Public thought being molded with tax dollars
May 14, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
If you don’t love the Nacimiento Pipeline now, you soon might.
County residents are about to be inundated by the byproduct of a multi-media public relations and marketing campaign designed to make people “change their way of thinking” and embrace the controversial water conveyance project.
For that privilege, Paso Robles residents are paying about $10,000 a month through October to a Los Osos marketing and public relations firm retained to do the changing. The Paso Robles City Council last week authorized spending the public’s money to shape public concepts regarding the project in a “positive” way.
Part of the campaign will involve “interviewing unbiased project advocates” for use in media advertising.
City officials call the $57,400 campaign, which will go into high gear in July, “educational.” The move comes as Paso Robles officials plot their containment of a gradually-emerging body of public opposition to the Nacimiento Pipeline. The $202 million project would eventually cost Paso Robles taxpayers at least $72.3 million as its “fair share” and is designed to bring additional water supplies to the area.
The marketing firm, 2PointMedia, will take the rest of this year to make Paso Robles residents feel good about absorbing a three-fold water rate increase; underwriting a big, new, chronically expensive water conveyance project; and subsidizing a dependable future water supply allowing huge winery operations, now dramatically over-drafting the area’s water supply, to prosper. Some prominent, longtime local farmers and ranchers allege that their wells are being compromised by winery ground water pumping, and adequate city supplies are in jeopardy.
2PointMedia will help city officials “gain control of the current mixed messaging throughout the community regarding the project” and explain “the rationale behind a substantial rate increase.”
Placing 2PointMedia under contract is a wise economic move, City Manager Jim App suggested to his council bosses.
“A number of residents have voiced concerns regarding the proposed water rate adjustments,” he wrote in a memo to the council on May 6. The facts, he said, are “complicated” and require the city “to conduct a comprehensive water resources education program.” The marketing company will help city officials to accomplish this, he predicted.
Describing itself as “a full service brand communications firm,” 2PointMedia is planning its ambitious campaign over the next few weeks, preparing specific strategies, according to one of the firm’s principals, Starr Hall. 2PointMedia asserts that it “[specializes] in public relations, licensing, co-branding and word-of-mouth marketing.”
“Our goal is to educate those who have not been informed, or who have been misinformed” about the pipeline project, said Hall.
Perhaps coincidentally, the new propaganda campaign also will be at its most active point throughout the three-month summer stretch during which many North County vintners are in their “grape-crushing” period. During this time, wineries will be using tens of thousands gallons hourly from the deepest places of the area’s underground water aquifer, placing a serious but entirely predictable strain on the water table. This in turn imperils the city’s ability to provide water of sufficient quality for continuing residential use.
Residential consumers are being called upon to shoulder much of the pipeline’s capital costs and to remain submissive in the face of the rapidly-escalating water charges.
Homeowners also will be restricted in the amount of water they can use during peak consumption periods this summer, and the city plans to enforce those limitations.
The marketing firm’s proposal to the council stressed that “campaigns must project a clear message to be effective in changing the way people think. The following strategy-overview highlights the proactive and powerful campaign for the city of Paso Robles that will assist in gaining control of the current mixed messaging throughout the community regarding this project.”
2PointMedia faces one particularly daunting obstacle: Despite the claim by city officials that public input on the project’s eventual authorization has been lengthy and significant, such is not the common public perception. Sometime between the silent night of Christmas and the revelry of Cinco de Mayo, Paso Robles’ romance with the multi-million-dollar Nacimiento Pipeline project was officially consummated; the exact moment of conception, though, remains murky.
City officials maintain that over the past four years all necessary public hearings have been held, proper notices sent to residents, and other requirements properly met as the project moved toward local authorization.
The city’s new marketing team members have given a few ideas to the city council. For example, if an official should want to answer a citizen’s query about why the proposed project will triple water rates, this would be the suggested wording:
“We completely understand this concern. No one wants to pay more for a resource bill, especially without a valid set of reasons and factual support. We have researched this project in depth and looked at all our options, and we are presenting what we feel is in the best interest of the community. This project was intentionally designed to alleviate our immediate underground water source issues, and to develop a long-term water resource plan for the benefit of the community, with the lowest possible financial burden. The advantage to this plan is simple – a new source for much needed quality water to meet the current and future needs of our community.”
Some residents beg to differ.
John Borst, a resident of Paso Robles, said city officials “violated the state constitution” and a variety of other laws “by adopting an ordinance to raise water rates,” and failed to hold required public hearings.
“We just want some accountability,” he said this week.
Borst, spokesman for a group called Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, calls the city’s actions “an abuse of power” and has called upon officials to place the issue of the pipeline project “on a ballot for us, the voters, to decide.” If that does not happen, Borst said the group plans to take the matter to court.
Quality of the water destined for delivery to local consumers through the pipeline has frequently been questioned. Sport anglers at Lake Nacimiento are routinely warned by game wardens that eating the lake’s fish can be hazardous to human health because of elevated mercury content due to long-discontinued mining operations.
Tags:, Los Osos, Nacimiento Pipeline, Paso Robles