We do not see our hand in what happens, so we call certain events melancholy accidents
One of the more interesting aspects of writing a blog is to read the various comments people post. In discussions about the Hideous Sewer Wars, what has become clear to me is how much people want to find someone or some one thing to blame for all the woes this community is going through now. What they seem to keep forgetting is this: The Hideous Sewer Wars is a narrative, and, like any narrative, is has a history of a whole series of linked crossroads where the moving finger, having writ, decided to take path A instead of path B and . . . thereby hangs another tale, until the story gets to fork-in-the-road C, D, E, where, making yet another narrative choice, sends it along path E, thereby precluding paths C and D, and so forth until we get to the exciting part about the train flying off the cliff to crash onto the rocks below.
As with any narrative, it’s often concluded that the story is “real,” and that the outcome was the only one possible. Most folks forget that the story’s outcome depends on a person writing the story (or in the case of the Hideous Sewer Wars, a whole bunch of people writing) making some key decisions that took the narrative down a certain path, which led to . . .
And deconstructing a narrative involves a series of What Ifs. In the case of the Hideous Sewer Wars, What If:
1. Waaaaayyyy back in the day, what would have happened if Project Engineer George Gibson had gone into a room with a calculator and some paper and sat down with CAWS (Citizens for an Affordable Wastewater System) member, Roger Shields, and they had added up the REAL costs for the home owner for the then County Project. Instead, both sides had figures that didn’t match up, and that allowed the paranoia level to rise to dangerous levels. (Why are these numbers so far off. Who’s not being honest? What’s being hidden? Bzzzzz, Bzzzzz Bzzzz) What If those two had hammered out real figures then emerged, arm in arm, to tell the community: Yep, it’s gonna be more than County sez, but less than CAWS sez, so here’s the compromise number we’ve agreed to. It’s high, but there simply is no way around it so suck it up and let’s get going.
2. The Regional Water Quality Control Board had done isotope studies to track and trace pollution directly from selected septic tanks to the waters of the state of California.
3. The Regional Water Quality Control Board had required the County (and later the CSD) to turnkey Resolution 83-12 – the Septic Management District – in 1983.
4. The Regional Water Quality Control Board and the County had updated The Basin Plan as more and better water studies came in, with an eye to looking at the watershed as a whole, not some artificial PZ drawn on a map. In short, treat the basin wholly with every user involved in the clean up, instead of the lazy and politically expedient (and indefensible) method they did use.
5. When it became clear that the Solutions Group’s Ponds of Avalon would not fly, suppose the CSD decided to go back to the community, ‘splain that failure, put all plans back on the table, including all sites, and re-think the whole deal? Instead of clinging to the Tri-W site, syuppose they went back to square one.
6. When it became clear that the Broderson site was questionable vis a vis “discharge” vs “recharge,” why didn’t the RWQCB stop everything cold for a re-look. After all, if your recharge site makes no sense, and it’s directly linked to your treatment plant, then neither make much sense.
7. What if the Coastal Commission, at the de novo hearing, had actually insisted on getting an answer to their question: A side by side comparison of in-town/out-of-town systems. If those comparisons came up with nearly equal systems (cost wise and environmental wise) why didn’t the CSD follow up by holding a community advisory vote and/or a direct 218 vote at that point?
8. What if the CSD, working under an “unreasonable” Time Schedule Order, had, at various points, gone back to the SWB to revise that “unreasonable” time order to avoid rushing something that could trigger a wreck up ahead?
9. What if the State Water Board, having ample evidence of a divided community, held the issuance of the State Revolving Fund Loan, required the CSD to hold a 218 vote since they had done their due diligence on that loan and knew it was unsecured and so was at risk?
10. What if the recalled CSD Board had voted to set the recall election earlier rather than at the last possible date, and then voted to NOT start pounding millions into the ground shortly before the recall election?
10. Before the recall was even certified, suppose a certain someone had sent Roger Briggs the following email: “Rog, stay cool, hold your fire. Clearly, we’ve hit a rock in the road here. The community, via Measure B and the recall, wants to move the sewer plant out of town. Work with us here in making that happen. I know, I know, I’d like to “fine the CSD out of existence” too, but that will be counterproductive to moving ahead with a wastewater system. There’s room for compromise here. Let’s see that’s the path we take, not anger, hissy-fits and confrontation that will just delay everything.” And Roger emailed back, “You’re right. I’d like to “rub their noses” in it, but instead, I’ll call for a sit down. I know, I’ll see about getting Darrin Polhemus down from Sacramento. He’s a real go-to guy who’ll know how to make this thing work.”
Well, you get the idea. All of these points in the narrative were specific decisions made by specific people that led to other decisions, all linked, all inseparable from the “melancholy accidents” we claim to be “reality.”
Even now, there are certain decisions that can be made by specific people that can change this narrative once again, for better or worse.
And if the narrative IS to change for the better, then everyone involved needs to keep asking: What is the Basic Question?
If the answer (or answers) is kept foremost in mind, and decisions keep focused on answering that Basic Question, then the Hideous Sewer Wars will finally have a chance of coming to a happy ending. If not, then the narrative thread will keep going down deliberately chosen paths that will lead to more unnecessary train wrecks.
And Los Osos has had enough of those to last a lifetime.