Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Sewer Phreaks might want to check out a new posting of Ron's Really Cool Questions for the Coastal Commission over at But I wouldn't reccommend holding your breath before an answer arrives or action is taken. Might turn blue in the face and fall over a whole lot. And why would I say that? Because to answer Ron's questions would require that the Coastal Commission do their job and in this case, doing their job would require that they go back and correct a decision that came about because they DIDN'T do their job. And that's always embarrassing, which is why such correctives rarely get done.

Monday, February 27, 2006

For SewerPhreaks, please go back to the main page and click onto the Los Osos Views Link and read the Saturday, Feb. 25, 06 posting. Very interesting. Especially in light of the Mad Waste WATER Pumping Scheme being proposed by the RWQCB. That proposal, being put forth under the Cease & Desist Orders and coming up for a hearing March 23, sure makes you wonder what happened to Science & Sense. I suspect it was the first victim in our Great Hideous Sewer Wars. Too bad.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Stood Up

Well, dang! I’m sitting here perusing the bright yellow Taxpayers’ Watch flyer, the one that undoubtedly convinced 2,000 of my fellow citizens to sign the Dissolve the CSD petitions the Taxpayers’ Watch has been passing around, you know, the one that conflates rejoining the county with stopping the Cease & Desist Orders, like Taxpayers Watch didn’t and doesn’t want the signer to know that the RWQCB officially, on the record, has stated that dissolving the CSD and stopping the CDOs are utterly disconnected, that one has nothing to do with the other, so then, since I’m scared and confused and since at least one of the Taxpayers’ Watchers has told me personally that he KNOWS Roger Briggs of the RWQCB would stop the CDOs the minute the county took over and additionally he KNOWS the county will take over and immediately start building the Tri-W sewer plant in the middle of town, and when I asked him how he “knows” that, he started backpedaling, Uh, er, Um, but heck, I’m confused and so scared of that big meanie Briggs so I’m not thinking straight, and then there’s Joyce Albright, chairperson of Taxpayers’ Watch in her Feb 22 letter to the Tribune editor stating as fact that “the old project is not dead. It will be resurrected by the county and permits reissued,” despite the statements by the RWQCB’s prosecution staff that they know of no county project or plans to build anything anywhere, so now I’m really confused, facts, lies, spin, conflation, oh, what’s a person to do, and there at the bottom of the bright yellow Dissolution Flyer it conflates “safety” with signing the petition and says I should sign the petition and CONVINCE my friends to do the same and ends with a CONCLUSION that “The ONLY way out of this dilemma is to DISSOLVE THE LOCSD AND ASK THE COUNTY TO TAKE CHARGE. Sad but needed” so what’s a person to do, Oh, Dear, Oh, Dear.

So then I look at the Feb 22 Bay News, and the headline says, “County Won’t Help Homeowners,” and there it is, the county was asked by the CSD to step in as a “designated party” or even an “interested party” in the upcoming March 23 CDO hearings and turns out the “Supervisors voted in closed session last week to not enter the fray with the Regional Water Quality Control Board as an ‘interested party’ and defend homeowners being prosecuted for polluting the groundwater.”

“According to County Administrator David Edge, one of the reasons for denial was that the CSD asked them to jump on board in a hurry. ‘There was not enough opportunity to review and consider it,’ said Edge, [who] lives in Los Osos. ‘“I fully expect to revisit it down the road. I imagine they (the CSD) will be submitting a formal request.’”

So, there it was. A whole bunch of people have been told as fact, positively, absolutely, that their loving protector would be waiting for them at the altar and then, Ker-Blam! he gets cold feet and says to his terrified bride who’s running full tilt into his now disappearing arms, “Errrhhhh, Ummmmm, wellll, we’ll THINK about it . . . like, LATER and then scuttles out the church door, little puffs of dust flying up behind his blurred, fast flying feet, leaving his loving, trusting, dim-bulb Los Osos bride standing in the vestibule weeping and crying out, “But, but, you were gonna SAVE me!” while clutching a bunch of wilted petunias and what the hell is she going to do now with all those little finger sandwiches and champagne punch waiting back in the reception hall? O Woe!

Meantime, ironies of ironies, the CSD has already asked for and gotten permission to enter the fray as a Designated Party in order to “defend homeowners being prosecuted for polluting the groundwater,” to use the Bay News’ terminology. In short, to help defend the very homeowners who have signed petitions to dissolve away their only “protector.”

It’s too, too delicious.

On a related note, the County owns the Los Osos branch of the Library and the community park, both of which have toilets that discharge into the groundwater. Yet the Regional Water Quality Control Board DID NOT slap them with a Civil Liability Action in December, like they did in for the three properties (and toilets) owned by the CSD.

I wonder why not?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hell Just Froze Over

All during the Hideous Sewer Wars here in Los Osos, people kept asking me, “When is the Tribune gonna wake up, do its homework, ask the right questions and then and connect the dots?”

My reply always was, “Oh, probably when Hell freezes over.”

Well, grab your mukluks, there’s ice on all our potholes and sump pumps. In its February 19th editorial, the Tribune apparently realized that the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s mad scheme to first target 45 random homeowners, drag them through the trauma and confusion of a Cease & Desist Hearing in order to iron out all the bugs they’re now encountering because they don’t have their ducks in a row and are winging this mess, then go after all the property owners in the whole prohibition zone, is utter insanity.

Not to mention unfair to the original 45 since they’re being singled out to experiment on during the CDO hearings. Plus, it’s all so totally unnecessary. Which is why the Tribune is urging “. . . the Regional Water Quality Control Board to join forces with the Community Services District and work with Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee to expedite [septic] maintenance district legislation. It’s a move in the right direction – and it’s fair.”

Well, good for the Tribune. Now, maybe they can dig a little deeper into the history of the RWQCB’s track record vis a vis “fair” enforcement for Los Osos, starting with the birth of the CSD and the RWQCB’s own infamous 1998 Solutions Group report that the folks running the campaign for the formation of the CSD (Faster! Better! Cheaper!) knew about before the elections were held to form the CSD … but the community did not. And so forth. Maybe if the Tribune did a nice series on that and all the other weirdiosities involved with the sewer projects, people out here might have a better understanding as to why this sewer train went off the tracks.

In the meantime, Thanks Trib. Now, where did I put my muffler and mittens? I’m gonna write a letter to my State Senator Abel Maldonado at 1356 Marsh St, SLO 93401 and a letter to Celeste Cantu, head of the State Water Resources Control Board, PO Box 100, Sacramento, CA 95812. I suggest, if you live in Los Osos, you do the same. Ask them to join State Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee in getting emergency legislation through that would enable the CSD to form a Septic Maintenance District which can then deal with nitrate reduction mitigation in a sane, coherent, effective, scientifically sound manner.

On a slightly different note, in an email from David Boardwater and the Center for Sludge Information, on February 28th, the SLO County Board of Supervisors will conduct a public hearing and vote on policy regarding the land application of sewage sludge. The Board’s decision will affect local farmers, the environment and the public’s health. The Public Health Dept has recommended that the Board extend the Interim Moratorium Ordinance on sewage sludge land application for four years. This would maintain the caps on land application, giving SLO County time to develop a more permanent and comprehensive ordinance governing sewage sludge land application. For more information contact CSI (

Why is this meeting important? When our sewer plant is built, we’ll end up with sludge that has to go somewhere. More and more counties are limiting the amount of the stuff that can be spread on fields for ag use. This means that disposal throughout the state will be getting more and more limited, with disposal costs skyrocketing, which means the County(and Los Osos) needs time to develop alternate strategies for treating and dealing with stuff all of us are creating every day when we flush the toilet..

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gone Missing

A Los Ososian made a comment at the last CSD meeting that got me to thinking. He wondered aloud at public comment Where are the Dissolvers and Dreamers and anti-Recallers and pro Tri-W Sewer folk? Why don’t they come to the public CSD meetings? Where’s their public input into this community? Instead of suing the community, why don’t recalled CSD Boardmembers Stan Gustafson and Gordon Hensley come to a public meeting and explain in public their reasons for doing what they are doing? Where are the people who signed the Dissolution Petitions? Why don’t they come to a public meeting and explain in public why they think dissolving the CSD will allay their fears and solve their concerns. And so forth.

And I thought later, He’s right. Where IS everybody? Oh, sure, for a while, a few folks showed up for public comment to announce they were passing petitions to dissolve the CSD. And sure, a few folks would get up a public comment period to denounce the newly elected CSD as wrongheaded evil spawns of Hell. Probably the longest running Denouncer was Joyce Albright (part of Taxpayers’ Watch, the group suing the CSD and supporting (behind?) the Dissolution Group). Like clockwork, she could be counted on to read her carefully polished little masterpieces of purest vitriol into the record in a lady-like voice of sweet reasonableness. The effect was always startlingly funny, like seeing Queen Elizabeth in one of her flowery summer hats swearing like a sailor at a bunch of bureaucrats in her Oxonian plumy U.C. voice. Joyce’s efforts were always a delightful startlement. But I haven’t seen her at meetings recently so maybe even she’s stopped her performances. And the CSD meetings have now returned to civil quietude again. Oh darn.

Instead, it appears that what we have is what CSD Chairperson referred to as a Shadow Government – people unwilling to engage in the public marketplace of ideas, the public forum, the public process. Instead, they are quietly, privately, working to destroy the very system of governance that many of them both helped create and fully supported until that system didn’t give them what they wanted. Then, instead of engaging publicly and politically – another recall, running a slate of “pro-county” candidates for November’s upcoming election, starting initiatives to repeal Measure B, for example, or an initiative to separate the CSD’s control over Sewers in order to return that function to the county, and so forth – their response is to smash down the house entirely.

What’s also of interest is that they decided to bring down the house only weeks after the recall election. Why that’s interesting is that the recall supporters remained fully engaged in the Loyal Opposition process for years – Lord, who can forget the years of their public engagement at meetings, public debate during public comment time? They ran alternative candidates and won seats and finally they engaged in the system via the recall and initiative process. At no time did the Recallers ever move to destroy Home Rule, even though they, like the Dissolvers, felt that Home Rule was running amok.

Which means, of course, that the Dissolvers are, at heart, anti-democratic. They do not trust the process of democracy. And when The Public makes decisions with which they disagree, then The Public must be removed from the process. And one way to do that quickly is to shut down the process entirely.

To folks who view themselves as the rightful heirs of governance, the notion that governmental power derives from the people, is a profoundly disturbing notion. The unwashed, unhorsed, and unbooted simply cannot be allowed to operate the reins of government.

There is a great deal of irony at work here for the Dissolvers. Insofar as their flyer falsely conflates eliminating the threat of the Cease & Desist Orders with dissolution and rejoining the county, the public who believed that conflation were profoundly misled. Everyone who signed the petition thinking that was the case needs to view the tape of the Feb. 15th. Informational meeting of the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s CDO Prosecution Staff. The question was asked directly and answered directly:

Does the dissolution of the CSD have any effect on the CDOs? NO.
Does the County have a project or any plans for a project? NO, we have no knowledge of any project or plans the county has.

Well, it’s not the first time the public’s been lied to by slick techniques mastered by Madison Avenue. But for even more irony, it’s hard to beat the fact that the CSD recently was granted Designated Status, which means they will be legally entering this CDO hearing as an active, informed, knowledgeable participant – a mother hen able to spread her governmental wings to act both as point man (point chicken?) and sheltering cover for her 45 following little chicks.

By signing the dissolution petitions, the other 4,500 sitting ducks (everyone else in town, all of us in the prohibition zone fully in the cross hairs of the RWQCB) are attempting to remove the only protection they have in order to flee into the arms of an indifferent County who not only doesn’t want it’s red-haired stepchild, but has never shown any history of caring what happens to any of us out here.

Funny, no?

Friday, February 17, 2006

On A Wing And A Prayer . . . Oh, Wait, We Forgot To Build The Wing

I attended the Feb. 15 “informational” meeting held by the Regional Water Quality Board “Prosecution Staff” for The Los Osos Forty Six, “randomly targeted citizens” who were sent Cease & Desist Orders (CDOs) and are facing a “trial” on March 23rd – the first of many, many since the entire town is targeted and will be getting CDOs as well.

I say, The Los Osos Forty Six since it started out as The Los Osos Fifty, but the RWQCB, in their haste, sent CDO letters to 5 people who shouldn’t have gotten one. Then the CSD requested and received from the State Water Board “designated” status in the upcoming Cease & Desist Hearings, thereby joining the other citizens randomly targeted.

The change in numbers for this first hearing is indicative of what I observed during the “informational” meeting: The RWQCB Prosecution Staff, the professional, “scientific/legal” staff that is preparing the recommendations and information that will be presented to the full Board is winging it, making things up as they go along, improvising. They also haven’t thought through the consequences of their proposed actions and, most interestingly, are curiously cavalier about those results. Even stranger, in a haste that is totally unjustified and historically peculiar, it appears they haven’t yet finished their homework and are shoving their ducks in a row as they pop up rather than having them in place in some coherent form before proceeding.

For example, the CDO recommendation to the full Board is that the entire prohibition zone be required to pump their tanks 6 times a year OR, on a case by case basis, homeowners can present an alternative plan to meet what appears to be a target reduction of discharge pollutions by 22%. However, when I asked one of their technical folk, “If a homeowner wanted to install one of the so-called enhanced onsite wastewater treatment units (there are many out there) what target numbers would the unit need to meet your requirements?”

Uh, they didn’t know, hadn’t thought about that and thought that suggestion would be a good idea but they would have to sit down and come up with some figures. One month away from the hearings in which a homeowner can propose an “alternative” and they don’t have any “alternative” standards set? They’ll have to think them up and get back to us on that?

Wait, it gets worse. Despite reading through all the information and sitting through 1 ½ hours of Q& A I still don’t know just WHAT the CDOs are trying to accomplish. First I’m told that the target is a 22% reduction of pollutants, but so far as I know, the Basin Plan/Resolution 83-13 sets a target of 7 mgl of nitrates for the area. So which is it? 22% reduction of all wastewater or 7 mgl of nitrates or what? And where did the 22% figure come from? The prohibition zone is under a standing cease and desist order of ZERO discharge, a number if applied to individual septics would require pumping every few days – a number that even the RWQCB staff has to know is simply undoable. So, why 22%?

As near as I can find out, that’s a guestimate, a mathematical formula that’s suppose to reduce what? nitrates? overall by 22% When I had previously emailed Matt Thompson, the staff’s Q&A Go-To Guy, to ask if there were any studies indicating that pumping a tank 6 x a year would actually reduce groundwater pollution, I was told that no studies were necessary. Even more interesting, the guestimates they’re using aren’t based on any actual water use records.

Apparently, the CSD has not released individual water use records for The Los Osos Forty Six (presumably the CSD refused on the basis of (legally unresolved) privacy issues). So everyone has been lumped into one pot and they’ll all be hanged for sheep even though they’re goats. Stranger still, IF the RWQCB were conducting these CDO hearings on a case by case basis (targeted citizens can request separate hearings and in order to preserve their rights they’d better think seriously about doing just that) and the Prosecution Staff needed those records in order to fairly fit the punishment to the crime, (i.e. a 22% reduction target based on ACTUAL water use and depth to groundwater and tank size and family size, actual total discharge numbers would result in a different pumping schedule for different people.) why didn’t they simply subpoena them?

Even scarier, if I heard correctly, one of the questions asked about what impact removing some 24 – 36 million gallons of wasteWATER a year out of our already seriously overdrafted lower aquifer would have and a staff member replied that he was unaware that Los Osos had an overdraft problem, he thought that one of the problems with Los Osos is that it had too much water, resulting in high-groundwater and flooding.

A key member of the RWQCB’s prosecution staff, the staff that’s responsible for preparing recommendations and presenting accurate, scientifically correct information to the full board, WAS NOT AWARE THAT LOS OSOS WAS ALREADY IN SERIOUS WATER OVERDRAFT? Did he not read the 2005 Cleath & Associates water report, a report that was present to Staff last year?

Furthermore, when asked about the impact such a proposed pumping scheme would have on our water supply, replied, “We’re not in the water supply business, we’re in the water quality business.” Apparently irony impaired, this Cal Poly-trained “scientist” was unaware that these issues are one in the same: No water quality, no water supply.

Be afraid, Los Osos. Be very afraid.

On a more interesting, if ironic note. On Thursday, the Bay News headline noted that the Taxpayers’ Watch group took their petitions to dissolve the CSD to LAFCo to begin the process of dissolution. The story notes, “Taxpayers’ Watch, which started the petition drive on Feb 2, wants the CSD dissolved so the county can take over the job of constructing a sewer project at the Tri W site.” And a flyer I received from the group clearly intended that the reader conflate the dissolution of the CSD and asking the County to “take charge“ with stopping the CDOs. At the RWQCB’s “informational meeting” the night before, two questions were asked and answered:

Would dissolving the CSD stop the CDOs? NO, it wouldn’t matter who was in charge, the CDOs are an entirely separate matter.

Do you (RWQCB prosecution staff) know if the County plans to build a project? NO. We don’t know of any project and have heard nothing about any county plans to build anything.

Even more interesting, while Taxpayers’ Watch claims that the CSD must be dissolved because they’re guilty of a whole litany of bad government offenses, steering committee member, Bob Crizer, is quoted in the same Bay News article as saying, “ . . . if the CSD agreed to surrender its powers to develop a wastewater project, they would not seek to have the CSD eliminated.”

And, there you have it! The real reason behind the dissolution movement: Folks behind this petition want “their” sewer plant on the Tri W site and in order to get it they’ll falsely conflate information in order to dump the very agency of home rule that many of them created in the first place. Truly a Medea Moment!

Abraham Lincoln was partially wrong – you CAN fool a whole lot of people most of the time. Especially when they’re scared and can be lied to sooooo easily.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA
for February 15, 06 Septic Flu in Sewerville

Verdict First, Evidence later! Then it’s Hi-Yo, Silver, Awaaaaay!

Oh, dear, Roger Briggs, Executive Officer of the Regional NON-Water Quality Control Board, has hopped on his hobby horse and is galloping off into an extraordinarily embarrassing folly.

Roger has targeted 50 random people in the community with Cease & Desist Orders (CDO’s) requiring that they pump their septic tanks 6 times a year. Random? That’s like the Minister of Healthiness of Kloppkovnia declaring there’s an outbreak of avian flu, which he will “fix” by shooting 50 random ducks. Nevermind that the ducks don’t have avian flu, or even come from a province of Kloppkovnia that has avian flu in it. Nope, fifty random ducks will do the trick. And when they’re dead, our Minister of Healthiness will go shoot fifty more random ducks. See? Problem solved.

Don’t laugh, yet. It gets worse. Mr. Briggs stated in the Tribune that this pumping “will decrease the amount of suspected nitrate pollution from each tank by 22 percent.” There are and will be no studies or evidence presented to back up that claim. Weirder still, it’s not the nitrogen in the tank that’s of concern; it’s the total nitrogen load in pounds throughout the basin that should be the legal concern of the RWQCB. Randomly targeting tanks instead of focusing in on a coherent plan to deal with known high groundwater “hot spots” simply makes no sense as “science.”

As “politics,” however, conflation between the issuance of the CDO’s, guaranteed to scare the wits out of people, and the official start of the petition campaign to dissolve the CSD was an interesting piece of work, causing some suspicious minds to wonder, did a few someones in the community perhaps place a few untraceable phone calls here and there? Or was the conflation purest coincidence?

Well, divide and conquer is an old political tactic and frightened people may not stop to think that CDO’s and Dissolution Petitions will have absolutely no effect on each other. But it’s the illusion of “safety” that’s undoubtedly a critical selling point on the part of the Dissolvers and signers alike.

Ironically, the very CSD they wish to dissolve recently passed a resolution that they will be filing as an “Interested Party,” (boy, are they “interested”). The staff has already met with their counterparts at RWQCB to begin looking at some coherent, scientifically sound alternatives to reduce the nitrate load, a measure that may allow the Regional Board itself to come to their senses and replace Briggs’ Mad Scheme with a solution that would actually deliver more bang for the buck. In addition, the CSD will be doing everything they legally can to stand by The Los Osos Fifty, as well as the rest of the citizens as they come under the gun, while various folks throughout “The County” are already on record as wanting nothing to do with the beleaguered Citizens of Sewerville.

But, beyond the irony of politics, here’s the real folly in Briggs’ plan: Properly functioning septics should only need pumping every 3 -5 years. Pumping 6 times a year will simply harvest waste WATER. Since Mr. Briggs intends to target the entire prohibition zone, assume the average septic tank holds 1,000 gallons of wasteWATER. Multiply that by 4,000 homes and 6 times a year and you will see that the ultimate effect of this mad scheme will be the removal of 24 million gallons of WATER from our aquifer, WATER that will be transported to another county (Santa Maria) and dumped.

Right now, our lower aquifer is in serious overdraft and in danger from increasing salt water intrusion. Our upper aquifer is carrying an average nitrate load slightly higher than state allowed standards, a problem which will slowly be solved when the new sewer is built. But even with nitrates in it, the water is still in our aquifer. Transporting that water to Santa Maria removes it forever.

If you’re wondering where the “science” in all this is, you’ll have to wonder away. Most of the community would probably agree with CSD Director Cesena’s waggish comment that what we’re looking at here is political science. And that kind of science is what the Regional Water Quality Control Board is specifically forbidden to engage in.

I know, I know. Now you can laugh.
Does Mother Calhoun Have To Explain It All To you, AGAIN?
The following letter was sent to Los Osos Sheriff Commander Hall, with ccs to The Bay News, and the CSD and thanks to the miracle of email, it’s now all over every known email list serve from here to Outer Mongolia. It’s from Joyce Albright, who’s involved with the group of folks who are working to gather signatures to dissolve the CSD. (apologies if the paragraph breaks end up not working: the blog and/or my computer seem to be having hissy fits)
The letter is reprinted STET.
Dear Commander Hall:
I represent Ta! xpayers Watch, an organization that is collecting signatures for a petition to dissolve the Los Osos Community Services District.
Our supporters currently collect signatures at both of the grocery stores, and at Farmers Market on Monday. They are encouraged to behave in a civil, courteous manner at all times, and not to respond to hecklers.
However, Joey Riccano has become very intimidating to our sitters on three occasions that I know of. They have actually called me at home from the markets and said they were frightened. S! ome our sitters are women and reserved gentlemen and Joey is a very big and loud man. The last report indicated that he actually FOLLOWED a woman who had signed our petition, pestering her about why she signed. There have been incidents with other very rude men and women who represent the opposition.
What can we do about this situation without endangering our right to collect signatures? We don’t want to be thrown out because of disturbances caused by Joey and others who are threatening our people.
We hope you can help us.
Joyce Albright
Cc: Bay News
Lisa Schicker, President, Los Osos Community Services District

O.K., children, listen up. Mother Calhoun has some rules for you:
#1. Karma. That inexorable law of return – what you put out there, gets back to you somewhere along the line. If, for example, you use your public comment time during CSD meetings to forcefully and nastily Denounce The Wickedness of the CSD Board (both old and/or new) or spend your time reading carefully written opinion pieces positively filled to the brim with dazzlingly polished vitriol and thoroughgoing nastiness aimed at Whoever Disagrees With You, (New Board, Old Board, Fellow Citizens, Whatever) you should expect that Some People will not think kindly of you and will positively delight in sticking pins in you whenever they get the chance. It’s a sad fact of life that if you stick pins yourself, you’ll surely get stuck back. It comes with the territory. Deal with it.
#2. So far as I know, the Constitution does not grant police protection from people who are “big and loud.” Lord, that it were so. Big, loud, annoying, “intimidating” people are part and parcel of the Free Marketplace of Ideas. If people are “women and reserved gentlemen” who are frightened of Big & Loud & Annoying & Edgy & Irritating & Infuriating & Nasty & Stupid & Rude & Silly, then they need to stay home with their doors locked and beeswax in their ears.
On the other hand, the law is very clear on interfering with the right of free speech, right of assembly, right to petition, and the right NOT to be actually threatened, harassed or intimidated by any real action –not just the feeling of “being uncomfortable.”
#3. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Big & Loud & Annoying & Edgy & Irritating & Infuriating & Nasty & Stupid & Rude & Silly is vinegar and is always counterproductive to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. So, knock it off.
#4 Here’s a useful a middle ground: MIND YOUR MANNERS!
It’s a sad fact of our civic life that Los Osos has a LOT of people in it who have been so polarized and angered and frightened by The Hideous Sewer Wars that they’ve lost sight of the fact that this is an Issue, not a Personal Vendetta. So, lighten up, everyone. Please.
If you believe that dissolving the CSD will put us in the arms of a Loving County That Wishes The Best For Us, then by all means, sign the Dissolution Petitions. If you believe that signing the Dissolution Petitions will somehow stop the RWQCB’s most recent Cease & Desist Order, the conflation of which appears on the latest mailer I received from the Taxpayers’ Watch group, then I would beg you to do your homework. One has nothing to do with the other and the conflation of the two is dishonest spin designed to mislead the public. (Unless, of course, there actually IS illegal and secret collusion between the RWQCB and the Dissolvers? In wich case, that's a matter for the District Attorney or Attorney General, not Mother Calhoun.)

As with all things Sewer, hard as it is to do, it’s critical that you get as much FACTUAL information before you jump off any more cliffs. We’ve had enough “spin” and conflation and Madison Ave manipulation on this matter to last a lifetime.
And if you oppose the dissolution of the CSD, set up a table of your own and pass out information of your own explaining why you believe that there is no way in hell that The SLO County Board of Supervisors will ever vote to take back what the Bay News editor used to refer to as, “The County’s Red Haired Stepchild,” i.e. Los Osos.

On another note:
Ron Crawford, over at, has posted an amazing litany of “facts” that acts as a kind of “time line” showing clearly some of the ways where this entire Sewer Train started going off the tracks from way back. Read it and weep.

And for an update of Tree Man, i.e Joey Racano, who was arrested for tree sitting during the groundbreaking ceremonies on the Tri-W site, to see his version of his day in court, go to his blogsite at
Ah, so much drama. My beloved Bangladesh By The Bay puts Desperate Housewives and Payton Place to shame. Bring on the dancing bears!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Onsite Wastewater Treatment Info – a must read for Denizens of Sewerville

This is a long piece, but well worth the time to read it for those in Los Osos (and anywhere else, for that matter) who are interested in advanced “onsite” septic treatment systems. Since AB885 is making it’s way into law, ANYONE in this county on a septic system and within hailing distance of an “impaired” watershed (just about the whole state, the way things are going) needs to be aware of changing regulations. With the passage of AB885, they will come under the gun of their Regional Water Quality Control Boards.

For those living within the prohibition zone of Los Osos who are thinking about investing in individual, advanced onsite systems, this is a must read. Until AB885 comes on line, I suspect it will be impossible to get any information or clear direction from our local RWQCB vis a vis the “legal” status of these systems within the prohibition zone.. I have asked our local Board staff and get tautology or no answers back. I have sent an inquiry up to the State Water Board staff and, to date, have received no answer either.

So, before anyone goes galloping off on an On Site System Scheme, I would recommend reading the following:

with the Waterguy

by David Venhuizen, P.E.

Who Can We Trust?

A while back, a colleague asked for my thoughts on arrangements for managing on-lot systems that provide enhanced pretreatment prior to dispersal. These are becoming increasingly common in his jurisdiction to blunt the impacts of on-lot wastewater systems on local water resources, in this case Chesapeake Bay. He proposed that they not actually oversee system management, instead that they create a web site that provides information to homeowners, such as: the environmental and financial benefits of the systems and of assuring proper maintenance; complete descriptions of the types of systems installed; links to contacts for replacement parts for the systems; recommended changes to systems if appropriate; and, a list of contractors willing to provide maintenance on each type of system. He also suggested, “The owners could be e-mailed when recommended maintenance is due.” This strategy presumes that, armed with this information, homeowners would unilaterally assure that O&M is consistently, reliably and competently applied without any further management effort on the part of the regulatory system.

My response was that I saw two flaws in that approach. One – He is assuming that all homeowners would be responsible. Two – He is assuming that all homeowners would be competent. I have to wonder if more than a small percentage is likely to be either, consistently and reliably enough to hang a management system on that premise. Understanding that these enhanced pretreatment systems represent a considerable investment to their owners, one could reasonably assert that they could be expected to be responsible and competent in their efforts to protect that investment, simply out of self-interest. So why can’t we universally trust them to unilaterally carry out this function?

I would argue first that this ignores basic human nature. Yes, theoretically, my colleague had a very nice idea—for a perfect world where people always competently address all their responsibilities, where they always serve their long-term self-interest, no matter what the short-term costs. But, by and large, people do not act that way, at least not consistently. They are pulled in a thousand different ways by the forces in their lives. Tending to a wastewater system, and learning how to do it well, generally does not make it very far up on their priority list. Anything that is inherently out-of-sight, out-of-mind—like an on-lot wastewater system—will not typically command their attention on a routine basis. And when it does get their attention, will they really be competent to understand the system operation, to recognize the nature of a problem, and to understand how to respond? Can they get all this from a web site?

My colleague thought that homeowners would opt to engage a maintenance contractor. A wealthy person—the sort who has a maid, a gardener, etc.—would indeed "farm out" this function as well. But most people would avoid this expense if they were not required to keep a maintenance contract in force. Here in Texas, where maintenance contracts are required, assuring they are kept current is an on-going problem for the regulatory system. So the maintenance contractor would only be engaged when the homeowner observed a problem. Such a “reactive” management system would be of highly questionable effectiveness.

And then we have the question of whether all maintenance contractors would be consistently responsible and competent. Might that depend on whether anyone was “riding herd” on them? In Texas, due to lax oversight, maintenance contractors failing to perform even their routine surveillance duties, much less keeping the systems in top operating condition, is a rampant problem. Then too, if maintenance contracts are optional, would there be a sufficient market so that many contractors would be in that business, and so would be readily available when the homeowner did perceive a need for their services?

The nature of the job is a critical factor. For high quality pretreatment systems, this is the level of treatment actually attained. In my colleague’s case, inadequately treated effluent seeps into the Bay, with no one being the wiser until impacts on the Bay ecology become apparent, way too late in the game to be responding. If problems were to become immediately obvious to the homeowner, such as a hydraulic failure resulting in surfacing effluent, while you might expect quick action, that brings us back to the circumstances of the homeowner. Many, strapped for cash, put off repairing the system, fearing that they would be looking at a big expense they can't afford. How much less likely would they be to recognize and respond quickly to a treatment failure, a condition that is not “in the face” of the homeowner?

This highlights that wastewater management is the ultimate community function. The actions of—or inaction by—any one person can have consequences to the whole community. That is why this function is regulated in any way to begin with. Often the consequences are to "the commons", like Chesapeake Bay—which eventually become consequences to the community—so you can see this is a function in which the entire community, not just the individual user, has a stake. This calls into question the very concept that wastewater system O&M should be the sole responsibility of each individual owner of the property served by each system, to be executed if and as they will.

Yet, like my colleague’s agency, the controlling institutions all over the country are loathe to take on a management role, by default investing management in the individual whims of the homeowners. Probably a major reason that such institutional inertia persists is the lack of a "body count"—few recognize either a public health or environmental crisis, so why input more public resources to this function when there are so many other needs that vie for them? But as those who examine ecosystems like Chesapeake Bay are seeing, the impacts are there, if you just look. This should be a clue to what is going to happen as more and more high quality pretreatment systems are installed in more and more intense development. Where high quality pretreatment has been deemed necessary to protect public health and environmental values, if it fails to function as planned, impacts will accrue. And they would accelerate if this method of management continues to proliferate and densify. So there would eventually be a "body count"—hopefully not dead people, but greater incidence of disease and damage to ecosystems, including an actual body count of other organisms.

Society can wait for this crisis to “mature” before considering how to combat it—its "normal" mode of operation—or it can take considered action now, as the seeds of crisis are being sown. This could take the form of “sewering up”—and the consequent loss of business opportunity for the decentralized industry. Or we could maintain the viability of decentralized systems by treating ALL forms of wastewater management as a community function—including running on-lot management much more similarly to how a municipal system is run. There, maintenance is not left to the whims of the individual users, or to contractors beholden only to the individual users. Someone who is accountable to the community is charged with this responsibility. A major organizing principle for all management systems must be a chain of accountability to the entire community.

The most basic requirement for society to "get" this principle is to understand that on-lot systems (or any system not "community owned") are not just odd pieces of regulated private property, rather they are collectively an integral part of societal infrastructure, necessary components of our societal efforts to maintain the integrity of our watersheds. As the on-lot system has transformed and proliferated from a method of addressing wastewater in very low density rural housing using only simple, passive systems to a method used in essentially urban settings, often entailing more complex systems, this intellectual leap has not been made. The major barrier to effective management systems is this “dichotomy view” that sequesters on-site/small-scale systems into an entirely separate category from “wastewater systems”.

Once we recognize the need for “organized” management, we are back to the basic question—who can we trust to faithfully execute it? Where are the proper links in the chain of accountability? There is presently an active debate over whether the sort of public health agencies in which on-lot system regulation is typically vested is the proper place for this function to reside. As in the case of my colleague’s agency, their “culture” is antithetical to engaging in active management. In any case, to do so these agencies would require a quantum leap in the resources available to them. Given that those agencies don’t appear very motivated to take on this task, is that the “right” place to focus those resources?

An emerging idea is that wastewater management should be addressed within a “watershed approach” by an agent with the ability to organize and run systems at the watershed level. One effort to proliferate this idea is a workshop being prepared for the 2006 WEFTEC, focusing on how to integrate centralized and decentralized strategies into a watershed-wide management system. Such efforts are needed to explore and answer some basic questions. Who would those watershed-wide agents be? How would they be created, or how would existing agents be transformed—and empowered—to take on this responsibility?

I urge you all to join in that discussion. Deriving and implementing effective management organizations is a major key to the proliferation of decentralized wastewater systems. And that, in turn, is a key to enhancing and expanding the economic opportunities for the people who are the audience of this magazine. Indeed, we must answer the central question about management – Who can we trust?

David Venhuizen is a professional engineer based in Austin, Texas. You can read his views on the decentralized concept on his web site at Comments, suggestions, and your own anecdotes about this field can be sent to him at

Friday, February 10, 2006

Secret Society.

The Tribune, bless them, filed a California Public Records Act after the Regional Water Quality Control Board refused to make public the 45 property owners getting nailed with this latest folly – RANDOM homes RANDOMLY selected and required to pump their septic tanks six times a year.

What used to be known as The Los Osos Fifty have been reduced to The Los Osos Forty Five because apparently, in their hast to get this ill-thought-out, mad scheme on the road, the RWQCB sent five RANDOM Cease & Desist Orders DEMANDING that they pump their septic tanks six times a year to some folks living in Bayridge Estates, a development that has no individual septics to pump. Uh, oops.

And since the notices weren’t even sent out Return Receipt Requested or Certified Mail, and nobody seems to know whether the addresses hit were simply RANDOMLY picked street address or RANDOMLY selected from property tax rolls and so hopefully the notices might stand a chance to get to the owners of the property, not merely folks renting since they might get the packet and shrug and toss it in the garbage, thereby leaving the property owner in the dark until the mighty forces of General Roger Briggs, CEO and Point Man for the RWQCB, descended with the sheriff on the hapless owner during foreclosure proceedings arising out of the fact that the CDO paperwork was mis-delivered and the poor owner remained clueless that he was on the target list until it was too late, the Tribune probably thought, What the heck, let’s find out who’s on the list.

To which the RWQCB first dragged their feet to the legally allowed deadline then, the Tribune reports, apparently claimed that “they would consider releasing only information that the targeted homeowners wouldn’t object to being made public,” and quoteed from a letter by our CEO Roger Briggs: “The water board will not provide copies of the requested information where an individual’s privacy or safety interest outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

Privacy? The RWQCB is suddenly concerned about, uh , an individual’s privacy? This is certainly interesting in light of the January 27th Target Letter, signed by Roger Briggs, that includes, among other things, that a landlord of a Target Property MUST submit a report that includes: “name(s) of all current tenant(s) over the age of 18; date the tenancy commenced; whether the lease is written or oral;’ the lease term (e.g. month-to-month, annual, etc.)” and so forth, all without a mention that perhaps SOMEBODY had better check as to whether or not a landlord has the legal right to give that information to the RWQCB, information that MUST become part of a PUBLIC record with the onset of the PUBLIC Cease & Desist Hearings on March 23, all without the tenants’ knowledge and permission?

Privacy? Once the March 23 CDO hearing begins, the word “privacy” will be a thing of the past.

And, “safety?” How does knowing the names or street addresses of people who got targeted involve “safety?” Does the RWQCB think citizens of this fair burg will go toilet paper the homes of The Los Osos Forty Five? If I know my Beloved Bangladesh By The Bay, everyone in town will bring them aspirins and chocolate cakes and sympathy cards!

And if this is all so secret, what will happen to The Los Osos Forty Five come March 23rd? Will they have to sneak into the hearings wearing paper bags over their heads?

Feh! Listen closely. That gurgling sound you hear? I think it’s the credibility of the Regional Water Quality Control Board going down the drain.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Speaking of Strongly Held Community Values . . .

Some of the comment/discussion threads on some of my blog entries below have centered on just what kept being used to self-select the Tri-W site and deselect any other site. In a recent CSD meeting, Boardmember Julie Tacker read excerpts from “The Los Osos Community Services District Wastewater Project Report,”(excerpts of which can be found at Ron Crawford’s blogsite, with the link to his New Times article, “Three Blocks Upwind of Downtown.”)

They make for interesting reading because it’s clear that other sites were “rejected” because they didn’t provide a community amenity in the form of a public use area. Here’s some examples from the project report:

“Although the Turri site would have less potential environmental impacts, its distance from the center of town precluded it from providing a community amenity in the form of a public use area.” Precluded, as in, ka-boom! No "community amenity?" Well, then, you're out of the running.

“[The Andre site] is 1.5 miles from the edge of the community and would not be able to provide the community with a readily accessible recreational area. On a non-cost basis this site was viewed as less favorable than the Resource Park site.” (A non-cost basis? As in, if you disregard cost as an important component of any evaluation, and focus only on a community amenity i.e. a centrally located park, then the “Andre” site’s out of the running? Gosh, and supporters of Tri-W have been relentless in telling us that cost is a really important factor, that Tri-W would “cost less,” that any out of town site would “cost way more,” etc. A non-cost basis??? What the hell does that mean?)

“Following is a description of the benefits of the project: creates a Community Amenity and Visual Resource. The wastewater treatment facility will be constructed and landscaped to maximize active and passive recreational space in the center of the community. Not only will this provide aesthetic benefits, but it will also provide park space for local schools and community groups near the existing community center.” (Playgrounds next to an industrial sized sewer treatment plant as a strongly held community value? Playgrounds next to an industrial sized sewer treatment plant as the driver to keep the plant sited on ESHA land, sited on some of the most expensive property in the middle of town, land requiring extensive, expensive mitigation, extensive, expensive engineering to even operate so close to homes and schools & etc, all being driven on a non-cost basis. Well, who knew?)

”It is essential that any proposed wastewater project within the community of Los Osos reflect these strongly help community values.” And one of these strongly held community values is “creating a wastewater treatment facility that is a visual and recreational asset to the community.” A recreational wastewater treatment plant? Now there’s a strongly held community value!

As Ron Crawford has so frequently pointed out in his articles and at his blogsite, the only time the community ever had a chance to vote to assess themselves a miniscule annual amount for anything “recreational” they voted it down. Yet there it was repeatedly in the project report and presented before the Coastal Commission, for example, a strongly held community value of desperately wanting a recreational asset next to an industrial-sized sewer treatment plant.

Plus, that wonderful notion that an alternative site would be viewed as less favorable on a “non-cost basis” when one of the driving themes of this whole sewer project from day one has been it’s “unaffordability.”

Well, go figure.

Monday, February 06, 2006


It’s déjà vu all over again. Cindy Sheehan wears a tee shirt to the State of the Union Address that notes the number of dead soldiers killed in the Iraq war and gets roughly escorted from the gallery and arrested. A senator’s wife (I believe) is also wearing a tee shirt that says “Support the Troops.” She’s escorted from the House but not arrested.

Equal rights under law? Free speech for me but not for thee? And your freedom to speak depends on what you want to say? Well, perish the thought.

Back in 2005, during the groundbreaking for the Hideous Los Osos Sewer at the Tri-W site on Los Osos Valley Road, a whole bunch of people showed up. TV cameras were there. Officials were there with shovels for a little ceremonial digging. Citizens were there carrying signs, signs in equal measure both for and against the sewer, both for and against the recall. There was booooooing. BOOOOOOOOO! And hissing. And snarky comments and snide asides and catcalls. Sheriff officers were there. People were milling all over the Tri W site and spilling onto the roadway (very dangerous as the traffic was whizzing by, as it usually does, at a high rate of speed.)

It was a potentially scary public gathering because tempers were running high. But nobody threw a dirt clod, everyone minded (sort of) their manners. And not a single person was arrested and hauled away for “suspicion of trespass,” even though almost everyone at the site was, indeed, trespassing all over the place.

Except for activist Joey Racano, who was sitting some distance away up in the (now cut down) eucalyptus trees holding a big sign that said, “Recall before Tree Fall.” He alone was asked by the sheriff to come down from the tree and go away. He refused until the ceremony was over, and when he climbed down he was arrested for “suspicion of trespassing.”

Interestingly, to my knowledge, none of the other people carrying signs saying “Recall before Tree Fall” and trespassing all over the place on the ground were asked to leave the site. Just Joey. Which begs a question: Is there a county ordinance that forbids the climbing of trees on CSD property? If so, then parents who take their kids to the nearby park had better be warned: Don’t let your kids clamber over any of the trees there else they be escorted to the pokey as criminal lawbreakers!

Or, maybe the “trespass” law is selective? As in, You can trespass so long as you’re verbally supportive of whoever’s putting on the ceremony you’re attending. If you’re opposed to whatever the sponsoring agency is, then you’re a criminal trespasser. If that’s the operational rule in this case, then at least ½ of all the people attending that ground-breaking were criminal trespassers. Yet only Joey got arrested?

So, back we go to the tree. There had to be something about tree-sitting that was the crime. Couldn’t have been the signs, as a whole bunch of ground-standers were carrying signs. Or catcalling, since on the ground lots of people were catcalling, some of them a mere arm’s length away from the Sheriff.

Nope. Had to be the tree.

Well, Joe’s going to be in court today. The CSD Board members who pressed charges have been recalled. The new Board tried to have the charges dropped, but, according to Joey, the SLO DA refused. So, now it’s up to the judge to tell this community:

Was it the TREE?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Strongly Held Community Value? We don' know 'nuttin' 'bout no Strongly Held Community Value, sez Ron Crawford over at, once again asking those pesky Park Questions and updating his Grand Jury request.
Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay New, Los Osos, CA For Feb 1. 06

Hide the Silverware!

And lock your daughters up. President Bush is going to launch his new plan to “improve” our abysmal health care system. You know, like he did with his New! Improved! plan to “save” Social Security? Soon we can look forward to more Potemkin Village Town Hall Meetings with carefully screened shills in the audience – “Mr. President. You’re doing a heck of a job. Please tell me how I’ll save lots of money with your new plan? ” to which George will reply:

Because the – all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate [sic], for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There’s a series of parts of the formula hat are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those – changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be – or closer delivered to what has been promised. . . . Some have suggested that we calculate – the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those – if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

When I first read the above, I thought it was some sort of Urban Legend making its way around the internet, but a check with indicates – Alas -- those are verbatim remarks Our George made last year while ‘splaining his Social Security “reforms.”

Actually, Bush could save us all a lot of time on explanations. Like it’s predecessor, the appalling Medicare Part D scheme, the new “plan” will just be another huge tax-payer subsidized giveaway to Big Pharma and the Insurance Industry, so all Bush needs to do is to tell the American people, “Look in the phone book. Find the name of a big drug or insurance company, any one will do. Send them all your money, then go back to eating cat food and macaroni and cheese and shut up.”

That’s the kind of public policy you get in a country owned by corporations. People are not important, but the bottom line sure is, which is what keeps the K Street lobbyists busy tending their fully-owned creatures in Congress. With Chief Justice Roberts (corporate guy) on the Supreme court and Judge Alito soon to be confirmed (with a paper trail indicating a consistent, strong support for choosing the power of the government over individual rights), the country is finally set for the last link in the neoconservative Republican Revolution – Making the country and the world safe and profitable for [insert brand name here] while keeping the Teapot Dome Kleptocracy safe from legal accountability so they can continue to raid the public treasury on behalf of their corporate clients.

That the American people were and still are active participants in creating and sustaining the very system that’s gleefully picking their pockets is one of the more interesting political stories of the century. That they are willing to pay such a high price for their fleecing is what makes this story such a comic one.

Heck of a job, George, heck of a job.

Meanwhile, the headlines continue to amuse: College students flunk literacy study: Many of those nearing graduation cannot handle such tasks as understanding newspaper editorials and comparing credit card offers, researchers find, which no doubt explains why average un-college educated Americans can’t seem to connect the dots. Or, As Profits Soar, Companies Pay U.S. [treasury] Less for gas royalties on public lands, thanks to recently loosened oversight laws and hobbled government auditors. And this, United States Ranks 28th on Environment, a New Study Says. The report will be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The forum is an “annual conclave of business and political leaders” and the group will soon learn that the most powerful country on the planet ranks behind most of Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Chile on an “Environmental Sustainability Index.” Chile?

Thankfully, however, the report shows us coming out ahead of Russia, a failing state now sliding into a mess awash with corruption and loose nukes ripe for the black market. Not great, but that’s what you get when you settle for crumbs and low expectations.