Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Viewpoint

The following “Viewpoint” by CSD Boardmember, Chuck Cesena, ran in the Tribune Feb 26,09. Posted with permission.

The recent viewpoint from Bill Garfinkel and company was disingenuous in several ways. They paint anyone with a different opinion as a sewer obstructionist. Those who want a more energy efficient system utilizing proven technologies are lumped in with those who don’t even believe we need a sewer. All are painted as obstructionists who have held up the project for the past 20 years. Yet those signing the viewpoint are a who’s who of the very Solutions Group members who convinced the Coastal Commission to stop the County’s previous effort in 1998! After gaining control of the newly formed CSD, they gave us the TriW project. A project so flawed it did not even make the short list of preferred projects in the recent County analysis.

The County’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) determined that a STEP collection system is a feasible alternative that is essentially co-equal in terms of environmental impact as a gravity system. Yes, the DEIR did identify a gravity collection system as the (slightly) environmentally preferred system. And yes, many engineers have been involved with this evaluation. But what did the independent experts at the National Water Research Institute – who were hired by the County to provide a peer review of their consultants work - have to say? That the consulting engineers didn’t seem to be comparing apples to apples when examining STEP and gravity systems. They also stated verbally that they had a hard time not using the word biased to describe the County consultants work.

One of the reasons for the faulty comparison is that a STEP system would utilize small diameter plastic pipe which could be fuse welded to eliminate leaky joints. That state-of-the-art pipe is more expensive and so it was not factored into the gravity collection system estimates. Instead, the traditional PVC pipe with bell& spigot joints sealed by a rubber gasket was used. Using this pipe in an earthquake prone area, especially one with sandy soils and high groundwater, is sure to eventually result in a leaky collection system. Wastewater would leak out into the environment, inviting fines from Water Board. It will allow saltwater to leak into the system. This would cause problems for the treatment plant and could render the treated effluent unusable as a supplement to our water supplies. The County must supply an estimate for each collection system utilizing HDPE or similar fuse-welded pipe.

Another example of the gravity bias is the phantom requirement that STEP (septic) tanks would have to be pumped every five years. This was repeated probably 20 times in the draft EIR, and yet there is no regulatory requirement or scientific basis for this statement. The Water Board’s onsite regulations require inspections every five years (not every two) and pumping as needed

The deep trenches of a gravity collection system would cause a major disruption to the streets of our community during construction. The expense of street repairs would be much higher than that resulting from the horizontal boring associated with the small diameter pipe of a STEP system. On lot disturbance would actually be about the same with each system. Yes, septic tanks would be traded for upgraded STEP tanks. But the existing septic tanks would need to be uncovered as part of decommissioning for the gravity system anyway. And the County has stated that on lot disturbance could be minimized by placing the STEP tanks at the edge of the street right-of-way in some cases.

The STEP system would have a ½ horsepower pump in each yard to pump the STEP tank effluent to the treatment plant. But the gravity system would have 20 pump stations throughout town, with up to 60 horsepower pumps at these stations. Each pump station would require at least annual maintenance, exposing neighbors to noise and odors each time.

The monitoring and alarms of the STEP system would not be maintained by the property owner, it would be the responsibility of the agency operating the sewer system. This alarm system is actually a benefit; it notifies the operator immediately of problems with the system. A gravity system could leak for an undetermined period of time before a problem was noticed.

Much has been said of the need for haste in having a shovel ready project to capture economic stimulus monies that might be available. By definition, the design-build process the County has established is shovel ready.

The timing of the County’s community survey is curious. Why not wait until the responses to the DEIR comments have been released? The results of the proposals submitted as part of the design-build process would have revealed true costs and that is critical information. The key factor for many will be the cost of the project. The DEIR acknowledged that a STEP system would be cheaper to build than a gravity system. The only way to know this for sure is to allow a fair competition in the design-build process and have a STEP proposal among those under consideration.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Another (Follow-up) Viewpoint viewpoint

The following “follow-up viewpoint” was emailed to me from Gail McPherson (who had a Viewpoint in the Tribune recently, also posted here) with a request to post. So far, there’s been three “Viewpoints,” from Bill Garfinkle, the Sustainability Group and Gail.

On a personal note, I feel that Bill Garfinkle’s Viewpoint was a mistake insofar as he expresed a preference as to type of system this early in the Process. As head of the TAC, he knows full well that he carries with him a mantle of “authority,” and as such, should have refrained from expressing
any preference, since it is simply human nature for many to assume that that preference has official sanction since Mr. Garfinkle was a County- appointed “official.” And before some of you start yelling about free speech, it isn’t about free speech, it’s about Caesar’s Wife. Everyone on the TAC needed (and needs) to remain bipartisan on this whole issue while this critical Process is still moving ahead. Any publicly stated preference for whatever system is being considered that is made by "official" folks will end up being divisive and counterproductive. In short, Official Personages need to stay above the fray while the non-Official second string enters the field and thrashes it out in the public theatre.

An added note, in an email from John Waddell ,is that the County Surveys were “anonymous” so there’s no way to know who responded or failed to respond (and why, or whether they even got the survey, & etc.) and so the county’s encouraging people to keep an eye out and if they didn’t get the survey, to call the County. The final count of how many surveys get returned will be interesting. Especially as compared to the last “survey.”


My intent has always been to highlight the water issues, and to move a project forward based on a good design and the community having a vote. In hindsight, it is hard to deny that the 2000-2004 CSD had lost control which resulted in the over-priced, over-designed, badly sited, and underfunded project. I saw a lack transparency and accountability in late 2004 as they steam rolled the community. I found errors in their process. I understand that in addition to pride, they had spent all the bond money and were at a point of no return. Thank goodness the project was halted, and we won’t know the final tally, if it costs us more or less for all that mess, resulting from 20 years of obstructions from all stripes until this process is completed and the valves to the plant open.

A few clarifications; the repeated misinformation on the blog about the lack of a plan- A draft project report was written and several wastewater professionals helped peer review it. Ironically, Stan stated publicly he would not allow it to be accepted unless it was stamped by a engineer. (recall MWH failed to stamp theirs) LOTTF did have an engineer that passed the work on to Blakeslee and Rob Miller to use after the recall. (I still have most of it in electronic format and the binder) The revised project was used in the October 2005 first Blakeslee compromise. The SRF engineers use the information to develop verifications of property sites, lower cost technology, and developed time schedules. Rob presented the plan in November 2005 publicly.

Another correction: I have never promised $100 a month for a sewer (that was CASE) and I was criticized bitterly for not providing or endorsing a fixed cost or circulating the draft report to the public. The vote was against the board and project. Something else pops up from time to time- the ABC regional plan, which was Joey Racano. I have been willing to look at many ideas for what might work, and the county thought it was worth exploring too, if the costs could be shared. Blakeslee agreed that we needed to take the time to explore all options. The County is doing that. Whatever is said about the TriW project, it is clear from the record that the CSD didn't have time to develop the best alternatives. They didn't have the judgment or industry expertise to counter the water board, consultant’s greed, special interests or political agendas at work. And last, rules for crossing creeks aren’t new, that was another lie.
I believe from a position of trust and leadership Bill's exhorting the close-mindedness just as the county and community most needs open-mindedness was a wrong move. He certainly has the right to speak his mind. My wrong move was to make personal references to his character. I have long suspected Paavo’s job of keeping the project for being hijacked back to TRI W was made more difficult by supervisor Gibson's close affiliation and friendship with the Taxpayers Watch.

My hope in the coming weeks is that everyone can take a deep breath and read the entire county status report word for word. You will see that we are at the apex of possibilities and we owe it to our community to begin to open a dialogue among representatives from all sides, and stop speaking past one another. This is especially important in weighing in on the definition of terms like minimal, affordable, green, sustainable, reuse, disposal, maximum benefit etc. and try for measurable criteria. Then let the short listed teams put the best and brightest to work developing competitive proposals with a guaranteed maximum price, including full life cycle operation and maintenance costs. Let them include both collection systems and treatment works and get creative in the process.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sewer Viewpoint

The following appeared in the Feb 24, 09, Tribune. This is the Viewpoint with a few added notes by author McPherson.

Regarding Bill Garfinkel's Viewpoint, "It's time to speak out on sewer options" (Feb. 17):
All residents of Los Osos should have received a community survey in the mail from the county by now. It is important that every resident of LosOsos return this survey.

Apart from which system you might prefer, please let the county processwork. Paavo Ogren, County Public Works director, wisely proclaimed that ifneither side is allowed to hijack the Los Osos project, the county processwill result in a new Los Osos project that the community can embrace, evenif parts are not what each individual envisioned or advocated. Mr. Garfinkelseeks to short circuit the county process by eliminating options.

In accordance with the special legislation AB2701, the process developed bythe county has worked diligently to identify several viable options for theLos Osos wastewater project. The detailed project reports and permitdocuments put forth a co-equal analysis which will lead to competitivepricing and lower costs to the consumer/community. The county-managedwastewater project is now entering into the competitive design-build processto assure that a project is selected based on best value, not on amateurishopinions or scare tactics to eliminate options.

As pointed out in Mr. Garfinkel¹s Viewpoint, the most costly piece of theproject is the collection system, and two types of systems are proposed.Eighty million dollars is budgeted for whichever is selected as the bestvalue for the community. Estimates to date indicate gravity must beredesigned water tight, will save money if redirected out of town, and willcost more to install. STEP will cost less. This is quitethreatening to original Tri-W contractors, and will surely drive competitivepricing lower for either system selected.

I am not advocating either, and regardless of your position on the type ofcollection system, making the options compete head-to-head is what will giveLos Osos the real-world costs for an informed decision. So why narrowchoices now?

The county has focused on two strategies to lower the cost of the project:1) financing; The county has negotiated 30-year, 0 percent financing. The stimulus package has two significant features that concerns Los Osos; Provisions to forgive old debt for disadvantaged communities, and incentives for green projects to be funded above others.2)

Competitive pricing: To assure against price slip that killed the last project, the county is processing the design-build as a fixed price guarantee in the competitive proposals.Unfortunately, hijacking the competitive process byeliminating options is exactly what the Viewpoint is seeking to accomplish.

The group of original veteran obstructionists (Solutions group and nowcalled Taxpayers Watch) has used Garfinkel to violate all trust and decencytoward the county process (and community preferences’) to shamelessly lobby for just one choice---the gravity collection option. This effort to bypass the AB 2701 county community survey before it was in the mail stinks!

Isn't it enough they screwed up the Tri-W project with an amateur CommunityServices District and gobs of similar misinformation? That the project coststripled while they simply forgot a 218 assessment vote? Breaking ground on a rejected project bankrupted the district and shattered the community.

The Viewpoint seeks to achieve a noncompetitive sole source deal for the rejected collection design. Don't allow any group to defeat the countyprocess by eliminating options.

Let's stay the course and complete the Blakeslee AB 2701 vetting process, with full construction and lifecycle cost guarantees for both the STEP and gravity options. If one system costs substantially less and does the job, let the community decide if they want to choose it.

Please write in on your survey: "Dear supervisors: I want both systems (STEPvs. gravity) included in competitive proposals with a guaranteed maximumprice, including full life cycle operation and maintenance costs for bothcollection systems."Or e-mail the important message to the Board of Supervisors

Gail McPherson is a retired wastewater systems manager and serves asexecutive director of Citizens for Clean Water.

P.S. These two statements in Garfinkel’s piece absolutely misrepresent the County position and the facts:
1. “The “better solutions” have either not been tested in similar environments, been deemed highly unlikely to pass approval by governing agencies or been dismissed as too costly.”
“The options from the County process are ALL VIABLE—this finding is based on the alternatives track record, cost and community acceptability.” (Co. report)
2.”Those who claim it is not “green” enough are ignoring the large additional costs associated with developing alternate energy to drive the plant or treat solid wastes to higher levels.”
The TW obstructionists wrongly assumes Environmental 'Green' technology will cost more, In fact the County & industry reports indicate that project with "minimal environmental impacts" actually can lower costs in the construction phase and over the life of the project. Reserve for Green, Efficient, Innovative Projects: That, to the extent there are sufficient eligible project applications, not less than 20 percent of the funds appropriated herein for the Revolving Funds shall be for projects to address green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency improvements or other environmentally innovative activities” (SRF briefing doc)
Last, Green has lots of definitions, but it is a real stretch to call the collection system that flows by gravity “green.” Gravity flows down hill like the STEG until the hill stops. Then a lift station is required to pump it. Los Osos is hilly—at least 12 stations and pumps and back up power for each---hello? Disposal is up hill too!
I know either collection system if properly designed, constructed, and operated will work. NOW it is about preferences, but more IT IS ABOUT THE PRICE. Don’t you at least want to find out? Blakeslee thought we should, and so did the County, even with Puppet Bill Garfinkel as TAC Chair pulling strings.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meeting Updates
Thursday, Feb 26 [added note: agenda items have been switched, with one matter scheduled for the morning postponed for the afternoon, so the wasterwater presentation could be switched. Suggest anyone interested, better show up by 10, I presume, otherwise you may miss it all?) the Planning Commission will hold an informational meeting to hear from the County on the DEIR for the Sewer Plans. It's in the BOS chambers.

On Wed, March 4 at the SLO City/Co. Library, the WRAC will meet to decide whether or not to form a subcommitte to submit comments to the Planning Commission in April.

The Planning Commission has blocked out both April 23 & 30 for all day hearing on the LOWWP. It's likely they'll certify both the DEIR and grant the CDP.

If the BOS takes up the appeal in May or early June, they may finish to get to the Coastal Commission in July when the CC meets in SLO.

I have been told that the County will NOT be making the RWQCB meeting in Watsonville in March, which could be unfortunate since I believe the issue there could raise concerns about water recharge/salt-water intrusion, water loss, etc. by the present proposed plan. But then, when did the RWQCB concern itself with water? So whether the county attends or not will be moot, as will all things having to do with the RWQCB since it's all rubber stamp at this point.

Written comments on all of this must be submitted in a timely manner or forever hold your peace.

Dates and times may change, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Start Yer Sewer Engines, Part II

Comments below from an email from the Sustainability Group, some Los Osos citizens who have been monitoring and commenting on the county project. The County “survey” arrived in my mailbox today, and, as suspected, there are, alas, some critical things missing, like price comparisons between STEP and Gravity. And, of course, no OM&R comparisons, Yet, weirdly, the survey does ask people how much savings a month are they willing to consider to choose STEP without ever being told what STEP would cost in the first place. How is that question anything other than laughable? For example, if we had real-world costs between STEP & Gravity, including OM&R, costs that included some ball-park figures each homeowner could use to figure out if they would incur hi, med or low installation costs, then a valid question would be, “A STEP/STEG System would have to save me at least XXX $ a month to make it worthwhile.” But without that original price comparison, (plus some pretty good guestimates for installation costs) the question is utterly silly.

And for sheer weirdness, there’s a question asking what locations for the treatment facility site folks want and there, at the top of the list of choices, is “mid-town: aka Tri-W site” even though all the reports made it clear the county had no intention of putting the treatment plant there, that Tri-W came in dead last on the TAC report and Dr. T’s report, yet there it is. (Note that the Turri Road side or Pismo St. site and other sites aren’t listed at all.) So why is that proposed site there, except to serve as some sort of political CYA security blankie? Very strange.

Wait, it gets better. This survey asks residents for their income. You mean to tell me the County is close to building this massive public works project, has already made it clear which type of system they’ll pick and yet doesn’t already know the income levels in this town?

Then, the next question asks residence owners if they plan to apply for financial assistance for low or fixed income households without giving any kind of indication what constitutes “low or fixed income.” I could be on a “fixed” income of $10,000 a month. Would I qualify for financial assistance?

And, of course, there’s always the ever-present problem: If you present a choice between A or B and, uh, forget to mention C and folks vote for A or B, then later find out that C was always available, then what’s the problem? They had a vote, they had a choice and if it wasn’t C, so what? It was a vote.

And so it goes. Well, if you’ve been watching the Sewer Wars for a few years now, you know that this survey is primarily designed as a CYA measure. The Process must not only be done, but The Process must be SEEN to be done so that no challenges to The Process can be made. Even if a project has been already quasi, pre-selected (wink nudge), for a variety of reasons, (and, remember, Dr. T’s group noted that both gravity and STEP/SEG systems are equally viable, with the only differences being in the various Devils in the Details and the price) all the steps to this dance must be completed in proper order, whether really needed or not, because once every step is completed, The Process cannot be challenged, in court or out. If it is, a challenge, whether legal or political, can be easily quashed by pointing to the documentation of The Process -- reams of paper, taped meetings, written responses, brochures, questionaires – all the proper steps done in the proper order.

Well, the Sustainability Group (below) has some questions and opinions. I understand there will be a sewer review, presentation before the planning commission this Thursday, (?) (later post: still trying to track this down, may be on another date?, so don't show up until you check w/county), so anyone interested can attend and learn more, and I hope everyone will take the time to fill out this form and/or add any questions or comments of their own.

This will be the only chance the people of this community can speak now or forever hold their peace. After all, the folks who supported the recall and opposed Tri-W asked for three things: an “affordable” sewer system (i.e. cheaper than Tri-W), a treatment plant out of town, and a “vote”/ voice/choice in which system they wanted to buy. It’s that last option that is tricky. In a game of spin, fudge, omit, manipulate, nudge, overlook, garbage in/ garbage out, if they don’t pay close attention, their “choice” will be made for them, and if they’re not happy with that “choice,” too bad. It’ll be too late and they’ll get the bill.

But, at the end of the day, no matter how it plays out, the people of this community will end up with two out of the three requests, and if they’re really, really lucky, they might get close to the third. Two out of three? Not bad.

Meantime, the Office Pool is still on, only this time I think the only interesting number to wager on is this: What percentage of the community won’t even bother to return their survey?

From the Sustainability Group:

Los Osos' Affordable and Sustainable Options

Los Osos can have an affordable, proven, "shovel ready" waste water project right now. We can have a project which keeps people in their homes, (the EPA guidelines state that waste water costs should not exceed 2% of the median house hold income, that's about $80 per month for us), provides clean drinking water, recharges our aquifers, stops salt water intrusion and protects the bay. For a winning system, the Los Osos Sustainability Group recommends:
Collection System:
(70% of the project cost)
Choose anything other than gravity collection. Gravity collection involves digging trenches in the middle of the street which need to be shored up and de-watered. This takes time and money as the trench water must be cleaned before it can be disposed of. Gravity pipes are large and laid deep in the ground,(6 to 20 feet). These unsealed pipes inherently leak sewage, polluting our ground water. This system will require a dozen, energy intensive, lift stations each with it's own back up generator. Gravity's large pipes require constant maintenance in order to avoid clogs which cause spills. Cayucos, Pismo and San Luis Obispo's gravity collection systems have all spilled sewage in the past month and the CMC was recently fined again by the Water Board for their various problems.

Other technologies, Vacuum and STEP/STEG, are sealed, small diameter pipe systems, installed by horizontal boring along the side of the street at a depth of about 4 feet, (think arthroscopic surgery vs. traditional cutting). This is not only less expensive and less invasive, but in case of an earthquake, ruptures are less likely and much easier to repair, (After the Northridge earthquake it took 14 years to fix their gravity system.). Vacuum and STEP/STEG do not inherently leak, so they are protective of our groundwater. STEP/STEG, in the LOCSD's 2006 report, was estimated to be $100 less per month than the County's current Gravity projections. Comparable Vacuum collection projects have been built for even less than these STEP/STEG estimates.

Nature-based Nelson Air Diffusion System (ADS) or ECOFluid. Why choose one of these? Both systems utilize limited acreage, are low energy users, treat waste water to the highest quality,(tertiary), naturally and produce minimal sludge. Their cost is one half to one third of the secondary treatment the County is proposing. The County's options also produce large amounts of sludge which is a bio hazard. The County is suggesting we purchase more than 600 acres of prime agriculture land to accommodate their inferior system when ADS or ECOFluid would require a fraction of the resources while providing more benefits at a greatly reduced cost to the homeowner.
Out of town - Branin, Giacomazzi, or Cemetery. Tonini is outside of our water basin and may cause urban sprawl on LOVR.
Essential Elements:
A strong conservation element and agricultural exchange is a must. Using less water means the waste water treatment facility can be smaller. Conservation will help stop salt water intrusion, preserving the aquifers, and provide us with drinking water indefinitely. Twenty five percent conservation can be achieved using common high efficiency appliances, bought, installed and paid for through the project. Agricultural exchange means that instead of the farmers pumping our drinking water and using fertilizers to grow their crops, they will use our treated water. The bacteria in farm soil filter contaminants in ways that our sandy leach fields can't. Salinas implemented a similar program. They too had a water issues including salt water intrusion. Now their problems are solved because they utilized a holistic, integrated, sustainable approach. It is even Central Coast Water Board approved!

What's Wrong with the County's Plan:
Hybrid gravity is 95% conventional big pipe system and only 5% Vacuum collection. Bio-lac and oxidation ditches are expensive, large, mechanical energy users, producing unwanted sludge. Spray fields throw away water. Broderson means very limited basin recharge, possible liquefaction conditions and re-introduction of endocrine disputers, (Putting sewer effluent into your potable water source is a health hazard and the California PTA has a resolution against these bio accumulative toxins). The County's conservation element is very limited, only partially paid for by the project and will not solve our salt water intrusion issues. This "Environmentally Preferred" system is least sustainable for our community, economy, environment and comes with the biggest price tag.
Los Osos can have an affordable, environmentally friendly, sustainable waste water project. Choose one of the Los Osos Sustainability Group recommendations. If you don't see it on the survey ballot, please write it in.
Thank You

More Sewerish Comments:

Aaron Ochs has some comments on the recent Bill Garfinkle Viewpoint in the Tribune over at Ochs Nation at

Your Sunday Poem

by Andrea Cohen, from her new collection of poems, “Long Division.”

In A Haystack

A needle must feel
deeply needled, ill-
suited to its skin,
to leave its arrow-
straight ways,
to stray
into a haystack,
to mean to lose
or find itself
in that soft
tangle, to fill
its one good eye
with the gold
filament of pasture,
to imagine
itself pillow
to the weary,
supper to bell-necklaced goats.
A needle like that?
It would be
criminal even
to report
it missing.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA for March 6, 09

What’s A Mother To Do?

Timing is all. And place. Had Nadya Suleman, the controversial mother of the recently born octuplets, been living in the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union was the Soviet Union, her reproductive efforts would have resulted in being declared a Hero of the Motherland. Ditto had she been living in Hitler’s Germany, churning out 14 little volk for the glorious new Reich.

But she lives in America in the 21st century so what she got first was a deluge of media attention, full of happy surprise and congratulations, followed shortly by an acquired publicist, the dangling lure of a book contract, a promised screenplay, then some interview face time on TV, all dribbled out to maximize the 24 hour news cycle and to juice the ratings.

Alas, that was all followed by a growing suspicion, hostility, then approbation and criticism that landed her behind the eight ball. As noted in a Feb 7th L.A. Times story, Judith Eagan said she does not believe there’s a market for Suleman because “she seems so selfish and irresponsible.” Adding, “Exploiting infants for financial gain and fame is not appealing to publishers. . . . And the publishing business is so in the toilet right now I doubt she’ll find anyone sane to support her endeavor.” This from the agent behind O.J. Simpson’s appallingly notorious “If I Did It” book?

Which prompted an apparently insane Molly Jong-Fast, an agent with Vigliano Associates in New York to say “she would take Suleman’s book ‘in a minute.’ ‘What she did was amazing in her own way,’ Jong-Fast said. ‘Is this a story that deserves to be told? Absolutely. I want her number.’”

Well, it soon became clear that America had Ms. Suleman’s number even before the agent did because of the way this story played out. First we had the traditional Miracle Story – Child Down a Well Saved By Heroic Firemen, Meteorite Falls On House, Misses Room Full of Children, Cow Gives Birth to Two-Headed Calf, Farmer Amazed -- which quickly started falling into a mystery. Fertility clinic? In Vitro fertilization? She already has six kid, all of ‘em in vitro implants? What’s a woman with six kids doing at a fertility clinic? All eight of these new in vitro embryos were implanted at once? Who was that fertility Doctor? Aren’t there laws about such a reckless procedure? What do you mean, the mother’s unmarried, unemployed, lives with her folks, getting food stamps, Medi-Cal’s picking up the hospital tab, and she is now on television blithely telling the world that she wanted lots of children to love since that apparently was the only thing she felt would fix the sad hole in her heart? Who’s gonna pay for all these kids, especially since multiple births often result in kids with long-term medical issues?

So, no medals for Ms. Suleman. Only questions, the biggest of which is this: Will she become the poster child for a whole culture focused exclusively on the care and feeding of Me, Me, It’s All About Me? And since it’s all about ME, then I should get whatever I want.

Are you unemployed and can’t afford a big house? Never mind, just take the loan out anyway. Want that big screen TV but can’t afford it? Easy, put it on the plastic. Can’t afford one child? No problem, have six.

Shouldn’t Grandpa realize that nature intentionally planned an age when it’s time to shift focus from the earthly genitals to The Spiritual Pearly Gates, all part of the natural reproductive cycle of life and death? Not for the Viagra generation. Pass the pills and Gramps is good to go until senility has overtaken him and turned his chemically-induced lust into fodder for comics.

And does post-menopause Granny need to fulfill herself by becoming a Mommy again? Well, get out the Petri dish. Never mind that there’s a very good reason why nature has an optimum reproduction window for both maternal age and the number of babies carried at one time. Since it’s all about ME, I get what I want when I want it, and nature can go whistle.

And if there are consequences, they can be shoved off on somebody else. Like onto eight small children who may face a lifetime of problems because their Mommy couldn’t see past her own needs to understand that her 14 babies weren’t “medicine” to cure her own sickness.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Start Yer Spinning Sewer Engines! Zoom! Zoom!

Ah, and now the Spin Machine starts. In the Feb 18 Tribune “Viewpoint,” Bill Garfinkel, former head of the TAC (information that was, interestingly left off the piece.) submitted what first appeared to be a sort of “balanced” overview of the information homeowners will be considering in the upcoming County “Survey,” (Due next week?) And I use the word “appears,” because it’s actually an endorsement for gravity superficially appearing as some sort of vaguely neutral evaluation. (Hmmm, maybe that’s the reason Bill’s association with the TAC was left off? Didn’t want anyone to think this was some sort of official endorsement, but merely a personal point of view? Good move.)

Unfortunately, Bill’s piece is only the first salvo in the upcoming “campaign” to subtly (and not so subtly) influence which collection system the authors wish the community to “buy” in this upcoming "survey." Get ready for more campaigning – coordinated letters to the editor touting gravity or STEP, other viewpoints pretending to neutrality that are nonetheless loaded down with “spin” of one sort or the other. And, of course, look for the Tribune to do their usual job of not-so-subtly “forgetting” key facts and information in order to do whatever it is the County wants done.

The problem with what the County is about to do with the up coming survey is that asking homeowners to “pick” a collection system now is premature because, so far as I know, neither systems have been evaluated via competitive proposals with real-world, maximum prices, including OM&R BEFORE the homeowners can begin to make an intelligent choice.

The importance of such a real-world evaluation and pricing, including OM&R is that – as the TAC report and Bill’s Viewpoint made clear – “Actual costs for the collection system are unknown until the county receives bids. Engineering estimates indicate the range of costs for the two systems overlap with STEP at the low end of the range. . . .” And in that “overlap,” one can hide all sorts of fudged numbers making appearances misleading.

In addition, Bill notes that engineering estimates don’t include the varying hook-up costs, and goes on to imply that a STEP system would “disturb an area approximately 250 square feet . . .” (for the tank, & etc.) thereby implying there’d be added-on huge costs without noting that, if memory serves, the Ripley Report/Proposal, for example, included the tank installation costs into it’s total project costs, and that total included an averaged-out “landscaping repair” rebate cost per homeowner. Since there have been no real-time proposals, how do we know whether a STEP proposal, for example, would also include that installation cost as part of the plan (as Ripley's plan did)? That's critical information before chosing anything, don't you think?

Plus, without real-time long-term OM&R cost-outs, the homeowner can't figure out that even with an initial higher restore/repair hook up for his property, it may be that STEP still comes out cheaper for long term costs. But without that information, the homeowner can't really make a good determination.

Which means that full life cycle costs, energy costs, sludge disposal costs, RWQCB “leak” fines, & etc. are actually important BEFORE anyone "votes" for anything. In short, the real devil is STILL in the details and without those, I fear that this community is about to be spun into another Hobson’s Choice. Again.

I understand. It's not easy because the problem of truthfully and fully giving the community the information it needs to make a wise choice is a daunting one since every “fact” requires about 70 pages of footnotes and 1,000 attached PDF files and charts to ‘splain it correctly since each “fact” trails all sorts of IF and WHEREAS and HOWEVER and ON THE OTHER HAND.

So, what to do? Well, my suggestion is to do – for real – what the TAC attempted in theory: Competitive real-time proposals with guaranteed caps on prices and a full evaluation of OM&R for BOTH systems. THEN, see what floats to the top.

Is that really too much to ask for? I don’t think so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death in Cayucos

Check out the story at on alleged activities at the Dancing Star Foundation's animal sanctuary in Cayucos. Not pretty, but it is interesting looking at the financial information noted, including the salaries for the Board Members. IF this matter is investigated and perhaps litigated, I suspect the result will simply be another Sad Life Lesson: If you have millions of dollars you want to be used to set up and run a foundation for a certain purpose, don't die until all the money is used up by yourself in the way you wish to spend it. Then die.

Otherwise . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Your Poem on This Beautiful Blustery Sunday

By Robert Wrigley, who’s most recent collections is “Eartly Meditations: New and Selected Poems,” which you can find in your local bookstore.

Cemetery Moles

Most are not blind, but still,
might the concrete burial vaults
be perceived before a tunnel
comes to such a sudden, hard naught?

Though I notice their mounds mostly
down here with the old stones, last row—
those graves that are not only
vaultless but with a wooden casket, too.

And the stories from the sexton?
A filled tooth on a hill whitely shining,
and a mole in a trap one early June,
around its neck a wedding ring.

Friday, February 13, 2009

State Revolving Fund Workshop on funding for Wastewater Plans

Feb 18, 1 - 3 pm

Also may include plans for septic tank conversions to mee the Stealth Plan updates, and AB885, whenever that finishes up. Speak up now, or forever hold your peace?

To acces the webcast:
Need Internet 4.1 or Netscape 4.x+ web browser, Windows Media Player, some kind of high speed cable & etc.

To submit Questions: Subject line: "Clean Water" at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More RWQCB Stealth Septic Plans

The RWQCB is still pushing through their state-wide, region by region Seatlth Septic Basin Update Plans and when they got to Sonoma County, they got an earful. This from the Press Democrat paper. As one local wag commented, No wonder the RWQCB doesn’t regularly broadcast their public meetings. 1,700 people? Woa! If those good folks had paid attention to our own Los Osos 45 and the Mad Hatter Tea Party & Torquemada’s Inquisition “Trial,” there would have been 10 times that number turning out. Well, can’t say they haven’t been warned.

Published: Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 7:06 p.m. Last Modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 7:16 p.m.

There’s a rural revolt unfolding among land owners in Sonoma County opposed to government having its way with their water wells, their septic tanks and their stream banks.

STREAMSThe issue: Creating protection zones around more streams traversing Sonoma County.The debate: Environmentalists see expanded rules as saving waterways. Landowners fear loss of property rights.Timing: County General Plan hearings in August 2007.

WELLSThe issue: Monitoring usage of well water.The debate: Environmentalists worry that groundwater is being depleted. Landowners oppose government intrusion into well use on their property.Timing: General Plan hearings in October 2007.

SEPTIC SYSTEMSThe issue: Testing and replacing septic tanks.The debate: State water regulators implement state law requiring stricter oversight. Landowners say replacement cost would be onerous.Timing: State water board hearings, 2009.
Related Links:
Septic rules blasted
Nearly 1,700 people turn out in Santa Rosa to blast septic tank requirements
Sonoma County grading rules draw lawsuit
PD Editorial: Septic debate
Key Documents:
Text of AB 885 (PDF - 9kb)
This pastoral uprising has been fomented by land owners frustrated by a wave of environmental rules they consider out of touch with lifestyles close to the earth, and ready to turn out by the hundreds to public hearings at a moment’s e-mail notice.

“It’s our Fourth Amendment freedom to be left alone on our property,” said Gloria Ball, a Knights Valley resident and an organizer of the Sonoma County Land Rights Coalition. “When governments try to impose rules on our water and our land, it amounts to a taking of our property.”
While most of Sonoma County’s half-million residents live in one of nine cities, 130,000 live in rural, unincorporated areas. About 45,000 households, almost all of them in the country, rely on septic systems to flush their waste and wells to supply their water.

When the State Water Resources Board tried to hold a hearing on new septic tank regulations in Santa Rosa last month, the board had to close down the meeting when the 400-seat auditorium couldn’t hold everyone who showed up.

Much the same thing happened in fall 2007, when the Sonoma County planning commission held separate hearings on General Plan proposals on water well monitoring, biotic habitat and riparian setbacks.
The Land Rights Coalition that Ball heads is just one of several groups that spreads the word about perceived property threats through e-mail, postal mail and phone trees. The coalition often joins forces with the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, the North Coast Builders Exchange and the North Bay Realtors Association.

“Of all the issues I deal with, I get more outraged phone calls from people who are infuriated with more big government trickling down with rules that don’t make sense,” said Lex McCorvey, the Farm Bureau’s executive director. “People understand the need for maintaining water quality, but they don’t trust government when those rules mean they bear the hidden costs.”

Packed public hearings
The property advocates have geared up members, activists and sympathizers for the state water board’s redo Monday of the canceled septic tank hearing. This time, the board has reserved the 1,600-seat main theater at the center and the session will be from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a break between
5 and 7 p.m.

These organizations have ripped pages out of the playbooks of environmental and community groups that, for decades, have churned political action with clarion calls to pack public hearings.

Environmentalists and neighborhood activists were largely responsible for the crowd of about 300 people who turned out for last Tuesday’s supervisors hearing on a controversial asphalt plant near Petaluma and for the 100 people, mostly in opposition, at a hearing on a disputed winery development in Knights Valley.

Philosophical divide
Environmental concerns about the quality of ground water and river water were at the heart of the Legislature’s passage in 2000 of AB 885, which puts the onus on septic systems users to monitor their systems. Sampling of about 1,000 residential wells in five counties found that about a quarter of them experienced water quality problems, a result cited by regulators as evidence that preventive maintenance is in the public health interest.

Denny Rosatti, executive director of Conservation Action, the county’s most influential environmental group, views the competition as usually well-intentioned but often misinformed.

“It is the postcard and the fear that gets them to turn out when people hear there are threats to their property,” Rosatti said. “They don’t give people the whole story.”

He credits the opponents of water well monitoring and septic tank regulation with “having plenty of passion with their opinions.” However, he feels Conservation Action’s person-to-person contact results in better informed residents appearing at public hearings.

“You want to go with the facts and point out the other side, that the waterways of the state need to be kept clean, that species need protection and that public health in rural areas can be compromised by leaking septic systems and polluted wells,” Rosatti said.

But Eric Koenigshofer, former county supervisor and now an attorney on land use issues, said the rural revolt “is not as simple as old-fashioned property-rights conservatism.”

Koenigshofer sees an increasingly broad philosophical divide between rural residents and suburban dwellers who rely on sewers and wells, yet have no idea how a septic tank and leach field work.

“There is broad public support for preventing stream pollution and insuring water quality, but you also find there are residents who don’t want these suburban attitudes or gentrification and they are pushing back on regulations from the outside the envelope,” he said. “People in rural areas have lived there for a long time so the idea that they need to be closely watched, that they need somebody traipsing around their property and that they need to pay for that regulation is abhorrent.”

It comes as a rude awakening to rural residents and to opposition groups that state government’s water quality rulemakers have been working on the septic system regulations since legislative approval in 2000.

Proposal will be revised
Monday’s hearing comes just weeks before the Feb. 23 deadline for public comment.

Already, the water board has announced it intends to revise its proposals.
“One thing that is certain is that the draft proposals that will be discussed on Monday will not be the final proposals,” said William Rukeyser, the board’s communications director. “They will go out for public comment again. When the board will act in 2009 is anybody’s guess; there is no timetable.”

Whether it’s proposed state regulation or the county General Plan, Koenigshofer said “the process is so loaded up with environmental review analysis” that rural residents often feel public hearings are nothing more than an afterthought.

‘A great tragedy’
With government bureaucracies focused on details of environmental review studies, Koenigshofer said advocacy groups like the Land Rights Coalition have an opening to galvanize residents waving hand-made signs.

“It is a great tragedy that there is so much emotional charge to these hearings because protecting water supply and having clean rivers sounds so good,” he said. “Who could be against that?”

Ball said she and others are opposed in large part because they feel nobody’s listening to their side of the story.

Ball, who was raised in Guerneville, came to the issue 18 months ago when she attended a General Plan hearing and felt property owners should be better informed about government actions. She and her husband, Everett, retired to his family property in Knights Valley after his career as a managing accountant for Silicon Valley start-ups.
“Years ago, people in rural areas went about their lives with little interference, and now the legislation is coming through so quickly that people need to be informed,” Gloria Ball said. “That’s a job that government is not doing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or

More Sewerish Stuff

Sigh. Been nice to ignore all this crap for a while. Let the raging fence fighters of the Comment section take a break, maybe get treatment for their rabies? Anyway, in a previous comment section, a Commenter calling himself Shark Inlet posted the letter from the US Fish & Wildlife (commending on the DEIR Los Osos Sewer Project & etc) at (hope that’s right? )

And reading it I found an interesting point in paragraph 6, where it says, “. . . the 72 acres of Broderson property not proposed for use as leach fields ere never granted to an appropriate agency or conservation organization in perpetuity with deed guarantees of non-development or transfer and the $10,000 per year that was to be allocated for the long-term management and monitoring of Broderson has yet to be set aside.”
Which prompted a question: If the Broderson mitigation & etc. wasn’t properly finished, signed, sealed and delivered BEFORE the recalled CSD started digging holes in the ground at the ESHA Tri-W site, why didn’t Coast Keeper Hensley sue CSD Boardmember Hensley for jumping the gun and digging up ESHA land without all the t’s crossed? Just wondering.

Also, Paragraph #7, regarding some of the same 72 acres now being claimed as useful for mitigation for the latest project? Apparently that can’t be used since it’s already been “used up” for the Tri-W site?? Will the countyhave to find more mitigation acres? Well stay tuned. And also stay tuned for the “community survey” that’s to be arriving shortly.

That’ll be interesting. Shall we lay bets? If history is any template, then 40% of the surveys won’t be returned at all, and IF there’s some kind of “choice” being offered, 30% will go for choice A and 30% will go for choice B and so the county will feel free to go for whatever they had in mind in the first place. Now taking bets.

More Arcana
Commenter Mark Low has been ragged (and asked) if his company has submitted the proper paperwork to have his component considered in the mix and if I understand correctly, his company won’t be submitting any Statement of Qualifications & etc. because that’s only done by licensed contractors. Mark’s product is a “product” that can then be selected and installed as part of the overall project IF it’s picked as a component. The question, as I understand it, was this: Was Mark’s component given a fair hearing at the time it was supposed to be evaluated? If so, is it still in the mix? And if not, why not?

Mind Your Manners
For all this blog’s commentors, some of whom sometimes completely lose their marbles, I would suggest you track down the story in the Feb 5th New Times by editor Patrick Howe (can email him at to ask how to access that story?).

Story was about one commentor on a blog who is being SUED by another blog commentor for libelous comments made in the blog’s “comment section,” thinking he/she was “saf” since he/she was using an anonymous made up name. That blog, like many others, requires commentors sign on with an email address, so they aren’t as “anonymous” as they think.

Please remember than when some of you more immature and rabid commentors get yourself ramped up into complete idiocy. I will use my little garbage can to dump you when I wade through the garbage and decide it’s simply too stupid to keep up. But be aware that the person whose leg you’re chewing on can track you down and sue you personally and you might be able to get away with claiming “opinion,” or “temporary insanity,” or something, but you really gotta ask, Is my momentary juvenile raging rant worth the possible hassle of being dragged into a real court? Naw.

Anyway, great piece. I urge you to check it out. One of the strongest points made is by Dan Blackburn (CalCoastNews) is that when people completely lose their marbles and force a website to completely cut off all comment, then everybody loses in the vital give and take of free speech. So, to some of the sillier of the people who regularly log on here to froth at the mouth and chew on one another’s legs, keep that in mind. Abuse that privilege and you’ll lose your voice altogether. So, play tough, but play fair.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

This from the Feb 2 New Yorker, which, God Bless them, still prints poetry so you can discover new poets, then go out and buy their slim volumes, thereby sending them a few pence to help them continue to write good poetry.

By Tom Sleigh

Over by the cemetery next to the CP
you could see them in wild catmint going crazy:
I watched them roll and wriggle, paw it, lick it,
chew it, leap about, pink tongues stuck out, drooling.

Cats in the tanks’ squat shadows lounging.
Or sleeping curled up under gun turrets.
Hundreds of them sniffing or licking
long hind legs stuck in the air,

great six-toed brutes fixing you with a feral,
slit-eyed stare . . . everywhere ears twitching,
twitching as the armor plate expanding
in the heat gave off piercing little pings.

Cat invasion of the mind. Cat tribes
running wild. And one big pregnant
female come racing through weeds to pounce
between the paws of a marble dog

crouching on a grave and sharpens
her claws against his beard of moss
before she goes all silky, luxuriously
squirming right under the dog’s jaws,

and rolls over to expose her swollen belly.
Picture her with gold hoop earrings
and punked-out nose ring like the cat goddess Bast,
bronze kittens at her feet, the crowd drinking wildly,

women lifting up their skirts as she floats down
the Nile, a sistrum jangling in her paw.
Then come back out of it and sniff
her ointments, lady of Flame, Eye of Ra.

Through the yard the tanks come gunning,
charioteers laughing, goggles smeared with dust
and sun, scattering the toms slinking
along the blast wall holding back the waves
from washing away white crosses on the graves,
the motors roaring through the afternoon
like a cat fuck yowling, on and on.
The gun turrets revolving in the cats’ eyes

swivel and shine, steel treads clanking,
sending the cats flying in an exodus
through brown brittle grass, the stalks
barely rippling as they pass.

After the last car bomb killed three soldiers
the Army Web site labeled them “martyrs.”
Four civilians killed at checkpoints. Three on the airport road.
A young woman blown up by a grenade.

Facts and more facts . . . until the dead ones
climb up out of the graves, gashes on faces
or faces blown away like sandblasted stone
that in the boarded-up museums’

fractured English “leaves the onlooker
riddled and shaken, nothing but a pathetic gaping . . .”
And then I remember the ancient archers
frozen between reverence and necessity –

who stare down the enemy, barbarians,
as it’s told, who nailed sacred cats to their shields,
knowing their foes outraged in their piety
would throw down their bows and wail like kittens.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO CA for Februrary 6, 09

Inauguration Déjà vu

Watching the Obama inauguration was eerie. Suddenly, the tone, tenor and even the cold, sparkling weather reminded me of the Reagan inauguration. If you recall that ceremonious transition, there was the very unpopular, soon-to-be ex-President Carter, who had asked Americans to grow up, face some hard financial choices, deal with the energy issue, turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater. Americans HATED that. Couldn’t wait to get him out of office.

While at the podium stood soon-to-be President Reagan, The Great Communicator, promising “Morning in America,” a radical break with the past, a new day. Telling Americans that their present Government was the problem, not the solution. Telling us we didn’t have to sacrifice, that tax breaks for the rich would trickle down and save us all, that the free market worked best that was regulated the least, that it was time to shuck the sweater, buy that Hummer, have free pudding and let the other guy (our grandchildren) pay for it all. Americans LOVED that. Add on the announcement that the Iranian hostages had just been released (yes, I know, many muttered, “My, how strangely convenient,”) and there was a sense on that morning of a whole nation positively giddy with promises and hope.

And here we were again. There sat the very unpopular, soon-to-be ex-President Bush, the end-game of so-called Reagan Revolution, run out to it’s logical destructive and inevitable end – the gap between rich and poor at Gilded Age heights, the free hand of the market in evidence all around in a failed economy, a housing bubble and bust (don’t need regulations since Government Was The Problem, remember?), outsourced jobs, national debt beyond measure (let the other guy, i.e. our grandchildren, pay for it all), the value of the Commons reduced to zero, and everyone suddenly stuck in the “Ownership Society – Ha-Ha, You’re On Your Own.” Americans HATED that. Couldn’t wait to get him out of office.

While at the podium was soon-to-be President Obama, the Great Orator, only this time as a strange mirror reversal, telling us it was “Hard Times In America,” time for us to grow up, sacrifice, pay our own way. Telling us that there never was free pudding, that tax breaks for the rich trickled up, not down, that it was time to sell that Hummer, deal with the energy issue, turn the thermostat down and put on a sweater. Americans LOVED that and there was a sense on that morning of a whole nation positively giddy with promises and hope.

Go figure.

Over at that flagship of “The Liberal Media,” i.e. the New York Times, conservative pundit, Bill Kristol, number one cheerleader of the NeoCons, enthusiastic supporter of so many of the policies and philosophies that have now flowered into discredited disaster, has departed. Did he put a Paper Bag of Shame over his head and skulk out of the building into well earned ignominy? Not a bit of it. Look for him to regularly appear in a number of venues as a well-paid pundit.

And no paper bag for Rush Limbaugh, either. He’s got a new contract and so will still be hauling in a deliciously large salary (no sacrifice for him) for blatting to his foreclosed and pink-slipped Kool-aid drinking fans that he hopes Obama fails, thereby hoping that America (including his fans) sinks even further into painful chaos. This from a guy who declared that people who criticized Bush were treasonous pond scum who hated America and wanted the terrorists to win, blah-blah-blah.

Well, of course. All the architects of our disaster are busy shredding paper, stealing every last bit of silverware, and brushing off their resumes. Soon they’ll all reappear as highly paid “consultants,” media pundits, and corporate lobbyists, all talking loudly of the need to look forward, no use pointing fingers, don’t let play the blame game, it’s a new day, time to start rewriting history. And with the eager complicity of the American public, The Great Forgetting will commence.

Which is too bad, since what’s needed here is a Great Accounting. Without that, in twenty-some years, there will be another inauguration on a bright sparkling day, another mirrored reversal, the result of another disaster caused because we never learned the lesson of our Constitution: Without properly administered checks and balances enforced by an engaged and accurately informed public, this country always ends up in the ditch, which is an unnecessarily wasteful way to get on down the road.