Monday, November 21, 2005

Look, Mummy, is it a raven?! A writing desk? Are we in Wonderland? Oz? Wait, it looks like . . . there, up in the sky . . . Will the REAL, oh, like, whatever, please stand up?

Remember when two CSD members, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and a representative from the State Water Board spent a week negotiating, and then came out with a negotiated resolution, which the CSD unanimously passed and sent up to the State Board and the State Board reps said, Nuh, huh. Negotiations? We don’ know nuttin’ ‘about no stinkin’ negotiations.

And everyone else said, Huh? Whaaa? If those folks weren’t in that room negotiating, what were they doing, playing Boggle?

Well, the mystery is apparently solved. The following is an “official” letter to State Water Board Member, Gerald Secundy, from Los Osos General Manager, Daniel Bleskey. which should be available for public viewing at the CSD office.

Dear Mr. Secundy,

I am writing this message to provide you the information regarding my understanding why I believed that the discussions that the LOCSD entered into with SWB SRF staff on Octover 24, 2005, were in fact “Structured Negotiations.” Attached is a copy of the letter from your staff entitled “AGREEMENT FOR STRUCTURED NEGOTIATIONS; LOS OSOS COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT (DISTRICT); WASETWATER COLLECTION, TREATMENT AND DISPOSAL PROJECT; STATE REVOLVING FUND (SRF) LOAN PROGRAM PROJECT NO: C-06-4014-110.” This letter was sent from Celeste Cantu [exe. dir] to Assemblyman Blakeslee setting the conditions of the discussions between state SWB staff and representatives from the LOCSD.

Although you were emphatic, on two occasions during the November 16, 2005, State Water Board meeting, that these discussions were not a negotiation, the attached document shows otherwise. This is but one example of the lack of detail your staff provided your board on the 16th. There are other examples of insufficient details and lack of “facts” in SWB staff report that were minimally necessary for you and your fellow board members to make a fair assessment of the situation and an informed decisions.

If you would like to discuss this further please le me know,

Very Respectfully Submitted,

D. M. Bleskey.

Ah, well, there you have it in a nutshell. Appointed (or elected) boards can only make decisions based on correct and accurate information given to them by their staffs. It’s the old GIGO dilemma. Bad info = bad decisions. But when regulatory boards get bad information, whole communities can be forced to pay a fearsome price. And our system of governance is set up to limit the ability of these Boards to back-track and correct bad information, thus adding insult to injury.

I have said before and I will repeat again: Water, wastewater and sewer issues are NOT rocket science. The issues are also NOT personal. There are many ways to solve the various problems, with each solution presenting both assets and drawbacks. BUT, the ability of a Board (or a community) to make a correct decision depends absolutely on the truthfulness of the information given to them. Lies, distortions, spin, hype, hidden agendas, missing information, wrong information all lead to bad decisions that then injure or destroy communities and the people living in them.

This letter is a case in point, and raises related questions about the staff and board of the Regional Water Quality Control Board, for example. That Board will be holding a hearing on the matter of “fining” Los Osos on Dec 1. The LOCSD has already filed a “Response and Request for Continuance” which raises some questions about the accuracy of the information that has already been submitted. Which begs the question: Like the State Water Board, have they been given misinformation like the misinformation cited above? If so, how can even the most honorable among them possibly be expected to render a correct judgment? And if they don’t, what remedies do the citizens have that don’t involve lawyers, courts and even more delays?

My sister worked for years for Ma Bell. After its break-up into mini-bells, her one unrelenting complaint was as follows: How it is that management never has enough money to do the job right the first time, but they always have enough money to do it over again at twice the cost?

Welcome to Oz.


Shark Inlet said...

Let me ask you a question, Ann.

If Rob Miller went up to Sacramento and had some meetings with two of the SWRCB members and a few staffers up there, would you expect the CSD board to sign off on whatever deal emerged?

Certainly not because Rob might think that the TriW site is the best choice. My suggestion is that you view these "negotiations" as between the staff and representatives of each board. They are not binding, they are not final. The SWRCB as a whole did not agree to the terms the LOCSD offered.

If the CSD had passed a resolution on Oct 30 that said that they will work to overturn Measure B, the SWRCB staff and board itself may have felt differently. We can't say. It would be nice to know and I think that in a few years we'll know exactly why they state said "we'll pass" on Los Osos' offer.

Simply put, the LOCSD offered something that they thought would be acceptable. It wasn't acceptable.

The SWRCB gave a formal counter offer last Wednesday's meeting. This counter offer is largely the same with one key exception ... it insists on TriW construction instead now of using TriW as a fallback position should nothing definite come about within 2 years. We've discussed here earlier why there is little hope in such a plan of finding a site, doing EIR, buying the site and guiding things through approval would all happen within 2 years.

So here's my question ... do you support the right of the people to vote on the matter? If so, you should be in favor of this offer by the SWRCB because it gives control to the people. Property owners get to vote on whether we want a 218 tax ... much like you keep saying you wish had happened back last Summer. Furthermore, citizens get to vote about whether they want to repeal Measure B (or whatever aspects are not ruled illegal by the courts in December).

What I want to know is whether there is a logical reason for opposing the state offer from the point of view of a current board supporter that is at least consistent with earlier stated positions.


Shark Inlet said...


One key aspect of your argument here is that the SWRCB staff did not communicate accurate and complete information to boardmembers.

The SWRCB flatly denied this during the meeting on Wednesday when Dan Blesky and Johnny Mac tried to argue this.

Unless you can give some evidence that key information was somehow omitted or that staff have some vendetta here, the SWRCB has spoken and to continue to argue the point (as Dan's letter does) does not help the community at all ... unless the intent of the GM, counsel and LOCSD board is to sue the SWRCB.

If that is their goal, they are ill advised. They did not run on the platform of "we'll sue the state and get a big payoff." Had they told us they intended to sue the state, they never would have been elected.

Shark Inlet said...


What do you make of Julie's comments in the Trib this morning?

To me it seems like they are telegraphing their intention to sue the state and reject the State's offer.

To me this raises the question ... have they done a cost-benefit analysis of the reasonable choices (sue or not, take the SRF loan or not)?

I would suggest that a cost-benefit approach says that the best choice for the community is simply to not sue the SWRCB, to take the money and build at TriW. Any other action can only be justified by overestimating the chance of a successful lawsuit and underestimating the interest rate they think they'll get when they need to borrow to construct any future plant and underestimating the amount they'll be overcharged by future contractors who will be entering a very risky situation.

Ann, your narrow focus seems to be on ways the previous board made some unwise choices. Ron has the same focus. This focus has perhaps caused you to be too quick to conclude that any enemy of the past board is more likely to be in the "right" and that any friend of the past board is more likely to be in the "wrong". I think essentially you have tendency to support this board even though facts would suggest they've made some serious choices without too much consideration of the consequences.

As a columnist on local issues you've done a good job muck raking over the last few years, but your take on matters today isn't very helpful. To continue to point people to the past board's erros in judgement is actually to suggest that things are their fault, no matter how poorly the future plays out. This is incorrect. The job of this current board is to, given the history is fixed and cannot be changed, make the best of a bad situation and to make the choices that are best for the community. It would appear that this current board is more interested in making Stan, Gordon and Pandora look bad than in lowering our bills. If their decisions which are likely to be formalized tonight or early tomorrow morning result in (after a few years) allowing them to trumpet Pandora's errors to high heaven but also a County built plant at TriW in a few years at a cost of $300/month to each of us ... will it have been worth it?

If the goal in this "game" is to make one's opponent look bad instead of governing, we all lose.

I am calling on you today to speak to this board in a way that only you can do. They know you as a supporter of their general position and that you support their goals. If you were to call on them to count the costs of their actions carefully it will matter a lot more than if I were to do so at tonight's meeting. You could probably even get an audience with Julie and Lisa ahead of the meeting. If you were to tell them that their intention of suing the state will cost people their homes, they might listen.

I don't always agree with you on these issues (some would say that I never agree with you...) but I respect you as a very reasonable person.

Ann, would you please tell those you know on this board that their actions are very serious and that if they have any doubt about what is the best choice they should take the deal with the state becausee if nothing else, it gives us at leastt two additional months to discuss these matters as a community before the Prop 218 vote would occur. Again, if either of the votes is "no, we would rather not have TriW", the CSD is off the hook. They will have let us decide rather than decide for us.

Churadogs said...

Think you missed my point: If staff does not give a Board member accurate information, how can a Board member be expected to vote on an issue and do it honorably and honestly? For example, if Mr. Secundy was apparently unaware that his own executive director had, indeed, opened "directed negotiations," how or why would he be expected or able to vote to send back this "amended deal?" He wouldn't possibly have a clue as to what THAT was all about. And if you don't have a clue, how can you vote on anything???

In the real world, I've seen real boards make horrible decisions based on bad information given to them by a staff that had a certain agenda. The board members failed to ask the sort of oversight questions they were voted into office to ask, and the end result was a financial meltdown. The taxpayers got hosed, the board member got re-elected, and oh, well . . .

In my experience, continuing with a bad plan based on lies and heading to meltdown is never a wise thing to do. I also have never found it smart to continue down a path at full spead when a big sign pops up that says, "Bridge Out. Slow to 60" In addition, I think dishonesty in government is never a good thing to accept or get into bed with. Ever. It simply leads to more corruption and a worse fleecing.A a lie that is let stand through laziness and expedience or fear and blackmail, is never a good thing. Lay down with dawgs, git up with fleas. No thank you.

Shark Inlet said...

You are claiming that Secundy was unaware of some key point that he needed to know to make his choice.

The board claimed that they work closely with their staff and that they know about the Los Osos situation.

Again, if you can't offer up a evidence of some information having been withold I would suggest your argument here is purely hypothetical.

Even if not hypothetical, the SWRCB only has control over whether they want to continue to allow the LOCSD to use the 2.3% SRF loan. Because they had already indicated that the money was tied to the project the money was applied for, other matters that Lisa, John, Dan and John kept harping on are irrelevant.

The key point here is that the SWRCB wants to give this money to Los Osos or someone to do work soon. The fact that the LOCSD isn't willing to fight Measure B is why they can't release the funds. If the CSD doesn't take the deal, they'll be happy to give the money to someone else.

If the CSD wanted to change the project and had a viable alternative ready now (sited, approved, etc.) I am sure that the SWRCB would consider allowing a change, but the LOCSD has no more than a hope and a dream.

The SRF money is not designed to sit around until the best of all possible world plant is designed, it is designed to actually help people. If Los Osos doesn't want that sort of help, they don't have to take the cash. It would be a HUGE mistake, but it is a choice.

Churadogs said...

What remains a puzzle is this: If the SRF is tied to the spetific siting of the sewer plant at Tri W, no ifs, and, buts, then why bother to "negotiate" anything? No, this thing just was weird to begin with and just keep getting weirder.

Shark Inlet said...


It appears that you keep forgetting that the SWRCB has a mandate that they need to follow.

I would submit that this past January the board told Julie and Lisa and the rest of us who should have been paying attention that the loan was site specific ... that they feel additional years of delay to "move the sewer" would not serve the public interests with respect to water quality. They re-affirmed that during their last meeting.

Why negotiate? Because the CSD was taking stupid actions and perhaps the carrot would work better than the stick. While Polhemous was not given the authority to make decisions for the SWRCB, he was given authority to negotiate the best deal (for the SWRCB) he could make with the LOCSD that both sides would perhaps be willing to sign off on. The SWRCB didn't agree that the CSD's best offer was good enough. The two year timeline to pursue a pipe dream (haha) wouldn't serve the public when there are other projects already moving forward which need and want the money.

Let me explain this again ... Polhemous was not a negotiator. There were no negotiations. I am sure that SWRCB staff regret ever using that word because the CSD keeps harping it. The result of the meetings was a proposal that, after further staff review might have been submitted to both boards for approval. The only way that real negotiations would have gone on is if both boards were to meet together and hammer out a deal on the spot. But that would be illegal without public input and that would create a mess even worse than the typical CSD meeting.

Why let Polhemous try? Because Sam asked. Because the carrot would work better than the stick in some cases.

Why did the SWRCB staff conclude that the results were unacceptable? I don't know exactly, but I suspect that:

1. The LOCSD didn't commit to fight Measure B during the Oct 30 meeting with any formal resolution.
2. Until the Feb Prop 218 vote the state could be throwing more good money down a rat hole if the 218 vote failed.
3. They thought it wisest to spend the $135M on other projects where there was a real committment to improve water quality rather than in Los Osos where the result would likely be a 2+ year delay to do nothing that benefits water quality.
4. The CSD has already violated terms of the loan agreement and has voiced intent to continue in this plan.

Can you blame them? Put yourself in the position of La Canada and there would be no justification for continuing to spend in Los Osos for an undefined project with no financial guarantee of repayment.

Don't act like "poor little me, the state is out to get me" if they telegraphed their intentions months in advance. The fact that this current board lied to us and told us we could keep the loan and that we would not be fined doesn't make the state the bad guys. They are the only group who has been truthful in the last few months.

By the way, my current pet peeve is Lisa's "we can get back in line for another SRF loan and we'll be at the head of the line because we are a top concern." She seems to again be telling us that it will all work out okay even though she screwed up. Witness the comments in the Trib by SWRCB spokesman to the effect of "the fact that Los Osos has already screwed up once" will be taken into account when determining whether we'll give them another loan.

Churadogs said...

Dear Inlet, In the recent agenda packet (at the CSD meeting) is Attachment C, a letter from Celest Cantu, Executive Director of the State WAter Board Staff, written on State Water Board letterhead stationary, Dated Oct 21 and addressed to Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, that has in the first paragraph, in capital letters, "AGREEMENT FOR STRUCTURED NEGOTIATIONS . . . ETC. " In # 4. It states All parties will be committed to negotiate for one week."

so, I guess it could be forgiven if somebody somewhere might have thought that what was happening was a STRUCTURED NEGOTIATION???

Shark Inlet said...

I guess we'll just have to disagree.

I think that the staff can negotiate but the result is not binding on the board.

You seem to think that the SWRCB gave the staff permission to speak for them. I don't see any proof of that anywhere. You appear to suffer the same confusion that Lisa and Dan have.

I would claim again that "negotiations" was a poorly chosen word because of the potential for the sort of misunderstanding you have.

Again, some clarity can be provided if the roles are reversed. Would the SWRCB have the ability to cry foul had the LOCSD board not ratified the agreement that Lisa and Dan thought was do-able? Somehow it seems inappropriate for Lisa and Dan to be able to speak for the entire board. Simply put, they cannot. Similarly, the SWRCB gave Darrin the authority to try to come to the best agreement possible with the LOCSD but didn't say that they would necessarily sign off on that agreement.