Los Osos 7 -- Taxpayers Watch O Part I
LAFCo voted (7 – 0) on Sept 21st to deny the Taxpayers Watch petition to dissolve the Los Osos CSD. The Tribune noted (dryly? wryly?) that Taxpayers Watch “consists in part of directors removed in the recall election,” which, of course, explains a lot.
The key reasons that LAFCo denied the dissolution petition had to do with concern that if they voted to dissolve the CSD, then the county taxpayers would end up with both the assets and liabilities of the district. Since this issue has dragged on for months and months with postponement after postponements, several key events had finally fallen into place that assisted the Board in making their decision. (1) The Blakeslee Bill had been signed that morning which allowed the county to take over the sewer project. Paavo Ogren, from County Public Works and the guy who’ll be shepherding the sewer project, told the Board that his Dept would be working with CSD reps in setting the groundwork for any collaborative efforts so everyone could be up to speed when the Blakeslee Bill becomes law in January. (2) The District had filed in federal court for Bankruptcy protection, thus giving it breathing room from all the pile-on lawsuits to begin to sort out its finances. (3) With the sewer project moving ahead on a separate track, with the other services (fire, water, trash) in no immediate danger of crashing, (water rates will be raised, part of a previously structured rate raise that got delayed – Ouch, but maybe the raise will make people more conscious of just how limited and precious our water is and how much everyone better get on the stick to start conserving) the reason for dissolving the CSD faded from view. (4) Added to the mix and voted on 7 – 0 were two additional separate recommendations: (1) a recommendation that the district conduct an “performance and financial audit” and (2) LAFCO would send a letter to the Bankruptcy judge to make sure any possible sale of the Tri W property follows proper procedures vis a vis notifying County of the availability of the property so they can get first crack at buying it.
As with all things Los Ososian, this hearing was loaded with irony and comedy and weirdiosity. Consider:
Dissolutions of this kind were never intended to be used on actual living, breathing districts. Instead, the dissolution procedure was there to be used to clean out the legal dead wood of districts that had long since died or technically morphed into something else while the legal paperwork uselessly remained on the books. That the dissolution procedure was the very first one used by some recalled CSD Board members via Taxpayers Watch instead of all the other “democratic” tools available to them and their supporters – re-recalls, voter initiatives, running for office, serving on committees, petitioning the “government,” etc., -- did not sit well with Supervisor Achadijian, who noted that Americans have gone a long way to spread democracy around the world and figured both LAFCo needed to ensure “democracy” a secure place in Los Osos and that the people out here needed to get off their buns and vote.
That, of course, was always the problem I had with what Taxpayers Watch did in petitioning for dissolution. That this was the FIRST tool out of their box, not the last, indicated the real game: Lose an election? Simple, use LAFCo as the mechanism to eliminate the CSD, and while you’re at it, be sure to file some “frivolous” lawsuits to help ensure bankruptcy becomes the only option, thereby adding fuel to the fire.
Paul Hood did note that he’ll be attending a workshop on dissolution matters at the state level because it’s clear that new laws are needed to deal with just what happened here: The use of dissolution as a political tool to try to achieve what wasn’t achieved at the ballot box. Once again, Los Osos has set a prescedent. Gee, hooray for us, some more, woo, Yippee, etc.
As for eye-popping weirdness, there was Supervisor Bianchi officially claiming from the dais during an official meeting during Board comment time that the (new) CSD Board came to her to ask for her help in “breaking the law.” It was a breathtaking accusation that demands proof, which, of course, will never be forthcoming. More weirdness? During the Board comments after the vote, Bianchi noted that when she first heard about the Dissolution she first thought “Hallelujah.” Hmmmm, and here I thought the LAFCo Board was supposed to be composed of NEUTRAL, UNBIASED folks capable of fairly hearing all sides of the matter and that anyone who had a clear conflict of interest or entanglements on one side or the other (I recall Shirley’s letter to the editor and, if memory serves, her radio ads for the anti-recall group, not to mention her letter sent to a State Water Board member shortly after the recall election offering her help in taking the project away from the CSD & etc.) that they would recuse themselves, of only for the appearance of fairness. Not our Shirley.
And for comic relief we had Chairperson Barbara Mann barely concealing her disgust at having to sit and listen to public comment during, well, public comment. She even went so far as to note, on microphone, “We already know what you’re going to say.”
Uh, Ms. Mann, I hate to point this out to you but one of the (admittedly) most trying and annoying and irritating things about public comment is actually listening to public comment. And, as you probably know, Boards are supposed to maintain the pleasant fiction that they haven’t already prejudged an agenda item before the public comment is even started. They’re supposed to at least pretend that their minds are still open and that they might actually learn something from public comment that might influence their vote on the matter before them. But, if you’ve already prejudged an item, at the very least, you’re supposed to PRETEND that you haven’t and sit there politely and listen to whatever is said. If it gets too boring you can always sneak a book onto the dais, or maybe fall asleep with your eyes open, or write the great American novel under the guise of taking notes and so forth. It’s all part of the theatre of doing the public’s business . . . in public.
CSD 7 -- Taxpayers Watch O Part II
But the best part of the morning came when the next agenda item came up: Taxpayers Watch petitioned LAFCo to have the LAFCo costs for these months of work to conduct all the investigations and prepare all the reports for the Board waived – i.e. let the county taxpayers eat it.
At first, when I read that item, I thought it was some kind of sick joke, like the guy who murders his parents then flings himself on the mercy of the court for clemency because he’s but a poor orphan.
Considering what TPW has cost the Los Osos taxpayers already in having to defend against their “frivolous” lawsuits, this one is the height of hubris. As for hypocrisy, you can’t beat a group declaring they’re petitioning for dissolution in order to “save” the taxpayers of Los Osos by sticking the taxpayers of the County with the whole mess.
Uh, sorry, guys. The recalled Board members set this CSD up for bankruptcy (borrowing from the reserves while counting on the arrival of the SRF loan in time to avoid going into the red, a dangerous gamble.). Furthermore, they and they alone decided to set their own recall election date as late as possible and then voted to unnecessarily pound millions of dollars of the SRF loan into the ground before the election in a reckless gamble (again) with the taxpayers money. All this was “local,” and needs to be dealt with locally. Los Ososians elected the guys who did this, Los Ososians un-elected the guys who did this, so Los Ososians need to clean up their own mess, not stick county residents with it all.
As for Taxpayers Watch now owing some $22,317.60 for LAFCo costs, if they don’t have the money to pay the bill, they can declare bankruptcy. Or, better yet, I would suggest a community fund-raiser. Taxpayers Watch has claimed they have been altruistically acting to protect the interests of Los Osos taxpayers. Fine, time for the Los Osos taxpayers to step up. TPW can set up some tables at Farmer’s Market and ask for donations. That’s what other groups have done who have altruistically sued or petitioned or whatever. It’s democracy at its finest. And, as Lisa Schicker, CSD Board President noted at the hearing, “Democracy is rampant in Los Osos . . . .”
Rampant? Or Running Amok? Ah, well, that’s my beloved Sewerville.