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Give a Dam: Kipping takes a stand against RWE's control of Felton's water.


RWE: The Thirsty Giant

Some of the people in my town think I'm crazy. Well, I'm not, but I am driven," says Felton resident Susan Kipping, who recently stood for seven days straight on Highway 9 at Empire Grade Road with a sign that warned, "Felton, Your Water Is in Great Peril."

"Even though I have arthritis and bursitis in my arms, I've had no problem holding that sign above my head for nine hours," said Kipping. " I can't eat or sleep anymore. I went on the Internet to find out more about RWE, and I never got off."

What keeps Kipping up at night is the fear that RWE, the German conglomerate that recently gobbled up the company that provides water service to her town, is planning to bottle and ship Felton's water to other places--like Germany and France.

"I'm afraid that Felton's water is gonna end up being sent in bottles to France, so when we go there on vacation we can visit our water," she says.

Kipping first freaked out when she learned that RWE, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate and the 100th biggest company in the world, paid $7.6 billion to buy American Water Works, which owns Cal-Am, which provides water to Felton. (Confused yet? So are we.)

Kipping freaked because she thinks she knows why RWE would want Felton's water. "On a rainy day, the water comes rushing through Fall Leaf Creek. I know because I've walked there. It's the freshest spring," she says.

Cal-Am reps deny any such interest.

"Somehow, a rumor got out that we have been speaking to Perrier and Arrowhead about bottling Felton's water, but it's never been our intent to export or sell any of it," says Cal-Am spokesperson Kevin Tilden. "Occasionally, we bottle some to give away at Little League games."

So, why has Cal-Am applied for a water allocation in Felton that is more than double what the townspeople currently use?

"That has to do with legal work started 20 years ago to keep water available to the community in case they ever need it," says Tilden.

But Scott Millar, an analyst for county Supe Jeff Almquist, disputes the likelihood that Felton would ever use that much water.

"Felton is approaching build-out and is never gonna get to the point that it needs 1.75 cfs [cubic feet per second], unless it builds high rises, at which point people would turn out carrying pitchforks."

Or posters.

This week, Kipping's poster says, "Water is a right, not a commodity," a point she thinks all American citizens need to get before a conglomerate snaps up their water system.

"Our effort to buy back Felton's water supply has been made all the more complex because huge deadlines for challenging the sale were missed. Key documents were sent to the DA's office, instead of county counsel, and ended up being tossed into the garbage."

Kipping's fears have been further compounded by news that RWE is trying to hike Felton's water rates, a move that could cripple the school and fire districts, whose rates would increase by 80 percent--not to mention making efforts to buy back Felton's water supply more expensive, since hikes would increase the system's market value.

"I don't want to see RWE's trucks driving around. And I don't want to see their lies in the newspapers," Kipping says. "What if all municipalities get in debt from Bush's war, and someone comes in and bails them out by buying our water back, and that someone happens to be RWE? Forget about Darth Vader. This is the Emperor, and we're like the Ewoks hitting at it with rocks."

Those Darling Dems

"Tired of all the bullshit."

That's the reason insiders are giving for why Paul Elerick vacated the Santa Cruz County Democratic Central Committee chair after five years.

"I was burned out, yes," admits Elerick, "but what really made up my mind was the November 2002 election, in which a minority of our committee got behind Measure Q. I was appalled to see the hotel tax become a defining issue. My committee got hijacked by people with an interest in the hotel industry--and I got raked over the coals for voicing my disagreement."

Had it been successful, Measure Q would have raised the hotel tax by 1 percent, and funneled those funds directly into the pocket of the county's Conference and Visitors Council to help promote tourism. But while supporters said the measure would ease the city's financial woes, opponents called it a corporate tax grab.

Noting that the DCC didn't put any actual money behind Measure Q, Elerick sounded positively nauseated as he recalled how "the DCC's name went on a door hanger endorsing Measure Q, instead of endorsing Sam Farr, John Laird, Mardi Wormhoudt, Tim Fitzmaurice, Cynthia Mathews and Mike Rotkin."

But though the new DCC chair is none other then pro-Measure Q hotelier Darrel Darling (who was one of Elerick's strongest critics), Elerick says he'll do everything he can to help Darling take over.

"I'm just disappointed that things have devolved into 'Either you support business or you don't.' I don't think that is what the Democrats are about, though I don't have anything against the hotel industry. But if anyone had helped Gordon Pusser, who single-handedly ran the 'No on Q' campaign, one bit, then Measure Q wouldn't have even got a basic majority. The same group that supported Measure Q fought Measure U two years ago, and now they want everything or nothing. But they didn't run a campaign. They just read a list of endorsements and expected everyone to get in line."

Last month, Councilmember Scott Kennedy criticized people who fought to defeat Measure Q, saying they should realize that their actions have worsened the Santa Cruz budget crisis.

Elerick disagrees.

"That's like saying that anyone who gets funds from the city worsens the budget. All Measure Q would have done is locked those funds into the hotel industry's budget. The CVC should have to compete for funds--just like everyone else."

As We Flip It

In response to the Senile's "As We See It" column, which gave the City Council a thumbs up for "taking a deep breath and blowing out the candles on the city's "Police Review Board," [sic] Nüz is giving the Senile one of our newly minted Finger awards.

It's kind of bad taste to applaud the decision to kill a commission made up of citizens, a decision made in such a way that the citizens involved were the last to find out. And speaking of citizens, the correct name of said board was the Citizen's Police Review Board--the emphasis being on the citizens. Taking the people out of that equation isn't something to celebrate, unless you believe that the best people to police the police are the police themselves--a belief , Nüz has noticed, that only middle-class white people ever seem to hold.

Anyways, like we said, we're giving the Senile the Finger. You decide which one--and which way to point it.

Sick and Tired

41 million people without health insurance. Nurses leaving hospitals in droves. Patients' family members having to answer phones in ERs.

America is now the last superpower in the world NOT to offer universal health care, all of which brings us to a darkly funny situation: Seattle-based health care consultant Kathleen O'Connor is offering $10,000 to try and fix the problem.

Check www.oconnorhealthanalyst.com/contest.html.

And, hey, somebody tell Hillary Clinton. Maybe she can finally collect for that great idea she had a few years ago.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the February 12-19, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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