Hold Onto Your Hair, Maudie, I Think I Feel a Gust of Sanity Blowing Through the Room!
It was electrifying. There we all were at the RWQCB’s May 10 Torquemada’s Mad Hatter Tea Party and Auto de Fe for the carry over of trying and burning the remaining Los Osos 45 and to hear the Prosecution Team’s New! Improved! Mad Scheme to slap CAOs on the rest of the 4,500 residents of my Beloved Bangladesh By The Bay.
The meeting started out as the usual Mantra of Mindless Insanity, plod-plod-plod, when out of the blue, Board Member Dr. Press started quietly asking questions and making comments and with a whoosh, a gust of clarity and real-world, real-life sanity swept through the room, transforming it utterly.
And just what was Dr. Press’ astounding breakthrough? He expressed discomfort with the proposed daily fines of up to $5,000 a day, was afraid that those threats were so scary that they served only as deal-breakers on any proposed project, were deal-breakers on any hope of “settlements,” or on anything the Board was trying to impose on the community via the CDOs or now the CAOs.
He further thought the $5,000 per day fines were counterproductive, were destructive, were likely screwing up the Board’s whole efforts with CDOs, and so it might be a wiser tactic to back off the scary threats and fines and put a saner, real-life cap on such amounts, something that would encourage compliance but not threaten sudden death and the loss of one’s home, a very real, brain-stopper tactic that had the community in an understandable swivet.
Then, as if Dr. Press had opened a door, Board Member Mr. Shallcross added his agreement that perhaps there was other ways to skin this cat, that maybe the looney-tune prosecution efforts were all turning out badly, creating an awful distracting mess and maybe it was time to take a deep breath, step back, get a grip and take another tack.
Like a fever that finally breaks, Dr. Press and Mr. Shallcross’ comments dropped the oppressive blind heat of the room and suddenly the illumination shot up into enough clarity that everyone was finally able to see that there were other paths. Indeed they had been there all along but had been hidden by the mindless furies unleashed by EO Roger Briggs, unstopped by a Board washing their hands of any responsibility for the year-long train wreck, and the counter furies rising out of the desperate community in response.
It was clearly now a new game for everyone on the Board, except for poor Chairman Young who kept fussing with repeatedly elaborate “explanations” to defend his contention that a $5,000 a day fine and legal notice that as of 2011 there was an order of ZERO DISCHARGE, so a person could not use their shower, sink, toilet, dishwasher, DID NOT mean the law would force you to “abandon your home.” Nope, no connection whatsoever that within 6 months you’d owe more in fines than your entire home was worth, but one had nothing to do with the other -- a de-linking of cause and effect that was ingenuous to the point of utter, snort-through-the-nose fatuity. It was a pure Chairman Young moment that soon became embarrassingly irrelevant in the newly changed zeitgeist.
So, besides Dr. Press’ moment of clarity, what else was behind this transformation? Well, the Board of Supervisor’s unanimous letter to the RWQCB asking that they “stand down” and let AB2701 and the county project work in peace certainly helped. While Supervisor Gibson and project head Paavo Ogren were in Sacramento on other pressing matters and so unavailable for questions, Karen Venditti of the TAC was there to speak and her comments made a huge difference by letting the Board know in some specific detail just how far along the project was moving, how many of the benchmarks had been completed and which of the critical ones were due shortly.
The Board also heard from many members of the community who expressed a real fear that the threats coming from the Prosecution team Notice of Violation letter and proposed CAOs were being seen as “electioneering,” and as such could present a real problem down the line if anyone challenged the 218 vote. A psychologist spoke to remind the board that fear disengages the functioning of the intellect and so what was needed here wasn’t more frightened lizard brains, but cooler smarts.
And another speaker pointed out a critical point: In issuing blanket CAOs now, the community would only have 30 days to file an appeal [failure to do so could put your rights in jeopardy] at the same time the TAC would be presenting its fine screening report (which also would require public comment for 30 days), so the question was asked: Which is more important to getting a project done? That the community focus on the project proposals? Or spend time dealing with CAOs in order to protect their property?
And it probably helped that a representative from the County Air Pollution Control District showed up to remind the Board – again – that the new proposed CAOs would involve a Modified Mad Pumping Scheme thereby triggering diesel truck air pollution requiring A Plan and all kinds of annoying, expensive, time-consuming details, none of which had been worked out when the topic showed up during the January ‘06 original Mad Pumping Scheme, thereby indicating to the Board that the Staff STILL hadn’t done their homework and these mass CAOs were – again – not a very good idea, certainly not at this critical juncture.
The upshot was that the Board closed public comment, began discussion and in doing so sent a “signal” to staff and to the community as a whole.
Here’s some of the “signals.”
The County was invited to give a presentation to the Board in July and again in Sept as to where the project was and how it was shaping up. The seven remaining CDOs would be held in abeyance, for now. The CDO holders of the Los Osos 45, still had their CDOs but some language would be worked out so as to let them know that they’d also be in some kind of limbo, for now. And the planned mass CAOs would be held . . . for now.
The Staff was to give the Board clear benchmarks as to what they feel is important, tangible evidence of progress by the County or community so the Board would have something more to go on than just vague promises that things are going along well.
If the Board felt that there were to be delays, if the initial 218 and/or another follow up vote fails, or material progress on a system stops, or any other some such, staff was instructed that doing a mass Auto de Fe mailing, where everyone would be treated equally instead of torturing a few for a year, would be the preferred method, that CAOs would be easier than CDOs, that a settlement agreement [this time properly labeled as actually being a voluntary CAO not some other misleading document, as the proposed draft had it] would have a few more substantial carrots than a regular CAO would, but that both would make it clear that the counterproductive $5,000 a day fines would be capped into something related to real-world cost and hence more likely to get compliance, not defiance.
[As a side note, this community needs to understand, that CAOs are far different than CDOs. With CAOs your judge, jury, and executioner may well be EO Roger Briggs, now he’s back in town, and the “appeal” you are allowed will be read by the State Water Board. It does not take a cynic or a psychic to predict with 100% accuracy what the “verdict” and “appeal” on any CAO will be.]
The Board’s fear is that they’ll be taken for chumps – again. That they need to honor the public trust to protect water, but also realize that the focus here needs to be on water, not lawsuits and vacating homes and doing real harm to real people who have no way of complying with anything, [since the Board and staff have closed off all avenues in an effort to direct a certain outcome, while ingenuously denying same.]
That . . . “water quality is the issue here, . . . clean water is the #1 deal,” that the Board “doesn’t want to let enforcement get in the way” of clean water, that what’s needed here is, as Dr. Press put it, a “virtuous cycle rather than a vicious cycle.”
A virtuous cycle rather than a vicious cycle. Tragically, that virtuous cycle should and could have been present and heeded a year ago . . . but wasn’t. That wasted year was and is sad proof of a system broken, a system and procedures that failed, to the detriment of whole community and, ironically, to the Board itself.
Yet, finally, here we are. And as the meeting was adjourned, suddenly soft strains were heard filling the room . . . Kumbaya, my lord . . . kumbaya. . . . . And Mr. Shallcross leaned back in his chair, chewing on his pen, looking for all the world like a Cheshire Cat.