Thursday, September 29, 2005

Where's Waldo, Part Duh?

According to the unofficial Tuesday night results on the Hideous Los Osos Sewer election, 40% of the registered voters out here in Bear Land, didn't vote. (see UPDATE below) Oddly, 40% of the prohibition zone homeowners also didn't return their "ballots" during the assessment vote on this project a few years ago.

Is 40% of Los Osos permanently out to lunch? Have they moved to France? Do 40% of the registered voters need assisstance in picking up that little 2-B pencil stub to fill in the little bubbles on the ballot? Whaaat?

Well, as a snarky columnist commenting on the local scene, I'll miss them boys. And if our new PIO Mike "No Spin" Drake is heading out the door, I'll miss him most of all. My favorite Drakeism was his comment when the great eucalyptus were being ripped down before the recall vote could be taken, "We've waited 22 years. How much longer do we wait? . . . " (Wail, weep, rend clothes, toss ashes on head, fall to ground with palms upraised, tear hair, groan, smack forehead, gnash teeth & etc.)

WE? WE? Jeeeeze, Mike, get a grip. You just moved to town a few weeks ago.

Well, Chapter . . . What? -- This project's had more lives than a cat -- is about to begin. This time I hope the whole community will be paying attention. Close attention.

UPDATE: Election results posted on 9/28 show that 66% of the registered voters voted which means that only 34% of Los Osos is out to lunch. Whew! But still . . . what's up with that?

Further UPDATE: There still may be provisional and mail-in ballots to be counted and since the initiative numbers are so close, that issue and possibly other vote tallies could change. So, there may be another life left in the old cat yet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

At the Sewer’s Edge

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons has to be “put to bed” before the Great Sewer Election results will be finally tallied, so as I write this I do not know what those results will be. But here are some things I still do not know, and some things I do:

--I know the present sewer plan is the wrong plan in the wrong place at the wrong price for all the wrong reasons. But I do not know the real reason why the CSD Board majority clings to the Tri-W site with such single-minded ferocity. Using a sewer plant in order to get park land while sticking only the ratepayers with the bill is simply unfair. And telling me an industrial-sized sewer plant must remain in the middle of town because the community desperately needs to have a Tot Lot next to it is like peeing on my shoes and telling me it’s raining.

-- I know the present plant will not allow build-out without (a) imported water, (b) will not cure salt water intrusion in the lower aquifer, and (c) will cost the community a bundle with constantly rising Operation & Maintenance costs, among other things. A project with such big “deferred” costs and unsolved problems waiting in the wings is a pig-in-a-poke project. We’ll see if the community will buy it.

--I still do not know why on earth the CSD repeatedly refused to prepare two or three sewer-plan options, with accurate prices, and then present them to the community for a choice and a vote. Hobson’s Choice is really no choice at all.

-- Not that this project ever really did go to the voters, until now. Which is why I know the way the CSD set up the original assessment was fundamentally misleading. You do not ask for a property tax vote on a massive public works project like this one by parsing out a tiny portion for the tax rolls while reserving the enormous, open-ended lion’s share (i.e. the real cost) for much later in the form of an ever-escalating “service/loan fee,” and then use that tiny assessment vote to declare that the community did vote on the plan and overwhelmingly supported it. “Disingenuous” is one word for that kind of scheme; “dishonest” is another.

--I know that when someone promises me “no spin” on a project that is nothing BUT spin, I’d better start counting the silverware.

-- I know that I no longer have confidence in our CSD Board majority. The entire process that has led up to the recall is nothing new to me. I closely followed the same dynamic at work in the SLO Coastal School District, a district whose board majority put petal to the metal despite repeated warnings, then drove the district into financial ruin before walking away from their self-made train wreck, leaving the students, teachers and taxpayers stuck with the bill. To me, the CSD is School Board déjà vu.

-- I know that once you lie about the simple stuff, you can’t possibly be trusted to tell the truth on the big stuff. Lie # 1 always begets Lie #2 to cover up Lie #1, and so forth, until you end up stuck tight to a Tar Baby tangle from which you cannot escape. I know that spin and hokum and half-truths always mean that I’m being manipulated for reasons that rarely have to do with my best interest.

-- I know that Los Osos has been failed repeatedly by the very governmental agencies that should have served as a safety net to keep well meaning but non-expert elected Boards out of inadvertent harm’s way. Instead, Los Osos has been like the drowning man who, instead of being helped and rescued by trained lifeguards, has seen rescuers row out one after another, not to save, but to bash the drowning man over the head with an oar.

-- And finally, I know that the mechanisms of democracy – initiatives, recalls, voting, petitioning our government for redress – are alive and well. And I know, as messy and often hideous as the process is, it is absolutely amazing to me that so many people in Los Osos still take their right to self-government so seriously. I can only hope that the rest of the community treats their precious right to vote in the same serious way.

Note: As of 10 pm. Tuesday night, the three CSD candidates had been recalled and the sewer initiative was ahead by a slim margin. Final tallies won't be known until tomorrow. In my previous posting, I wondered if my fellow Los Ososians were sheep or growly bears. I now have my answer.
Decision Day

To be persuasive, we must be believable. To be believable, we must be credible. To be credible, we must be truthful.
Edward R. Murrow

If the citizens of Los Osos vote for the recall and vote for the sewer initiative, we will have witnessed something absolutely astonishing: A community waking up and changing the status quo in the face of very powerful, entrenched opposition. It will be a community that saw through all the hokum, spin, fear tactics, finally understood that nobody would save them except themselves, that they understood that the right lie said at the right time cannot be undone by any government agency. Not even the law can correct that original lie. That is a job for the people alone, if they’re smart enough and fearless enough to change course to avert disaster for themselves and their community.

That the recall and initiative ever reached a ballot is, in itself, a remarkable feat. People HATE recalls. They hate making waves, they hate having to think their elected officials are heading in the wrong direction, they hate having to do anything about anything. Too often, they don’t know, don’t care and don’t care to know. And, more often than not, they’ll work overtime NOT to know. Denial is a powerful human instinct.

So, instead of doing the hard work of changing a bad situation, they will endure the worst policy decisions, decisions that can end up costing them their fortune and their life, and instead just hunker down and wait it all out or shrug cynically and say, “Oh, well, what can you do? Guess we’ll just have to go along with it.”

Even more telling is simple human nature itself. People tend to divide into two camps: The larger majority consists of people who obey; they do what they’re told, they do not question authority, but instead assume authority is truthful and has their best interest at heart. The other, slightly smaller camp consists of people who challenge everything, they do not obey without sound reason, they won’t do as they're told until and unless they have proof that whatever it is they’re suppose to be obeying will be of benefit to them and, above all, they know from hard experience, governments lie.

What will be of interest here in Los Osos will be to see three numbers: How many people did NOT vote (don’t know, don’t care, don’t care to know) and how many voted for the status quo and how many voted for change. In short, is Los Osos filled with sheep or growly bears?

The status-quo “Save The Dream” campaign has certainly offered a clear insight into a mind frame that views the members of this community, not as serious, adult citizens needing accurate, truthful information on a complex and town-changing civic project, but as marks to be manipulated with slick Madison Avenue advertising ploys and totally misleading and flatly untruthful ads. In short, the Save The Dreamers view me, for example, as nothing but a mark waiting to be fleeced; a sucker with “hot-buttons” to be pushed, prey to fear and easily stampeded into a panic with ginned up “threats” and phony scare tactics. I am not a citizen, just a customer to be sold overpriced soap.

I always find such information nice to know, because it also allows a glimpse into the ethical standards at work by the group putting out such phony baloney. It also shows what lengths they’ll go to maintain the status quo. Which always begs the question: If the status quo is so wonderful, why lie about it? Why all the ginned up hokum? Why would threats be necessary to keep everyone in line if the status quo is so grand? And why should I believe people who have demonstrated they have no ethical standards and who keep repeatedly lying to me?

Well, it’s now in the hands of the citizens of this fair burg – my Beloved Bangladesh By The Bay. And for now, Edward R. Morrow's closing tag line -- “Good night, and good luck” -- is most suitable.

Good Luck? Los Osos will need it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Where's Waldo?

Ok, all you Los Osos Kiddies. While we wait for the voting to begin, take the gum out of your hair and let's go down to the Tri-W site and look at the pretty rendering hanging on the fence. See it? Isn't it nice? I'm not exactly sure when a sewage treatment plant gets to be called a "Resource Park." It probably has something to do with "Spin." I know, let's ask our town's new Public Information Officer, Mike Drake, to 'splain that to us. Mike's promised never to spin anything so he must know all about spin and hokum and phonied-up renderings.

But until we can find Mike, here's the new game. I want everyone to look really, really hard and find the sewage treatment plant in the "artist's rendering." I see lots of bushes and trees and water-color washes of clouds and sky. Very pretty. There's some people and a dog and three vertical lines way in the back that I think is supposed to represent the PG&E towers over in Morro Bay. But, wait, is that it? Is that line peeking out from behind all those huge trees and shrubs supposed to indicate a building of some sort? Or maybe a fog line? A clothes line? A line in the sand? Whaaattt?

See, isn't this fun? And remember, your tax dollars went to pay for this "artist's rendering," a rendering that's supposed to give citizens a realistic and accurate idea of what this site will look like once the project is built.

Now, boys and girls, can you say "hokum?" How about "misleading?" Very good. Now, put the gum back in your hair and go vote.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Loved the recent post-card mailing from the Trust the Truth Crowd. You know the one? Had a lovely, soft-wash watercolor rendering of a bunch of bushes and shrubs and a figure with a dog on a leash on the top part, and beneath that illustration was a stark rendering of rows of GINORMOUS BUILDINGS seemingly marching on forever and ever world without end amen. Beneath the gentle dog-walking landscape the card asked whether you would rather have this lovely landscape of bushes and trees on the Tri W site OR, as shown in the lower panel, the rendering of a dystopian HIDEOUS UGLY-ON-A-STICK GINORMOUS THIRTY-FIVE FOOT TALL STRIP MALL HIDE THE CHILDREN WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE.

Barely showing in the background of the soft-focus sylvan setting ( with dog) was the vaguest outline and hint that there might be, back there behind the veridian wash and scumble, is it? can it be? Oh no, it can't be, yes, it must be ONE OF THOSE FORTY FOOT TALL SEWER TREATMENT PLANT BUILDINGS. (Remember the storey poles stuck up at the Tri W site to try to give the community an indication of how high some of those building were really gonna be since the the original "drop-dead gorgeous and buried" plans turned out to be "bait & switchy" (not buried), but the poles were too thin to support their weight and so bowed down so much that nobody had much idea just how tall things were going to get and instead the whole thing looked like some weird Claus Oldenberg art piece set in a field of veldt grass and everybody whined about the cost of the damned thing that couldn't even be donated to the Met for a tax write off, fer crying out loud?)

Yes, I knew you'd remember. So, there it was, fresh from the mailbox. The recipient of the card, a card from the Trust the Truth Crowd, was being asked to choose between shrubbery with FORTY FOOT TALL SEWER BUILDINGS or THIRTY-FIVE TALL STRIP MALLS!

Fortunately, a few days later, there arrived another card from the Recall Committee Crowd that pointed out that the hideous 35 foot tall strip mall presented on the Trust the Truth Crowd's card was, ummm, let's see if I can put this as nicely as possible, hmmm, well, they used the word "lie," because current zoning puts height limits of 28' feet on any buildings at the site, including hideous strip malls, and noted that even hideous strip malls would have to conform to a bazillion rules on "visually sensitive corridor conditions," and etc.

Well, darn, said I, gazing at the two cards. If I can't trust the Trust the Truth Crowd, who am I gonna trust? Then I remembered the words of that old mot: Never eat at a place called "Mom's," never play cards with a guy named "Slim," and never marry somebody with more problems than you.

To which I will have to add: If somebody asks you to Trust the Truth, you'd better lock up your daughter and count the silverware.

But, I did like the nice drawing the of the dog.

Friday, September 23, 2005

"Step Away From The Televison Set, Los Osos. CSD General Manager Bruce Buel has decided You've Seen Enough!"

Uh, oh, remember when the LOCSD voted to pick the next to the last possible date for the recall election and audience members said No! No! schedule the election earlier so the public can weigh in before the CSD starts pounding all their nice tax money into the ground, and the CSD said No! No! we need to give enough time for the community to get "educated" about the issues, and CSD General Manager Buel said it was really, reeeeely important for the community to get "educated" about the issues and a later date would allow for all that "education?"

Well, Los Osos, Mr. Buel has decided you've had enough education so he's pulling the plug on public access Channel 20. Instead of lots of Both Sides yakking away in various forums and/or presenting various "educational" discussions -- Woa, all that education going on! -- Buel has decided to shut it all down and only play miscellaneous government meetings until the election is over.

Why? Because "It is my belief that we have shared enough of both sides of the debate."

There you have it, Los Osos. Your unelected District Manager has decided that You've Had Enough Education! Now, run along Boys & Girls, it's time for your milk and cookies and then -- Yaaaayyy! nap time!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

“Put the Spin Machine down, Mr. Drake, and step away from the computer and nobody will get hurt. O.K. Sure, it could be considered ‘material misrepresentation or insurance fraud.’ Let’s just not talk about it any more, O.K?” Part Duh.

So, first the Los Osos CSD votes to pay for a bond at a special hurry-hurry 8 a.m. meeting to cover the cost of returning the graded Tri-W site to a condition of safety and to stop any erosion problems, should the recall succeed and the digging and grading is stopped, and CSD Board Member, Tacker, gets on the phone and calls Insco/Dico, the company that was going to issue the bond, and asks: “Did you know that property in question is ESHA, has some lawsuits on it, a recall hurtling down the pike, & etc?” And Insco/Dico says, WHAAAAA. . .???? and soon there follows the skitter-skatter of little Insco/Dico feet galloping down Glendale Blvd. saying, “Nuh-huh we changed our minds, we’re outta here hasta la vista we must away to France!” (See my blog post of Sept 13)

So then the district shops around and finds some other company to buy the bond from, this time Safeco, and Board Member Tacker calls them and they say, “Uh, oh, wait, something’s not kosher here, we’ll get back to you click!” And then there’s some thrashing around in the Los Osos bushes and ka-poof! next thing you know a bond is secured BUT, magically, this time Monterey Mechanical is listed as a co-principal with the CSD and Tacker tells the Bay News that she has to conclude that this was done so the bond could be secured for less than $5,000 because anything over $5,000 would require a public meeting with the full board and that would mean that the &%#@#^&#*#! public would show up and ask a whole bunch of #@%#@*! questions.

Then emails start flying accusing Tacker of “contractual interference,” with our very own Public Information Officer, Mr. “No Spin” Michael Drake saying of Tacker, “The issue we’re looking into is her intervention following board approval. She is kind of countermanding and superceding the board’s wishes.”

“ . . . kind of countermanding?” Asking if a bonding company knew the property they were supposed to be insuring for X amount was property that was actually a big mess and should have been insured for Y amount is “kind of countermanding?” Well, no matter. Mr. Drake went on to say, “It may not be illegal, but it’s unethical. The matter is being looked into for legal ramifications and liability.”

Then Michael Wright, owner of the Michael Wright Insurance Agency, chimes in by observing that “ . . . the district’s failure to discuss all the facts surround the property could be construed as material misrepresentation or insurance fraud.”

Insurance fraud? Or maybe we should say, kind of insurance fraud? Or kind of material misrepesentation?

Which does raise a critical issue: If you buy fire insurance and state on the form that you live in a brick house twenty-five feet from a fire hydrant and don’t smoke, and you sign that application and the company issues you a fire policy and your house burns down and it turns out you live in a straw house five miles from the nearest hydrant, smoke like a chimney AND you store gasoline in your basement and the insurance company says, “Whoa, we’re outta here, we’re not gonna make good on this policy since you kind of lied about really important facts bye-bye we’re off to France,” then there you are, stuck with having to pay out of pocket for all the damage. Which is exactly the pickle the good citizens of Los Osos could have ended up in, had Tacker not made that “unethical” phone call.

So, Bay News reporter, Jack Beardwood, writes this all up in the Sept 21 edition and closes with this: “Attempts to cast more light on the matter were declined by Drake, who refused to discuss the second bond arrangement, saying they didn’t want to comment because of possible legal ramifications caused by Tacker’s interference. ‘We don’t want a whole lot out on this,’ he said."

Gosh, I’ll say not. I wouldn’t want a whole lot out on this either. It might start people asking questions.

Mum's the word, Mike! Now, let’s start the Spin Machine back up. And can we have bubbles and accordion music with it this time?

UPDATE (9/23): For more on the wonderful "bait & switch" scheme -- the one that made sure all those little tots that are overrunning Los Osos got a multi-million dollar Tot Lot next to their sewer treatment plant in the middle of their town (paid for by the prohibition zone folks only but enjoyed by tots all over town) see Ron Crawford's new post at: Ah, Trust the Truth! Read and learn! Then it's time for milk and cookies and a little nappy-poo.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Once Again, What's in a Date?

Update from an email of 9/17 from Ron Crawford regarding my previous post: "The Questa Study was actually completed in June of 1998" . . . "The October 1998 study was the CCC's [California Coastal Commission] own comparison that corroborated the Questa Study. Also, something called "The Working Group," that included members of the CCC, the county, the RWQCB, and, of course, The Solutions Group, met several times throughout 1998. All those people, with the exception of the Solution Group, were extremely critical of the Community Plan.

". . . the Community Plan fell apart for the exact same reasons that all of those credible, professional people said it would. But not before the solution Group sold it to Los Osos in the run-up to the election, then the initial CSD Board, that included 3 Solution Group members, wasted two years chasing it."

Now, a question. Did the ad campaings that linked the $35 million "affordable" Faster! Better! Cheaper! system to the formation of the CSD leave a whole lot of important, vital information OUT of the campaign -- i.e. the critical studies and $78 million (not $35) costs mentioned in the report? Who ran that original campaign? Would it be fair to say that the campaign DID NOT give the community fair, honest full disclosure vis a vis their proposed plan? Are any of the players in that original CSD formation/Solutions Group campaign now involved with the present Save the Dream campaign?

Misleading once? Misleading twice?

Maybe the people in Los Osos should start wondering about the "Truth" they're being told to "Trust." Then start counting their silverware.

9/20: Update of my "What's in a Date?" post: I received word today that the Bay News will publish Ron Crawford's "rebuttal" to Mr. Karner's Viepoint after all in their Wednesday, Sept 21st edition. The mix up involved publication deadlines, not a refusal to consider the piece.

What's in a Date? Or, Why IS 1998 more important than 1999 to the good folks of Los Osos?

If anybody in Los Osos, which is now engaged in the Hideous Sewer Wars, read Gary Karner's "Viewpoint" in the Sept 7, 2005 Bay News, they might want to click over to and read Ron Crawford's rebuttal to that viewpoint. According to Ron, the Bay News declined to print his rebuttal in favor of another opinion piece by the Karners. Which is a shame -- and a puzzle -- because that date does need a rebuttal of its own.

The frontspiece of the Coastal Commission's report in question has printed right on it the date, October 23, 1998. One year before Mr. Karner says the proposed Ponds of Avalon were critiqued by Questa Engineering the the California Costal Commission.

Why is that important to understanding the history of this hideous sewer project? I suggest you click onto Ron's blog and find out. Makes for interesting reading and I sure hope Mr. Karner can explain the discrepancy and answer Ron's basic question: Did the (faster! better! cheaper! "Solutions Group" know, a year in advance, that their Ponds of Avalon wouldn't work? I sure don't remember hearing anything at the time about this report. Do you? So, what gives?

[UPDATE: From a 9/17 email clarification by Ron Crawford: "The Questa Study was actually completed in June of 1998" . . . [It can be downloaded from Ron's website, I believe] . . . " -- very interesting document). The October 1998 study was the CCC's [California Coastal Commission] own comparison that corroborated the Questa Study. Also, something called "The Working Group," that included members of the CCC, the county, the RWQCB, and, of course, The Solutions Group, met several times throughout 1998. All those people, with the exception of the Solution Group, were extremely critical of the Community Plan.

" . . . the Community Plan fell apart for the exact same reasons that all of those credible, professional people said it would. But not before the Solution Group sold it to Los Osos in the run-up to the election, then the initial CSD Board, that included 3 Solution Group members, wasted two years chasing it."

Again my question: Do you remember anyone talking about these reports BEFORE the CSD formation election? Any mention that the Solutions Group Plan was estimated to be $78 million (versus the County plan's $85 million cost. ? $78 million? I don't remember that figure. I do remember being repeatedly told $35 million. Ah, that magic number.

Which makes me wonder. If the ad campaign that linked the $35 million affordable system to the formation of the CSD left someting really, really important out -- i.e. the critical Studies and costs mentioned above -- who ran that campaign? Would it be fair to say they were less than honest with the community vis a vis full disclosure? Are any of the players involved with that original CSD formation election campaign also involved with the Save the Dream campaign?

Misleading once? Misleading twice?

Maybe people in Los Osos should start wondering about the "Truth" they're being told to "Trust." Then start counting the silverware.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bleep You AND The Horse You Rode In On

Did you watch the great eucalyptus trees at the Tri W site groan and strain and finally fall under the power of the grubbing Cats? If you wanted to get a clear message of what the Los Osos CSD Board majority thinks of the citizens of this fair burg, then the title of this column would just about fit the bill. In fact, it doesn’t get any clearer.

CSD Director Tacker emailed CSD President Gustafson to ask for an emergency public meeting and Board vote regarding cutting the trees town before the recall election, before the citizens could even weigh in with their votes. NO! All kinds of citizens marched and held vigils and called the CSD office asking for a postponement of the cutting until after the election, a scant three weeks away. NO! Countless community members urged the CSD Board majority to hold off on doing anything irrevocable until their votes were cast on the 27th. NO! No, nope, nuh-huh, not interested, talk to the hand, not listening, don’t care, go away, shut up, Bleep you and the horse you rode in on.

Instead of good public policy and a piece of smart politics, what I saw in the great tree fall was a hissy-fit of pique by three directors enraged that enough members of their community (over 20% certified by the elections office) disagreed with their governance to get a recall as well as a Sewer Initiative on the ballot. Instead of taking a deep breath and pausing until the whole community could be heard from, they appeared hell-bent on a deliberate process of pounding as much State Loan Money into the ground as quickly possible, doing as much irrevocable damage as possible, inflicting as much lasting physical and financial damage as possible so that they could turn around and blandly argue that voters shouldn’t bother voting since it would be a shame to waste all that money and anyway, the trees are already dead, so bleep you, bleep your horse. The tin-eared message couldn’t get any clearer than that.

Sadly, no matter the election’s outcome, the actions of the Board majority in the simple matter of the trees has turned it into a Pyrrhic victory, evil and bitter, unforgivable and entirely unnecessary. That is the tragedy of what this Board majority has done and is still doing.

Even the Tribune couldn’t crank up much enthusiasm for this project in their tepid Sept 4 editorial. It failed to deal substantively with the Why of the recall and curiously avoided any discussion on the Sewer Initiative altogether. Instead of investigating and updating and verifying the recently proposed out-of-town plans and sites, it merely trotted out the old false mantras and speculated on the tired ginned-up threats before it finally wimped into a weasley whine: Yes, it’s a bad deal, but just roll over and swallow it because we’re sick of hearing about it. Bleep you. Bleep your horse. Los Osos doesn’t deserve anything more than tired expediency.

Certainly, there is a group out here that is wildly enthusiastic about putting a sewer plant in the middle of town. Yes, it’s the thousands of anxious tots who are clamoring for a Tot Lot to be built next to their new sewer plant (one of the reasons given to the Coastal Commission for demanding the plant stay in the middle of town – play space for the little tikes).

Next, there’s the Dream Team. According to an August 24th Bay News story, the “Save The Dream” team has amassed a $34,700 political campaign war chest, with 36% of the money raised coming from developers and real estate professionals. This certainly makes sense because in the economic cleansing that will take place when the sewer bills arrive, a whole lot of people forced to sell their homes will need the services of a good realtor. So, it’s only smart that realtors and developers should contribute to a campaign to make sure Los Osos gets a sewer plant in the middle of itself as soon as possible.

I don’t have a war chest. But thanks to the efforts of a lot of citizens who put their signatures on recall petitions and a sewer initiative, I have finally been given something far more precious – one chance and one chance only on September 27 to ask and answer one simple question: “Do I really want an industrial-sized sewage treatment plant built in the middle of my town?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"Put the phone down, Ms. Tacker, and step away from the door and nobody will get hurt. It was a mere oversight. ESHA, SMESHA, who can keep all this stuff straight and why would a bonding company need to know that kinda crap anyway? Geeeze!"

Well, it seems after yesterday morning's special 8 a.m. meeting to get a CSD Board vote on spending $4,501.20 to buy a Performance Bond that would get the CSD $225,060.00 worth of "restoration work" (i.e. safety and erosion control only, no cute little treelings and shrubbery, an image that usually pops into your head when you hear the word "restore") in case the recall and/ or sewer initiative passes and work on the Tri W site stops and things are left in a mell of a hess.

Board member Tacker stated at the meeting that she wasn't sure the $225,060 would be enough and inquired as to whether CSD General Manager Buel had sent along all the ESHA info on the land in question to the bond company (since, I presume, ESHA land comes with waaaaayyyy more headaches -- ie. mo' money! mo' money!-- required to "restore" it). Mr. Buel said he'd sent along an excerpt of an EIR summary, or some such.

So, the plot thickens as Board member Tacker calls the bonding company, The Insco-Dico Group and speaks to someone there and asks, Did you get the documentation that this property you're bonding was ESHA? And the person on the other end of the phone says, "Huh? What are you talking about? What ESHA?"

And then the you know what hits the you know what and ka-blooey, the next thing anyone could hear is the pitty-pat of all those Insco Dico Group's little feet as they yanked the agreement and headed for the door muttering, "Nuh, huh, we changed our mind we're outta here buh-bye no tickee no washee no deal no dice hava nice life hasta la vista see ya later we just remembered we gotta go to France!" and thundered down the stairs from Suite 105 and headed down Glendale Blvd, spatta-spatta-spatta!

So, no bond. No bond, no grading. Just grubbing and scraping, with the big cats going pockety-pockety, potketa, until some new bonding company can be found.

Which might get a little dicy since if word of this gets out, bond people might ask, Hey, if you "forgot" to mention "whether there are any unusual environmental issues with these sites, beyond being some sort of sewer treatment facility," like it said on the Insco/Dico Group's fax of August 23, 2005, then we gotta ask What else have you, uh, forgotten to mention that we could get stuck with should things go ker-flooey so we'll hafta charge you pots more money?"

Thus demonstrating yet again that Honesty is always the best and the cheapest policy in the long run. And, meantime, don't be surprised to read in the police report that Board member Tacker's cell phone has gone mysteriously missing.

Hey, don't look at me. I didn't take it!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Is it Spin or just Bad Information?

The Los Osos CSD held an "emergency" [Special] 8 a.m. board meeting this morning to vote on spending $4,501.20 for a Performance Bond that will buy $225,060.00 worth of "Restoration Work" at the Tri-W site (to be scraped clean and contoured), the Broderson discharge site (filled with thick chaparral, to be prepped for wastewater discharge) and the staging area on 18th and Pismo [correction: Not 18th and Pismo, it's the South Bay Well Site at Nipomo & South Bay Blvd.] IF the recall and/or Sewer Initiative election results in work being stopped at those sites. The contractors were standing by their equipment at Tri W early this morning waiting for the vote so they could continue their grading work. General Manager, Bruce Buel, had originally believed he didn't need a Board vote to go ahead and buy the bonding coverage, but turns out that he was mistaken. So a rote vote was taken (no surprises there -- Tacker voted no because she wanted the Board to wait until after the election and Gustafson, LeGros & Hensley voted yes, with Schicker unable to stay for the meeting, due to work commitments.)

The interesting wrinkle came when it became clear that the performance bond document voted on ONLY covered restoring the site to a "non-erosive and non-hazardous condition" should work be stopped. There might be some hydroseeding just to keep erosion down, but that's it. No trees, no bushes, no "restoration" of all the plant life destroyed, no mention of "natural contours." Nothing but minimum safety and erosion control at the sites.

What made that so interesting was in a August 24th Bay News story on the tree cutting at the Tri-W site, our own Public Information Office, Mike Drake, was quoted as saying that, " . . the site is restored to its natural contour, if the project is ultimately not built at the Tri-W site. . . . If trees are felled, they would be replaced by seedlings of native species."

Uh, not according to the Performance Agreement voted on today and the information discussed at this morning's meeting. The bond only brings the land back to "safe condition" to prevent flooding or soil erosion. That's it.

So, after the meeting, I asked Mr. Drake who told him about seedlings of native species or trees & etc. Well, darned if he couldn't remember since he attends so many meetings. He thought it might have been something the contractors might have told him? But he wasn't sure.

So, here's the question: Could the bucolic image of tree seedlings and natural contours (instead of bare scraped earth mooshed into a bare-bones minimum grading for erosion control and safety, with maybe some hydoseeding thrown on it) be considered "spin?" Or did our PIO get the wrong information from a vague source (a contractor, maybe?) who may or may not have known what the heck he was talking about? Spin? Or bad info? Dang! Don't you hate when that happens?

Meantime, by voting to proceed with the deep grading and trenching, the CSD's vote this morning once again indicated their care and concern for the community's opinion on the matter. And, by refusing to do the least amount of irreparable damage before the election, they've ensured that the sites will remain a destroyed mess for years, should the recall succeed.

Depending on the election's outcome, it could be considered the CSD's little gift to the community, one that could go on giving for years and years. Gosh, thanks.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Camelot Comes to Los Osos

“What do the simple folk dooooo /
to help them escape when they’re bloooooo . . . “

Ah, the noblesse obligeness of it all. In the Sept 10th Tribune is a touching story about the Los Osos Low Income Assistance Fund, $136,000 of private donated funds that will be made available to the deserving poor to help them pay for the $1,400 - $4,500 needed to decommission their septic tanks and hook up laterals to the $150-plus million Hideous Los Osos Sewer.

The story doesn’t say whether the over 700 households that may qualify would be expected to repay the money or whether it would be a gift. But let’s say the assistance would come in the form of a super low-cost loan and they’d be able to pay it back at the rate of $5 -$10 a month. A modest, affordable sum, wouldn’t you say, for someone who’s poor enough to qualify?

Ten dollars a month may be doable for really poor folks, so doesn’t this sound like a wonderful program? So considerate to help our community’s needy – the elderly or disabled folks on fixed incomes, the hard working “working-poor,” and so forth -- face this crushing financial burden, maybe even making it possible that they wouldn’t have to sell everything and move away. A sort of sweet noblesse oblige at work here. The sort of story intended to bring a tear to the eye, a story that one might think had been spun out right before a recall election to help the reader think that the CSD members being recalled actually cared a foodle about the estimated 30% of the town that would qualify as “bereft serf,” people facing financial ruin by this project, people who may be forced out of town. Downright tearjerking, if you ask me.

What's that? Ah, yes, I knew you had spotted it. No getting things past you, now is there?

If you are so poor you cannot possibly afford, let’s say, $10 a month to repay your sewer hook-up loan, what on earth are you going to do when the next month – and every month after that until the end of time – you get an additional $120 to $140 PLUS $40-plus bill from the CSD water office to repay the sewer construction loan and operating and maintenance expenses? And after a few months of not paying up, a lien is placed on your house and it's sold out from under you to pay off the rapidly accumulated debt, so you’re left to wonder why did you bother getting a hook-up loan since you had no way to possibly pay the far higher real sewer bill?

Yet there it is. Our CSD and the kind folks who set up this assistance fund, and Mike, our "No Spin” Public Information Officer, actually want the public to believe that people who are too poor to afford the $10 a month hook-up costs, will have no trouble paying the $160 to $180 monthly sewer bill.


Oh what do simple folk dooooooo. . . .? They dance, Arthur. THEY DANCE!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

So, what's it gonna be? Money for our Sewer Tot Lot? Or relief for victims of Katrina? Hmmm, let me think. . . .

Oh, dear, as if it couldn't get sillier, do wander over to for Ron Crawford's pointed observation that the Tribune's editorial board has gotten muddled up again.
The Tribune apparently thinks that money in Washington grows on trees and our representatives will place at the top of their pork-gathering priorities the task of finding millions to fund our Sewer Tot Lot over, say, cutting that porkish money for more pressing needs, like helping hurricaine victims. And if the money isn't forthcoming for our multi-million dollar Sewer Tot Lot, guess who'll have to pay for it themselves?

Hmmm, . . . Wait, no hints now . . .

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Eeek! They’re “misappropriating my public funds!” Call the Fair Political Practices Cops! Oh, wait, they’re all out to lunch. Call the DA!. No, he doesn’t give a foodle. Call my lawyer! I’ll file a criminal complaint myself! Ah, now you’re talking.

Ah, yes, the CSD is at it again. On the local public TV channel, they’ve been using taxpayer money to run excerpts from one of the reeeeellly scary Regional Water Quality Control Board’s letters threatening Los Osos with FINES! FINES! FINES! if they don’t do as they’re told, doo-dee-dooo-doo, doo-dee-doooo-doo.

So, what’s wrong with that, you might ask, since it’s perfectly proper to use tax payer money to air “factual information” about an upcoming election? Ah, well, let’s listen to what Julie Hayward Biggs of Burke, Williams & Sorensen (Attorneys at Law) has to say about what the CSD is up to in a letter addressed to Jon Seitz, Esq. (The CSD's attorney) dated August 23, 2005:

“While superficially it [the ad]purports simply to recount portions of letters received by the District relating to the wastewater treatment facilities project, in fact it presents a one-sided view of the status of that project and is clearly designed to frighten and dissuade citizens from supporting the upcoming recall and initiative elections. Although the District has cleverly not made comments in that regard, the presentation of only these letters during the 30 days prior to the upcoming elections is disingenuous. The violation of the law exposes those individual employees and directors who have authorized or participated in the airing of the commercial to significant legal liability for misappropriation of public funds under the provisions of Penal Code Section 504.”

Disingenuous? Our very own CSD, Disingenous?? Why, we’re shocked – SHOCKED!

Ms. Biggs goes on, “While it has been argued by representatives of the district, including its Public Information Official [that’d be Mike Drake who, if you recall, promised NO SPIN, remember?], that the commercial that has been prepared by the District at District expense and direction is merely ‘informational,’ there can be no question that it is one-sided and biased and does not provide information on both sides of the issue.” . . . Furthermore, she notes that a “. . . legislative body can legally vote to support or oppose a measure or cause without engaging in illegal advocacy of a partisan position and without making an improper expenditure of public funds. . . . That is not what has happened here. The commercial has apparently been prepared without notification to the Board and represents a distinct change in programming. No debate is presented, simply purported negative consequences that the majority of the Board wish the public to believe will occur if the recall and initiative are passed. . . . The abuse of power represented by this latest attempt to threaten and intimate the public with misleading information is unfortunately the hallmark of the current District Board majority and management.”

She then goes on to note that the District Attorney, the Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission will be notified in hopes that they’ll take some action.

Bwa-hahahahah. At least so far as the FPPC is concerned, they’ll take action somewhere around the year 3025, maybe. With luck, Ms. Biggs will get a bed-bug, boiler-plate letter from them, a letter that views with alarm and points with dismay and tisk-tisks that my, my isn’t it all unfortunate but alas, since the election is now over and is like, so moot, why then, we needn’t take any action at this time. Perhaps in the year 4075 or something.

And I won’t hold my breath waiting to hear from the DA’s.

On the 24th of August, Bruce Buel, the General Manager of the CSD, got a similar letter from “Californians Aware, The Center for Public Forum Rights.” It basically notes the same problem of using public resources for partisan, biased, not-really-informational informational commercials using public money. The author of that missive, Terry Francke, General Counsel of Californians Aware, states that he personally has no stake in this ballot measure, but does note that “any person holding a competing conviction could file a criminal complaint under Section 8314,” so Mr. Buel and the CSD Directors “may wish to reconsider using public resources to produce this selective alarm.”(The selective alarm being the EEEK!EEEK!FINES!FINES RWQCB letter excerpts intending to scare the panties off the community, do-deee dooo-doo, do-deee-dooo-do) but only in an “informational” way, mind you.)

In other words, if there’s someone out there in Los Osos Land who’s really ticked off that Mr. Buel and certain CSD Board members are misusing public funds, he or she should file a criminal complaint.

Gosh, I sure hope somebody does because that would be a wonderful example of the Laws of Karma at work. If you recall, dear and gentle blog-gazer, two members of the CSD Board filed a ridiculous, ginned up restraining order against a local businessman in order to shut him up, then withdrew it saying, oh, well, nevermind. Finding themselves on the service end of a criminal complaint would strike a nice balance, methinks.

Meantime, our well paid No Spin Public Information Officer needs to do a little No Spin ‘splaining, mainly how it's possible for such a well paid guy like him not to know the ad coming out of his office wouldn't set off alarm bells all over town. The law is very clear on this matter. Whatever tax money is spent on anything involving a political issue, bond campaigns, initiatives, etc. must not only be factual and accurate, but it must be fair and balanced.

Clearly, these commercials aren’t, hence two – count ‘em TWO – letters from two attorneys. But will our CSD pay any attention? Naw. Will our dear and gentle citizens be gulled by the misleading spin going out over the airwaves?

Ah, I can’t say. We’ll have to wait and find that out on Sept 27.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

NO! NO! Mummy, pleeeeze don't let that mean judge actually make me PAY for my Sewer Plant Tot Lot!

For another interesting wrinkle in the Hideous Sewer Wars, go to for Ron Crawford's interesting question concerning the recent legal ruling on the Cloister's "public" park in Morro Bay. Will Los Osos residents face the same legal challenge? Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Duck & Cover: Incoming!

It’s a good thing our newly hired CSD Public Information Officer is a veteran of Desert Storm. Landing in the hot zone of the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Wars, such experience will stand Mike Drake in good stead. But in the verbal wars now underway with the pro and anti-Recall election and Sewer Initiative campaign underway, I’m afraid he’s already made a horrible blunder.

In the August 10th issue of the Bay News, he’s quoted as saying, “Whether it’s good news or bad news, I don’t spin it no matter what.” Oh, Dear. If Mr. Drake actually believes that, he’s probably found out by now that he’s landed in the wrong town, at the wrong time, in the wrong job because being an Information Officer for the Hideous Sewer Project has to involve spin because somewhere along the line the Hideous Sewer Project itself became nothing but spin.

I’m not quite sure just when that happened, but as it stands now, this Ginormous Sewer Plant In The Middle Of Town has become nothing but a spinning miasmic cloud of smoke and mirrors trailing footnotes and addenda like a diva trailing her feather boa. There is no way anyone can honestly, truthfully and “spinlessly” discuss the issue without pages of caveats, chapters of cautions, selective omissions, careful conflations, volumes of contradictory qualifiers and a credulity that allows one to swallow as true the most absurd things. In short, the only clear thing anyone can say about the Hideous Los Osos Sewer is that it is located smack dab in the middle of the Spin Zone.

Even a seasoned combat veteran and public relations word-crafter like Mr. Drake had better pack a sandwich and bring a flashlight when he leaves the house every morning to go to work. Like the Bermuda Triangle, the Sewer Spin Zone has been known to swallow up people whole only to have them pop out in some other dimension years later babbling about pies flying in the skies. You can see these Sewer Spin Zone Veterans wandering the streets of our town buttonholing anyone they can to ask Famous Unanswerable Sewer Koans.

For example, the CSD has staunchly, adamantly maintained, to the Coastal Commission, among other permitting agencies, that keeping the sewer plant in the middle of town reflects a “strongly held community value” of wanting a much needed, centrally located public park, a park that will include a Tot Lot built next to this busy, industrial sized sewage treatment plant. No central location, no desperately needed Tot Lot.

In reality, young families with lots of tots have moved away from Los Osos because they can’t afford to live here. Sunnyside Grammar School has been closed due to the lack of tots. The town is filling up with aging baby boomers, but no tots. Yet we are told the sewer plant MUST stay in the middle of town so it can have a conveniently located, strongly held community value Tot Lot built next to it.

You see the problem? How do you explain that without spin? Right. It can’t be done.

And if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Mr. Drake is now stuck with the difficult subtext of trying to “neutrally” “explain” things to a community that’s in the middle of a heated campaign to recall three of his bosses, a community where many have lost trust in their elected officials and lost faith in anything coming out of the CSD office. Trickier yet, these various taxpayer-financed bulletins legally must be accurate, no-spin, non-advocacy, factual information-only publications. Alas, everything in the Sewer Spin Zone is positively Byzantine, so, practically speaking, simple, accurate “no-spin” anythings are impossible. Happily, the laws concerning such non-campaign campaigns have enough loopholes in them that a savvy Public Information Officer can legally drive a whole fleet of plausibly deniable, properly spun “advocacy” Humvees through them while using our tax money to do it.

After all, a spin-free, accurate, information-only campaign for or against the recall and for or against the sewer initiative would require all those pages of caveats, chapters of cautions, selected omissions, careful conflations, volumes of contradictory qualifiers and files of footnotes. Which means we’d end up with TV spots lasting for hours and campaign literature too heavy to lift off the porch. And can you imagine the number of campaign posters you’d need? Thousands, all trailing off down the Los Osos Valley Road like those old Burma Shave signs, endlessly ‘splaining and ‘splaining all those No-Spin details.