Sunday, March 29, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

By Ted Kooser from his book, “Delights & Shadows”


It has been carefully painted
with the outlines of tools
to show us which belongs where,
auger and drawknife,
claw hammer and crosscut saw,
like the outlines of hands on the walls
of ancient caves in France,
painted with soot mixed with spit
ten thousand years ago
in the faltering firelight of time,
hands borrowed to work on the world
and never returned.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This Just In Some More.

Email from the County: The Final Community Survey Report has been posted on the project website. The information can be viewed by the website link provided below:

Start yer Sewer Engines. Question of the Year: When the County's RFP contractor's "short lists" are made available, it should become clearer what (and, more interestingly . . . who) will be heading down the pike. So, Will Los Osos be getting what they asked for? Three out of three? Two out of three?

Survey sez. . . ?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Just In

New York Times ( ) story concering Morro Bay medical pot dispenser, Charles Lynch: His sentencing hearing has been postponed until April 30 while the judge gets a ruling or clarification on the Attorney General Eric Holder Jr's recent ruling "that federal authorities would not seek to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries if the operations complied with state and local laws. . ."

Mr. Lynch's attorney said Mr. Lynch "has not violated any state laws." The federal prosecutors said that the "issue of state law was not raised in the trial," just violations of federal statutes.

Still missing from this case is exactly why Sheriff Hedges, who is not running for reelection and who was in a fine mess of his own at the time the Lynch raid went down, what with domestic disturbance phone calls at his home and allegations of illegal recording of his deputies, whistled up the feds in the first place. All very peculiar, if you ask me. Well, stay tuned.

Stealth Water Board Updates

Press release from Citizens for Clean Water regarding the recent “Stealth” updates on onsite systems. If you live outside the PZ in Los Osos or live anywhere in the county and are on septic systems, you might want to attend or check the website below for further information. We will all be Los Osos soon.

Citizens for Clean Water is organizing a region-wide group of onsite dischargers to respond to the regional water board's new requirement for onsite systems. I would like to provide an overview for the public of the two resolutions passed by the water board which will effect over 100,000 properties on the central coast, and what property owners need to know.

Citizens for Clean Water meets the first and third Monday, but is planning meetings in North County and South County.
Look for the announcements on the meeting dates and locations on the CCW web site

April 6, 2009, at 7:00 PM WAMU/Chase in Los Osos, Citizens for Clean Water will address the onsite resolution R3-2009-0012 passed by the regional board on Friday March 20, and the process for State approval process, and what you can to stop the approval and protect you property rights.

If you want to join CCW's mailing list for notifications concerning septic regulations, go to the web site and fill out the 'contact us' form with your contact information.

Web site

Gail McPherson

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

"The Name of the Air" by W.S. Merwin

It could be like that then the
old dog finding it harder and
to breathe and understanding but
to ask whether there is something
that can
be done about it coming again
to ask and then standing there with-
out asking

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tag Day In SLO Town

Love Your Pet? Tag Them!
April 4 Starts ID Tag Campaign

Contact: Ellen Perryess (805) 550-7577

SAN LUIS OBISPO – You think Fluffy the Feline or Marcus the Maltese is safe without an ID tag “because they never leave the yard.” Then comes the day where a robin’s chirp or a squirrel’s dash lures your beloved pet away from home. Without a tag, your pet may never find his way home.
The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy reports that about 1 million dogs and half a million cats are taken into U.S. animal shelters each year – and only 15 percent of those dogs and 2 percent of those cats are reunited with their owners. If those pets had been wearing id tags, they all could have been returned home.

And locally, less than 50% of the dogs and 5% of the cats brought into County Animal Services are returned to their owners, due to the low number of animals without any identification.

“This represents unnecessary heartache, a lot of cost to owners and tax payers, and most importantly, a tragic loss of life due to overcrowding of shelters,” says Terry Parry, president of Animal Shelter Adoption Partners, and sponsor of Join the Pack (JTP), a new countywide campaign devoted to getting ID’s on all dogs and cats.

The American Humane Association has named April 4, 2009 the start of “Everyday is Tag Day” and Join the Pack urges all SLO County pet owners to provide their pets with identification. Local retailers Lemos and Tails are Join the Pack supporters and offer discounts on personalized tags.

Tag ‘Em If You Love ‘Em!
A simple ID tag is the best insurance policy to make sure pets never wind up at a shelter, unclaimed, and in jeopardy of losing their lives.

No one expects his pet to get out, but it happens all the time. If pets are not wearing an ID they can be taken to County Animal Services. If the shelter is full then another animal is euthanized to make room for the incoming animal. If that animal is not redeemed within five days, that pet can be euthanized.

However, if that same pet is wearing a tag, the Animal Control Officer can return it directly to the owner, bypassing the shelter altogether.

The whole community is needed to Join the Pack, and make Everyday Tag Day! For more information about this grassroots effort, to volunteer, or to obtain ID tags, please contact 489-0689 or email --- end ---

And Just What Was That, Exactly?

Ed Ochs had a Viewpoint in Friday’s Tribune, “Osos sewer tax is too costly for homeowners,” ( wherein he noted that, “The sewer tax is a terribly unfair tax, and homeowners don’t need a big tax bill for a big sewer when a more cost-effective project can do the same job. If you run government like a business, it doesn’t make sense to see it any other way, unless the county insists on working only with builders Montgomery Watson Harza.”

Which prompted this question: Since the county hasn’t selected the final system . . . yet . . . (yes, lots of speculation and rumor) exactly what project is on the table that is “more cost effective?” All the guestimates I’ve seen are within a few millions worth of hailing distance of one another, (especially when you put the higher number from the low end next to the lower number of the high end thereby making them look really close –heh-heh --, when in reality if you looked at the low end of the lower number and the high end of the higher number there is quite a gap).

So, Mr. Ochs. could you please let us know, What more cost effective project did you have in mind in your Viewpoint? And has the County ruled out . . . yet . . . whatever that project is? Or have the community survey’s ruled it out? (After all, that survey may make the difference in what is picked and if the community picked the more expensive project, then they’ll pay for it . . . dearly. But that will have been their choice.) Or is it some new project idea not yet reviewed? Or perhaps some components that have not yet been reviewed that could greatly reduce costs?

As for “unfair” taxation, so far as I know, a judge somewhere along the line made it clear that sewer costs are capped at a percentage of aggregate assessed property values. Los Osos is part of the Gold Coast. High property values, even with this slump and a population that’s often land rich and cash poor. Which means, the county’s project could be made from gold-plated pipes and silver pumps and marble lined oxi-ditches and cost $1,000 a month and a judge would rule that it STILL wouldn’t come close to the legally allowed cap. Which means lots of foreclosures, forced sales and an economic “cleansing” of this community, as cash poor people are replaced by cash rich people.

Which will enable Los Osos to become the perfect illustration of the old Viet Nam war mantra: We must destroy the village in order to save it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, for March 20, 09

White Rabbit Time

One way to tell how much our sense of time has been changed by our technologies, MTV and other pop entertainments, is to watch a contemporary film and an old 1950s movie back to back and note how differently time itself is perceived, how few editing cuts were used way back when, how seldom the camera moved (no steadicam in those days), and instead of story telling using the visually symbolic language of quick-cuts and juxtaposed images, note how much time was spent on endless dialogue to “explain” what was going on so the viewer could follow the plot.

Old time was long silent summers on the porch listening to flies buzz, pages-long newspaper stories and an attention span long enough to read them, and the keen understanding that all good things take both time and patience to do right. Every businessman knew that there was fast, cheap and shoddy or there was slow, long lasting quality, and they and their customers never mistook one for the other. Even mothers admonished their impatient children, “There are no short cuts. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

To see how quaint such notions are today, how much our sense of time has speeded up to racing White Rabbit Time, you need only go see a block-buster film, pick up a copy of USA Today (no time for long, complex stories, abridged highlights only), or watch TV where every drama neatly resolves itself in less than an hour with no messy real-world blow-back. It’s a world of multi-tasking Twittering and texting while listening to iTunes, sped up layers of activity constantly in search of and on to the next new thing – a nation on speed.

In short, a national hyped-up metabolism always coming to Washington, the original Slow Town, to collide with a government that was specifically designed to . . . well . . . deliberate. And deliberate for months in a 24/7 news cycle culture addicted to ever more New-New-New, which creates an awful dichotomy. The result is that President Obama, in office only a matter of weeks, is now being painted by some partisan political pundits as “a failure,” since he has not “solved” an economic wreck that was 30 years in the making in time for the closing credits and a commercial. And it remains to be seen if there are enough grandmothers left to admonish the whole country to sit down and stop fidgeting.

It also remains unclear whether enough Americans, running on our self-created White Rabbit speed-time, which is now fueled by genuine fear, will take time to stop and breathe and understand that We The People are at a crossroads and have a critical choice. We can rush for a quick fix – fast, cheap, and temporary – or we can find a new time sense to build for the long haul, give ourselves the time needed to restructure our entire economy and make the long-term fixes we neglected on our destructive 30-year slide.

As we secretly always knew he would be, the Piper is here and we can hide under the bed until the house falls down from his huge fist pounding down the door, or we can start the slow, deliberate process of a long overdue overhaul, one careful rebuilt step linked to another careful step: Infrastructure and green energy independence linked to both home and business; national healthcare hooked to both Main Street and Wall Street; with improved education and re-training acting as the engine needed to drive our new national transition.

From sea to shinning sea, we are now faced with rebuilding our Rome. And the question is, do we follow White Rabbit Time and build fast, cheap, and shoddy, or shift to Granny Time and give ourselves time to build smart for the long term? Penny wise, pound foolish or just pound smart from day one?

And, most important, we need the courage to sit quietly for a time. And in that silence, perhaps we’ll be able to hear the rattle and hum of the innovation, invention, and transformative technologies which are all around us. So many clever, clear-eyed people busy with their dreams, dreams that will change all our lives. All they need is a little old-fashioned Granny Time to do their work. So, America, sit down, eat your spinach, get your own life in order and wait. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was America.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stealth Update in Watsonville Tomorrow

Betcha didn’t know about any of this. That’s why I call it the Stealth Update. RWQCB hearing in Watsonville tomorrow. Car pools are forming if you’re interested in attending or check the email addresses below if you wish to send in public comment. Make sure your email states that you want this presented to the whole board as public comment. Speak now or forever – and I mean that literally – keep your silence and forget about your rights: they’ll be toast and all of California will become Los Osos.

March 20 item 18 onsite septic regulation--- tell the board to "table it now"

Watsonville City Council Chambers275 Main Street - 4th Floor (new bldg)Watsonville, CA 95076 ( map on the water board site)
If you can't attend the meeting Friday in Watsonville please email or fax a message to protest the Water Board resolution #R3-2009-0012 and the onsite septic systems criteria developed in May 2008. You must have your voice heard and your message 'on the record' to protect your property rights.

Citizens for Clean Water Gail McPherson 805-534-1913

Water board site
Staff contact Sorrel Marks
Ombudsman - Michael Thomas at 805 542-4623
FAX: Before the meeting-----788-3511
Day of meeting: 831-761-0736

A hearing to complete the adoption of the costly AB 885 revisions in Sacramento is on hold for now, thanks to recent bills introduced, but our Region 3 Central Coast Regional Water Board is adopting more stringent regulations than AB 885 state standards require, by amending the regional basin plan septic criteria (Resolution R3-2008-06 approved by the board in May 2008) and the final approval of the implementation regulations R3-2009-0012.

This is the only opportunity citizens and communities in our region will have to stop the costly onsite regulations from being adopted.

Let the water board know that this resolution should be tabled now. New legislation is challenging statewide standards (AB 885) and this local effort is not essential, urgent and should be vetted along with the State plans for impacts.

This will impact property owners, builders and agriculturalists in San Martin, San Lorenzo Valley, Carmel Valley, Carmel Highlands, Prunedale, El Toro, Shandon, Templeton, Santa Margarita, Garden Farms, Los Osos, Baywood, Park, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Upper Santa Ynez Valley, Los Olivos and Ballard---as well as all septic systems in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo Counties and parts of adjoining counties.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mark Yer Calendars

In a March 15 Tribune Viewpoint by Paavo Ogren, county Public Works director and Mark Hutchinson, county Environmental Division manager, there will be a special session presented by The San Luis Obispo County Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC) on April 4, Saturday, starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Supervisors Chambers in SLO. The meeting will discuss "the relationship between the county's wastewater efforts and the water managment efforts of the community water purveyors."

Which, of course, is a key, critical element in solving the sewer issue. And is why I hope all the Sewer Warriors will plan to attend and take notes and ask questions, if that's part of the presentation.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Your Saturday Poem

by Mary Oliver, from “American Primitive.”


Have you noticed?


Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts
lay down on the earth and died
it’s hard to tell now
what’s bone, and what merely
was once.


near the Bitterroot Mountains;
a man named Lewis kneels down
on the prairie watching

a sparrow’s nest cleverly concealed in the wild hyssop
and lined with buffalo hair. The chicks,
not more than a day hatched, lean quietly into the thick wool as if
content, after all,
to have left the perfect world and fallen,
helpless and blind
into the flowered fields and perils
of this one.


In the book of the earth, it is written:
nothing can die.

In the book of the Sioux it is written:
they have gone away into the earth to hide.
Nothing will coax them out again
but the people dancing.

Passengers shooting from train windows
could hardly miss, they were
that many.

Afterward the carcasses
stank unbelievably, and sang with flies, ribboned
withrslopes of white fat,
black ropes of blood—hellhunks
in the prairie heat.


Have you noticed? how the rain
falls soft as the fall
of moccasins. Have you noticed?
how the immense circles still,
stubbornly, after a hundred years,
mark the grass where the rich droppings
from the roaring bulls
fell to the earth as the herd stood
day after day, moon after moon
in their tribal circle, outwaiting
the packs of yellow-eyed wolves that are also
have you noticed? gone now.


Once only, and then in a dream,
I watched while, secretly
and with the tenderness of any caring woman,
a cow gave birth
to a red calf, tongued him dry and nursed him
in a warm corner
of the clear night
in the fragrant grass
in the wild domains
of the prairie spring, and I asked them,
in my dream I knelt down and asked them
to make room for me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Uh-Oh, The 4.6 Mil Smackdown

Front page story by Jack Beardwood in the March 12, Bay News ( Seems the U.S. Fish & wildlife Service thinks that the $4.6 million Broderson site plus $10,000 a year was mitigation for digging up Tri-W. Period. End of sentence. Touch one blade of grass at Tri-W and poof, the $4.6 million is gone, while the $10,000 per year remains and must be paid.

“The draft EIR,” wrote FWS officials, “ appears to conclude that the 72 acres of land not needed for leach fields at Broderson are still available to provide mitigation opportunities to compensate for biological impacts associated with this concurrently proposed project. We disagree. These lands at Broderson constitute the mitigation required for take of MSS (Morro shoulder dune snail) a well as impacts to other state-listed and special status species and their habitats that resulted from the clearing and grading of the Mid-Town Site (Tri-W), clearing and use of staging and collection areas and installation of pipelines that occurred in 2005 as part of the former project.”

Mark Hutchinson, who’s working on the draft EIR, disagrees, noting that “the county would be willing to offer more mitigation only if it disturbs an area that wasn’t included in the original project.. ‘We think Broderson property is more than appropriate,’ he said.”

Then added that “they [the county] would ultimately be negotiating these issues with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The county will just consult with FWS and the state Department of Fish and Game.”

Translation? The elephants will now commence to dance and anything resembling a mouse better run for cover.

Further translation? If FWS is correct, that the $4.6 mil plus $10,000 a year was total mitigation for so much as touching one blade of grass at Tri-W, then you can begin to understand the F*&k You And The Horse You Rode In On gamble the recalled board made with your money. One blade of grass, one roll of the dice and the $4.6 mil would be lost forever. And since the recalled Board wasn’t over deadline, they had the choice of waiting the few weeks until the Recall vote was over to touch that one blade of grass, which makes that F*^k You gamble even more breathtaking. And certainly not something a prudent Board, a Board that actually cared about the community would have ever done. $4.6 mil? Hell, Boys, Roll them snake eyes and F*^&k ‘Em All!

Proposition 8, Some More

In the same Bay News issue, (p. 5) is a Viewpoint/Letter by Stephen R. Marsden, Los Osos, in response to Pastor Nash’s Viewpoint of Feb 2o. Pastor Nash’s Viewpoint listed a whole bunch of reasons why the state should support heterosexual marriage, which neatly missed the entire point of the debate, which was and is: What’s the secular STATE’s compelling reason to treat citizens unequally when it comes to the secular contract known as “marriage?” That’s the question several of my columns on the issue raised and I’m still waiting for some kind of answer. Mr. Marsden neatly lays out the problem, so now I guess we’re both waiting on Pastor Nash. Thwok! The ball is once again in his court. Unless the state Supreme Court beats him to it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

Posted below (with permission) is an affordability report prepared by Los Osos citizen, Mimi Whitney and a friend of hers in Santa Ana, Sherry Fuller. If memory serves, a judge ruling on one of the Sewer Wars lawsuits has already noted that there is nothing in law concerning “affordability.” The various “guidelines” are just that – guidelines -- not legal requirements and so can be ignored. Indeed, a sewer system can be designed using gold-plated pipes with a treatment plant clad in travertine marble decorated with lapis and tourmaline mosaic and if the cost forces every single person out of the town on account of “unaffordability,” Oh, Well, Too Bad, but it would still not be an issue.
But, given the numbers below, it becomes clear that a “stimulus” package designed to stop foreclosures, not from an A.R.M. but due to a sewer bill, would certainly fit in this community.
An added note, in the third paragraph, it appears that the author is saying the cost will be $150 a month PLUS $250 in additional costs. Unless I’m very much mistaken, that $250 figure is a total cost guestimate (capital cost plus OM&R fees). And my thanks to Ms. Whitney and Ms. Fuller for taking the time to prepare this report. Another example of Los Osos residents who are concerned about this project and who have gotten informed and involved in the issues.

Prepared for
January 2009

The proposed cost for the Los Osos Wastewater Project (LOWWP) presents serious affordability issues for up to 60% of the Prohibition Zone (PZ) residents.

Affordability for the LOWWP is of significant concern for a predominant majority of residents in the PZ. County preliminary estimates indicate the project may cost $165 million.1
Project cost for each single-family residential parcel is expected to be $25,000. This cost was published with the 218 Vote of 2007. It was explained that an assessment will be included in each property owner’s annual tax assessment. While one can pay the entire amount up front, it is not likely that most will do this. Thus, assessments will be $1,800 per year, or $150 per month. Additional costs will include monthly fees for operation and maintenance, which will bring the total estimated cost to $250 per month. Another homeowner expense will be the one-time cost to decommissioning a septic tank and hook up to the sewer. Since these additional costs have not been presented to the community, this analysis only considers the assessment of $25,000 per single-family residential parcel.

Affordability Guidelines
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) provides some guidance on wastewater charges. According to the USAEPA’s Rate Options to Address Affordability Concerns for Consideration by District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (2002), user rates should be calculated as a percentage of median household income (MHI) on a system-wide basis. Rates are considered affordable if they are less than 2% of MHI.
While wastewater user rates are considered affordable if less than 2% of MHI, they average much less throughout the United States. According to Water and Wastewater Pricing: An Informational Overview, prepared in 2003 by the USEPA Office of Wastewater Management, combined water and wastewater rates average 0.5% of MHI in the United States. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the percentage of household income needed by 2019 to pay for infrastructure investments for water and wastewater would increase this percentage to 0.6% (on the low end) to 0.9% (on the high end) of household income.

1 Source: “Supes Approve Another Million” The Bay News, January 22, 2009.

Finally, according to the draft staff document Small Community Wastewater Strategy prepared by the California State Water Board (CSWB) in 2008, both the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Public Health (DPU) use 1.5% of MHI for evaluating sewer affordability. Further, this report identifies other factors for evaluating affordability, and these include: MHI, sewer rates as a percentage of MHI, population density and rate base, distance from larger regional systems, debt service and long-term operational and maintenance costs, regional cost of living, and status of the local and/or regional economy. With the recent state of the economy in the United States, no doubt this would also be a significant factor.

This analysis assumes the $25,000 single-family assessment in the PZ will be added to property taxes at $1,800 per year for 30 years. Affordability is examined using several factors identified by the CSWB in its 2008 staff document.

Median Household Income and Sewer Rates as a Percentage
According to Business Analyst Online by ESRI2 , 2008 MHI for the PZ is $60,234. Therefore, using the USEPA affordability criterion, the annual cost for the LOWWP should be $1,205, which is significantly less than what the LOWWP is expected to cost PZ single family residential property owners. Using the USDA and DPU criterion, the annual cost for the LOWWP should be $904 per year, which is one-half of its projected cost. When considering nationwide averages, annual costs for the LOWWP should range from $361 to $542 annually.
At $1,800 annually, the public works portion (collection, treatment, recharge) of the LOWWP is expected to consume 3% of the MHI, which exceeds the USEPA baseline for affordability. It is double the USDA and DPU baseline. This 3% does not include long-term maintenance and operation costs or the one-time homeowner expense of connecting to the sewer lines. When these costs are included, annual cost will exceed 4% and may even approach 5% of the MHI.
This picture is much more grim for those households that earn less than the MHI of $33,5003 annually. The LOWWP costs will consume a much larger share of household income, as demonstrated in Exhibit 1.

2 Source: ESRI provides management and geographic information analysis and GIS technology with 35 years of experience. ESRI creates 2008 forecasts based on 2000 US Census data.
3 Source: “Official State Income Limits for 2008.” Memorandum from Department of Housing and Community Development. February 28, 2008.

Cost as a Percentage of Household Income
Exhibit 1


Households by Income Number Percent A Percentage of HI

< $10,000 220 4.2% at least 18.0%

$10,000 - $14,999 129 2.5% 1 8.0% - 12.0%

$15,000 - $19,999 238 4.5% 12.0% - 9.0%

$20,000 - $24,999 309 5.9% 9.0% - 7.2%

$25,000 - $29,999 295 5.6% 7.2% - 6.0%

$25,000 - $29,999 204 3.9% 6.0% - 5.1%

$35,000 - $39,999 232 4.4% 5.1% - 4.5%

$40,000 - $44,999 329 6.3% 4.5% - 4.0%

$45,000 - $49,999 223 4.3% 4.0% - 3.6%

$50,000 - $59,999 428 8.2% 3.6% - 3.0%

$60,000 - $74,999 538 10.3% 3.0% - 2.4%

$75,000 - $99,999 1,110 21.2% 2.4% - 1.8%

$100,000 - $124,999 450 8.6% 1 .8% - 1.4%

$125,000 - $149,999 141 2.7% 1.4% - 1.2%

$150,000 - $199,999 213 4.1% 1.2% - 0.9%

$200,000 - $249,999 64 1.2% 0.9% - 0.7%

$250,000 - $499,999 94 1.8% 0.7% - 0.4%

$500,000 + 26 0.5% 0.4% or less
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000 Census of Population and Housing. ESRI forecast for 2008.

Exhibit 1 demonstrates a number of affordability concerns. At $1,800 annually:
§ The cost of the LOWWP will exceed 2% of household income for more than 60% of households in the PZ.
§ The cost of the LOWWP will exceed 1.5% of household income for more than 80% of households in the PZ.
§ Cost as a percentage of household income will be double-digits for over 10% of households in the PZ.
§ Cost as a percentage of household income will be comparable to the US average for only 2% of households in the PZ.
According to the USEPA report Rate Options to Address Affordability Concerns, when wastewater rates exceed 2% of household income, they are not considered affordable. It is important to point out that this will be the case for more than 60% of households in the PZ.
According to ESRI, in 2008, 49% of households in the PZ are headed by an adult age 55 or older (senior households). This is expected to increase to 54% by 2013. The expected cost of the LOWWP will have a unique impact on senior households (emphasis added) because many seniors are on fixed incomes that may not accommodate a 3% or higher increase in living expenses. Further, recent events in the financial sector have had a devastating impact on retirement funds and savings, which is already impacting senior households’ ability to pay for housing, utilities, food, and other essential expenses. Exhibit 2 demonstrates the financial impact on senior households.

Cost as a Percentage of Household Income – Age 55+
Exhibit 2

Senior Households

Households by Income Number Percent A Percentage of HI

< $15,000 197 7.71% at least 12.0%

$15,000 - $24,999 347 13.58% 12.0% - 7.2%

$25,000 - $34,999 284 11.11% 7.2% - 5.1%

$35,000 - $49,999 438 17.14% 5.1% - 3.6%

$50,000 - $74,999 408 15.96% 3.6% - 2.4%

$75,000 - $99,999 524 20.50% 2.4% - 1.8%

$100,000 - $149,999 200 7.82% 1.8% - 1.2%

$150,000 - $199,999 88 3.44% 1.2% - 0.9%

$200,000 - $249,999 23 0.90% 0.9% - 0.7%

$250,000 - $499,999 35 1.37% 0.7% - 0.4%

$500,000 + 12 0.47% 0.4% or less

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000 Census of Population and Housing. ESRI forecast for 2008.

Exhibit 2 demonstrates a number of affordability concerns for senior households. At $1,800 annually:
§ The cost of the LOWWP will exceed 2% of household income for more than 65% of senior households in the PZ.
§ The cost of the LOWWP will exceed 1.5% of household income for more than 85% of senior households in the PZ.
§ Cost as a percentage of household income will be very near double-digits for over 20% of senior households in the PZ.
§ Cost as a percentage of household income will be comparable to the US average for less than 2% of senior households in the PZ.
According to the USEPA guidelines, the LOWWP will be deemed unaffordable to over 65% of senior households.

Long-term Operating and Maintenance (O&M) Costs
As discussed above, the $25,000 assessment does not include O&M costs, or the one-time cost to connect to the wastewater collection system. O&M costs have not yet been provided; therefore, these costs are not analyzed. However, it is worth examining utility allowances provided by the Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo. Utility allowances are used when calculating affordable housing costs.

Monthly Utility Allowance - Sewer
Exhibit 3

Number of Bedrooms
Community 0 1 2 3 4
Cambria $32 $34 $37 $43 $48
Cayucos $37 $37 $37 $37 $37
Los Osos $150+ $150+ $150+ $150+ $150+
Morro Bay $34 $34 $34 $34 $40
Pismo Beach / Shell Beach $32 $32 $32 $32 $32
San Luis Obispo $20 $25 $36 $51 $66
Source: Housing Authority of the City of San Luis Obispo (excluding Los Osos).

The monthly costs in Exhibit 3 are not necessarily actual costs for most households in these communities (with the exception of Los Osos when the LOWWP assessment comes due). Rather, these figures are deemed affordable for the dwelling size and are based on representative costs in these communities. They are useful here for comparison purposes.

Regional Cost of Living and Status of Local/Regional Economy
According to ESRI, residents in the PZ spend slightly more on housing and other expenditures compared to the national average.4 Where 100 represents the national average, PZ household spending indices include:
Housing: 106
Original home mortgage 115
Home mortgage interest 109
Home mortgage principal 108
Lump sum home equity interest 114
Lump sum home equity principal 112
Health care 105
Personal care products and services 104
Life and other insurance 105

According to ESRI, housing expenditures consume 29% of household income. Furthermore, payments associated with home mortgages and home equity loans have large spending indices relative to nationwide averages.
According to data complied by the California Realtor’s Association, homes in San Luis Obispo County lost 40% of value from the peak price in June 2006 to September 2008.
According to DataQuick:
§ The median sales price in Los Osos in September 2008 was $397,500, which is a 6.9% decline from September 2007’s median price of $427,000.
§ Looking back to April 2007, which had a median price of $437,000, the decline to September 2008 is 9.4%
§ DataQuick’s most recent sales figures are for November 2008; the median price for Los Osos was $348,000, which was a decline of 12.5% from September 2008 and 20.4% from April 2007.
4 Source: 2004 and 2005 Consumer Expenditure Surveys, Bureau of Labor Statistics. ESRI forecast for 2008.

Real estate and financial experts are unable to predict when housing prices will “hit bottom,” though some speculate it will be in 2009 or 2010. Experts also cannot predict how low this “bottom” will go. This is significant for a number of reasons. Homeowners who had planned to use home equity to pay for the assessment and/or connection costs may find they no longer have equity. For those homeowners who have enough equity, loans may be possible; however, requirements for borrowing have tightened. Further, particularly if one has a low or fixed income, qualifying debt to income ratios must meet strict guidelines. Seniors who might have considered a reverse mortgage may think twice before locking in current home values that have declined significantly.
Homeowners who are forced to move because they cannot afford the LOWWP costs may find themselves having to sell their home for less than they owe. Or they may be unable to sell at all and experience default or foreclosure. According to RealtyTrac, in January 2009, there were approximately 40 properties in the PZ that were in default or bank-owned.
Renters will have a similar experience in that they may be forced to move due to LOWWP costs passed through from the property owner.
Estimates can be made and they can be challenged. But the facts are fairly clear that there will be a significant financial impact on a very large portion of the PZ population that the County will need to take into account. Unfortunately, no one has given this much attention and unless the sewer costs are made affordable, or grant programs established, or some creative financing programs are put into place, there will be a very difficult situation at hand.
Additionally, the EPA and the SRWCB will be looking at costs and funding options. The cost burden will not escape scrutiny.

Report Prepared by:
Sherry Fuller, Associate Consultant (Principal Research/Report Preparation)
RSG Inc., Santa Ana, Ca.
Phone (714) 316-2119

Mimi Whitney, AICP Retired (Secondary Research/Editing)
Los Osos/Baywood, Ca
Phone (805) 529-1638

All work prepared pro bono

© ESRI proprietary. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

Turkey Vultures, by Ted Kooser, from "Delights & Shadows."

Circling above us, their wing-tips fanned
like fingers, it is as if they are smoothing

one of those tissue-paper seweing patterns
over the pale blue fabric of the air,

touching the heavens with leisurely pleasure,
just a word or two called back and forth,

taking all the time in the world, even though
the sun is low and red in the west, and they

have fallen behind with the making of shrouds.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, The Bay News, Tolsa Press, SLO Ca, for March 6, 09

Spanky-Spanky Time?

There’s a word for our state legislature: Dysfunctional. And there’s two words for the 40 California Republican legislators who, having signed onto Grover Norquist’s “Americans for Tax Reform” pledge, a campaign being touted by the bloviating radio talker, Rush Limbaugh, were willing to send their state over the cliff rather than compromise and get a budget done: Farcical Jihadis. Time to spank.

Consider the following tale of that upright gentleman, Mr. NoTaxes Smith. In 1973 he buys a house and sets a budget for the running of the house. He then joins the Holy Order of G. Norquist and takes a Blood Oath that he will NEVER, EVER raise the household budget, no matter what.

A few years later, Mr. N.T. Smith gets married, but he does not (cannot, Holy Orders, remember?) increase the household budget, telling his new bride they’ll just have to cut back on food. Soon, there’s the pitter-patter of little feet as a couple of little N.T. Smiths arrive, but the household budget is never increased, so the little tykes have to make do using second-hand paper towels for diapers. When the Smith’s health insurance increases, Mr. Smith announces that they’ll just have to drop some of the coverage, since he will not raise the household budget, but, instead, he announces that he’ll be cutting the budget and keeping that “extra” money in his personal bank account to spend as he sees fit. Alas, one of the little N.T.’s gets sick and since his illness is not covered under the now-reduced medical coverage, the wee bairn dies.

Meanwhile, the roof is leaking but the cost of fixing it has risen due to inflation, so Mr. NT decides to tack some plastic over the hole and postpone spending any more money and once again, cuts the budget even more and uses that money to buy himself a big screen TV. (After all, he knows best how to spend his own money.) Unfortunately, the roof patch doesn’t hold and soon the entire roof is rotten and threatens to cave in on the whole family. Mrs. Smith pleads with her husband to raise the household budget so they can at least keep a roof over their heads, but he’s adamant. NO NEW BUDGET EXPENSES, and explains that if he did raise the household budget, Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t like him any more. So there they sit, the rotten, rain-heavy roof creaking and groaning overhead.

In the real world, Mrs. Smith would kick her idiot husband to the curb, save her children, repair the roof and get on with it, knowing that budgets are and always must be subject to change as circumstances arise. And if the situation were the complete opposite -- a profligate Mr. Spend and Hock It All Smith who was burning through the family finances like a drunken gambler at a casino -- she’d also kick him to the curb, then budget cut to get things under control. In other words, in a real world, sane households and sane legislatures must always be negotiating, compromising, and adjusting to keep ahead of an often fast changing world.

Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, too many voters have forgotten that politics is the art of the possible, the art of actually getting something done, the art of half-a-loaf, which may not be perfect, but is half-a-loaf more than nothing. Instead, the voters allowed themselves to believe in ultimately destructive Ideological Magic: Politics is a zero sum game: For me to win, you must die; Wealth trickles down, so the more tax cuts for the wealthy, the better; Guns and butter can be paid for . . . later. . .; And while I benefit from the things taxes buy, I shouldn’t pay for it—The Other Guy should.

And so it goes, until you finally end up with 40 California legislators focused strictly on what’s good for their own political careers, pandering to partisan ideology rather than looking at the bigger picture, all of them sworn to blood oaths touted by a talk radio personality, and all of them willing to see their state crash and burn while they stand by and do nothing.

There’s a word for such politicians and the voters who keep electing them: Foolish.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Pssst, Lossss Osssoossss. Ssssttts, Yoo hoo WAKE UP! HELLO!

Well, nice to know some things never change. The county sent out what most presumed would be a much anticipated Sewer Survey, the long promised “not-a-vote-but-a-voice” questionnaire and, to date, only 27% of the things have been returned. At Tuesday’s regular " Aw Gawd It’s Los Osos Time Again” at the BOS meeting, it was noted that surveys of these kinds usually get a 10 – 15% response. So far, this one’s gotten 27% with hope of getting over 30%. Which, compared to usual, typical survey type thingees will be ok, but this survey is about one of the most community-destroying, longest-running all out Wars, ever. In short, it was the most important thing going on in this community and about 70% of the community can’t be bothered to even mail the darned thing back? Woa.

Well, those numbers are about what happened to the last survey. If memory serves, a whole bunch of people didn’t mail that one back in either. Guess most of the bears out here are still sound asleep. Well, shhhhh, don’t wake them. When they get the bill, they may wake up then, but it’ll be too late. This train is leaving the station, chugga-chugga.

The numbers given at the BOS meeting were PRELIMINARY and only represented 13% of those surveys (1,097 processed, 8,100 sent out; 2,237 received to date; closing date extended to March 6ish or so). The final and detailed results will be made public sometime in the future. But so far, the preliminary numbers processed indicate:

Top concerns and choices: 1.Complete the project ASAP
2. Lowest cost.
3 & 4. Site & collection system

On site and collection: 60% selected out of town (Tonini)
22% Edge of town (Giacometti, Cemetery)
10% Tri W (mid town)
8% no opinion.

Those percentages could change when the rest of the survey’s are finished, but the odds are zip that it won’t, for example, end up with Tri-W being the #1 choice. The above number will give Ron Crawford ( a good chortle and puts the kibosh on any Save The Dream/Taxpayer Watchers claiming that “The Community Loved Tri-W,” or “The Recall and Moving The Sewer Out of Town Was Only Favored By A Handful of Anti-Sewer Obstructionists!” and so forth. Hard to argue with that “Out Of Town” 82% percent at this point.

The collection system turned up: 72% gravity
9% (if I heard that right) STEP
Interestingly, 49% wanted gravity no matter what it cost (even though prices for any of this weren’t on the survey) and 5% wanted STEP at any cost. But those numbers could change, if the community is surveyed again, once the final numbers are in.Because, 66% said they’d need a $50 a month savings before they’d consider STEP. (It was guestimated at this point that the difference between gravity and STEP is now about $20-30 a month, a number that doesn’t include the cost difference if it turns out that the gravity pipes have to be welded. At that point, the cost may go above the $50 a month preferred threshold, and folks may have to rethink their choices.) (Also not known, since there were no real numbers in the survey, is what components and technologies will be chosen by the design/build/companies who are going to bid on this project. They may come up with components and combinations that won’t meet some community selections choices, but will meet the top two – speed and lower cost. So, we’ll see.)

And, there was strong support for returning water and, as Mark Hutchinson noted to the BOS during the follow up Q&A, he felt that the project as it’s shaping up, with the plant out of town, tertiary capability on the horizon (if not earlier) and the disposal pipe heading back to the Broderson site, the plan is set for increased water reuse if the community votes (Mo’ $$, Mo’ $$) to go all Purple Pipish. (Build-out and growth depends on water, so for now, any growth may end up pretty heavily on the backs of the water rate payers, most especially folks living outside the CSD Water zone. But that could also change if Ag Exchange kicks in & of course, a serious, mandatory effort at retrofit and conservation.)

Also discussed by John Diodati, was the county’s trip to Washington for lobby/schmooze time. Efforts are focusing on the possibility of a 30 year fixed zero-interest loan from the Feds via the SRF Loans, and possible monies coming at some point, maybe years from now, from the Corps of Engineers, with the nexus being a clean-water-benefit (WRDA) to Morro Bay, a national estuary, and maybe some bucks from USDA, but that didn’t look as likely.

Interestingly, since President Obama has decreed “no earmarks,” since “earmarks” have been politicized as Baaaadddd, but “shovel ready stimulus projects” are goooooddd, and to date nobody has defined the difference between a “shovel ready stimulus EARMARK” and a “shovel ready stimulus PROJECT,” the WRDA/ Army Corps “project” is considered a new project and hence an “earmark,” so some finessing needs to be done to qualify. Clearly, the nexus between the sewer project and the waters of Morro Bay have already been established, so the “project” isn’t really a “new” project/earmark. So it remains to be seen if the “oldness” of the sewer project will become clear and hence enable it to be considered not an “earmark” but an old project finally “shovel-ready” and able to get under way, Please send nice money.

During public comment, the Usual Suspects arrived. And, of course, questions asked that at this point don’t have any answers, like, What “conditions” will be put on the project by the Planning Commission? What “conditions” will be put on by the RWQCB? One that comes to mind is the weirdness of the RWQCB decreeing ZERO DISCHARGE in the PZ, while, apparently (at this point) allowing ring/seal gravity pipes that have built in, known “leakage” of contents, i.e. raw sewage, not to mention inflow from high-groundwater and salt water, which end up in the treatment plant, possibly compromising water clean up/reuse efforts. Will they actually care enough about “water” to require welded pipes if gravity is chosen?

But two key comments were made by several folks: It is absolutely critical that this Process be kept “fair” and is seen to be “fair.” When that happens, the community is willing to compromise and will accept the results. But let the community think it’s being conned – again – or thumbs are being slapped on that scale, or if the Process is rushed or skipped, something which can allow “hooks” to which a lawsuit can he hitched, thereby causing delay – all of that is to be avoided like the plague, since that’s the last thing community wants. Contrary to the false information incessantly given out that Los Osos is nothing but a bunch of “Anti-Sewer Obstructionists,” what this community wanted all along is right there in the preliminary survey: A “process” to fairly evaluate options, ending up with a sewer plant out of town, the cost lower than Tri-W, a “voice” in the choice of technologies.

The tragedy of Los Osos is that those three completely rational requests were there all along, which means that the Sewer Wars and the train wreck created by lies, bad decisions, a failed system of governance and a failure of existing checks and balances and proper regulatory oversight was entirely unnecessary.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Another Viewpoint Viewpoint.

This response is to a Bay News editorial and ran in Feb 26th’s edition. Posted with permission. [Big Oops, dropped this in stet but inadvertently dropped out the author. The viewpoint was written by Julie Tacker, former CSD Board Member, and appeared in the Bay News, as noted above. Wet Noodle for me)

Neil Farrell’s February 12, 2009 editorial “Mr. Hensley, Tear Down That Fence, Listen Up”, gives the recalled Los Osos Community Services District (LOCSD) Director way too much credit. Mr. Hensley, while in power as a majority Board member in the summer of 2005, had the power and spent the money to have the fence installed around the Tri-W sewer site. The property was then considered an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA), he also had the power, and did, hire bulldozers to scrape every bit of it. The Board majority he was a party to hired biologists ($90 per hour) to go out ahead of the bulldozers, search each bush and “relocate” some 13 Morro shoulderband dune snails (MSS), a federally threatened species, to suitable habitat (which happened to be on private property adjacent to Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. Today, Mr. Hensley has no power to take down the fence.

Mr. Hensley’s historical account in response to Mr. Farrell’s editorial in the February 19, 2009 edition of the Bay News inaccurately states the Incidental Take Permit (ITP) acquired by the LOCSD from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was issued in 2004, in fact it was issued just days before the groundbreaking ceremony that Hensley was too cowardly to attend in the summer of 2005. The ITP (aka “Section 7 Permit”) was issued because of a federal funding nexus (State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan), that permit is now under scrutiny by the Federal U.S. Bankruptcy Court the premise of the legal question is that the SRF issued a $134 million unsecured loan to the LOCSD for the wastewater project. Hensley asserts that the LOCSD “lost” the loan when is suspended work on the Tri-W project which triggered the loss of the ITP. Today questions related to the permit and the loan remain tied up in the bankruptcy court, which all work is stayed until the County formally assumes the wastewater project (sometime later this year, or not).

While reading Hensley’s response to the Farrell piece, it is unclear which Hensley is writing. Is it the vindictive recalled LOCSD Director that spearheaded the formation of Taxpayers Watch and initiated lawsuit after lawsuit (including actions against individual Director’s) attempting to force the LOCSD to restart the Tri-W project and attempted to dissolve the district? Or is it the so called “environmentalist” that calls himself “Coast Keeper” and watches every move the LOCSD makes to alert outside agencies to the Districts activities -- triggering attorney’s to be hired to defend the actions of the District whether or not the District has violated any laws. To date the LOCSD has spent nearly $500,000 reacting to Hensley/Taxpayer Watch/Coast Keeper shenanigans.

The Coast Keeper may in fact do good work protecting the environment, but his approach is inequitable, he doesn’t call out Joe Citizen for putting up or taking down fences around Los Osos (apparently the only place in the world to support habitat for the MSS). Hensley’s obsession appears to lie with the LOCSD.

Hensley stands behind his organizations, claiming Taxpayers Watch has 3,400 members (once defined as all those who signed the dissolution petition) and Coast Keeper has some 800 members. Never once since his recall in September 2005, has Hensley come to the podium at an LOCSD meeting and made his case before the public and the Board, choosing instead to fire shots from across the bow of his imaginary ship.
Hensley’s response to Farrell correctly states that the LOCSD unanimously voted to remove the fence (the Board at that time included Joe Sparks), and did so as part of an erosion control plan with input from the Coastal Commission and expert guidance from the very biologist Hensley to look for snails when the fence was first erected.
The erosion that has taken place over the past few storms has jeopardized the safety of the property. Someone really could get hurt out there due to the unstable soil and the risk associated with it. The District is caught in a catch 22; can’t put the fence up due to presence of the MSS and they can’t take it down due to presence of MSS. The funds to pay for the fence are running thin; all that is left from the 2001 $24 million wastewater assessment vote Hensley and his Board majority ran through attempting to force-fit a sewer in the middle of town.
Hensley’s majority spent approximately $250,000 attempting to please USFWS with a community-wide Habitat Conservation Plan. They were unsuccessful and that plan was shelved, all are hoping that the County (a co-applicant of the plan and the land use authority) will pick that back up and implement something that allows individuals and agencies to take down fences, put up fences, build new water infrastructure, expand the library, trim ice-plant along sidewalks, pull weeds and put in paths at Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, allow for new development, redevelopment and necessary and desired community improvements.
While the fence at Tri-W remains a monument to our community’s collective stupidity, it is also a symbol to a small slimy species holds our community hostage from change.

Uh, You Want To Try That Again?

Some weeks ago, Pastor Randy Nash wrote a response to my Bay News column on Prop 8, the proposition which sought to ban gay marriage and which the State Supreme Court is now considering. My question to Mr. Nash (and anybody else) was simple: Please give me some compelling reasons the STATE has to ban gay people from getting married. The Supreme Court had already ruled that they couldn’t find any and had allowed gay folks to get married. Which they did, until the marriages were blocked by Prop. 8.

Pastor Nash had a Viewpoint in the February 26 Bay News ( p. 6, called “State Should Uphold Will of Voters,” that declares, “The key question before the court is this: What compelling reasons does the State have in supporting heterosexual marriage at the expense of same sex marriage?” He then goes on to list all the reasons he feels heterosexual marriage is swell.

Well, O.K., that’s nice, but no cigar, since it’s completely off point. The Supreme Court isn’t thinking to ban straight marriage and so needs reasons to allow it to continue. And I also I don’t think the problem they’re considering is how swell straight marriage is, either. What the AG has asked them to do is figure out whether Prop 8 was a “revision” or merely a minor amendment and/or whether the Proposition violated the basic equal rights protections in the state Constitution. The matter is supposed to be heard in March, with a verdict a few months later.

Meanwhile, my question to Pastor Nash remains: What’s the STATE’S compelling interest in seeing to it gay people can’t get married?