Part Two: Santa Paula Council–Citizen Concerns

By Sheryl Hamlin

This article is part two in a three part series about the August 17th, 2015 Santa Paula City Council meeting. Part one of the series featured exemplary volunteering in Santa Paula. Part two will continue with citizen input in the Public Comments section of the meeting.

Santa Paula Optimists Missing Pumpkin Patch

In spite of the loss of the revenue from the Pumpkin Patch which had been previously held at the Faulkner Farm, the Santa Paula Optimists are still planning two major community events. The Halloween Parade will occur on October 31st, 2015 and the Christmas Parade on November 28th.

Mr. Tom Hicks, representing the Optimists, encouraged donations from the community to support these two events. Donations should be sent to the Santa Paula Optimists, PO 507, Santa Paula, CA 93061.

Council Member Gherardi asked Mr. Hicks about the costs of the two events. Mr. Hicks responded with $600 for the Halloween Parade and $2000 for the Christmas Parade.

Mr. Hicks also reminded viewers that the Latino Town Hall dinner will be on September 11, 2015, the night before the Moonlight at the Ranch event benefitting the Santa Paula Police and Fire Fighters.

Wheelchair Bound Resident Denied Opportunities

Marissa Rodriguez spoke to the dais from her wheelchair saying she and others in similar situations are denied opportunities. She says disabled people cannot get jobs like other people are able to do. She says disabled people are being dismissed and wanted to make this known to the council and the public. Saying disabled people have abilities which can be deployed by schools, police and business, she wants to expand the recognition of this problem. The chamber applauded her comments. Mayor Procter thanked Ms. Rodriguez for coming forward.

Peaker Plant Proposed by Council Member Tovias

Delton Lee Johnson, who has spoken previously at council meetings stressing “quality development”, spoke of the proposal made by Council Member Tovias to build a gas fired peaker plant in unincorporated land west of Santa Paula. Mr. Johnson spoke of the Pacific Coast Business Times article wherein the editor was “surprised” at the phone call he received from Council Member Tovias. Mr. Johnson said “if the editor was surprised, the rest of us will be appalled”. He noted that Oxnard has spent a “half century trying to get rid of plants like this and we are inviting them here? This does not make sense to me”.

Mr. Johnson said it bothered him because he “hadn’t seen anything about this on a council meeting”. He said “if something this controversial is coming here, it out to be discussed in the open”.

No community in the state wants this kind of plant, he said. Throughout the nation, electric generating plants have been shuttled in to the poorest communities, a statement he read from a report about peaker plants.

This company, he said, with the help of one of our council members, sees us (Santa Paula) as an easy mark. Well, we are not an easy mark… issues, quality of life issues, community perception issues … This plant would bring air pollution, ugly power lines … Oxnard has long had perception problems, largely due to such plants …. we are about to begin construction of a new development which can improve our tax base, our community perception and quality of life and we don’t need an electric generating plant.

Mayor Procter said his understanding that this is going through the Coastal Commission now and that Oxnard is the only location under consideration, unless it falls through.

Mr. Johnson returned to the speaker’s platform reiterating that “our own council member was doing this behind our backs”.  It needs to be in the open and should have a consensus of the council, he said.

There were no comments by any council member on this topic other than a few sentences denying the inevitability of the project by Mayor Procter.

A search though previous minutes and agendas for public meetings does not list this item on an agenda. So what could have prompted Mr. Tovias to speak at the Oxnard CPUC Meeting? What is even more amazing is the nonchalant comment made by Mr. Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, in the Pacific Coast Business Times about a donation to the foundation. Is he not concerned about the health of his new community or the perception that this community is a dumping ground for peaker plants, jails and landfills?

A peaker plant produces light all night long and such a plant located near the 126 would be visible across the valley and up the hillsides. They are 80 to 100 feet tall. Wires would be needed to connect to the nearest substation on the grid.

Below is a photograph of the Sentinel peaker plant that was put in an unincorporated area in Riverside county over the objections of the citizens. The county reported a slight increase in property tax when the land was upzoned to industrial, but less than anticipated. The permanent crew to run this plant is relatively small because it is extremely automated. The construction period was about 18 months, thus creating only temporary construction jobs. The Oxnard plant reported similar experiences with staffing during and after construction. These plants do not produce a large pool of permanent jobs.

The county where the plant is domiciled anxiously awaits the award of the “mitigation fees” which could be in the millions of dollars. Mitigation fees are penalties for producing pollutants.


Peaker plants produce PM10 and even PM2.5, particulate matter 10 micrometers or smaller that can only be seen with a microscope, but are harmful to human breathing. All peaker plants pay “mitigation fees” to the city or county where they are located. The mitigation fee is supposed to provide monies to fund other projects offsetting pollution generating activities. Typically, mitigation fees go toward transit to offset car pollution, but there are other mitigating ideas. A mitigation fee does not change the fact that the plant still pollutes.

The peaker plants operate only when the grid power is low, so they must be activated in bursts requiring huge surges in natural gas to fire the engines. IF the pollution from the peaker plant is measured only across the time frame where they are operational, the pollution is enormous. To skirt this calculation, environmental reports often spread the pollution over 12 months making it appear smaller.

There are alternatives to peaker plants on the horizon involving energy storage. Companies like NRG know this and are anxious to build before their business disappears. Peaker plants are extremely lucrative. The plant owner negotiates an operational percentage as part of the contract. This is the percentage they are expected to be available and producing electricity. For example, that percentage may be 30% of the time. However, the plant may only be operational 11% of the time because conditions on the grid do not warrant the activation of the peaker plant. Yet the operator of the plant still gets paid at the 30% level.

The Business Times article indicates that Calpine has studied the proposed plant in the Santa Paula location. Has Mr. Tovias read this report? Has Calpine made this report available to the council? Why did not a single council member ask about this report? NRG, the provider in Oxnard, is a competitor to Calpine and in 2008 made an unsolicited bid to buy Calpine. Calpine rejected the offer. Calpine boasts a more modern fleet of plants than NRG’s older plants, some of which are coal powered, which will eventually be forced out. So, it would be informative to understand just what Calpine would propose for the Santa Paula adjacent site. Could Mr. Tovias provide that information?

Part three of this series will conclude with two important planning issues discussed at the August 17th 2015 Santa Paula City Council meeting.


For more information about the author, visit

Get Headlines free  SUBSCRIPTION. Keep us publishing – DONATE

*Scroll down to post a comment

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Peaker plants have need for large amounts of water.

Citizen Reporter

Not air-cooled ones.