Sewage treatment is a dirty job but somebody has to do it. In Novato, the question is "Who?" The local sanitary district wants to privatize with a French-owned firm called "Veolia."
"It's less expensive, about $7 million less expensive, to have Veolia become the operator of the plant," says measure F supporter Jerry Peters.
Critics say operators employed by the local sanitary plant should do the job.
"If a public agency runs it, they're here forever and they are going to make sure that the pipes are kept up, that everything is run for the long term," Suzanne Brown-Crow says.
It is a political squabble that came to a head last year when some members of the sanitary board decided that their own operators were not up to the job.
"In the last ten years, Novato had over 100 discharge violations, which is one of the worst records in the Bay Area," says Novato Sanitary board member Bill Long. "That's why we built thenew plant and hat's why we're bringing in people who are real experts in the business."
The final straw came last spring when the FBI raided Novato Sanitary offices and seized documents related to an investigation into an unreported spill of untreated sewage into the bay. Opponents could not block the board's decision to privatize, but they did manage to get a referendum on the ballot called "Measure F."
A "yes" vote would allow the deal to go through.
Brown-Crow is a long-time Novato resident and member of a group asking residents to block the agreement by voting "No on F."
"The finances just can't work for privatizing," she says. "It has to be cheaper to run it ourselves."
Brown-Crow says Veolia's environmental record is nothing to brag about either, but supporters of privatizing the plant say it would get the sanitary district off the hook for any future spills.
"The contract is a five-year contract. It's designed so that Veolia has responsibility for any kind of environmental problems, any kind of violations," Peters says. "Whereas the district however, maintains ownership of the plant and it maintains a labratory. So, it does its own checking."