2011-03-20 "Call for video doesn't float with Marina Coast Water" by LARRY PARSONS from "The Monterey County Herald" newspaper
Usually when offered the chance for face time on television, public officials jump toward the cameras.
Not so directors of the Marina Coast Water District, who have been under pressure for months to televise their meetings because of the district's key role in the proposed regional water desalination project.
Most local cities and some other local agencies contract with Access Monterey Peninsula, or AMP, to televise their meetings on the nonprofit's local government channels.
The Marina Coast District, which would own the proposed regional water desalination plant under a partnership with California American Water and the county Water Resource Agency, has shied away from spending its money to televise once-a-month board meetings. The proposed project, which would supplant the overdrafted Carmel River as the main water supply for the Peninsula, would cost an estimated $400million.
For months, videographers hired by the Green Party of Monterey County and, most recently, LandWatch Monterey County, have recorded the meetings and televised them during the party's three weekly one-hour slots on AMP's public-access channel.
"I have strong feelings about the public's right to know what's going on with a half-billion-dollar project," said Marina resident Richard Newhouse, who has shot the water board meetings for the past six months.
At their Feb. 8 meeting, Marina Coast board members failed to support a motion by director Jan Shriner, who had videotaped district board meetings before being elected to the board herself, to look into installing a videotaping system in their chambers.
A staff report put the cost of the five-camera system at $30,500 with an annual cost of $6,000 to broadcast the meetings. Board chairman Bill Lee said his conversations with district residents hasn't indicated support for spending that amount of money to televise the board meetings.
"We would like our people who pay the rates to say that's OK," Lee said last week.
He said it would be premature, with the regional desalination project still not certain, for the district to spend a lot of money to televise board meetings.
"When it gets down to Marina Coast Water actually making some decisions, then people might have a pretty good argument," he said.
As it stands, Lee said there is a handful of people pressing for televised board meetings. "I don't think they would be consistent viewers," he said.
Earlier this month, the Marina City Council got into the action.
The council approved an offer to broadcast videos of the Marina Coast board meetings on the city's AMP channel as long as the videos provided by community volunteers didn't conflict with city programming.
Marina Coast Water hasn't decided whether to take up the city's offer, Lee said.
He expressed displeasure at the city's move to inject itself into water district business. They are two different entities, and he questioned why one would "try to impose (its) will on the other guy."
Paul Congo, executive director of AMP, said he was aware of the city's offer through informal channels.
"We haven't been officially informed of any of this," he said. "We are just waiting for someone to bring us a copy."
Amy White, executive director of LandWatch, said the Marina Coast Water board doesn't appear ready to budge on the issue.
As the regional desalination project "inches closer to fruition, these guys are going to have so much power controlling almost a half-billion-dollar water project," she said.
She said Marina Coast Water directors "seem almost cavalier" about trying to make public business "more public."
"What is the value of transparency and public participation?" she said.
2011-03-22 "THE HERALD'S VIEW Editorial: Opaque Marina Coast Water District board wants to stay that way" from "The Monterey County Herald" newspaper
It would be unrealistic to expect the Marina Coast Water District to pay to broadcast its meetings for public consumption. Unrealistic because the district isn't like most other public entities.
Its board of directors is the kind that likes to keep people guessing.
It's the kind of district where a longtime director like Ken Nishi can quit without explanation and then join again weeks later without explanation.
Though it doesn't always act like it, it is, in fact, a public entity.
That's how it came to be a front for Cal Am as a partner in the Regional Desalination Project. A county ordinance required participation by a public entity, and what better to step in than Marina Coast?
But if you want to know who is on the board or how to contact them, don't bother with the district's website. Names and faces are hard, if not impossible to find. These folks aren't politicians in the usual "how can I serve you?" sense.
When Bill Lee, the board chairman, was running for re-election last year, another candidate was his half brother, George Eads. When Lee introduced Eads to others in the district, then-director Tom Moore asked how they knew each other. Uh, er, we served in the military together, Lee offered, not very brotherly.
It's the kind of district where Nishi ally Howard Gustafson describes new board member Jan Shriner as "not worth discussing" and calls Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado "that little freak."
So no one should be shocked to learn that Marina
Coasters aren't eager to follow the lead of most other public agencies hereabouts and provide for their meetings to be televised.
For a time, their meetings were being aired courtesy of the Green Party and more recently by LandWatch Monterey County. But Shriner got nowhere with her recent request to have the district look into doing the work itself by installing a videotaping system.
It matters beyond Marina because the little district is a key component of the $400 million-plus desalination project, easily the largest, most controversial and most important area public works effort of the past several decades. While Marina-area district customers will receive the benefit of a new water supply at little cost, rates for water users on the Peninsula are expected to double, triple or quadruple. No one knows for sure.
Chairman Lee, though, told The Herald last week that it would be premature to spend money now on videotaping.
"When it gets down to Marina Coast Water actually making some decisions, then people might have a pretty good argument," said Lee, who seemed unaffected by the fact that the district reached that state many months ago.
The directors will attribute their bashfulness to frugality, but it is easy to suspect they're also afraid that if the larger community got a better look at how they conduct themselves, they'd be embarrassed.
The way we see if, if Nishi, Gustafson, Lee and the others are to receive the attention they genuinely deserve, someone else in the community is going to have to make it work.