Sophistry and Misdirection at OCWD’s Board Meeting

“We are not approving a project, we are simply approving a lease,” water district board member Stephen Sheldon said as the meeting slipped past midnight at the agency’s headquarters in Fountain Valley.

– Orange County Register, December 10, 2013

That’s what is known as a distinction without a difference. You’d need an atomic microscope to split that hair.

Let’s say the lease wasn’t for a power plant but for a nuclear waste disposal site. Would anyone buy “We’re not approving a nuclear dump…”?

Yet this is the kind of sophistry employed by most of the OCWD directors who voted to lease Ball Road Basin to Competitive Power Ventures for the purpose of building a power plant.

OCWD Director Bruce Whitaker told the assembled members of the public that he wasn’t voting to approve a power plant “but to let the process move forward.”

Why let the “process move forward” unless you think Ball Road Basin is a good place to build a power plant? Why approve a land lease for a power plant unless one thinks the power plant is a good use of that land?

How would it be viewed if an OCWD director who thinks it is a terrible idea to build a 400 megawatt power plant right next to an auto mall, a restaurant and event center, a horse stable and riding center, an office park and near established neighborhoods and entertainment centers had said, “I think this is a terrible location for a power plant and will negatively impact the area, but I’m going to support leasing our land to build it in order to let the process move forward”?

He or she would be seen as talking out both sides if his or her mouth — and yet the reasoning would be precisely the same as that voiced by Sheldon and Whitaker.

Misdirection
One curious aspect of the OCWD Board meeting was how focused Directors Sheldon and Denis Bilodeau were on discrediting Anaheim and debunking arguments the project; curious since they were supposedly not approving a power plant.

They and CPV kept pointing to the recently-built 310 megawatt Magnolia Power Plant in Burbank and owned by the Southern California Public Power Authority. SCPPA-member Anaheim owns 38% of the plant and its output. Since the plant is located in a commercial area of Burbank, the point Directors Sheldon and Bilodeau and CPV were trying to make is it is supposedly hypocritical of Anaheim to oppose CPV’s project given its part-ownership of the Magnolia Power Plant.

Few if any of us there opposing the plant had heard ever of the Magnolia Power Plant, but some quick research revealed what Sheldon and Bilodeau were omitting: the Magnolia plant was built on the site of an older plant on the long-established 23-acre City Burbank Water & Power facility.

Magnolia Power Project

There is no reasonable comparison between the above plant and building a 400MW power plant on vacant land where none exists, but this is an example of the efforts being made by certain OCWD directors to discredit Anaheim and make the case for CPV – while maintaining the pretense that the OCWD Board wasn’t voting on building a power plant on OCWD property.

There were other examples of truth-shading and misrepresentation from the dais, but the point is made.

I’ve been a many public hearings for contentious projects, but as a participant and an observer. In nearly every case, those behind a proposed project are able to find at least a few residents or business owners to speak on their behalf. I’ve been to at least four packed OCWD hearings on this project and haven’t heard a single person – other than the applicant — speak in support of this project.

CPV ultimately must successfully navigate the California Energy Commission approval process, obtain SCAQMD permits and run the gauntlet of other measures that will almost certainly be taken to block plans for a power plant on the Ball Road Basin site. It’s too bad since the end was in sight for Anaheim’s processing of OCWD’s application to re-zone the property from open space to commercial, and mutually beneficial re-use of the basin could have been arrived at. Instead, a majority of the OCWD Board of Directors voted to run roughshod over Anaheim residents and businesses and support the building of a power plant even while claiming that isn’t what they were doing.

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