Thursday, September 30, 2010

Water Rights Initiative Derailed

Judge Karen Dixon's decision of Sept 20 did not reinstate Measure A, the Mount Shasta Water Rights Initiative, to the November ballot.  The initiative proponents had gone to court after County Clerk Colleen Setzer removed the measure from the ballot.  Here is the story from  the Siskiyou Daily News with a link to the full decision.  Dixon did not rule on Setzer's claim  that the initiative had been changed between its initial submission to the city clerk and the submission of  the signatures to get it on the ballot.    Nor did she consider the allegations submitted by the county counsel that the initiative violated the single subject rule, and that it blatantly violated the constitutional separation of  powers doctrine.    Instead, she ruled that the County Clerk was not legally the elections official, and could not be forced to reinstate the measure to the ballot.  This was in spite of the fact that Setzer had acted as the elections official in accepting the signatures, and later in removing the measure from the ballot.  My first reaction on reading this was very politically incorrect-- Judge Dixon is a blonde. 

However, the 11 page decision goes into a lot of detail about how the initiative proponents were given the runaround, with neither City Clerk Sandra Studer nor County Clerk Colleen Setzer willing to assume responsibility for processing the initiative.  Dixon puts the primary responsibility for this fiasco on the city, and evidently wants to toss it back to the city, possibly for a special election. 

But by failing to decide  whether changes in the wording would disqualify the initiative, Dixon makes additional litigation almost inevitable.  The initiative was changed in a very significant way.   It contains wording that would prevent corporations from  doing business in Mount Shasta as corporations, and also language that could prevent a property owner from  building on his property in a wetland or other ecologically significant area.  However, the second  version (here) contains a single sentence at the beginning of section II, on page 3,  which says in effect that, as long as one is not cloud seeding, modifying the weather or exporting water, the rest of the ordinance is just verbiage. 

The first version was filed with the city clerk on August 25, 2009, according to Studer.  The second version was not created until October 7, 2009, according to the proponents' website.  This reduces the credibility of the proponents' contention that they had two versions, and inadvertently gave the wrong one to the city clerk.   Changing the initiative during the process would be a violation of Elections Code #9210. 

The City Council agenda for Monday, October 4, will probably include an item  on what action to take next.  For local politics junkies who can't make it in person, it should be an entertaining program  on channel 15.   [CORRECTION: NEXT CITY COUNCIL MEETING IS NOT UNTIL TUESDAY OCT 12.  MEETING WAS MOVED FROM MONDAY BECAUSE THE MEETING HALL HAD BEEN DOUBLE BOOKED.]

There is a certain irony in that Molly Brown, one of the primary sponsors of this initiative, tried to start a movement four years ago based on the very real issues of peak oil and climate change.  This got a lot of  initial interest, but little long term  traction.   Yet the current initiative, tilting at windmills and non-issues, has generated a huge public concern. 
Many people share the proponents' concern about bottled water, including myself.  But the local bottling plant just outside the city, with all its permits in place, its own water supply, and a shining new building, isn't making money, and is scheduled to close unless a buyer can be found.  It would hardly require a new law to keep another manufacturer from starting at square one and seeking the use of the city water supply. 

The weather fronts that would lead to firing up of the cloud seeding pots about 30 miles southeast of the city come mostly from the northwest, and occasionally from the southwest in the case of the pineapple express storms.  The wind will blow towards Fall River and Burney, not Mount Shasta. 
Pacific Gas and Electric does have an economic motivation to cloud seed in that area because they generate about two gigawatts of hydroelectric power in the Pit River watershed, using the same water over and over.  Nobody has this economic reason to want to cloud seed within the city of Mount Shasta.  An ordinance to ban cloud seeding here would be purely a symbolic gesture.