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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Uh-oh, Mummy spoke too soon, Dooo-deee-doo-doo, Dooo-deee-doo-doo

Dang, when I wrote the last posting it was a Friday, a holiday, and I had hopes that when I peered out into the morning gloom for the next few days and saw the Tribune gleaming white at the end of the dark driveway, I wouldn't have to keep nitroglycerine tablets handy in order to open the thing and see the headlines without suffering heart failure. But Noooooo. There was Saturday's headline, "Loan default would make U.S. History." And a sub-head, "Federal program has given out 14,200 loans for water projects in 15 years without one failure."

Really? Now, what's interesting. Said EPA spokesman Dale Kemery, that "never in the program's $47 billion history has any state given money to a borrower and seen the loan fall apart."

Reeeeeely? So, should that tell somebody at the state or federal level that something clearly went wrong here with the original loan?

I know, let's start a list. In the comment box below, you can add your ideas as to just what went wrong here. Let's start:

1. There had not been a Proposition 218 vote on the project, on the loan, not even on the $40 million requested increase of the loan.
2. There was a lawsuit in the courts contesting the loan for NOT having a Proposition 218 vote for it. If that suit prevailed, the entire loan would be ruled illegal/improper, ka-Poof!
3. There hadn't even been a non-binding, "advisory vote" by the community for the loan and certainly none for increasing it by some $40 million. That increase request was done by three board members who were under threat of recall.
4. People HATE recalls. They will suffer under any sort of crappy governance forever (school board, city hall, whatever) rather than lift a finger to make a change. This is especially true in small towns when the folks being recalled are often friends and neighbors. People HATE recalls, so when a recall actually qualifies for a ballot -- which is what happened in this case -- red flags should have gone down all over Sacramento. Boing! Boing! Boing! Warning! Warning! Warning!
5. Giving pots of money to three guys under threat of recall is like a bank giving an unsecured loan to a guy who's just been put on notice that he may lose his job. Do you know of any bank reckless enough to make that loan?
6. The State Water Board granted that gazillion-dollar loan despite pleas from two CSD members and a bunch of citizens asking that they hold off until after the recall. The Water Board refused. Is that a sign of prudence? Or damned foolisheness? Or collusion? Or grotesque incompetence?
7. Jon Seitz is the CSD's attorney. It's his job to protect the CSD from legal and financial ruin. I do not remember Mr. Seitz, at a public meeting where this loan was discussed, warning his clients (the Board) and the public (who pay his salary and would be the ones ultimately injured) NOT to lock in a huge debt on the community without either a Prop. 218 vote, an official "advisory vote," and/or waiting until after the recall to sign any contracts. Do you remember such a warning from Mr. Seitz? What kind of "feasance" -- mal or mis -- would that be, do you think?
7. Do you think the various Federal spokespersons quoted in the Trib story know the full story of what happened here? Do you think they should, perhaps, find out just what happened before making threats and comments? Bwa-hahahaha. Sorry, you're right, What was I thinking?
8. IF the tentative brokered "deal" that the State Water Board tentatively dismissed MIGHT HAVE moved this project forward while POSSIBLY offering both a compromise and improved bang-for-the-buck solutions for some critical, unaddressed WATER issues, then what's the problem here? Shouldn't the State WATER Board and the Regional WATER Quality Control Board and the citizens of Los Osos who want to solve their WATER and wasteWATER issues --but just didn't want a sewer treatment plant in the middle of their town-- be able to figure something out here?

It's not rocket science.

One of the most telling things happening here happened at the October 30th CSD meeting, after the election, after the train-wreck, after smoke and rail-cars and dead bodies were piled high, after millions were pounded into the ground, after pipe was laid, after the trees were cut down, when the tentative brokered "deal" was still in play. During public comment, folks who, before the election had been adamantly anti-recall and pro-Tri-W project, stood up and said, "Well, actually, I was never really married to the in-town site. If you can build a project cheaper out of town, then that'd be fine with me."

Hello?

There, Dear & Gentle Reader, may be a suitable epitaph for this town.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post Ann! I was thinking along similiar lines but as always you're the one that nails it down TO A TEE. I would think that the Federal EPA folks would be curious about a gagillion dollar loan going out for a sewer plant directly above a national estuary! And talk about keeping FEMA busy, what if an earthquake hits that sand dune in the middle of our town?

Anonymous said...

Sewer out of town? What a sham. How about NO SEWER? The problem has always been about cost. Face it, people do not want to spend money regardless. Most people do not give a hoot about Bay Polution from human sources. Probably the birds in the bay this time of year produce the greatest amount of pollution. In wet weather it is poluted by animal crap in runoff.

Who really cared about polution of the ground water? Los Osos water comes from the lower aquifers.

The former CSD did their best to conform to the law to the best of their ability and best serve the TOTAL interest of all the citizens of Los Osos.

And now the ball is in the hands of a board that promissed Los Osos a cheaper solution with NO plan, NO site, and a ponding system that has no documentation as to nitrate removal. They are costing each APN ( property )owner $50 a day.

Where the hell was your plan in the beginning? What is your solution to this unfunded mandate?

At least the former LOCSD had a solution, but democracy has prevailled and they are no longer in power. They tried to do what was right and to conform to the law.

Who in their right mind would buy a home in the prohibition zone? Which lender would finance a home without adding extra points on the loan or higher interest? California value has always been in the land.

Do you think that the State Water Quality Control Board or the RWQCB cares about senior citizens on social security and their ability to pay sewer bills or eat dog food? I think not! Their job is simply to enforce their mandate.

I hope that the new board can actually come up with a plan, a site, and they can do it cheaper. It would have been nice for the citizens to have a park for few additional dollars per month on a non-stink site. It would have been nice to stop salt water intrusion on our lower aquifer wells so that people did not need State Water and higher water bills from importing same. All of this would have increased property values, or at least values would have stayed the same.

It seems to me that the whole reason for you to write this article was to set blame for the previous LOCSD. You must know that the new BOARD is set for disaster against the powers that be.

I hope they are sucessful, but if they do not live up to their promisses, I hope that they are not tared and feathered and run out of town.

I await their decisions. So far things do not look good.

Publicworks said...

Ann,

The one comment that just stands out: "the citizens don't want a plant in the middle of town"

Yep, they want to ship their poo where it's near people that live out of town. Of course, since there's fewer people there, that makes it right.

The last poster was correct. "The citizens don't want to pay for an unfunded mandate", would be a more accurate assessment.

And should the board try to site a different plant out of town, they will find that there will be another 3-4 or more lawsuits (and not from supporters of going ahead with the current project).

You really need to stop implying that people that supported going forward were pro Tri-W. Most were just pro-project. Tri-W happened to be the permitted funded (or at least was funded) project.

Churadogs said...

Dear Public Works, Perhaps I didn't make it clear that people who supported "going forward were Pro-Tri-W" Perhaps what I should have said is that what I found absolutely telling was folks who "before the election had been [vocally] adamantly anti-recall and pro-Tri W project, [now]stood up and said, "Well, actually, I was never really married to the in-town site.If you can build a project cheaper out of town, then that'd be fine with me."

If they hadn't been "married to the in-town site," then why support it? My guess is two-fold: (1)It was a bird in the hand since they had not been and WOULD NOT be given any choice in the matter (i.e.accurate comparisons between the in-town & out-of town plans and an opporunity to vote on which one they wanted to "buy") and (2) they had been repeatedly told THERE WAS NO OTHER CHOICE and/or THE OUT OF TOWN SITE WILL BE WAAAAAAY MORE EXPENSIVE and etc.

When this brokered "deal" indicated that the parties in the Dealing Room apparently felt that an out of town would be either doable or cheaper or if not cheaper might offer more bang for the buck, then some formerly pro-Tri-W project, suddenly were NOW publicly declaring they never had been really "married" to the in-town site.

That indicates to me a level of pragmatism and faith in what they were previously told that's hinged to doability & cost, rather than a true committment to Tot Lots, Amenities, Dog Parks and an Intown Siting, & the Board that supported those things.

Doability and cost, I suspect, is what really matters to the majority of this community, with siting a secondary consideration hooked to the previous two items.

Shark Inlet said...

You are right, Ann.

There was no choice. TriW, an approved and funded project or some as yet to be determined out of town project which hadn't even been studied thoroughly, let alone approved and funded. The time to study a possible out of town location thoroughly enough to make a determination about which is more expensive would push us into the timeperiod where fines would have been handed down.

The choice was made back when the site specific SRF loan application was approved. Any deviations from TriW after that point in time could only be made by convincing the SWRCB that the out of town site (which hadn't yet been studied fully) would be superior to TriW.

Essentially you are asking the 2001 board to invest a couple of million that they didn't have to pursue an out of town solution that likely wouldn't be cheaper.

So, now that doability and cost is what matters to the majority of this community, how can this current board justify spending ungodly amounts of time and money on moving the plant out of town?

Shark Inlet said...

Ann,

You seem to have missed (as did I until today) the online Trib had a pdf file of a letter from Barbara Envoy, Chief of the Division of Financial Assistance of the SWRCB that said (essentially), "Dan, you lying sack of weasel dung, you know full well that your press release of Nov 9 misled people."

Essentially the state is calling Dan out on his lie. The lie? Dan said that the SWRCB had sent a letter indicating that the SWRCB would resume payments to the CSD as soon as construction started up again. Previously, as noted in the Trib and in sewerwatch, the state spokesman Rukeyerser said this was not true. Now the head of the part of the SWRCB that controls money has verified the statement of the spokesman.

So, what should we make of this fact ... the fact that the SWRCB is saying that the LOCSD GM is lying? I would submit there are only a few possibilities:
1. The GM is, indeed, lying or seriously confused
2. The state official is lying
3. They both are lying.

I doubt that Envoy has a reason to lie.

I must conclude that Dan used the press release to pacify outrage over the newspaper article pointing out that a loss of the SRF would be huge. Either that or he thinks that contractors will go back to work (even though already owed a lot of money) on his word alone.

In any case, if the contractors don't go back to work (as Dan told us they would) or of they do but the SRF money doesn't immediately resume, we know he is a liar ... and that the ends justify the means for this board.

I will lose all respect for Lisa and the rest of the board who would allow such lies.

Why would Dan lie? Besides the above two reasons, if the state would make even one more payment, a LOCSD lawyer could argue that the state agrees that Measure B shouldn't prevent payments. Furthermore, a CSL lawyer could argue that the state is in agreement that Measure B is beyond the control of the LOCSD and so the state should allow the CSD to move the plant in accordance to district law.

So, do the ends really justify the means? What should an honorable person do?

Lie or tell the truth that the LOCSD is in a pickle and that they got there themselves and they have no way out?

Churadogs said...

Dear Shark, "Lie?" How about "He was being optimistic?"

madeadecision said...

Hmm,

Just like the Solutions group was being optimistic?

Shark Inlet said...

You're right, Ann.

I was being uncharitable.

I guess you've found out about my double standard. I tend to hold a GM more accountable than the board for many things. Yes, the board is the group that ultimately has to make decisions but the GM is supposed to be able to tell it like it is to the board and to the people with no varnish.

In this case, Dan must have known better. There is no justification for interpreting "will consider" as "will". Maybe Dan was speaking based on communication with some staff members in Sacramento, but if he's putting out a press release shouldn't he at least verify that the state will release funds once construction starts before he says it? Either that or something like "Bitsy at the SWRCB tells me that even though no one higher up will admit it, they will be cutting us a check next Thursday." What stinks here like my daughter's dead hamster is the fact that the press release says "In a letter received by te Los Osos Community Services District on Nov. 4, the state water board said it's now willing to reinstate funding as soon as work is renewed, said Dan Bleskey."

Nope, the letter does not say this. Dan must either be very confused (in which case we are really hosed) or lying.

I guess I am back to being uncharitable.

So, Ann, you suggested he was simply being optimistic. Isn't even optimism bound by the facts? If he was simply being optimistic, wouldn't he have said "we hope that the state will give us money"? Nope, he lied.

About the Solutions Group optimism ... you are suggesting that if I am going to cut them some slack I should cut Danny-boy some as well. You score a point on that issue as soon as you are willing to admit that Dan fibbed.

I would further submit that the "lies" of the solutions group (see sewerwatch for full details) are less clearly misstatements. Just because CCC and RWQCB officials say "likely won't work" doesn't mean that the plan won't pass muster.

I would agree with you and Ron about the whole formation of the CSD ... it was a mistake. Now that we're in 2005, however, the question is what we ought to do next. I would submit that misrepresenting the SWRCB staff position in a press release won't endear the LOCSD to the SWRCB.

So, why did Dan lie? I would suggest it was primarily to get some good press immediately after the previous day's newspaper article telling us the financial impact of the LOCSD screw-ups.

We'll see something Wednesday and I doubt we'll see Dan's claim affirmed by the state.

Churadogs said...

Dear Inlet, the fact that the state requires that the breach of contract claim be REMOVED before any mney arrives is very, very interesting to me. If his claim is hooey, why put such a requirement in?

Shark Inlet said...

Why require the CSD to agree to stop breach claims?

Two possible reasons. One, that I'm sure you think is pretty likely, is that the state now feels that they did breach the contract and that this is a protective measure. (I think that the plain English of the contract is pretty clear ... the CSD is not allowed to suspend construction without first getting approval from the state.) The second reason is that they are pretty tired of the endless whining lawsuits by essentially the same people that are now running the CSD. They view this board as prone to baseless litigation (how many lawsuits have the anti-sewer group won to date?) Frankly, if I were a lender and I had this sort of trouble with a borrower, I would view such a promise as the minimum act necessary before I would continue to lend money.