To the Editor: What is city trying to hide?

That is the question local residents should be asking regarding the city’s wastewater treatment plant negotiations with the Navy.

At the Aug. 22 Infrastructure Committee meeting, the city manager announced that the tentative easement agreement between the local Navy and the city was on its way to the Secretary of the Navy. This is the third time the CM has announced in public that the local agreement was complete and being forwarded to D.C.

Assuming that the local agreement is truly on its way to D.C. this time, the expectation is for D.C. Navy authorities to take two or three months to review the document followed by a land appraisal that could take five or six months. Therefore, we are still as much as nine months away from a Navy decision. Then the city council has to review the document and accept or reject it.

Putting the city and Navy relationship into proper historical perspective, the city started working with the Navy in 1993 when the existing wastewater treatment plant exceeded the 75-percent capacity limit set by the local California Regional Water District. The city began negotiating for an updated easement with the Navy in 2012 – seven long years ago. The city raised the wastewater fees in 2013 in anticipation of constructing a new wastewater plant in 2018. Fees increased from $120 per year to $360 per year. We now have a wastewater slush fund of $27,000,000.

We have yet to choose between the city-owned plant site and the Navy-controlled BLM site. Since we still need to select a plant site, finalize the preliminary design completed four years ago, secure a loan, and construct the plant, we may still be five years away from actually obtaining the service we started paying for six years ago.

I have heard from reliable sources that the deadlock on the local easement agreement was broken as a result of our recent earthquake and the realization our plant that was declared needing replacement years ago really does need to be replaced. If we need to make any changes to this new agreement, I hope we do not need another 7.1 earthquake to get the Navy to come to the table.

Since the local agreement has now been finalized, I repeated my request to get a copy of the tentative agreement during public comment at the Sept. 4 City Council meeting. I received a polite “Thank you” for my efforts from the mayor. To her credit, Councilwoman Stephens requested that the release of the document be put on the next meeting agenda. Thank you, Lindsey. A follow-up text message to the mayor the day following the council meeting to verify that the topic would be on the next agenda has gotten no response.

I sent the city a Public Records Act request for wastewater emails on July 22. State law requires that the city respond within 10 business days, although there is a 14-day extension permitted under special circumstances. The city has now claimed an unprecedented third 14-day extension. The city is going to extraordinary lengths to withhold public information from the public. Why?

The question remains. What is the city trying to hide?

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2019-09-13