Letter to the Editor from PZLDF
The following ran in the 1/5/07 Tribune as a Viewpoint.
Two weeks before Christmas the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) began issuing Cease and Desist Orders (CDO’s) to randomly-selected LO residents. The individual enforcement came after nearly a year of RWQCB foibles and delays, including the exit of key prosecutor and witness, Roger Briggs. Enforcement proposed long before the Blakeslee Bill and the County assuming the sewer project makes these belated actions both obsolete and counter productive. The Prohibition Zone Legal Defense Fund (PZLDF) mission is to assist and support individuals targeted for enforcement. PZLDF developed a "Settlement Work Plan" based on RWQCB guidelines for progressive enforcement. Cooperative compliance was demonstrated and the negotiations with RWQCB were hopeful. While the RWQCB Settlement failed to protect individuals and their properties, PZLDF continues to support enforcement being focused only on individuals who refuse to comply with interim measures or to cease discharges when a sewer system is available.
Several polls have shown the vast majority of LO residents want a community sewer system and will vote for a new project assessment under the County and Blakeslee plan. The conditions in the enforcement orders (RWQCB settlement “order” and CDO) are identical. Residents have also testified and demonstrated that they will voluntarily comply with the RWQCB’s interim measures (have pumped and inspection of septic tanks and will hook up to a sewer). Further, the cost/benefit (based on the RWQCB funding derived from fines) makes this a poor investment since the RWQCB stated the likelihood of fines resulting from these prosecutions is remote (unless the AB 2701 process fails). Thus, the costs of the actions and resulting hearings and court costs wasteful to taxpayers as well. (The estimated cost for just 4 days of hearings in April alone, and related work for 45 residents was $100,000 to 200,000. -And the RWQCB has 4,700 more prosecutions to go.)
There at least three reasons for the RWQCB to adopt progressive enforcement measures besides the exceptionally high cost of punitive "enforcement orders" in both time and taxpayers monies.
First, enforcement for the RWQCB’s decision to tie the enforcement actions directly to the Proposition 218 assessment vote provides the perfect opportunity for anyone not happy with the Blakeslee process to sabotage it. What better justification for protesting an assessment than to claim it was coerced?
Second, the Water Board’s hard-nosed actions destroy the trust and cooperation between residents and controlling agencies that the Blakeslee Bill seeks to restore. The actions will cause all participants, including the County and LOCSD, to suspect that the RWQCB intends to control the process and its outcome. The actions are divisive and rekindle the equity issues the Bill sought to overcome. The enforcement provides risk to some while sharing decision making with the community outside the Prohibition Zone. People in the Prohibition Zone will fund the highest per capita sewer project in national history for a system that benefits the Morro Bay National Estuary, and the clean water supply for entire community. And if the Blakeslee plan fails, their homes are the payment for any enforcement fines (up to $5000/day).
Third, the RWQCB is throwing away the political capital it needs to protect all citizens. Anyone attending the December hearings couldn't help but sympathize with the residents who could not afford the cost for legal assistance (upward of $20,000) as they stood up to the Water Board members, staff, and several attorneys, alone. The lopsided spectacle left no doubt that the considerable powers and resources vested in the RWQCB are not meant to subjugate individual citizens with functioning septic tanks. Very likely, individual taxpayers will eventually prevail in this David and Goliath struggle in the press and Legislature, harming the credibility and status of the State Water Boards, possibly permanently.
Unless it has better reasons to use the powers granted it by the State and People of California, the RWQCB should avoid abusing such power in an effort to demonstrate "we have teeth" against a few defenseless individuals. A settlement for a community-wide work plan containing all the protections the RWQCB wanted , and more was offered by citizens and supported by PZLDF. Assemblyman Blakeslee provided a means to end the Los Osos sewer war through a peace process known as the Blakeslee Bill. Instead of the RWQCB setting land mines that will defeat its objective, look at folding in progressive enforcement work plans, that will improve water quality -and deliver a project unabated.
Alan Martyn, Gail McPherson, Keith Wimer
Prohibition Zone Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 6507 Los Osos Ca. 93412