Monday, October 31, 2005

Scary Halloween Present for Los Osos

It was a creepy feeling sitting in last night’s CSD meeting, listening to and reading the Proposal Summary that came out of the week-long negotiations with State Water officials, the CSD negotiating team, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and others.

It was really disturbing to know that the State Water officials have given the green light to move ahead with this project, including moving the sewer plant out of town. Why was that disturbing? Well, for years the previous board has told this community – repeatedly—that they had examined all options, had looked at everything, that any out of town plan would be WAAAAYYYY more expensive, that Ag Exchange wouldn’t work, was pie in the sky, that the out of town site had restrictions on it and was impossible, that if we tried to move the plant we’d lose our low-cost State Revolving Fund loan. Even our Supervisor said the Coastal Commission would make it virtually impossible to get a permit to cross a creek with a sewer pipe. In short, we were repeatedly told by our elected officials that the Tri W site was the ONLY solution, the ONLY option.

So the majority of the community trusted and believed the old board and so did nothing as the previous CSD majority patiently, slowly eliminated alternatives, and then shut down and locked any and all remaining options, one by one, until it was nearly too late.

NOW, we hear that in negotiations the folks in that room, including the State Water Guys, all penciled out numbers and an out of town plan is both cheaper and/or allows you more bang for your buck. So the State Boys said, We’re confident the out of town plan will work, we’ve gone over the timelines and permit processes, so, sure, keep the State Revolving Fund and go ahead, put the plant out of town.

NOW we’re told the move is doable? NOW we are told there always were options? NOW we’re told the move penciled out as either cheaper or, since it offered lower O&M costs, more options and flexibility on the plant site, it gave the community more bang for their buck? NOW we find out the State Water Guys are willing to keep the SRF loan in place for a move out of town?

The mere fact that the State Boys even offered some of the terms to this proposal, even stayed in the room for a week, is evidence to me that our previous CSD Board majority has lied to us. This goes beyond “bait and switch.” To me, it’s clear that this community has been the victim of a multi-million dollar fraud. We were Told & Sold & Locked Down with Plan A and are only now told, “Oh, did we forget to mention, there always was Plan B & C and maybe D available to you. Too late, too bad, heh-heh.”

Yet, as the discussion in the meeting made clear, those options had been severely limited by the previous CSD majority which moved heaven and earth to lock us into enormous debt, sign contracts, stick the town with impossible-to-overcome obstacles and then pound as much money and pipe into the ground before the recall election so as to permanently cripple this community.

Which makes the Proposal hammered out both an opportunity and a sad reminder of just how much harm this previous CSD majority did to a town they professed to love and lead. And which makes the suspicions and trepidation evidenced by many speakers totally plausible. There was mention of a Trojan Horse. Understandable.

For now, the devil will be in the details. Will the community negotiate through the rock and the hard place they’ve been jammed into? Will they be betrayed again? And, the biggest question of all: The Deal requires a Prop 218 assessment vote to secure the State Revolving Fund. The vote will probably be by mail-in ballot. In the original mail-in ballot assessment vote of 2000, 40% of the ballots were never returned. In the recent election, about 34% of the voters didn’t bother to vote. So, in the upcoming assessment vote, will The World Famous Los Osos Apathy O Meter top those numbers? Stay tuned.

Meantime, the community certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee. He took enormous political risk in going into a cave with a bunch of growly bears armed only with a sharp pointy stick. While many may think the Proposal as it now stands wasn’t the best possible outcome, it probably can fairly be described as being the best of a really bad lot, given the handicaps the previous CSD had deliberately saddled this community with.

As for Mr. Blakeslee, he’s a public servant who knows what public service is all about.

The rest now is up to the voters of Los Osos. It’s our Sisyphean task to choose the best of a bad lot and to now get that ginormous sewer rock OVER the hill, not merely up it.

Good luck to us.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Sewerwatch Posting -- Saving Face

Ron, over at has responded to a reader's Sewerville question on one of my previous postings with a posting of his own. Until we hear from the real players, his script will have to do. Lights! Camera! Action!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Potemkin on the Potomac

The president sure has given me a lot of free time lately. I used to spend endless hours poring over newspapers and newsmagazines or sit scrunch-eyed in front of the television trying desperately to make sense of his mangled syntax while futilely attempting to decipher what in the hell he thought his policies were supposed to be. After a while, it became a brain-teaser game, a sort of Sudoku with paragraphs instead of numbers -- Let’s see, lie, lie, conflation, wrong info, nonsense, more lies.

From day one when I watched Colin Powell at the UN pulling carefully weaseled words out of his hat, I knew the Iraq war was a ginned-up deal, and everything I have read since only confirms that conclusion. From there, the administration’s lies and conflations were only outpaced by blind ideology and/or embarrassing incompetence. Now, cronyism has joined bungling to produce what some pundits are calling An Administration of Hacks.

And not only hacks, but Hacks on the Take. While our soldiers continue to die on a grim, false-premised fool’s errand, we get to watch the Tom DeLays and Bill Frists and the President’s Rovian Brains, scampering one step ahead of the grand juries and SEC examiners, covering their tracks as they go, money and golf junkets flying from their pockets, sleazy deal-makers-for-cash and king-makers-for-power, tumbling from office like rats from a basket, while victims of Katrina who go to file for bankruptcy will soon find, to their dismay, that these paragons of governmental virtue have rewritten the bankruptcy laws in the back room with the credit industry boys, so they’ll soon be getting a financial hosing in additiona to the Biblical floods they’ve already survived.

And (caught on tape) with a rehearsed, staged, scripted “spontaneous” press conference with the troops, it’s Gregori Potemkin, Redux. Only instead of building whole gussied-up, false-fronted phony villages to fool and mislead Catherine the Great on her tour of Ukraine and Crimea, this time the Phony George spectacle is intended to fool the American people.

And now comes Harriet Miers. President Bush nominated her for the Supreme Court because he thinks she’s the most qualified person in the country. She in turn, thinks he’s the most brilliant man she’s ever met. It’s a marriage made in heaven – low expectations, shameless cronyism, blind loyalty, insultingly slim qualifications, and the Peter Principle all rolled into one -- Our Hackocracy at work. Teapot Dome, anyone?

Which is why I’m able to save so much time now. The war in Iraq? Turn the page. Story on some new Bush program? Blah-blah-blah, sure, right, whatever, more lies, turn the page. Even the heartwarming thought of Tom DeLay doing the perp-walk holds little interest because the American People have curiously elected the “Moral Accountability Crowd” then somewhere along the way discarded the very notion of accountability altogether. Lie to them and they’ll re-elect you. Sell them out to the highest corporate bidder and they’ll also re-elect you. Even name a street in your hometown in your honor.

The Sept 25th Nation had a cover story called: “After the Flood: The Reckoning,” which prompted my letter to the editor: “Bwa-hahah. What reckoning? Bush and all his cronies will all leave office and head for highly lucrative jobs working for their masters on K-street, not a single member of the “Moral Values/Accountability Crowd” will be held responsible for war crimes, war profiteering, theft, mismanagement, grotesque incompetence, looting the public treasury, criminal negligence. The right-wing spin machine will declare a smiley-faced “Mission Accomplished” and the electorate will re-elect any politician who promises to stop gay marriage and to reinstate prayer in the schools. Reckoning, indeed.”

And so we get what we deserve, the Karmic wheel’s tumbling weight grinding down on the heads of the just and unjust alike. It's never a pretty sight, but Karmic wheels do have one benefit: Once started, you don’t have to waste time watching them. Which is why I now have time to leave everyone to heaven and get on to the important stuff, like taking The Mighty Finn MacCool for a walk on these lovely crisp October mornings.

That, and speculating on just how long it will be before We The People wake up to what we have allowed ourselves to become and begin the hard work of setting things right.

Blog note: The day after this column ran in the Bay News, Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination. So, was this whole deal some kind of political ploy? A Wag the Dog distraction? A Bushie/Rovian joke? What kind of man would deliberately put an unqualified “loyal friend” in a meat grinder knowing, in advance, they’d get publicly humiliated, then eaten alive? (The only twist here is Miers was eaten alive by her own party.) If Roberts said a Supreme should be “humble” before the law, what allowed Miers to step into the meat grinder – delusional ego, inflated self-worth, complete ignorance of the job qualifications, masochistic devotion? Is the White House now running a new version of The Gong Show? Ah, just when I think these boys can't get any more silly, they launch into one more off-key chorus -- farce to the back rows.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Zelig and Forrest Gump Meet Rip Van Winkle

Ah-Ha! Mystery solved. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why the Tribune was so utterly clueless when it came to anything regarding the Hideous Los Osos Sewer. They have never really examined the issues here, except to simply report on a He Said, She Said basis all sorts of nonsense then simply toe the party line.

At first I just put it down to sheer laziness or lack of experienced reporters with an institutional memory long enough to know what the issues were. Of course, Editorial Page Editor, Bill Morem, lives out here and should have known better and should have been able to convey some of the complexities to the full editorial board, but apparently either he didn’t do that, or they just didn’t get it.

Now, with the October 23 editorial, I understand what the real problem has been: The Tribune is Rip Van Winkle and has been sleeping since 1984.

In an editorial that reeks with absolutely phony credulity and utterly transparent faux, naïf-like surprise they observe (gasp!) that Los Osos wants a sewer (WHAT????) but people out here just didn’t want that particular sewer plant in the middle of their town, (Holy Cow! when did that happen?), and wanted a sewer that possibly cost less (Gee, ya think?) and hopefully solved sludge problems, had lower operation and maintenance costs (Imagine that?) and could be sited where it had more flexibility for adding treatment as more of the community has to come on line (Looking at the future, how novel!), was better able to deal with critical water issues (Water? Los Osos is out of water? Huh?), and that that’s what the recall, Proposition B and a good part of these years-long sewer wars have always been about (My God, we’re the county’s newspaper of record! Why didn’t somebody tell us?)

Able was I ere I saw Elba

The next day, the paper did give a Bouquet to State Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee for stepping in to help mediate between the new CSD Board and the State Water Board concerning the bazillion dollar loan, and lob a brickbat at Abel Maldonado, our State Senator, for being elsewhere when asked to help. Able’s spokesman said Able would “...let the process play itself out” before he’d show up.

And, let me guess, when the process is successful and a cameraman appears on the scene for a photo-opportunity, THEN you’ll see Able doing his Zelig-like schmoozing photo-op best to zip into the picture in time for the smiling hand-shake and to garner congratulations all ‘round for a job well done, yes, yes.

Well, why not? There are two types of politicians: Those who go into public service to, well, actually serve the public. And those who go into public service to serve themselves by cultivating the powerful, connecting themselves only to the “right” issues that can advance their careers, garnering the feathers in the caps while avoiding the black eyes, punching the required tickets, stroking the required backs, and making sure they appear Zelig-like and Forrest Gump-like everywhere there’s a Important Personage & a Camera for some photo-opping. It’s a unique skill and requires a constant finger to the wind ability to ferret out The Main Chance in order to Move On Up.

Of course, the public can be forgiven for feeling like a plain woman who’s been asked out on a date with the handsome man of her dreams only to find that he then spends the entire evening looking over her shoulder until he spots a cuter, richer blond bombshell across the room, then it’s Hasta La Vista Baby, and she has to take a cab home without dinner.

Well, Sam’s a money-guy, so let’s hope he can bring some financial sanity to the train-wreck the previous recalled-3 CSD Board members deliberately created. And, with luck, the New Board can present to the voters, a sewer system(s) that they can live with and vote on, one that may not cost a heck of a lot less than the old system, but will save them long term O&M costs and solve some other critical problems. That’ll be something.

Then, if that comes to pass, the community will have to ask some very, very tough questions of the previous CSD Boards, starting with, “Why wasn’t this ‘alternative’ plan presented to us years ago. You told us there were no alternatives, that all other options were way more expensive, that your plan was the only way. Were you lying to us? If so, why?”

The Tribune should be the one leading the way on asking and answering those questions, but I won’t hold my breath. I figure they’ve already fallen back asleep again.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Speaking of Open Letters...

Ron Crawford at has just posted his open letter to Roger Briggs, chief of staff at the Regional Water Quality Control Board office. More history lessons from Ron. And you know what Santana says about "forgetting history. . ."

Letter to Capps from the Los Osos CSD

October 14, 2005

Congresswoman Lois Capps
23rd Congressional District
1707 Longworth House Office Building Washington D.C. 20515


Dear Congresswoman Capps:
With urgency, the Los Osos CSD Board of Directors respectfully requests your immediate intervention with State and Regional Water Board staff decisions regarding the funding and regulations for our wastewater treatment project.

1. Today, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) staff, in a breach of contract, unilaterally pulled our State Revolving Fund Loan for a project under construction. This decision places our LOCSD in debt to contractors for several million dollars.

2. On October 6, 2005, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CCRWQCB) staff threatened us with millions of dollars of fines, now exacerbated by the State Water Board’s decision to stop our construction loan.

A Short History of an Incomplete and Unpopular Project. Beginning as early as Summer 2001, citizens began regularly protesting a “downtown sewer project”, for environmental, engineering and socioeconomic reasons. This project is now the most expensive per capita wastewater project in the nation.

Beginning in Summer 2003, an increasing number of citizens protested detrimental project changes under the Coastal Permit; the supposed “buried project” was now 40 feet tall with potential sewer spills to the Estuary. In November 2004, with an 86% voter turnout and by more than a two-to-one majority, two of us were elected backing a “Move the Sewer” platform.

Beginning in December 2004, citizens and the two minority Board Members made repeated requests in person, writing, and video to the State Water Board, asking them not to disburse any funds until after the recall and Measure B elections were decided, due to high controversy and great financial risk. Despite overwhelming testimony, court challenges and just thirty days prior to the election, (an election that could have been held four weeks earlier), agency personnel ignored our requests and disbursed the SRF monies anyway.

On September 27, 2005, the citizens of Los Osos recalled three directors and approved Measure B, a Citizens’ Initiative, which is now law. Measure B does not allow a wastewater treatment facility to be sited at its current location, on environmentally sensitive lands in the middle of town, next to our library, schools, Catholic church, homes, Chamber of Commerce, community center, and just uphill from our National Estuary.

It appears that the recalled directors timed several critical events with the knowledge and assistance of the SWRCB and RWQCB staff. Rushing the start of construction and financially encumbering this community through construction loan disbursements, just prior to the election, was and is troubling. These discretionary actions have set up our CSD for a fiscal crisis and potential bankruptcy.

Under their own State SRF guidelines, the project is both controversial and outside the affordability criteria. Measure B placed on a ballot, should have postponed all approvals or disbursement of funds.

Our Board pledged to the people to move the treatment plant safely out of town, away from the Morro Bay National Estuary. Also, Measure B requires it. At this point in time, only grading work at the downtown facility site has been done. We have viable plans and willing sellers of land out of town, land that was included as the environmentally preferred project in our adopted EIR.

Our Board has met six times since the September 27 election, in order to proceed as quickly as possible. We formed a Negotiating Team to discuss concerns with the State and pledge full cooperation to expedite an acceptable project, but we have encountered resistance at every turn.

We seek relief from threats, fines and loss of funding. Staff decisions have created an unnecessary financial crisis for our community and a no-win solution for all stakeholders involved. This only adds to the delay of solving our water quality issues. The Los Osos CSD cannot continue construction without allowable modifications to the State Revolving Fund Loan contract. We must be able to revise the RWQCB’s Time Schedule Order 00-131 to avoid fines, in order to complete a project that will meet with citizen approval.

Our Board remains committed to building a safe and affordable sewer. We need your assistance to do so. Please contact us as soon as possible because the people of Los Osos need your help at this critical time. Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to a satisfactory resolution for all concerned with the guidance of your office.

Most Sincerely,

Lisa Schicker, John Fouche
President, Vice President

Julie Tacker, Chuck Cesena, Steve Senet

[Note: in logging this, the additional names of the other board Members dropped off. The entire Board signed the document.]

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Yes, Los Ososians, It’s Time to write your Assemblyman & State Senator. It’s fun! It’s easy! Grab your crayons.

O.K. so here’s my letters to State Senator Maldonado and State Assemblyman Blakeslee:

Dear Sirs:

I know some members of our Los Osos CSD Board have contacted you about the State Revolving Fund’s refusal to [continue to] fund the Los Osos Wastewater project so the project can stay on track to get quickly re-sited [part of all that HUGE nice money the previous CSD board majority tacked onto the original loan when the construction bids went into the stratosphere]

I will presume the district’s attorneys are working on the legality of that refusal, but something even more disturbing is clearly at work here, and that is a staff member (Roger Briggs, in his October 6, 05 letter to the CSD) of the Regional Water Quality Control Board threatening this community with fines if the CSD refuses to violate the law (Measure B which is now law) and threatening fines if the community refuses to build a specific project in a specific place.

It is my understanding that the RWQCB cannot dictate where or how or what is built, only what the discharge numbers must be. And it’s hard to even begin to explain a staff officer resorting to extortion by demanding a duly elected Board break the law . . . or else.

This community has been lied to, misled, “spun” and bamboozled from day one on this project (See the RWQCB & CC’s staff report of 1998 – issued before the November 1998 CSD’s formation election. That information and those numbers were NEVER discussed or that report disclosed by the three “Solutions Group” members running for office, until well after the election, that is. And consider Coastal Commissioner Potter’s “bait and switch” comment. He was dead on the mark, even though he didn’t follow up on any of it, thereby failing the community and his responsibility as a commissioner.

In short, the people of this community have been faced with both false information and strong-arm tactics to force them to buy an unaffordable and unsustainable sewer plant whose site was driven by a hidden agenda (site it in the center of town to control its size and hence use that limit to control growth) , a plant with all kids of deferred costs, still hidden O&M costs, a plant that won’t cure salt-water intrusion, nor prevent importing state water – in short, the wrong type of plant in the wrong place for all the wrong reasons, strong-armed into place with false and misleading “bait & switch” information and incessant terror tactics – FINES!FINES!FINES!WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE IN THE STREETS LIKE DAWGS!!

(By way of one small example: The former CSD majority repeatedly and officially told the community that all alternatives had been examined and discarded as not working or being unaffordable. A few months ago, when I specifically asked former General Manager Bruce Buel during the presentation of the Cleath & Associates water report, if Ag Exchange had been examined and costed out, his answer was . . . No, it had not. That begs a question: If the CSD has clearly been lying about something that simple, what else have they been lying about? And can a community – a democracy – be served when those in power lie and mislead? And how valid is a vote – which is a form of a “contract” with the elected to tax themselves for a specific item – when the terms have been falsified?)

This community wants a sustainable wastewater project – no hidden deferred costs, no undisclosed O&M costs, no lies, no strong-armed extortion tactics – and we’re willing to move ahead to design such a project, put it before the community for a vote, then move ahead with all due speed.

But right now, egos, lies, bad management, personal vendettas, spite, anger and other human failings are just getting in the way. Right now, everyone involved needs to take a deep breath and remember, This project is not personal. Instead, it’s all about sound economics, sound land use planning, sound water management and sound engineering.

And so, we need your help in taking that deep breath and taking a look at the bigger picture.

Thank you,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Flushes & Flourishes

If the Tribune can offer editorial Bouquets & Brickbats, then here’s my Flushes & Flourishes on the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Wars & Recall:

Flushes to the ousted CSD Board members who deliberately put the recall vote off as long as possible, deliberately chose to destroy the Tri-W site trees and dig up as much dirt as possible, deliberately turn-keyed ripping up as many streets as possible in order to pound as much of the community’s money into the ground before the election. They were heedlessly, imprudently and arrogantly gambling that the recall would fail and all would be well. They lost that bet, but unfortunately for the taxpayers, they were gambling with your money. So, now you’ll pay big time to clean up a train wreck that didn’t have to happen in the first place. The big, stupid, ugly, wasteful mess left at the Tri-W site should be bronzed and left to serve as a visual monument to these directors’ lack of prudent common sense and absolute contempt for this community.

Flushes to Supervisor Bianchi who went on the air to mislead her constituents on the supposed rapid take over of the project by the county should the recall be successful. Her political ads clearly implied that it would be a simple, no-time-lost matter, so don’t bother to support the recall because it will make no difference. Ms. Bianchi shamefully “forgot” to let her constituents know just how long and complicated a process such a County “take over” actually would be, even IF the voters approved and even IF county engineering signed off on the project, which they have not. In addition to A Flush, Ms. Bianchi will be required to write on the blackboard 100 times Edward R. Murrow’s dictum: “To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.”

Flushes to whoever designed and ran the Save the Dreamer’s various ad campaigns. Los Osos was a community of citizens in desperate need of accurate information on a very complex issue. You treated us as if we were marks to be spun and manipulated by clever Madison Avenue advertising tricks, false information and snappy slogans in order to be manipulated into buying a shoddy box of overpriced of soap. The ethical standards behind that post-card mailer threatening totally phony THIRTY FIVE FOOT TALL STRIP MALLS AT THE TRI W SITE EEEK WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! showed me everything I needed to know about the rest of the “truth” you were telling me to “trust.”

Flushes to the Tribune. They found the time and money to run a three day, wall-to-wall, pages-and-pages long detailed story about a movie star who’s been dead for fifty years, but couldn’t manage even one in-depth look at the root causes behind the recall, not to mention keeping their readers apprised of all the deferred and hidden costs on the proposed sewer project that so many in the community still remain in the dark about, even after the election.

Huge World-Sized Flushes to the 34% of the registered voters who didn’t even bother to vote. What was the problem? Was the little pencil stub used to mark in the ballot sheet bubbles too heavy to pick up?

Flourishes to the many people who did the heavy lifting required to even qualify a recall and an initiative for the ballot. Such instruments of self-governance are deliberately constructed so as to be extremely difficult in order to discourage frivolous attempts. People hate recalls – hate ‘em – so the fact that this one actually made the ballot should have been the warning bell to our CSD that something was going seriously wrong with this project and their governance. A good civic project, even an impossibly expensive one, does not need threats and intimidation and hype and lies and spin to move forward. And a trusted Board will not face a successful ballot-box challenge.

It is unfortunate that the vote margin was so slim and the community remains divided, but the size of that margin was entirely up to the voters. Which is what the recall and sewer initiative was all about in the first place: Giving the community a voice in a matter that will have a direct impact on their lives for years to come. So, a huge flourish for our democratic processes. As messy and horrible as they so often are, they actually work as intended.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mommy, Mommy, will we die of old age before the Tribune tells us “the rest of the story” – some of which you posted previously?
Yes, Dear. When I talked to Editorial Page Editor, Bill Morem, he said he’d look into it, but so far nothing’s appeared. I’ll bet if I called again he’d tell me that the editors feel it’s now “old news” and so won’t do any follow up, heh-heh, which tells me their original intention was to scare and bamboozle and mislead their readers, not enlighten and inform them. If you are a Tribune reader, you have been warned.

The following comments are from Gail McPherson, posted on the Los Osos Recall list-serve. Gail has actually run a wastewater treatment plant so she’s one of the few people in the community who actually knows s—t. Since a lot of people in the community are simply NOT getting accurate information, from the Tribune, at least, here’s a necessary corrective regarding just who to hold responsible for all the “wasted” money folks keep talking about.

I know how the Regional Water Quality control Board has frightened the community. For our community, it is important to understand the issues of who is fined and how it happens within the framework of the regulatory process. This process of enforcement – RWQCB imposing fines – is actually required, and of course, it was expected. In fact, not it will become part of the process of moving the plant.

But first, did you know if we had not started the construction we would not be facing the fines? It’s true, the enforcement action is directly tied to stopping work, and the 3 recalled CSD directors knew this would happen, and deliberately set us up for it.

We didn’t have to start the construction. The SWRCB (State) was in no rush for a funding hearing in January for Los Osos. The Loan had expired in September, 2004. But after the recall was served in December, the CSD rushed the loan through. The State allowed more time for re-bid, and for the bid award, and even for the election – A full 3 months, in fact.

But the 3 recalled CSD directors not only refused to wait, they rushed forward accepting non-competitive bids $36 million over the engineer’s estimate. In June they set the election about as far out as possible. In July they asked the RWQCB to fine us retroactively so the amount would be shocking, and they threatened to sue the RWQCB if they didn’t do it. In closed meetings, they barred the 2 minority directors, and instructed the contractors to front-load the contract work, to put as much cost as possible in the start up activities.

But now back to enforcement. The letter that was sent on October 6, 2005 from Roger Briggs [the one the Trib used to scare the community to death without bothering to get the “rest of the story”] is a letter of intent. It is the legal requirement that puts us on official notice from the RWQCB of the reasons for the enforcement action, as well as the amount that can be assessed. The $11 million is what the RWQCB Staff is recommending. This is based on stopping the project, and violating the Time Schedule Order (TSO). Never mind we consistently missed the schedule since 2001. [Something the Trib also forgot to tell its readers.] The RWQCB cannot look the other way and let us just “start over,” and move the plant without giving us a modification to our TSO order. That can’t happen without the enforcement process. That is partly due to the long history of the County and the screw-ups of the old CSD33, but mostly, it’s [Gordon] Hensley’s group’s [Taxpayer Watch, et al] threat to sue the RWQCB if they fail to enforce . . . .

Funding is a huge challenge because the rules change after construction begins. The funding for the project could have been revised based on project modification if we did so before start of construction. Once construction begins it is extremely difficult to modify the project and retain the same loan. But it is not impossible. CEQA rules kick in and we may have to reapply for funds. The good new is that projects that are ready to proceed are at the head of the line. With dirt turned and contractors here, we are ready. We also may have some parts that keep moving which would help us to retain the loan, and avoid the fines at the same time.

. . . . Fines are decided through a formal hearing process. The process takes several months, and now is complicated by the legal requirement of Measure B that stops the plant construction, and which is technically beyond the control of the [new] CSD. The RWQCB has never faced this issue before. Further, the CSD has the petition for review that was filed in 2000 that promised the Sate would intervene if enforcement was threatened. [More of what the Tribune forgot to tell you.]

Like many of you, I wish the old CSD 3 had not started the project, but we no know why they did it . . . like a city under siege, if they could not retain power, they could leave Los Osos in rubble. . . That is, after all, what ‘Scorched Earth’ policies are about.

. . . But even in the face of the obstacles ahead, the CSD Board will do everything to assure the best and most cost effective project is delivered. They will work to put the amended plan for an out-of-town facility in front of the people of Los Osos and before the State for approval. The new plan will be sustainable, sensible and complete. The cost and location will be known and approved in advance. Los Osos, through this CSD board, can meet a reasonable time schedule and we will keep moving to do so.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

New Math

Recalled Los Osos CSD director, Gordon Hensley, Stuart Denker and a new group of dreamers wanting to save the dream of having a sewer plant in the middle of their town and calling themselves Taxpayers Watch filed a lawsuit to stop the CSD from stopping the contractors from digging holes in the ground. Judge Hilton set Friday, Oct 7 for the “ex parte” hearing since the previous hearing was so rushed that the CSD’s official lawyer didn’t have sufficient notice to make it to the court in time.

As my previous post notes, the Taxpayer’s Watch attorney hadn’t bothered to read the contract with the various companies digging holes in the ground here in Los Osos, and was unaware that Section 15 was in the contract and had been invoked – that was a “no reason needed” stand down for up to 90 days, no harm, no foul. Quel embarrassments!

On this go round, Ms. Kate M. Neiswender of the Law Office of KM Neiswender, Ventura, presented several points, including a very interesting plea that went something like this: By standing idle, the contactors are getting paid gazillions a day to do nothing, thereby bleeding the taxpayers dry (not mentioning, of course, her client Hensley caused that very financial bleed out to commence by refusing to wait until after the election before setting everyone to work digging holes in the ground, thereby gambling with the taxpayers money – which she now claims he’s so worried about – that the recall would fail. It didn’t and all the money the recalled Directors gambled on went tumbling down the holes in the ground they ordered dug.) and her clients want this stopped so they demand that the judge intervene and force the contractors to get back to work digging holes in the ground and laying pipe. Then, while they’re busy laying pipe, the CSD can look around for another sewer plant site or consider other options, but that pipe will be popped in the ground, miles and miles of it, zipping open one street after another, hooking up laterals to house, world without end, Amen. All in an effort to SAVE MONEY.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, all the pipe that’s already been laid in the ground is gravity flow pipe of a certain size and the entire street design is laid out to run in certain directions with lift and pumping stations planned for a sewer plant that was to be located in the middle of town. If the sewer plant were magically to be moved out of town, much of that pipe might have to be dug up and fiddled with. Or if the community voted on building another type of project – say, a STEP/STEG project that utilizes much smaller bore pipe – all the pipe – miles and miles of it that Ms. Neiswender wants laid right now quick-quick would have to be dug up and replaced .

Now, can anyone explain to me how that would save money? Yes, it must be new math.

In either case, the Judge dismissed the case for a very simple reason. He didn’t feel a private party (Hensley, Taxpayers Watch, et al) had standing to bring suit to require the courts to intervene in what Judge Hilton clearly saw was a legislative and regulatory dogfight: i.e. the CSD vs the RWQCB. In short, the law gave the Regional Water Quality Control Board jurisdiction over this matter as well as enforcement options, none of which required a court to intervene. But, Ms. Neiswender was free to file again if she wished.

Of greater interest was the Tribune headline that morning, which can best be described as:

Mommy, Why Is The Tribune Acting As A Shill For The Regional Quality Control Board By Running Scary Headlines But Forgetting To Mention THE REST OF THE STORY?

The Oct 7 story took as its text a letter written by the Regional Board’s Executive Office, Roger Briggs (a staff member, not a Board member), that asks the Board (not staff) to consider fining Los Osos and threatens to ask that individual homeowners be sued, unless the CSD agrees to “support completion of THIS (emphasis mine) wastewater project” and demanded that the CSD also continue “to defend against appeal of the recent Superior Court ruling invalidating the facility location initiative.” That is, a staff officer of a regulatory body, the Regional Board, is demanding that the CSD build a certain specific project and is also demanding they do certain things regarding a voter sponsored initiative concerning the specific location of that project.

What’s interesting about the letter, and most interesting about the Trib’s story, is the several items left out.

First, it is the Board, not Briggs, that will decide what will happen at its hearing in December. Second, to my knowledge, the RWQCB is forbidden from telling a community what to build, where to locate it or how much it will cost. (This has been consistently “wink-nudge” ignored in the case of Los Osos.) Third, to my knowledge, just as Judge Hilton noted that there was no authority for him to intervene between the CSD and the RWQCB, by what authority does the RWQCB now claim they can demand intervention by the CSD between the voters and their initiatives?

Also gone missing in the Tribune’s story is this: At the Oct 6th CSD meeting, quasi-sort- of- General Manager Bruce Buel referenced for the new CSD the Time Schedule Order No. 00-131 Petition from the State Water Resources Control Board. According to Buel, this petition can “defend against fines,” for an interesting reason.

Ever since 2001, the CSD has asked for and been granted a request to hold in abeyance the original failure to meet its original time schedule and every year since that waiver was re-issued, 2002, 2003, 2004, etc. The petition was requested because “additional time will be needed to resolve remain[ing] issues relating to this petition.”

In short, for years the CSD has been unable to meet the original time schedule for a variety of real-world reasons and has been non-compliant and could have been fined gazillions at any time during that period. But it wasn’t. Why? Because it had reasonable, real-world, real-time “issues” that needed resolving. A voter initiative and a new CSD Board would certainly rank as real-world issues that would need “additional time” to resolve. So the question would have to be, since the RWQCB cannot dictate type of sewer plant or placement, all they’re left with is a time schedule and if they’ve granted extensions for years, why not now, since the intention of the new CSD is to proceed with a project, it just needs more time – exactly what the old CSD requested and was granted, year after year.

(Claiming that all these fines and threats are needed now because pollution is so serious that we’re all gonna die in the streets like dawgs, also ignores another RWQCB ruling (#83-12), made at the same time as #83-13, and that was the requirement that the CSD form a Septic Tank Management District. For years, they did nothing. And the RWQCB never demanded enforcement. Nothing. Zip. How much pollution from old, leaking, un-repaired tanks went on all these years, ignored by a Board that claims that water quality and water protection are its only goal?)

Second, regarding the Tribune’s story of scaring people to death, what also went missing was the July 9, 2004 RWQCB staff report that could be called, “Oh, Damn, Whatever Shall We Do About That ^%^$%*(* Los Osos?” Pages long, it listed the things RWQCB could do and then why those things were simply not feasible. The report was inadvertently funny because with every page a reader could sense the growing frustration of the writer. And it went from the sublime to the unintentionally silly.

For example, the RWQCB can fine the CSD gazillions. If the CSD goes bankrupt, there’ll be no money, no wastewater project, no “moving forward,” no nothing. Since the voters would have to vote to dissolve even a bankrupt CSD, that would mean more delay. Since the stated goal of the RWQCB isn’t to punish and avenge and destroy, but to get the waters clean (a goal shared by the vast majority of Los Ososians – Dreamers & Recallers alike.), bankrupting the community is counterproductive. True, it would transfer money needed to build a sewer project and put it in the pocket of the RWQCB, but that begs a question: Is the idea here just regulatory extortion? Or agency help in getting this community sewered with a project the community wants?

Even more interesting is the problem faced by retaliating against single homeowners. Unless the RWQCB has managed to suspend the Constitution of the United States, everyone in Los Osos is innocent of nitrate pollution of the upper aquifer until proven guilty. So, how would such retaliation/suing/enforcement actually be done?

Would RWQCB hire armed thugs break into your home and pour tracer die down each and every toilet in town, then drill test wells to track the water as it filtered through the ground? Would the Water Quality goon squad also take a DNA swab from your cheek -- sans search warrant -- so they could further create an unbreakable chain of evidence that wastewater B can be directly linked to criminal homeowner B?

To my knowledge, citizens cannot be swept into a bundle and prosecuted on some generalized charge (Somebody on your block robbed a liquor store so we’re jailing the entire block and charging you all with robbery.), so the RWQCB would have to prove that every home in the prohibition zone is polluting. Do they have the staff and resources needed to do that?

Weirder still, since by its own definition (30’ to groundwater) certain homes and tracts of homes in the prohibition zone are now exempt from sewering, what would happen if they found other homes that were also more than 30’ from groundwater and so weren’t polluting? Would such a house-by-house testing result in a checker-board town whose citizens could legally demand that they’ll be damned if they’ll stand by to be hanged for goats when it turns out they’re actually sheep, and so would legally be allowed to opt-out of a sewer plan thereby making a hash of any plan to sewer?

As the report continued, it got to the slightly silly: Demanding a cease and desist order shutting everyone’s toilets down. That idea didn’t go far since it noted that there weren’t enough porta-potties in the county to make that a practical solution. Plus, it was doubtful that the County Health Dept would allow such a thing since it would endanger the health and life of sick people who couldn’t be expected to traipse out into the cold to go pee.

All of the above went missing in the Tribune’s story. So, I called Bill Morem, the editorial page Editor, and asked, How come? He promised to look into those interesting documents and see if maybe the paper that can devote a gazillion pages to a movie star who’s been dead 50 years might manage to muster up the rest of the story, since informing its readers with a balanced story should be the Trib’s job, not propagandizing or shilling or sensationalizing a complex and serious issue in order to stampede people into making silly decision.

A fully informed citizenry can make good decisions. A terrorized, misinformed, spun, and gulled community is simply a sitting duck for no end of manipulation and deceit. Sheep dogs herd sheep by intimidation alone. Bear dogs need a whole different strategy.

I can only hope the Bearish Folk of Los Osos are courageous enough to ask a whole lot of follow-up questions that must be asked whenever someone says . . . IF.

If, what, then what?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Yes, Your Honor, I did murder my parents, come to think of it. And, yes, I did kill them so I could spend their money like a drunken sailor. Nevertheless, I’m here in court to plead with you to let me keep on spending all that nice money because, after all, I’m now a poor orphan, Boo-Hoo.

Chutzpah I: The man who kills his parents and then flings himself on the mercy of the court because he’s now a poor orphan lad.

Chutzpah II, Los Osos Style: Recalled Los Osos CSD Director Gordon Hensley, a new group apparently morphed out of the “Save the Dream Coalition,”[Pandora Nash-Karner, Chair of the Dreamers], and Stuart Denker trotted into court this morning to ask Judge Hilton to stop the stand-down order recently voted on by the newly elected CSD Board and put all the contractors back to work pounding even more tax payers’ money into the ground because Gordon & et al were worried that all the previous money that had been pounded into the ground might go to waste.

Forgetting, of course, that it was his decision as a CSD Director to vote with the board majority to set the recall election as late as possible, to absolutely refuse to hold off on starting work on the streets and the Tri-W site before the recall election. In short, to totally ignore the pleas of the community to do nothing irrevocable before the election. Nope, Nope, Nope, said Gordon, let the petal-to-the-metal pounding-of-the-money-in-the-ground begin!

Simply, he was gambling with the taxpayers’ money that the recall would fail. He lost that bet and with it he wasted millions in tax money. Yet there he was in court with his attorney asking for the judge to order the money pounding begin again because the Taxpayers Watch was concerned that tax money was being wasted while the construction crews stood idle, so, what the hell, they should at least keep busy digging useless holes and trenches in the ground for a project that is, for now, dead in the water. So, as near as I could make out, this group feels that the best thing to do in the case of wasted money is to waste even more of it.

After the Taxpayers Watch attorney got through wringing her hands and pulling amazing numbers out of who-knows-where, Mr. Seitz, acting as second chair for the newly appointed temporary CSD’s attorney (who had no chance to get into court since this suit was jammed through so quickly), pointed out that the contractors’ contract contained Section 15, (which Seitz noted he helped write), and that section allowed a 90-day stand-down, no harm, no foul.

The Taxpayers Watch attorney looked startled at the mention of Section 15 and had to sheepishly fess up to the judge that, uh, well, er, um, no, she hadn’t actually read the contract and was unaware of Section 15, but nonethless we were all going to die in the streets like dawgs unless the judge ordered the contractors to stop leaning on their shovels and start digging something in the ground somewhere, Damnit!

Judge Hilton muttered a few words about wanting to proceed carefully since he was ever mindful of the separation of powers (i.e. a judge overturning a decision made by a duly-elected legislative board) and so set Friday, October 7th at 11 a.m. at the Veteran’s Hall in SLOTown for round two.

Meantime, we’re left with the spectacle of Gordon Hensley pretending that this is a legal case with no “dirty hands” involved.

No “dirty hands?” Oh, Gordon, Gordon, what are all those chocolate crumbs doing tumbling down your chin? How did that cookie jar get on the floor? And where in hell are the Oreos, anyway?

As I said, Chutzpah, Los Osos style.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Mother Calhoun Explains It All While Mike “No Spin” Drake, Los Osos’ Former Public Information Officer Heads Out The Door or To His Attorney’s Office.

Last night the new CSD board voted 5 – 0 to retain General Manager Bruce Buel, but put him on administrative leave until a new team of management specialists arrive. This Rent–A-Management Team is one of those consultant organizations that apparently specializes in “disaster relief.” They arrive at the scene of a civic train wreck and sort things out, get the bodies buried, the fires put out, and hold the fort until the shocked citizens can take over the reins, then they’re off for safer places than Los Osos, say, like Faluja.

Buel will be available to the new team and Board for brain-picking as he knows where the bodies are buried. So his extensive knowledge of the train-wrecked Hideous Los Osos Sewer project left behind by so many of the Buel-recommended Board actions of the Recalled Three will need to be scrutinized and transferred from his brain to the Rent-A-Management Team. As Buel’s contract runs out in ’07, that information transfer will probably work out perfectly for that time frame. After which, Bruce will be free to boogie off to safer places than Los Osos, say, like, Baghdad.

I suspect that closed session vote was a squeaker, but at least Buel kept his job. Not so lucky was our new Public Information Officer, Mike Drake. His contract was terminated. In a recent Tribune report, he threatened legal action if the terms of his contract were abridged, so it’s not known as of this writing whether his contract had been written with a dead-man switch in it –a clause that stated that he was only hired to be the PIO for the duration of the sewer construction project – post street closings, traffic alerts, explain construction delays or problems, & etc. -- and if the sewer project is now in stand-down mode, there’s no PI for the PIO to hand out, so, it’s buh-bye.

I suspect the closed session concerning Mike’s contract wasn’t a squeaker. It was more likely a slam dunk because poor Mike had made some fatal errors going into this job. For him, the learning curve pointed down, not up.

First of all, I think he mistook many Los Ososians for fools, for easy marks just ripe to be sold cheap soap. It’s an easy mistake. We bearish folk often shamble around in Los Osos’ version of dress casual – a cross between an unmade bed and wash-the-car duds. Worse yet, anyone listening in to our wonderfully wacky “public comments” at our local government meetings should be forgiven for thinking we’re a bunch of folks just ripe for the easy con by Florida swamp land salesmen or a PR hotshot from Ventura. But that appearance is, in reality, a deadly disguise that hides an often ferocious intelligence with highly sensitive B.S. detectors built in. And once Los Ososians start casting sly sideways glances at each other and their eyeballs start rolling at some particularly egregious bit of newbie tomfoolery, look out.

Second, Mike publicly declared, right out of the box, he would never “spin.” Ooooo, bad, bad. An awful lot of Los Ososians understand that you do not put the word “public relations” and “spin” in the same sentence. You don’t even put them in the same room together. They are oxymorons. You will get one or the other, never both. And if you hire a “media guy,” you’re gonna get media guy spin. It’s what media guys do.

Third, Mike often either didn’t check his facts or believed the facts he was given, (why should he have doubted information given to him by either Board members or the highest level of “staff?”) and so he ended up often putting out Public DisInformation or partial information (“spin”) or no information at all, which infuriated a whole lot of people. In short, he ended up stuck in an untenable position.

Finally, and most fatal of all, Mike allowed himself to get caught up in the middle of a dogfight because he forgot he didn’t own a dog.

At the end of the evening, the new CSD voted to abide by the provisions of the measure B initiative and invoked Section 15 clause of the contracts to stop work for now. This stand down will stop the massive daily bleed-out of money that was set into motion by the previous Board members who heedlessly put petal to the metal on this train and at full speed set it off the cliff, imprudently and arrogantly gambling that the recall would fail and all would be well.

They lost that bet, but unfortunately for the taxpayers, they were gambling with your money. So, now you’ll pay big time to clean up a mess that didn’t have to happen in the first place.

Too bad Mr. Mike wasn’t given one last Public Information duty: Explain THAT to Los Osos --without “spin.”

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Children’s Hour

The newly elected CSD board held a pretend meeting on Thursday, Sept. 29th, which turned into a Thank-You fest. (Full disclosure: My “public comment” was to recommend the board have some huge banners printed up and displayed in the auditorium [during CSD meetings] with Mark Twain’s dictum on them: “Always tell the truth. It will astonish your friends and confound your enemies.” If the previous CSD board members who had just been recalled had done that years ago, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this present predicament.”)

Covering the meeting the next day, the Tribune quoted former board member Gordon Hensley as saying that he thought this pretend meeting looked “ . . like the petulant children have taken over. It’s a tantrum.” The paper did note that Hensley wasn’t actually present at the meeting, so I had to presume he was watching the proceedings on TV? But the comment was a pretty good illustration of the tin-earedness that landed all three directors out onto the street. Instead of actually hearing what those tantrum-tossing “children” were really talking about, they were dismissed and sent to bed without milk and cookies. And, like all wicked children, they would have their final say.

On the other hand, I had to really wonder: How could Gordon have forgotten? This “children’s hour” of a meeting caused in me an immediate flash-back to the very first meeting of the very first CSD. There was the same childlish glee, the same “thank-you’s,” the same hopeful huzzahs from a grateful audience, the same snarky, heh-heh-we-won triumph. Surely Gordon couldn’t have possibly have forgotten that, could he?

Over at, New Times, Cartoonist Russell Hodin’s wicked take was to show a box nailed shut with the name “Pandora’s Box” on it Her name had been crudely crossed out and above it was the word, “Ballot.”

No doubt, sly reference to the final campaign contribution figures (and donors) which have yet to be reported out. It’ll be interesting to see just who and how much came in to each campaign war chest at the last minute. That’s the ridiculous way our laws allow us to do it – deliberate cluelessness -- Please don’t let us know until after it’s too late, until after the election’s over, just who the big rollers were, please, please.

Tonight, Saturday, Oct 1, in a special meeting at Sunnyside school, the new CSD board, now officially certified and sworn in, will hold a “real” meeting. In what can only be described as another tin-eared, irony-free comment, former board member Gordon Hensley was quoted in the Trib as asking of this Saturday meeting, “What’s the rush? Usually the old board meets with the new board. There’s the passing of the gavel.”

Apparently, Gordon completely forgot that the old CSD board president Stan Gustafson canceled the regular board meeting set for the 29th. That would have been the perfect time for the old board to post notice, amend the old agenda, then engage in all the nice “gavel passing” that Gordon mentioned.

And as for Gordon’s question as to “What the rush?” Uh, Gordon, let me take a guess here. Could it be the new board felt it critical to vote to issue a stop-work order to the contractors who, without that official stop-work order would continue digging holes in the ground, shoveling tax payer money into the holes, then covering them up – a process they’d keep on doing world without end amen, until they received an official, legal order from a duly elected board – like, say, a meeting the old CSD board could have called even before the election and themselves voted on just such a contingency, should the recall be successful. That’s what a fiscally responsible board that cared about not wasting taxpayer money would have done.

Of course, if the former CSD board had not turn-keyed the contractors until after the election, and then set an earlier election date (exactly what the recall supporters begged for), NONE of this wasted money would have been pounded into the ground in the first place. That waste is totally the responsibility of the former board majority. So if anyone in the community wants to whine and wring their hands about pounding money down rat holes, please go see Gordon, Stan and Richard, thank you.

Also up for Saturday’s agenda is a decision that could be described as: “What do we do about Bruce Buel, the general manager? And whatever shall we do with our newly hired PIO, Mike “No Spin” Drake? The Trib reports that Bruce is retiring in January anyway so his severance agreement will take him to that point, no harm, no loss. He could head to France without missing a single paycheck. [Correction, as per Director Shicker at the 10/1 CSD meeting, the Trib had the date wrong; Bruce's contract is up in 07, not 06. So, there goes France, at least for a while. Dang! )

As for Mr. Drake, however, the Trib reports that he’s considering “challenging the board’s decision if it violates the terms of his contract” . . . but “. . .declined to elaborate,” which is good since elaboration usually leads directly into “spin” of some kind and that’s the one thing Mr. Drake needs to avoid at all costs.

Meantime, the world waits with bated breath for Mr. Roger Briggs of the RWQCB to check in. The key question for him and the Regional Board is this: Do you want a wastewater project that the whole community can get behind and then, with the RWQCB’s help, rapidly move forward on getting it built? Or do you want the entrenched, go-nowhere-forever, Pyrrhic battle of a wasteful legal World War Three? Take your pick.

While Los Osos waits, I would suggest we all read the Oct 1, Tribune letters section and especially a letter from Bill Garfinkle, who ran some voter numbers, noted that about 34% of the registered voters couldn’t be bothered to vote in this election , and then concluded that “22.8 percent of the people (less than one in four) made the decision for all of us as to how we will spend a large amount of our income for the next 20 to 30 years.”

It’s a quote that needs to be emblazoned onto a banner and strung up at the entrance to the town. Additionally, maybe it’s now time for a New Rule: When you hear someone whining or complaining about this election, the old Board, the new Board, sewer this, sewer that, and all that “wasted money,” FIRST ask them IF they voted. If they didn’t, you have my permission to slap some duct tape on their mouths and then sit them down in a chair and force them to look at the big, ugly, stupid expensive mess at the Tri W site for 10 days.

Then, from that point unto the end of time, they’re to . . .ZIP IT!