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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Showdown At High Noon in Sewerville. Where's Gary Cooper?

Dooo nauwt forsake meeee, O mah darlin', twang-twang-twang.

In today's Tribune headline, a showdown with the State Water Board and an ultimatum: Get this particular loan and build a sewer plant in the middle of town OR betray the people who voted for an initiative to get the sewer plant OUT of the middle of town and betray those who also voted to remove the prior CSD directors because they refused to move the sewer plant OUT of town.

Gone missing from the headline and story and, apparently, from the State Water Board itself is this: The State Water Board is appointed to oversee the distribution of federal and state funds in a State REVOLVING Fund, to disburse it to communities on the list in need of low cost loans to help build and/or improve their water/wastewater infrastructure. Every year, communities submit their plans, get approval or not, get placed on a hold list and wait. Certain communities are given top priority because of the severity of their problems. Right now Los Osos is at the top of the priority list.

So, what needs to be decided by the CSD is also this: Do I betray the electorate who put me into office, and betray WHY they put me into office, or do I vote to move ahead with an out-of-town site and/or do a review of an alternative plan (Step/Steg), then resubmit the plans to the State REVOLVING Fund and get back on the list?

In the meantime, what's critical for this CSD Board to do is to formally request a full investigation into the State Water Board's original loan. Was it properly handled? If it was, then there was and is no need for any "deal" that was proposed by the SWB a few days ago. Instead, it should be a straight up or down decision. If there were irregularities in how it was originally set up, then that must be cleared up before this community signs onto anything because just as sure as God made little green apples, somebody in town will sue and any action will be delayed that much longer.

In addition, the matter of the breach of contract must be settled before anybody signs on the dotted line for anything because God and his little green apples will show up in court over that matter as well. It also needs to be explained just why the State Water Board was so concerned over the breach-of-contract issue that they made it a requirement that the issue be dropped before the loan would be granted. You don't normally blackmail people unless you know they have the goods on you so you'd better shut them up before they spill the beans.

Of even more importance, both the State Water Board and the Regional Water Quality Board's staff and CEO need to be investigated to see whether or not they have been improperly engaged with prior CSD members or each other in an effort to unduly manipulate or coerce this community.

In his LOCSD's "Response and Request for Continuance" brief sent to the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the CSD's attorney notes, "Although LOCSD staff has only had time to review a limited amount of CCR [RWQCB] staff's written and electronic documents relating to the September 27th Special Election, it is already apparent that CCR staff was coordinating efforts with the opponents of the recall and Measure B initiative both before and after the election. More troubling still is the fact that this information reveals CCR staff's motive in issuing the Complaint: to bushwack the new LOCSD board before it did anything and to punish the electorate for failing to vote the way CCR staff had wanted." (p. 8)

Is "punishing" or manipulating or attempting to influence an election what these Boards are suppose to be doing? If these Boards or their staff have lost their objectivity, then that needs to be addressed before this CSD takes any steps.

The original low cost loan was immediately challenged in court for not having secured an assessment vote of the homeowners. So far as I know, that lawsuit is still on appeal. Furthermore, the loan was increased some $40 million on the say-so of three CSD members under threat of recall and despite pleas from the community and two board members to wait until after the recall election and the Measure B inititive were voted on.

Before the CSD decides anything, it would be prudent to investigate as to whether the original loan was properly done. As the CSD attorney notes in his "Response" brief (p7) " . . . it [SWB] apparently agreed to fund the SRF Loan without first considering what impact the approval of Measure B would have on the SWRCB's obligation to comply with those code provisions . . ."

In short, this original loan came in a box that already smelled from day one. The New! Improved! box the State Water Board is presenting this community with on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, now has scrabbling and squeeking noises coming from inside it. Personally, I smell a rat.

And unless the CSD votes to take a legal peek inside that box, this community will be betrayed into spending gazillions to buy a lifetime supply of very, very expensive cheese.

28 comments:

Shark Inlet said...

Here is a humble suggestion.

How about the board lets the people decide .... by a vote? In particular, let the property owners decide if they want to take out a lien on their homes in a 218 vote and let the citizens vote to see if they want to repeal Measure B.

Now that the personality issue of the recall campaign is gone and now that the financial implications of saying "yes" or "no" on this issue are clarified, we can get a far more clear reading on the opinion of the people.

Oh yeah, that is what the state is offering. We don't want to do that, it would actually allow citizens to have some say on the matter.

OOTB said...

Rats. Big Ones.

Anonymous said...

Sharky, you have me a little confused, How in the world can you say the state is offering us those options when they give us a one week ultimatum to toe their line or else? I'm not real sure how this should be handled. If there are "rats in the box" I don't want it. If we agree to their dictate are we still assured of the loan even if the project gets delayed by God and his little green apples?Mike Green

Shark Inlet said...

Mike, the state gave the CSD the option of agreeing to their deal ... if the CSD agrees, there would be a vote or two for the people of Los Osos. Essentially the state told the CSD "if you want the money you have to let your people vote on whether they like the terms." How can this board deny us the right to vote? It would only be if they don't believe in democracy.

Anonymous said...

How our we going to accomplish this in one week? It's impossible,There is literaly years of information available to them that should be reviewed by the legal system. What assurances do we have from the state that we won't incur penalties from circumstances beyond our control? The whole incredible mess stinks higher than a broken sewer plant. ( I have a feeling, and I might be wrong, but I bet the CSD tells the state to stuff it) May you live in interesting times, An old curse.Mike Green

Shark Inlet said...

I apologize for being unclear. An agreement by the CSD to the state terms would have a vote by property owners in February and, if Measure B is not completely overturned by a court of law before June, a vote of the citizens to overturn B would occur then.

Construction work would contine on parts of the project, but not the plant until both votes (if necessary) are successful. If either vote went down, the SRF money would disappear, presumably because the community had indicated a preference for something other than TriW at 2.3%.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sharky, I accept your apology! (ha I always wanted to write that, just kidding, I think you are much smarter than me.)But I sometimes think that wisdom is apart from smarts. I want the CSD to ask those questions about the loan.Mike Green

Churadogs said...

Dear Commentors, There's one question the citizens need to ask before all others: Would you buy a used car from the State Water Board?

I mean, first they sent a negotiator down here, then denied there was any deal, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't, then it disappeared, poof, then some new "deal" arrives, and part of the deal requires the community cover up what may well be an improperly funded loan in the first place, and if we don't agree to their terms they'll shoot our dogs . . . this is known as "good faith?" Uh, I think it's time to count the silverware and hide our daughters.

Shark Inlet said...

Would I buy a used car from the SWRCB? If they offered me an interest rate that was sufficiently low enough that a comparable car elsewhere would cost me more in the long run ... hell yes!

Here's my question ... why would you want to pay more for a used Camry if you could pay less for a comparable car ... just in a different color?

One thing that I think you keep forgetting (as do many it seems) is that the LOCSD filled out a loan application to borrow money to build at TriW. Once the CSD wanted to change the project to another location it would seem that the lender can say "yes" or "no" to a request to move the project. They said no. They have the right to say no and they were very clear in the meeting Wednesday that if Los Osos doesn't want to build the project we originally applied to build, they want to give that money at a low interest rate to others who will do something with the money soon.

Quite a reasonable call, I would say.

By the way, I appreciated your comments last night.

Anonymous said...

Well that was an interesting meeting last night! I'm still digesting all the input. I do have one observation I'd like to share. We are a community divided. I think in the future it might help to make a pre-meeting invocation, This is how I would word it:
"We the concerned citezens of Los Osos do hearby declare that we are doing our best to fix problems that none of us created, We are simply people that are living with the results of bad decisions made for us, not by us. Shame on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors!"
Can anyone tell me why Los Osos was allowed to build up to this point with no infrastucture, and come to the conclusion that the County Board of Supervisors were not responsible? Mike Green

Publicworks said...

They were responsible.

And they designed a sewer. Then 87% of Los Osos voted to form a district, and rejected an out of town sewer.

The county could have only given half the permits. But then, people wouldn't have homes. Or they could have charge commisurate permit fees to pay for a sewer. But then, that would have made the homes less affordable.

Churadogs said...

ToPublic Works, I would also like to point out that the 87% who voted to form a CSD were told at the time that the Solutions Group could/would build The Ponds Of Avalon for $35 million dollars. What the Solutions Group FAILED to note BEFORE the November election, was the June and Oct report by the Coastal Commission staff and the RWQCB staff, stating that the Ponds were likely NOT be approved by the RWQWCB and the price tag they both estimated came in at $78 million (not the $35 mil being touted by the Solutions Group), that $78 mil being amazingly close to the County Plan's $80-85 mil, the evil plan that the Solution Group/CSDers were adamently opposing.

From all the people I talked to at the time, it was clear to me that the CSD's formation was joined at the hip to the promised $35 mil Ponds of Avalon and had the people been told of those reports (The Solutions Group HAD to have received those reports since they were specifically done to evaluate the proposed project), my bet is the CSD would likely have failed. Or if it passed, the number wouldn't even been close to 87%.

From that false and misleading, undisclosed, (then) unknown (by the voters) report, everything flows as directly and predictably and reletlessly as water down a drain.

Anonymous said...

Ann, thank you, that is exactly what I was talking about. Mike Green

Shark Inlet said...

Publicworks and others ...

I would like to remind you of the late '70s ... the County offered to help Los Osos develop a sewer and plant with federal and state grant money (i.e. a "free gift") and Los Osos refused, presumably because it was "too expensive" or because they wanted to limit growth. In any case, the County has come up with at least two plans over the years and Los Osos has turned down at least two County solutions.

Yes, the County board of supervisors did create the problem by taking the approval of new septics out of the County Health office and put it into the Engineering office. (This was done at the request of homebuilders who were finding that Health was reluctant to permit too many septics/acre.)

Ann, let me remind you that even if the Solutions Group lied and the previous LOCSD boaardmembers were also liars, we are where we are now. The question he have before us is what to do now ... in particular, should we accept the state offer or not?

I've argued elsewhere that there is no downside to saying "yes" to the state. The only two conditions we've not discussed much here are the requirement to pump out septics and to not sue the SWRCB. Pumping out problem septics would help the individuals who are most likely to be individually fined by the RWQCB and would prevent pollution ... that is good. Furthermore, if the LOCSD sues the SWRCB about the loan, please remember that this will cause future lenders to charge higher rates of interest than the market rate of 6%. Suppose for a bit that the LOCSD sues the SWRCB. How much will they win? I can think of arguments for payoff of the contractors, no repayment of the $6.5M already disbursed and perhaps an $11M RWQCB fine ... maybe $25 total. Certainly we'll never get another SRF loan and we've just bought ourselves an 8% interest loan instead of 6%. If we were to borrow about $130M, this means that our lawsuit would result in an additional $35M in interest payments. Simply put, it makes financial sense to not sue the SWRCB over this matter, even if the SWRCB was entirely in the wrong.

So ... the only downside of taking the state's deal is ... um ... there is no downside. The people would be allowed to vote on what we want.

For the CSD to vote to turn down the SWRCB deal would be Unconscionable with a capital "U".

Ann, can't you at least get behind the idea that the citizens should be allowed to vote on this matter?

Publicworks said...

Shark/Ann,

I agree about the County, they designed a sewer, and Los Osos walked. But you still hear all these people, mostly recall supporters and even board members, complaining about the County's responsibility.

Also, the voters 'bought' the Solutions Group plan, which WAS public prior to the election - was there 'full' disclosure of feedback, no. But there was enough information, absence of that feedback, that were warning signs. JUST LIKE THIS LAST ELECTION.

A judge stated Measure B was illegal - and half the town ignored that in the last election.
There was also little or no disclosure about the problems of 'moving a sewer' by the recall people.

What has been established is that Los Osos citizens, no matter how you slice it, have PROVEN themselves to be ineffectual at putting in a sewer, and even governing.

Ann, you keep contemplating to wait for this or that decision or rendering, and question the path to our current plan. There have been god knows how many court renderings, with the CSD yet to lose (maybe that trend will continue), but the effect of all that, from a high level (or state level) is that the sewer keeps getting delayed - that's the bottom line. And advocating one more time at bat is going to do just that - delay, regardless of the journalistic content.

I'm sorry, but many in Los Osos may want a sewer in the abstract, but love the reality of the delays to avoid having to pay the piper.

Right now, the only path headed down by this board is one of continued litigation.

The board can cross the first hurdle easily, and that is to start a repeal of Measure B. Now that would be a show of good faith towards solving a groundwater problem. Oh, but I know, that would repress democracy, so let's just keep having elections.

Shark Inlet said...

My issue here is that if the board accepts the SWRCB offer we can move foreward.

If for some reason the courts rule some aspects of Measure B legal (why they would, I don't know) there would be a second vote to allow the people to repeal Measure B.

Sounds far better than pissing into the wind and hoping for no sprayback.

Anonymous said...

Dear Publicworks,
Why shouldn't we hear complaints about the SLOCBS? Even you admit the truth in this.
The statement that we have been innefectual in this problem begs the question, "Why?"
Was it egos and smoke and mirrors?
I personaly think now that we should accept the deal.
Then use every trick in the book to get the perpetrators of this mess back!Mike Green

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear! Build now, sue later!

Anonymous said...

I have always followed the axiom that if you follow the money, you find truth. Who has made money from this sewer to date: The owner of the Tri-w site and the owner of the Broderson site along with the owner(s) of the other purchased properties. I will not go into the reasons for each but they are profound and have to do with zoning and development. Outside of that, everyone pays. I think the whole current plan was crafted to pay off the two big property owners and get them out of legal constraints against use of the properties.

Were we lied to? You bet. Did we willing accept the lies? You bet.

I went to solutions group meetings and watched as mostly upscale, professionals wallowed in their own infallibility. They new better, others were borderline idiots. The worse offender, according to these self-designated experts was the county. The county was portrayed as incompetant, selfish and had no interest in Los Osos. Only these self-appointed experts knew what was needed. After all, they were riding high on the Elfin Forest acquisition. Los Osos was going to be their little project.

More to follow. , ,

Shark Inlet said...

Anonymous,

You have a good point ... and this current board seems even worse because their actions are even less well thought out and they seem even less interested in the community good.

Publicworks said...

Build now, sue later.

Certainly works for me, and much better than our history of sue now, build later!

Churadogs said...

Ah, yes, build now, sue later, then if it all leagally goes ker-flooey, does everyone then stand around the corpse and say, Oh, darn, my bad! Well, TOO LATE, time to move on. Done deal?

Some lawsuits are like dogs yapping at the caravan, which keeps moving on. Other lawsuits are like a warning sign that says, Bridge out ahead, Slow to 60. One can be ignored, the other is ignored at a community's peril. Which is which in this case? I don't know, but if the CSD signs onto the New! Improved! "Deal," they'll be like the man who is bullied and terrified and blackmailed into writing and signing a suicide note taking responsibility for whatever he's accused of doing, then putting a gun to his head and blowing his brains out. When it turns out that he had nothing to do with whatever he was being threatened with, well, it's too bad, too late, he's taken responsibility for it all in his little signed note, so there'll be no need to look into the matter any further. Time to wash hands and move on into the happy future.

Shark Inlet said...

Ann,

Could you please explain why you like the idea of citizens voting ala Measure B and you wanted a 218 vote before any loan was finalized but now you don't seem to want to allow a 218 vote and you don't seem to want to let the citizens vote on whether they prefer TriW or not ... I don't understand your point of view here.

Churadogs said...

What bothers me is linking these into the SRF loan. Something's wrong here. And that's why I think this loan needs a legal look-see to find out if it was legal in the first place. If it isn't, then we need a proper do-over, which Prop 218 would allow: full presentation or all costs, including deferred and O,M,&R, ag-exchange, etc.etc. between Tri-W, for example at X $ and an oxidation ditch plant, blah-blah-blah outside of town at Y $ -- take your pick, assess yourself on the tax rolls for whichever you want at the front end, instead of linking it to a "service fee" at the back end, then we can start laying pipe.

Publicworks said...

Ann,

Here's a question. What if Los Osos is incapable of passing a 218 vote, if >1/3 of the owners will not vote for a $200/month assesment? Then what?

There is no realistic evidence that the cost will be less or much less than $200/month - even with Mr. Polhemus numbers - the analysis they performed didn't account for some unknowns and regulatory issues.

I'm not saying a 218 vote isn't appropriate nor am I suggesting the current loan was illegal - but be careful for what you ask. Again, what would happen if Los Osos would fail to approve a 218 vote on this or any other project? Think long and hard about that one.

Churadogs said...

Dear Inlet, what's gone missing for a long time is for this community to finally put to rest, once and for all, Pandora's snappy slogan: Faster, Better, Cheaper. I think the community has finally figured out that there is no faster and certainly the word cheap is NOT on the table, no matter what the project is. All that's left is cheapER, maybe, and certainly BETTER, i.e. more bang for the buck which actually results in cheaper overall.

If the community is given ACCURATE facts, no hidden costs, no hidden deferreds, not tricks up the sleeve (moving capital expense over to the O&M side to make the bottom line look better, he-heh) then they will have confidence that they're being delt with honestly (there is no pie in the sky) and can make a considered judgement on exactly what they want to buy. There's been an awful lot of "education" that has happened over the years, and, more important, I think people are only NOW finally begining to undetstand that this isn't just nitrates, it WATER, and so needs a wider, more forward leaning approach. And if they have a chance to study which system gives them wider options and better long-term costs, then I think they'll bit the bullet and vote for it. But, for that to happen, the information MUST be truthful. No hidden anythings.

PUblicworks said...

What exactly has been the hidden agenda, at this point? The last board's agenda was clear, put in a viable expensive sewer. The opponents of that agenda was clear - stop the viable expensive sewer to spend more time/money in search of non-defined sewer. It doens't get any more clear than that.

Anybody with half a brain who voted shoulda known there are deferred costs in ANY wastewater treatment system. The opponents of the project made that perfectly clear in any case.

Anybody with half a brain who voted shoulda known that stopping the project was going to have cost and delay implications. The proponents of the project made that perfectly clear in any case.

Unfortunately, the last election did not include any clear input by the property owners, who have to pay.

Your own words, Ann, ". I think they'll bit the bullet and vote for it." Of course we've already bit a bullet (nice unintended typo on your part, though).

I hate to break it to you, but for 8 years the public, ON BOTH SIDES, have taken wastewater & WATER consultant studies and put their own spin, or "truth", as you say on the issue. The project is not as bad or incomplete as you or others would make it out to be, nor is it as good as it'
s proponents would make it out to be.

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot.