Thursday, January 04, 2007

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA , for Jan 3, 07

Verdict First! Evidence Never!

It was an Alice in Wonderland Moment. I refer to the recent Torquemada’s Mad Hatter CDO Tea Party, Public Beheading & Auto-de-fe held by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for The Los Osos 45. You remember those folks? Your friends and neighbors who have been put through hell for a whole year by the same Board that first cooked up the scientifically unsound and totally unworkable Mad Pumping Scheme, only to have that go ker-blooey. So they started all over again, targeting the same 45 people in an endlessly changing, goal-post-moving process that wasted even more gazillions, while claiming that they were too poor to hire a mediator to come up with a much better win/win interim alternative.

Instead, we had a two day spectacle of truly bizarre proportions. Consider: One of the reasons given for issuing CDOs was to “ensure that pollutant loading [to the groundwater] within the prohibition area is minimized to the extent possible.” So the Board wanted everyone to pump, inspect and repair their septic systems. Yet Tim Cleath of Cleath & Associates (The Water Experts) testified that pumping, inspecting and repairing septics until the new sewer can be built will have no appreciable benefit to the groundwater. Which means that this proposed short-term regimen will look good (Hey’ we’re working hard over here, see?), but it won’t do diddly to the groundwater.

Next we heard Mr. Cleath testifying that trying to link well data to specific properties is not advised, expert information which, of course, was totally ignored. When staff was repeatedly asked, Do you have any evidence specifically linking Property X with nitrate pollution? the answer – under oath – was always, “No.” But the owner of Property X was declared “guilty” and beheaded anyway.

So much for “science.” So much for “evidence.” So much for due process.

But there were two, highly telling moments: First, there was the spectacle of CDO Recipient X, with his wife weeping at his side, finally recanting. He was given two minutes to decide whether to sign the settlement agreement (Actually, a Clean Up & Abatement Order that in many ways could end up offering fewer protections than an actual CDO would have, something I am positive Mr. X was unaware of at the time.) Mr. X declared that he would sign, but would be doing so “under duress.”

This blindingly clear and truthful description of exactly what Mr. X was laboring under – duress – caused the Board members to recoil in faux horror. Duress? DURESS? Why, we are shocked – SHOCKED – by such a notion! Wereupon they tried to help their victim find different words to use, suggesting that, perhaps, he could use the word, “disgust,” or that the agreement “stinks,” but duress? Oh, perish the thought.

It was THE Grand Inquisitor Moment in this auto-de-fe, the public ritual kissing of the sacred relics, the confession tearfully but “freely” made before the body is consigned to the flames.

But the final creeping horror of watching the incompetent bumbling and unnecessary cruelty and waste that has gone on for a whole year, was when Board members claimed that THEY were the helpless victims in all this. Said Board member Press, “ . . . [for years] . . .the [RWQCB] has patiently waited for something to happen . . , ,” utterly ignoring the fact that the Board was the ONLY player in the room that had all the power to MAKE “something happen.”

Yet even now, with a variety of regulatory smart options and alternatives in their toolbox, the Board repeatedly CHOSE to proceed down one of the worst possible paths, wringing their hands in faux victimhood all the way.

Well, they’ll have plenty of time to wring. Despite the verdicts all being done deals, with no-shows being tried and hanged in absentia, it still took 8 hours to “process” about 6 citizens.

There are 4,955 left to go, including you, Dear and Gentle Reader. Which means, you can do nothing, or you can get more information by calling some of The Los Osos 45 who have joined together to form the Prohibition Zone Legal Defense Fund, at 534-1913, and join with them and their attorney’s efforts to stay legally informed, protect their due process rights, and to try once again to work jointly with the RWQCB’s staff to craft a far smarter alternative than this appallingly sadistic and ultimately pointless spectacle.

More Tea! More Tea for Torquemada! Move Down! Move Down!


Anonymous said...

How about just building the damn sewer instead of you wearing out the top of your head scratching in wonderment! You really know nothing and don't appear to need to learn.

Churadogs said...

Another Anonymoose sez:"How about just building the damn sewer instead of you wearing out the top of your head scratching in wonderment! You really know nothing and don't appear to need to learn."

Ah, good morning. I see you're in a good mood this morning. Actually, I went out this morning with my little shovel and started digging trenches in the street to "build the damned sewer," and saw all my neighbors out there digging trenches as well. Gosh, Anonymous, we're working really hard here "building the damned sewer" and you didn't even notice. Dang!

Anonymous said...

Your "faux" writing style is really wearing thin. Maybe you should take a refresher course in writing!

Mike Green said...

Its pretty evident to me that the water board is going to behead the rest of us in abstentia, no need for further hearings because they have heard it all already.
There will be no due process.
Because they already KNOW that this entire kangaroo court compiled by state jesters will blow away like flatulence in a wind storm if it ever gets to any state or federal court.
They are simply acting out their play to satisfy the requirements (as they see it) of their jobs.
They are also betting that the county( which by the way is under no real obligation to succeed here) will feel the pressure of the people. Los Osos is not a little dinky town. If they can unite us The county will have to take notice!
We are being used as pawns.

Anonymous said...

Since you don't live in Los Osos, why are you digging a sewer?

Please read the laws which gave the CCRWQCB the right, even the responsibility, to halt the coninueing 1,000,000 gals per day pollution of the drinking water and the National Estuary.

Thank God the County of San Luis Obispo under directive of the State Legislature of California has taken back the project. The BANKRUPT LOCSD has deliberately stalled and misdirected all efforts to build a sewer. Thank goodness, your "opinion" column is merely a comic relief and you personally are not paid any attention by the State of California.

Anonymous said...

Ann lives on an unpaved street in Los Osos, where do you live?

not a lawyer said...

It seems to me that the Achilles heel of this whole process is for CDOs issued to those property owners who bought homes or live in homes built after the 83-12 (?) resolution was passed. One of the CDO recipients (Shipe, I think) has been pursuing this line of inquiry. The RWQCB argument is:

1. you live in PZ,
2. 83-12 prohibits all septic discharge,
3. You are discharging
4. You get a CDO.

The simplicity of this argument is going to bring the whole thing down whether a sewer gets built or not in my opinion. Here's why:

1. The County allowed the home to be built after prohibition went into effect as a residence with a septic system. The county has also collected property taxes on said residence for many years. The county requires septic system to operate properly before sale of property. Hence the county is liable for damages a property owner inherits from CDO.

2. Title insurance: A check on the title before sale of home did not indicate any prohibition against using septic system. Resolution 83-12 was in effect. So, title company is liable.

3. Brokers: They sold homes, made commissions and did not disclose to purchasers of the prohibition against septic discharge. So, brokers liable.

The way I see it, anyone who lives in a home built after the prohibition went into effect, or bought a home in the PZ after prohibition went into effect, has an opportunity to sue the county, title insurance company, the broker, and possibly the previous homeowners for nondisclosure once a CDO has been issued. This, of course, will happen in a real court of law, will be filed against entities with deep pockets and has the potential for class action (all property owners who bought through johnson-starlings since the prohibition went into effect could bring a unified suit, for example).

If any of what I said has any legal viability at all, I think competent lawyers will take the case and we will have even more interesting times ahead independent of sewer construction, 218 votes, and the future of the LOCSD.

TCG said...

I feel very badly for the unfortunate property owners who are subject to these orders. However, I do believe that the RWQCB will back off if the County process is carried out and a successful Prop 218 vote is held. It's time that all of this emornous stress and vindictiveness in our otherwise beautiful community comes to an end.

Anonymous said...

Dear ms. Calhoun, I am depressed with the abuse our community receives for efforts toward sustainable,affordable out of town sewer. I just want to say in this depressed state you are the only one that can make me laugh out loud, with your cutting humour and irony. You are a brilliant writer! Thank you ( you are also a powerful writer and I know those that berate you mean diddley to you))

Sewertoons said...

Ann, instead of digging up your dirt street, how about writing a column on how important the passing the 218 vote is to the community?

not a lawyer, if the 218 passes and the CDO's, CAO's are dropped, is it worth it to sue the County, etc., and go through all the stress, angst, expense and uncertainty that such a process brings with it? I'm not sure this town needs any more litigation, the CSD has used up our tolerance for it I believe.

Anonymous said...

Rita Skeeter dahlin...

Y'all really shouldn't bother with the peasants from that dirty end of our bay. They are only turnips, those awful fruits. You should get yourself down to Carolyn's Hair & Nails and get a facial and oh, those nails after workin so hard on that dirty ol sewer. Have y'all though of movin over to here? We sure could use your great talents to get them to move that nasty old rock that blocks our view of the ocean. We could see all the way to Maui if that ugly blot on the horizon was blasted away. Luv ya, come on over soon Honey.

Mike Green said...

Anon "of California" stated above:
"Please read the laws which gave the CCRWQCB the right, even the responsibility, to halt the coninueing 1,000,000 gals per day pollution of the drinking water and the National Estuary."

Realy, and if the air resources board required you to stop breathing, because of your possible contribution to air pollution, would that be ok too?

Do you know what the worst levels of nitrates sampled in Los Osos grounwater was measured at?

Do you know what the levels of the nitrates in Santa Maria is? how about Morro Bay?

Quit trying to make this into a calamitous ecological disaster, it's not. Even if we build the damned sewer right now, a large portion of the people that are going through this waterboarding wont live long enough to actualy see any improvement in the problem.

No, the Water Gods do not have the RIGHT to take my property or cause me to go bankrupt.

Not for this.

Anonymous said...

Right on, Mike Green. Well said.

Anonymous said...

There is no need to go bankrupt. Had the sewer gone as planned, we would be on our way to complying. Now if you want to hold your breath till you turn blue, go right ahead, but realize there was a legal sewer project started. Don't blame the water boards, they didn't stop the project, blame our incompetent CSD for their inability to produce a workable Plan.

Mike Green said...

Anon "workable Plan",
Your first statement has an impossible preposition in that we have no need to go bankrupt if we had only taken another path.
The path hath been taken, deal with it.
The Water Gods are guilty too!

Churadogs said...

Sewertoons sez:"Ann, instead of digging up your dirt street, how about writing a column on how important the passing the 218 vote is to the community?

not a lawyer, if the 218 passes and the CDO's, CAO's are dropped, is it worth it to sue the County, etc., and go through all the stress, angst, expense and uncertainty that such a process brings with it? I'm not sure this town needs any more litigation, the CSD has used up our tolerance for it I believe."

The CDOs are not going to be (legally) dropped until everyone hooks up to the sewer. So, an interesting question remains: Just what is the point of the mass CDO's? Tim Cleath testified that pump, inspect, repair won't do diddly to the groundwater by the time a sewer is built, so it's not about "clean water." Tim Cleath also warned about connecting collective nitrate numbers from well data to private properties (also ignored by the Water Board), so it's not about due process or evidence or science and now, with the Jan 22 hearing rules posted, the ground rules have once again been changed, now it's not even about pollution or pollution loading or waters of the state of california or anything about the environment, period.

So, what's left? Coercion of the 218 vote? Electioneering? The proposed CDO's leave it all in the hands of the RWQCBoard. IF the 218 vote goes the way THEY want, and gives THEM the project THEY want, and if THEY feel there is "progress" (as defined by THEM, (not the county, which is now in charge of the project) and includes drop-dead dates set or changed by THEM (not the County, which is in charge of the project) and THEY set Time Schedule Orders, set and kept or changed BY THEM,not the County, which is in charge of the project, (remember Bruce Buel's testimony of "unreasonable" TSOs on the old project, the unreasonableness that helped drive Tri-W off the cliff?, all of which will be based on THEIR criteria, (not sound engineering or science, just criteria which THEY are free to make up as they wish, with no mention in the CDO of things "beyond the control of the homeowners," (or even beyond the control of the County, which is in control of the project) & etc. In short, the RWQCBoard (or, God help Us, Roger Briggs, when he safely returns after the CDO hearings are over and he takes the helm again) will decide and will dictate whether what the County is doing meets THEIR wishes, not the County, not the citizens.

If the citizens then don't vote the way the RWQCB wants, ka-boom, revoke and impose the CDOs. Is there a word for that sort of thing? To me, coercion comes to mind. Electioneering also. Are these illegal activities by the Water Boards? Very probably, but look at how blandly "deniable" it all is, the ingenuous statement that, "Why no, WE'RE not telling anyone how to vote and we're shocked -- SHOCKED -- that you would suggest such a thing. Snicker-snee."

Now up for grabs, After the final Los Osos 45 are tried and beheaded on Jan 22, will the Board then issue mass "settlements" to the community without telling them that they're actually CAO's which may well protect FEWER rights than the regular CDOs?

Which gets us back to the original question, Just what's the point of all of this. Does the Board honestly think that if the County delivers a sound project that meets most of the communities wishes that they won't vote for it? If they honestly believe that, then they have no business doing anything in this community since it's clear they haven't got a CLUE as to what's really gone on here or is going on here. That kind of blind ignornace should be simply intolerable in a regulatory body.

Or are the CDO's simply a CYA move, something that makes the RWQCB look like they're "doing something?" But does it also have the possibility of being counter productive? If they presure the citizens too hard or the County too hard at this point, will the County bolt? Will the citizens? That would be an irony because it would mean that the Waterboard would then be the ones "stopping" a project.

Except for purposes of coercion or electioneering, it's hard to see the point of all this. The reality is that all of this is a dangerous, wasteful distraction. This community needs to keep focused on the county PROCESS, needs to keep focused on making sure the steps leading up to the 218 are not rigged or booby-trapped (Will somebody file a lawsuit charging electioneering based on these CDOs?? Recall statements on the record from Board members involving 'changing the will of the community?" The RWQCB is legally empowered to set discharge/waterquality standards, not "change the will of the community." If this CDO process results in a delaying lawsuit, does anyone on that Board want that? Do the majority of people in this community? No? So, why are they continuing with this distracting, potentially dangerous, process?)

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the WB wants the process to fail so they can "fine us out of existance" individually?

Anonymous said...


I agree with you that the RWQCB should hold off on its CDO's and let the County process play out, but I can easily see why they are conditioned to do what they are doing.

The community has a long history of bing on the btink of having a sewer, they bailing out on the prospect. In about 1990 the County had a project ready to go, but many members of the town worked with Bud Laurent to try and prove to the State that a sewer was not needed.

Then in 1997 the County had a reasonable project ready to go, but 88% of the town voted to search, instead, for a different project. Lastly, in 2005, the CSD Board, with support from many people in the community, stopped the Tri-W project which was already underway.

Los Osos is suffering the consequences of its past actions. Right or wrong, we should not be surprised about this. The only way to stop the RWQCB is to break the pattern of the past 16 years and vote to fund a reasonable project.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the typo's on my previous entry. In too much of a hurry.

Shark Inlet said...

Ann, when you write "Tim Cleath testified that pump, inspect, repair won't do diddly to the groundwater by the time a sewer is built, so it's not about "clean water." you do a disservice to us all.

You know darn well that inspect and repair aspects of the RWQCB scheme is something that many have been proposing for years, including many on your side. (Why, again, Julie and Lisa voted against septic management is beyond me when they claim to support the idea ... but that's another question.)

The pumping idea? Dunno exactly the logic behind it other than septics need to be pumped every few years to work most efficiently.

So then ... which is it ... is septic management (whether by the LOCSD or County ... or by decree of the RWQCB) a good thing or a bad thing? Will it lower nitrates or not?

If it will lower the nitrate loading it is a good thing even if there won't be noticeable improvement in the groundwater nitrate levels in the next five years. We've talked about this before. If you're pissing in your drinking water it would be good to stop even if there won't be immediate improvement.

If the nitrate loading won't decrease from such septic management, why would many have proposed it in the past (including you, I believe) as a good step toward the goal of clean water.

Maybe you, as someone who writes stuff for a newspaper, should actually give Tim Cleath a call and ask a few questions. I am pretty sure that if you were to pass some of your comments by him before putting them in writing here he might give you some pointers that would be worthwhile.

In fact, you might want to do that with some of your other comments and other experts as well.

On the other hand, then your commentary would be more like reporting what experts know and say than your own personal take on various issues.

Anonymous said...

If I was a resident of Los Osos I'd bring a CEQA suit against the RWQCB for not evaluating the "environmental" impacts from pumping and transporting all the septic waste from Los Osos to wherever it goes.

There has to be significant impacts to air quality, traffic, noise from all the truck trips, etc.

Oh, and RWQCB can't claim the impacts are insignifant because there are only 45 properties that are effected given that the "project" is all of the properties will be required to pump their septic tanks.

I'd love to see what their mitigation measures will be. And I don't think building a sewer would suffice as a mitigation measure since it may not be considered a feasible alternative.

Sewertoons said...

anon 10:38, what is a feasible alternative?

Anonymous said...

well, since the RWQCB is the agency that is creating the "project" they would be responsible for any mitigation measures. The RWQCB would be the agency required to build the sewage treatment plant as a mitigation to septic pumping.

Obviously they do not have the ability to build a sewage treatment plant.

This could become the proverbial between a hard place and a rock for RWQCB.