OWN VOICE. ~ InPerspective by Gregg Dieguez —
The judge made his final ruling in the lawsuit between Half Moon Bay (HMB) and its partner agencies in El Granada (GCSD) and Montara (MWSD). That doesn’t mean it’s over, because HMB has already burned over a Million Dollars of everyone’s money, and still might appeal.
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In this case, Justice was not blind; it was wide awake and paying attention. The full ruling is below, with some highlighted sections of interest. My take is simple: the lawsuit was baseless from the start, illogical, and harmful both in cost and relationships. The judge ruled that contract law applies and that the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) clearly laid out the responsibility of all parties to share the costs of the ENTIRE consolidated sewer system (Sewer Authority Mid-coastside (SAM)), not just the parts HMB decided it wanted to pay for. In Public Works, “once an asset, always an asset”, because those systems live on, processing waste and water until all parties agree to abandon them. So any asset that wears out has to be replenished, and funded by all parties. This is clear from not only the JPA, but from government grant funding of the project.
HMB did not want to pay for replenishment of, and also repeatedly claimed that it received “no benefit” from, the Intertie Pipeline System (IPS) which connects the northern sewer agencies to the SAM plant. This was not a key legal point in the case, but the judge also rejected HMB’s claim of no benefit. HMB used this ‘no benefit’ claim in the media to justify its case to residents, but it was a Big Lie. In summary, the IPS benefits HMB in five (5) ways:
1. It allowed HMB to upgrade a failing sewer plant at less cost than doing it themselves, and to split the costs of property, construction, and operation with its neighbors. Montara gave up its working sewer plant and agreed to ship the sewage to HMB. The existence of SAM itself is a benefit to HMB, made possible only by the IPS.
2. It gives HMB protection against severe wet weather events, when SAM plant operators can turn off the flow from the north and hold the sewage in wet weather storage at the Portola and/or Walker tanks in Montara, so that HMB can consume 100% of the plant’s capacity. Just recently, this saved the plant from catastrophic failure.
3. The IPS also serves all parts of HMB proper north of the SAM plant, including the “Cherry Stem” up to the Pillar Pt. Harbor – thus parts of HMB are served by GCSD sewers and HMB was suing its own residents there.
4. The IPS allows SAM staff to perform maintenance on the plant by shutting parts of it down. As HMB has no wet weather sewer storage of its own, tanks in the IPS can be used to hold sewage back at the pump stations until work is done. This has occurred several times, e.g. when the Force Main had breaks and had to be fixed. Also, while laying new force main or while doing major plant repairs, sewage can be held upstream. Similarly, when major plant electrical work must be done, sewage has been held upstream in the IPS.
5. The IPS has served as an equalization basin to reduce flows while SAM processes a backlog of waste and/or to even out flows (e.g. during a drought) so that a minimum fluid volume is always available.
The City of HMB has spent its, and some of your, money on Libraries and Lawsuits, rather than attending to deficiencies in its own sewer collection system. It needs to fix the leaks in its system and build its own wet weather storage facility. I spoke today with the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), and based on their comments, there is hope that funding now exists, thanks to Biden’s infrastructure bill, which will greatly help projects like essential sewer infrastructure. I spoke at the HMB City Council in early January and asked them to address this issue, but as of tonight’s MCC meeting, Councilman Rarback indicated the issue has not yet been agendized by the City. I hope to work with the County, SAM and its member agencies, and the RWQCB to advance both funding and necessary improvements at SAM and in HMB.
Further, HMB needs new leadership, one that can work rationally and effectively with the MidCoast. There’s an election this fall. HMB needs 3 new candidates to give its voters a chance to move in a more productive direction, instead of wasting money and relationships we’ll all need to cope with the Climate Crisis.
Mr. Dieguez is a native San Franciscan, longtime San Mateo County resident, and semi-retired entrepreneur who causes occasional controversy on the Coastside. He is a member of the MCC, but his opinions here are his own, and not those of the Council. In 2003 he co-founded MIT’s Clean Tech Program here in NorCal, which became MIT’s largest alumni speaker program. He lives in Montara. He loves a productive dialog in search of shared understanding.