Mesa Water/CMSD Drama Continues
AN OPINION YOU NEED TO READ
Today I drag myself out of my sickbed, carrying with me the burden of a late-summer cold and all that goes with it, to address the most recent events in the drama between the Mesa Water District and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District as Mesa Water apparently continues their quest for a hostile takeover of the CMSD.
Many of you have probably read Luke Money's article in the Daily Pilot, HERE, that discusses the surprise settlement between CMSD President Mike Scheafer and Mesa Water as to the language to be placed on the ballot. His explanation covers it all. The question will now read, "Shall the Mesa Water District and Costa Mesa Sanitary pursue consolidation?" That's it. No inclusion of questionable statistics allegedly generated by a one-sided consultant report. As Scheafer was quoted as saying, "It is a victory for transparency and constitutional government." My answer to that ballot question will be a resounding NO! Here's why...
IT'S A POWER GRAB
I view this as a power grab by Mesa Water, pure and simple. Both independent agencies do a good job of providing services to their ratepayers. Mesa Water is on the cutting edge of providing water to us and the CMSD move the solid and liquid waste efficiently and has been managed well for decades.
However, it appears that some on the Mesa Board want to expand their power. In April, as outlined in Money's article, they proposed a study of possible consolidation to the CMSD. There was an urgency to that effort - one that could not be met by the CMSD's Board because they'd not had sufficient time to study the issue.
Mesa Water went ahead with their own consultant study, which ginned up some numbers about one-time savings that the CMSD management and Board challenged as bogus and misleading. So, Mesa Water decided to push on by itself and put the measure on the November 8th ballot as an "advisory" measure - with no power of law behind it. And, they managed to get 8,000 additional voters - ones they do not serve presently - included in the voting pool. And, the ballot language was highly controversial, using some of those bogus statistics mentioned above. Scheafer filed his lawsuit as a ratepayer.
NOT A NEW ISSUE - SPRUNG ON THE CMSD AT THE LAST MINUTE
There are many interesting elements to this little drama. Among the most interesting is the fact that this issue has been in play at Mesa Water for a long time. Correspondence I've seen says they've been discussing this issue since March, 2015 - more than a year before they approached the CMSD Board. It's curious that they moved this issue forward when the press of time to place it on the ballot was staring them right in the face. Cynics might suspect this was intentional - giving the CMSD Board insufficient time to exercise their fiduciary responsibility to their ratepayers by carefully and thoughtfully evaluating this proposal.
MESA SPENT HOW MUCH? YIKES!
And, speaking of fiduciary responsibility, according to information available via Public Records Requests, Mesa Water has authorized spending more than $330,000 of ratepayer funds on this scheme, and that's without the costs of two very pricey law firms that were used. I've heard estimates that those charges could shove that number closer to a half million dollars! The numbers are available at the CMSD website, HERE. As you can see, Mesa Water contracted for not one, but TWO studies - the first apparently didn't give them the results they wanted.
WHAT'S BEHIND THIS?
As a ratepayer for both agencies, I'm not happy that Mesa Water is squandering that cash on this effort, which reeks of consolidation of power in our city. There is a tightly-wound, nearly incestuous, relationship between the current City Council majority and a majority of the members of the Mesa Water Board. And, of course, the fact that the CMSD is fiscally solid may have something to do with this takeover move. Mesa Water is in the business of selling water. Conservation efforts have cut into their revenue flow - that's to be expected - but they may be looking for a way to spread their costs by grabbing up a nearby agency with cash in the bank.
NOW THE SPIN BEGINS
I doubt this is the final word we'll be hearing on this issue. Both agencies fired off press releases on this subject - Mesa Water's hit my desk within a couple hours of the settlement. Now we'll see what kind of public outreach efforts each will launch to try to convince the voters of their side of the issue. It's clear to me, but we'll see how this one goes. I'm voting NO on Measure TT.