Santa Paula: Energy Commission Meeting Disintegrates Into Chaos

By Sheryl Hamlin

On 6/17/2016, the California Energy Commission (CEC) announced an on-site meeting to be held in Santa Paula on June 28, 2016. Citizens who had previously signed up on the CEC mailing list, received notice of this event as follows with the full explanation here. Attendees were advised to RSVP to the Public Advisor for the hosted bus tour of the site followed by a meeting in Santa Paula. Two air conditioned buses were provided each transporting about 40 people. A few arrived in personal vehicles to the site tour.


Site Tour

The site is located at 1025 Mission Rock Road which is an industrial, unincorporated area immediately west of Santa Paula and near the location of the recent Santa Clara Waste Water explosion, where fires, explosions, hazardous materials and unexplained after-hours activity led to criminal charges against the company and its executives. Santa Paula Fire Fighters responded to the explosion resulting in injuries and potentially permanent damage to the fire fighters who are still on leave. The 9.79 acre site is now home to Mini-Cal R.V Storage. Note that this site is also an alternate for the Puente Project, but NRG says that it is not large enough for a plant of this size.

Arriving at the site, the attendees gathered around Mr. Weinberg who pointed out salient geographical aspects of the site and took questions.

When the five turbine, water-cooled natural gas fired peaker plant is completed, the site will look as shown in this rendering. The five jet engines are seen along with tanks for fire water and demineralized water for the operation. Calpine plans to buy processed water from Limoneira which will be further treated for use in the peaker plant, which will require a 1.7 mile pipeline to connect to Limoneira’s waste water. Details may be found at this page devoted to the Mission Rock project. Clicking on the “Documents for this Proceeding” will show all communication between all parties associated with the project.


During the on-site Q&A session of the site tour, the Calpine Project Manager Mitch Weinberg took questions from the group standing on the site. Note that Mr. Weinberg had previously presented to the Santa Paula City Council.

Mr. Weinberg pointed out the two towers on the grey colored adjacent property which are taller than the five proposed towers. Lighting will be addressed in the EIR (Environmental Inpact Report) to be produced by the CEC. He noted that the site is in a flood plain, but Calpine plans to elevate the site at least five feet. A question about the source of the dirt for this fill revealed that Calpine plans to use quarries located on Route 23, which is also where Malibu Beach residents are expecting to buy sand for Broad Beach restoration.

The Limoneira water is permitted with the county and Calpine has a signed agreement with Limoneira to provide the water. This letter was signed on 12/31/2015, but is not mentioned in any subsequent SEC filings by Limoneira. Mr. Weinberg said that alternatives included using Santa Paula’s waste water or dry flow gas turbines where no water is required, although they are less efficient. He said that the city of Santa Paula would agree to sell the water because it is in its best interest to sell the water. Used water will not be put back into the aquifer, but will be evaporated during the process, so the aquifer will not get the benefit of the water replenishment. This statement appears to conflict with the water plan in the proposal, which involves potentially using the Santa Clara Waste Water (SCWW) runoff system, where Oxnard found hazardous materials. Although not mentioned at the site tour, the SCWW water plan may be found in the documents.

Questions about transmission lines revealed that the 220 KV lines will be 80’ to 100’ tall. Some poles will look like trees, particularly the ones along the barranca. Note that the lines must cross SR 126 and Foothill Drive, both, according to Calpine’s report, are eligible for Scenic Highway Designation.

The cost to build the project is $300 million and will take 15 months. He could not state the ROI (Return on Investment), which one attendee asked. Calpine does not have a contract with Southern California Edison (SCE), he said, for the energy from the Mission Rock plant. The project is purely speculative at this point in time and will not be built unless a need is shown. When asked how CalISO’s Regional Grid Plan could affect placement of power plants onto the grid, Mr. Weinberg said this would be only for renewable energy, such as excess solar.

Calpine says this plant is planned at 30% of the actual capacity at 2900 hours. It was noted by an audience member that the old Mandalay plant is running at 5% capacity now, thus questioning the need for this much extra power. Mr. Weinberg stated that pollution would be a factor of the days the plant worked and there were detailed calculations in the documents.

He hinted that the tax revenue for this project to the county is enormous and he would show the breakdown and potential distribution in his presentation. Discussion on the bus revealed that some citizens had heard that Briggs School District would receive $800,000 annually and Santa Paula Unified School District would receive $300,000 annually, as well as the Blanchard Library District would receive some amount. Such large sums are difficult to deny by governments strapped with escalating employee costs. See consultant’s comments about Santa Paula’s unsustainable personnel costs.

Council Member Procter asked about Calpine’s commitment to renewable energy, to which Mr. Weinberg stated that Calpine is changing its mix of products by increasing solar and wind, but these two are not capable of meeting peak demand.

Boys & Girls Club

The buses were greeted with a group of protesters on the grass at the Boys & Girls Club. The banner said “Our Health Versus Gas Profits”. The meeting room did not open until slightly after 6:30, but it took about 30 minutes for everyone to sign in and be seated.


Introductions from the dais were made. Commissioners Karen Douglass and Janet Scott were present, as well as Hearing Officer Susan Cochran and the Public Advisor Alana Mathews. Calpine was represented by three people including Mitch Weinberg, Barbara McBride (Director of Environmental Services) and a lawyer for the firm. Two staff members from the CEC included Mike Monasmith, Senior Project Manager, and a staff legal counsel. Public Agencies from the state, local and federal governments were introduced.

In the picture below taken from a Facebook post, the room full of attendees is shown calmly awaiting the presentation. It was estimated there were 150 seated with another 50 in the anteroom.


The Hearing Officer started to begin the presentation, but there was a realization about the large group of non-English speakers, so it was decided to move the non-English speakers to one side of the room and translate for them. The presentation continued after relocation.

One member of the audience rose his hand and complained about inaccurate translation of the slides, essentially saying that the Spanish language speakers were hearing something different than the English language speakers. This caused other grumblings from the audience about comprehension and the lengthy time to translate. Mayor Hernandez rose to the podium and agreed saying he opposed the process as it was unfolding. He said that a professional translator was necessary. The dais paused to discuss the obviously uneasy audience.

Several other speakers took the podium to complain about the inability to communicate. Dr. Gabino Aguirre, former city council member, came to the podium and said the CEC was not prepared and not professional suggesting they should leave and return providing a more respectful dialogue with the Latino community. He ended his statement with “Vamonos” … to which most of the audience left the room.

Two Meetings: Inside and Outside

At this point, those outside began rallying and protesting, as seen in this Facebook post by CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy):


Inside the hall, where about 20 people remained, several members of the audience rose to speak. Most comments spoke to issues or problems with the plant, but others spoke to the disastrous meeting trying to end it completely. During this commentary, the audience inside was aware of the protesting and rallying outside the door.

  • Steve Nash, Oxnard, described the night as a “tragedy”. He reminded the CEC that the core values are moving to renewable energy. Another plant in a low income community, like Oxnard, where he also spoke at the CEC hearing. Both communities lack money to fight these plants.
  • Liz Hernandez, Santa Paula, expressed outrage at the ill-prepared meeting.
  • Delton Johnson, Santa Paula, Agreeing with previous speakers, he spoke of devalued property values saying that this plant would never be approved in affluent cities of the county where thousands would attend to oppose. Limoneira is shamefully buying acceptance with its donations. He reminded the CEC about SP350 renewable energy goals.
  • Martin Hernandez, Santa Paula, said the committee is digging the hole deeper by continuing the meeting and asked if it was legal to continue if the community had asked to reconvene. The response to this was “The people who left, left voluntarily. They are entitled to proceed.” Mayor Hernandez asked one more time to stop the proceeding.
  • Aguirre, Santa Paula, said that the meeting was a misuse of public funds, is disrespectful to the community and is dividing the community into them and us. The meeting is a reflection of poor planning. The room does not function for this type of meeting and should be in the Community Center which is set up better acoustically.

At this point, the Public Advisor rose to speak saying that the meeting was legally noticed and that if anyone wanted to speak, he should be heard.

  • Thomas Koff, Santa Paula, cited the failed “Separate but Equal” doctrine in public schools and said we all earn from each other. The whole community must participate.
  • MatiWaiya, Chumash Elder, said that everyone should be heard by others. The public needs to know about Limoneira’s Natural gas is an illusionary clean fuel. It is ironic that the name is Mission Rock, because the Mission destroyed the original inhabitants.
  • Jim Procter, Santa Paula, continuing the hearing is a gross error. All deserve to hear. Do the right thing.
  • John Brooks, CFROG (Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas) and SPA (Santa Paula Alliance), urged everyone to leave saying it was a travesty to continue.
  • Peter Parziale, Santa Paula, came to hear both sides; he wanted to hear a debate. He budgeted time today. Would you put this plant in your town?

At this point, the Hearing Officer said that the meeting will convene at another time, asking for any more commentary.

  • A speaker spoke in Spanish saying he could not understand the explanation.
  • A speaker, Jose, asked how the city would be informed of the next meeting. He also said the plant is dangerous to his children. He brought up the issue of multi-lingual noticing and documentation. It must be noted that all slides for this meeting were in English and the CEC website is in English.
  • A speaker reminded the dais about a law suit against Calpine for placing plants in low-income communities.
  • John Anin, Santa Paula, said his great-grandparents were also born and raised in Santa Paula. Will I live to see 80?
  • Yvonne Montalvo, Santa Paula, leave and come back.

With that the meeting was closed.

It is interesting that the CEC on-site hearing in Oxnard last year had full simultaneous translation with earphones, according to the Public Advisor. Yet, this meeting did not even have translated presentation materials.

There will be an audio recording of this meeting posted on the Mission Rock Project Site as well as a transcript from the court reporter who was present.


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Tom Koff
Tom Koff
4 years ago

Excellent report – thank you!!

One item that needs clarification is that Mr. Weinberg initially stated that most of the towers would be 80 – 100 feet tall. When questioned about the maximum height of the towers, he answered that they would be up to 200′ high. I think this is fairly significant, and that while his initial statement was technically correct, it was also misleading.

Kristin Majda
Kristin Majda
4 years ago

Thank you for a well written, very detailed report. I was not feeling well on Tuesday evening and did not make it to the event. But now I like I was there and feel much less anxious about what I missed thanks to your excellent summary. Is there a way to get a Spanish translation of this?

Kay Wilson-Bolton
Kay Wilson-Bolton
4 years ago

Well done.