearing comparisons to Los Osos, which are wildly misleading.
Until recently, Los Osos had no wastewater infrastructure at all. Morro Bay has a functioning sewer for several decades, though it’s undeniably outdated.
Los Osos endured delays from several sources, including a local measure, a successful recall, leadership changes, various appeals and lawsuits from citizen groups and state legislation authorizing the county to take over the responsibility from Los Osos to design, construct and operate their wastewater project. In Morro Bay, none of that has happened.
None of the delays endured by Los Osos included a successful Prop. 218 protest.
But here’s one thing Los Osos has in common with Morro Bay: the politics of fear.
Fear is what led Los Osos residents and community leaders to making decisions that, at times, were either economically infeasible, largely unpopular or both. Instead of discussing the benefits of having a wastewater project, some Los Osos residents focused on the consequences of not supporting the project instead.
Fear is what delayed Los Osos’ sewer project. Fear is what could delay our Water Reclamation Facility. Fear is what MBWF is using to motivate you to throw away your right to have a voice in the trash. Fear should not be a benefit for building new infrastructure with a blank check on blind trust. We are better than this.