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Monterey Herald Letters to Editor

Monterey Herald • October 17, 2020

Cal Am’s permit withdrawal
The Coastal Commission concluded in their recent staff report: “There is a long history of government institutions allowing unwanted industrial development to be concentrated in underserved communities of color without their consent. Approving yet another would perpetuate this discriminatory land use practice in Marina.”

Cal Am pulled its application only hours before the Sept. 17 hearing because they knew they would lose. They could now prevent all our citizens from once again speaking our truth, discounting and literally silencing all of us who wrote emails, signed up to speak, signed petitions, created compelling video presentations, got our pictures taken before the “Stop Cal Am” posters in our home windows and our downtown stores throughout Marina. Cal Am wiped the slate clean by their withdrawal.

Such intentional delays coupled with the draining of our city’s taxpayer money to pay for legal fees to the tune of almost $4M are other aspects of environmental injustice, not given needed acknowledgment.

Until we have governmental agencies that will fight our battle for us and not expect our community to become exhausted by these unreasonable demands, communities like ours will continue to be exploited and lose faith that our governmental processes are fair and just

Kathy Biala, Marina

Citizens for Just Water Town Hall Meeting August 29, 2020
Kathy Biala, right, worked with students to help diners get information on which Marina restaurants were open during the pandemic. “They were very creative and adept at social media, and they came up with the slogan ‘Let your tastebuds travel,’” she says. At left is Pho Lucky Noodle House co-owner Son Nguyen.
Parker Seibold

CSUMB business students turn their skills toward solving real-life business challenges for Marina restaurants.

Mary Duan Jun 18, 2020

Link to Monterey Coast Weekly article

The CalAm Slant well project would destroy Western Snowy Plover habitat – impacting a threatened population on Marina’s beaches

Monterey Herald Letters to Editor

Kathy wrote this letter to the editor August 6, 2020 in response to a guest commentary written by Grant Leonard, a board chair of the North County Recreation and park District. In his comments he neglects any mention of the impacts to Marina to favor the benefits of the CalAm Desalination plant for Castroville.

Who deserves ‘return water?’

I wish to point out the incomprehensible inclusion of Castroville as a recipient of the most expensive water in the country, complements of the ratepayers of the Monterey Peninsula, without their approval.No one would dispute that Castroville has serious seawater intrusion problems (of their own making) and that Castroville is a disadvantaged community deserving of help. However, Marina has been rightly identified by the Coastal Commission as a bonafide disadvantaged community with high diversity, high poverty and more than its fair share of regional project burdens. Yet, Cal Am plans to profit from and exploit Marina. Cal Am has created a classic environmental injustice case. Marina’s groundwater from a critically overdrafted basin will be extracted by Cal Am in massive amounts without any groundwater rights (not part of Cal Am’s jurisdiction) and Marina’s pristine dunes will be permanently damaged by the industrial infrastructure. But Marina receives not one drop of desalinated water. Rather than give “free” treated water back to Marina in compliance with “return water” obligations to the Basin, Cal Am chooses to give it to Castroville which suffers none of the harms and risks of the project that Marina will shoulder. In what world is this fair, just, logical and defensible?

— Kathy Biala, Citizens for Just Water, Marina

Movers & Matriarchs of Marina 

Monterey Herald, March 25, 2020

Cristina Media Dirkson

Dana Cleary
Wendy Root Askew
Dawn Alva

Kathy Biala
Casey Aguilar

By Lisa Crawford Watson

It sounds like a series of boat slips off the coast of somewhere. While it is off the coast of the great Monterey Bay, Marina, established with an official post office in 1919 and incorporated in 1975, is about much more than the bay.

First and foremost, it is a diverse community of families and friends, determined to make it a thriving hometown, say the people who live there.

And they are the ones making it happen.

“What I appreciate about Marina is the working-class ethic and diverse demographic of the city,” Mayor Bruce Delgado has said. He likens it to 1970s Southern California, a coastal town that hasn’t succumbed to the hustle and bustle of commercialization, having retained its natural charm as a beach town, even in the face of development.

While everyone who lives there contributes to its character, a cadre of woman – too many to mention all – keep showing up in the paper as the movers and mavens of Marina, dedicated to turning their town into a modern-day Mayberry.

They’re not doing it fearlessly. Several admit to feeling moments of fear or self-doubt. But it all seems to get trampled in their stampede toward social transformation.

We’ll introduce a few, so you can see what we mean.

Cristina Medina Dirksen, currently the communications coordinator for The Community Foundation, used to cover the Marina community as a reporter for this paper. Today, she and her husband are raising triplet daughters in the city where she has lived for some 20 years, much of which she has spent as “Mrs. Volunteer.” “Marina is my family community, and volunteering is a family value of mine,” she says. “But more than that, volunteering is essential. It puts a special lens on the great needs of our community, which is the first step in satisfying them.”

When Dirksen got involved in a citizen’s initiative on key ballot measures, she and her children walked around their neighborhood, talking to people, connecting with them. This gave her an in-person perspective on the needs of the community and what could be done.

When she found there wasn’t a crosswalk to a popular park, for example, she circulated a petition and championed the cause until it was painted in place.

As President of the Friends of Marina Library, Dirksen and her board bet against risk and opened a successful all-volunteer bookstore.

“We are investing tremendous resources into making our library a real community center,” she says. “Other than Grocery Outlet, we really didn’t have a place where people gather.”

Dirksen’s love for her community runs deep. “I cannot say no to efforts that are improving our quality of life in Marina,” she says.

Vice President of the Friends of Marina Library, Dana Cleary reminisces about raising money from Marina residents, to buy the land on which the library was built, “right behind the duck pond.”

The director of real estate for CHISPA (Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association, Inc.), has always been interested in community development, and held jobs in that arena in Chicago, before she followed her husband’s career path to Marina.

“Marina’s an easy town in which to become involved,” she says. “I got here, and made it my place. I’ve been involved in a lot of efforts and campaigns in Marina – the City Council, the Planning Commission – it’s fun to be part of a core group of people who make things happen on behalf of our hometown.”

Cleary was recently named Woman of the Year by the Marina Foundation, an organization established in 2009 by Dorothy and Steve Emerson, to benefit the Marina community through scholarships and grants.

Wendy Root Askew, whose family has lived in Monterey County for four generations, graduated from Pacific Grove High School and went off to Cal Poly, certain she did not want to live out her life in the place where she grew up.

But absence does make the heart grow fonder. From a distance, Askew gained perspective, realizing the opportunity to live close to family within a wonderful community in a beautiful place, seemed pretty special. She and her husband bought their home in Marina in 2002 and began building a life in their new hometown.

Askew knew she would have a career, but her first goal was to be a mom. It took five years and fertility support to get there, so the career came first. But that was only a matter of time.

“I started working in fundraising for Chartwell School during the early redevelopment of Fort Ord,” she says, “and then stumbled into starting a food brokerage company. I got really good at what I did, operating in an environment that wasn’t typically run by women.”

Askew sold the company in 2008, when given the opportunity to work on Jane Parker’s political campaign and then continued working with her in the County Supervisor’s office.

“I was unsure of getting into politics,” says Askew.

“But the more I learned about the county, the more I focused on health and human services for women and children. My mom, Gail Root, founded Parents Place in Pacific Grove. We had started Friends of Parents Place in support of the program and later broadened its reach as Parenting Connection for Monterey County, expanding classes into Salinas and Marina.”

Askew was honing her focus and her intentions for her community.

“In 2011, I finally had my son, and shifted to working part time. My passion has always been taking care of women who are having babies, and families with young children. When I struggled with postpartum anxiety,” she says, “I knew that maternal mental heath had become my mission.”

When Askew joined the MPUSD School Board in 2015, she realized politics was becoming part of her path. She wasn’t quite sure how or when, so she “just stayed open.” Now running for Monterey County Supervisor, she is focused on homelessness and water issues and pollution, but the “fire in her belly” is to effect change in health and human services.

“I wake up every day, scared” she says, “but I’m practicing how to be brave, to be willing to do things that make me uncomfortable, and to keep telling the truth and keep listening.”

Dawn Alva was working for a futures think tank in Palo Alto when she gave birth to her children, who didn’t take to breastfeeding easily. Figuring out how to pump breast milk during the day in a professional environment was a challenge. So, she designed, patented, and manufactured a line of nursing bras that facilitate pumping, nursing, and allday support. Channeling “Diva Rumina,” a goddess in ancient Roman religion, dedicated to protecting breastfeeding women and nursing infants, Alva named the company Rumina, which offers seven different bra styles, created overseas and distributed from Marina to hospitals and “mommy stores” across the country.

Alva also has channeled a lot of energy into supporting the work of Chartwell School, dedicated to teaching children who learn differently than mainstream assumptions, to realize their fullest potential.

Meanwhile, her husband’s hobby had “gone wild,” shifting his winemaking interests into an established company, “Sinecure Wines,” a small friends and family- owned winery in Marina.

So, Alva initiated “Urban Wine Row,” a monthly get-together among Marina winemakers, who roll up their warehouse doors and serve their boutique wines.

“Marina is such a wonderful place to make wine,” she says, “because the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much. We were doing a lot of winemaking and very little tasting. Now, we have three to five winemakers pouring each month. It’s great to have competitive business owners working together to build community.”

For Alva, who sits on Marina’s Economic Development Commission, among others, bringing people together is her passion. “Anytime I can use my business lens help nudge our city to look at unique approaches, to get people better acquainted and working together,” she says, “I’m in.”

Kathy Biala is a name the community connects with surf and sand. The retired nurse moved to Marina with her husband in 2014. After vacationing in the area for years, they decided on a permanent vacation in Marina. But once she settled into her new community, she saw deep needs she couldn’t ignore.

It all started with a walk on the beach, where she learned of the endangered local species, the adorable Western Snowy Plover shore bird. She also noticed the significant sand erosion by the bay. She took her concern to the news.

“I fell in love with nature here,” Biala says. “A lot of people across the bay got involved in our campaign to close the sand mine here.

We pulled in the City of Marina, the Coastal Commission, and the State Lands Commission, and were successful in coming to a settlement agreement.”

As soon as Biala and her cohorts felt the sand had settled, they learned that Cal-Am Water planned to put another industrial facility right where they had gotten the land dedicated to coastal conservation.

They rolled up their sleeves, again, and established “Citizens for Just Water.”

“I got involved in water rights because it was unbelievable. I got involved,” she says, “because I wanted to learn, and I wanted to make a difference. Because it had to do with Marina’s shoreline, I got very steeped in it; we had to educate Marina about it.”

Biala and her community rallied citizens and talked about environmental injustice. Last November, she reports, the CoastalCommission recommended denial of the Cal-Am project based, in large part, she says, on the principle of environmental injustice.

“This is a very big reversal,” she says, “due to our community coming together. It’s not over yet. And we aren’t done yet.” Especially since Biala has decided to run for a seat on the Marina City Council.

When Casey Aguilar moved from Georgia to Marina on behalf of her husband’s job, she looked for an affordable house, a good school for her son, and a food-tour company like the one her sister-in-law owns in Georgia.

She couldn’t find a house she could afford that didn’t need a lot of work until she and her husband landed in East Garrison, in Marina.

There, they bought a brandnew house for less money, surrounded by parks where her son could play, and near his school, where he continues to thrive.

The food-tour took a little more doing. Seeing it as a way to become better acquainted with the wider community, and believing others, particularly visitors, would feel the same way, she established her own company, Monterey Bay Food Tours.

“I’d always wanted to start my own business,” says Aguilar, “and this is the perfect place for a food tour, with its walkable communities, history and hospitality, and tourism.”

Aguilar started by seeking out local winemakers, restaurants, and shops in Monterey, and then launched her Old Monterey Tour through historic and downtown Monterey. Next, she introduced her Local Seafood Tour – Cannery Row.

“We love to set up experiences our tourists wouldn’t have on their own.

We’ll stop for food and drinks, learn the history of the establishment and the community, go behind the scenes for a kitchen tour, speak to the chef, or sample a special dish.”

Last year, Aguilar won the Startup Monterey Bay Challenge, a project of CSU Monterey Bay’s Institute for Innovation and Economic Development. With confidence, she invested her $10,000 award into the growth and development of her business.

Certainly, the women of Marina are taking the lead, pushing their passions, volunteering in meaningful ways, and making monumental changes in their community. These are only a few of the movers and matriarchs dedicated to the wellbeing of their hometown, all of whom warrant recognition.


Kathy Biala and CEMEX
“It really confirmed our confidence in all we have said, but we remain cautious,” Kathy Biala says of the staff recommendation to the Coastal Commission. “It’s only a recommendation.”
Nic Coury, photo

A new environmental justice policy helped shape a state recommendation against desal.

Asaf Shalev

For the first time ever, the California Coastal Commission will allow the public to participate remotely in its monthly hearing. On the morning of Nov. 14, there will be a video link from Marina City Hall so that residents who cannot make it to the commission meeting in Half Moon Bay may livestream their comments about the desalination infrastructure being proposed by California American Water.

This unprecedented new practice is just one of the ways that the commission’s new environmental justice policy, passed in March, is playing out. It’s happening as Cal Am seeks a permit to start construction of pumps on a Marina beach to supply a planned desalination facility just outside of city limits.

After the Marina Planning Commission denied Cal Am’s application, the company appealed to the Coastal Commission – the last stop in the appeals process before the courts.
An Oct. 28 report by commission staff recommends denying the permit due to the project’s relatively high cost, environmental risks and because an alternative water recycling project is available.

The report contains an entire section devoted to environmental justice concerns. “It’s one of the biggest projects that have come along that we have had to look at through the EJ framework,” says Tom Luster, an environmental scientist and lead author of the report. “It’s a classic scenario of a project proposed in a community that feels it’s not getting any benefits.”

Marina officials and community activists have longed said they don’t want to play host to infrastructure that would supply Cal Am’s customers on the Monterey Peninsula, with the exception of Marina, which has its own public water utility that draws from the aquifer underneath the city. Cal Am’s proposed pumps, known as slant wells, “could adversely affect” this groundwater supply, the report states.

The report identifies Marina as having “communities of concern” because of the prevalence of people with low incomes and people of color, and the “disproportionate amount of nearby industrial development,” including a landfill, composting facility and sewage plant.
“It’s clear from this report that this is about environmental justice,” Kathy Biala, a Marina planning commissioner and an activist with Citizens for Just Water. “All the risks and harms are placed in a disadvantaged community. This is exactly what gets played out everywhere there are powerful interests. We are at the mercy of the powers that be.”

As part of its focus on justice, the report also points out that the desalination plant’s relatively high cost would result in a burden on those Peninsula ratepayers who are already facing economic hardship. Cal Am has 40,000 connections in the region, which make up about 1.3 percent of the 3 million connections served by Cal Am and its parent company American Water Works.

Cal Am President Rich Svinland says that his company has no choice but to pursue desal because state officials have ordered it. And he says the project is in the best interest of the region – even if not everyone sees it that way.

“We are always willing to work with people to resolve differences,” he says. “We have been trying to be a good neighbor and I know not everyone believes that.”

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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