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Council OKs contract for water consultant: $280K in estimated costs will come from desal funding

By J.M. Brown, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3/12/14

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday hired a San Francisco firm to work with a new water supply advisory committee for at least a year to determine how the city should generate and manage drought-prone resources.

Public Policy Collaboration will be paid an estimated $280,000 to lead the 14-member committee through an exploration of supply threats -- such as the drought leading to water rationing for residential customers May 1 -- and possible solutions. The council appointed the panel in November after suspending pursuit of a seawater desalination project that drew heavy opposition ahead of a possible ballot measure this year.

"This is a very big problem and big challenge for this community," Vice Mayor Don Lane said. "We are devoting the kind of resources we need to devote to it. We are at a point now where everyone is involved in the problem and we have this process that invites that involvement."

Local firms applied to facilitate the panel, but Assistant City Manager Tina Shull said those proposals didn't receive the highest scores from a selection committee. The cost to cover an estimated 1,500 hours of work by two consultants from Public Policy Collaboration will be paid from a ratepayer fund set aside for the desal project.

Council members urged the panel to provide clear water supply recommendations to act on next year, which principal consultant Nicholas Dewar supported.

"In order for the committee to work well, they need to know the heat is on them," Dewar said. "The table they sit at is the table where this is happening. That will encourage them to find ways to find compromise and consensus."

Tuesday, the council approved a four-year increase for wastewater rates to stabilize reserves and deal with a $2 million revenue shortfall. Rates were last increased in 2012.

Average increases for each of the next three years will be about 6 percent and the final increase will be at 2.5 percent. The average single-family residential customers will see an increase in the first year of about $1.80 to $42.30 per month.

The council also approved a pilot neighborhood grant program that will dole out up to $25,000 for community-generated ideas such as gardens, public art and infrastructure improvements that can be done more quickly than initiatives on the city's lengthy capital projects list.

"These shorter projects are contemplated for the program because they have a shorter turn-around and engage community members in making their neighborhoods beautiful," Councilman David Terrazas said.

The city manager's office will award the grants, which will require a 25 percent neighborhood match through cash, in-kind donations or volunteer work on projects.

The council also approved tapping federal block grant money for code enforcement, the Santa Cruz Women's Health Center, a ramp on Barson Street and a host of other community programs. The council also will consider in two weeks whether to fund a Museum of Art & History plan to develop a small park in downtown's Abbott Square.

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