Saturday, May 30, 2009

Your Saturday Poem

From "American Primitive," Poems by Mary Oliver


I come down.
Come down the blacktop road from Red Rock.
A hot day.

Off the road in the hacked tangles
blackberries big as thumbs hang shining
in the shade. And a creek nearby; a dark
spit through wet stones. And a pool

like a stonesink if you know
where to climb for it among
the hillside ferns, where the thrush
naps in her nest of sticks and loam. I

come down from Red Rock, lips streaked
black, fingers purple, throat cool, shirt
full of fernfingers, head full of windy
whistling. It

takes all day.

Now, Go See "UP."

Yep, splendid, funny, touching, exciting, whimsical new animated Pixar film. Playing in 3-D downtown SLO or in regualr screen at the AG Regal. Wonderful piece of work. Don't miss it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Field Trip! Field Trip!

The Planning Commission is planning on a field trip to Monterrey on Friday, June 12th to visit a waste water treatment facility and talk to various farmers using the treated water for their crops. Or, as was briefly muttered/mentioned at the PC meeting yesterday, ”pretending to use the water.” A remark that caused a few ears to perk up and this listener to wonder, Hmm, the County’s setting up this visit, so I wonder just which farmers they will pick to come address the PC—the pretenders or the users?

Well, no matter. The PC is allowing a chance for members of the public who wish to go along to sign up. They’re encouraging seriously interested parties – farmers, official representatives of water/sewer groups, etc – i.e. this is NOT a wine & cheese day outing – to sign up and depending on how many do make reservation will indicate the size of the bus needed . You can call Ramona at Planning at 781-5612 or email her a by June 4th. Trip will leave from the BOS at 9ish and return at 6ish.

The next Planning Commission meeting on the sewer DEIR will be another all-day affair on Monday, June 29 and Tuesday June 30 at the BOS chambers.

This go-round was focused on the collection system. Commissioner Wyatt opened by making it clear, with straw-poll head nodding – that the entire board has agreed that the system will be gravity and there is a need for a project, so they’ll not spend time re-hashing any of that, thank you. It was a nice try to alert the audience that their yakking about STEP or STEG or sealed pipes or global warming or leaks or I & I or rising sea water or disturbed archeological sites or dewatering issues for deep gravity pipes or any of that crap would be a waste of time.

However, both Chairman Christie, and Mr. White kept coming back to all of that, asking why STEP was off the County’s table and has been off the county’s table from day one, and etc. while by the end of the meeting, Chairman Christie noted that since the goal of the wastewater plan is to restore the upper aquifer to potable water, then sealed pipes really do matter and so forth. Even Dana Ripley, of Ripley Pacific, added further information with his 2” thick additional info report on “sealed pipe” type collection, especially in high-water areas, areas likely to be under water what with the rising sea levels, areas over or in the upper aquifer so as to avoid both infiltration and exfiltration (ground/sea water getting into the bell and spigot type pipe or waste leaking out, all “leaks” “normal” with that type of pipe.) and so forth. So it’s clear that at least some Commissioners are doing what Ripley suggested: Be aware that the County’s DEIR infiltration numbers may be inappropriate for low lying areas and it’s important that the Commissioners get all the pieces first and then see how they will best fit together overall, rather than pre-selecting something now and then getting locked into it, much as Commissioner Wyatt was suggesting at the beginning of the meeting.

Other information presented:

The old MWH collection plan has been dusted off and is being used. That will result in a collection system that will concentrate sewage at the Tri-W site under a pump station building (looks like a regular house) that was shown as sticking out on the empty south-west end of Tri-W. (Julie Tacker later suggested moving the building next to the library so as to leave that whole stretch open, and Paavo noted that that would work out as well, one of those details that can be refined as the plan moves forward.) There will be lift stations and pocket pump stations located throughout the community (old Tri-W plans), with back up generators (old Tri-W plans) the centrally collected sewage will then run out Los Osos Valley Road to Turri Road, crossing two creeks (stainless steel pipes hung under the bridges with shut off valves on either end & etc, (so much for the old claim that an out of town sitet couldn’t be used because you couldn’t cross a creek with a sewer pipe?). The deepest pipes will be 22 feet deep, at Pismo & 8th, no pipes will be below sea level but a few will be less than 2’ above sea level, an issue that may need closer attention as the Commissioners discussed adopting the newer, more conservative (i.e newer, much worse) projections of global warming sea level rises as being closer to five feet, not two, which may mean having more sealed pipes since those down by the bay will be under the sea within 50 years.

Paavo noted that a lot of the details regarding sealed pipe systems, vacuum, hybrid, etc & seawater will have to be dealt with as part of the value engineering process and/or the design/build process where those issues become part of the conditioned requirements for this process.

And into the Doooo-Deeee-Doooo-Dooo Relm: During public comment, Dave Duggan stood up to ask why the Vacuum System never DID appear on the County’s table. Regular readers of this blog’s comment section will recognize that question, which has been a leitmotif from Mark Low who keeps asking: Why wasn’t the Vacuum System on the table? Well, Mark Hutchinson responded that, well, they did look at that to some degree but thought that since most of the community was “downhill” from somewhere, that using gravity overall made sense and anyway, uh, er, well, the vacuum guys did send some information in but, er, well, they didn’t participate and didn’t show up for consideration of the short list and, well, whoever does win the contract can consider vacuum if they want as part of the design build process or they could choose STEG and grinder pumps or . . . . So, there was Mark’s answer: Was Vacuum on the table? Not really. It was looked at to some degree. (Keep in mind, gravity was pre-selected from day one so things on the table were (really) for show “pretend” things.)

Also interesting in the Vacuum System corner, Commissioner Christie, in her ex-parte disclosure, noted that she heard from Maria Kelley telling her of concerns regarding vacuum systems, i.e. in case of a power outage. Mr. Dugan noted that in a Florida city with vacuum systems during a hurricane, there were no outages and no failure. Oddly, there had been previous discussion regarding the gravity plan’s pump stations all complete with back up generators in case of power outages, so the puzzle was: If the proposed gravity system was using back up generators, why wouldn’t a vacuum system use the same thing? So the puzzle as to Ms. Kelley’s concerns remains and the puzzle regarding vacuum-on-the table issues remain one of those wonderful Sewer Mysteries. Dooo deeee dooo dooo.

Lisa Schicker urged the Commission to condition the project before the county moves the project ahead to such an extent that conditions will all be moot. Several Commissioners assured the audience that they intended to add conditions and Paavo indicated that even if the various regulatory agencies were running behind, whatever design firm gets the contract can always make changes as they’re handed down by the “conditioning” agencies & etc. Of course, the word “changes” and “change orders” always sends shudders up spines of taxpayers as in, “Yes, we did bid for that price but if you must have X it’ll cost you Y more.”

Several speakers repeatedly asked for a side by side evaluation of both environmental and cost breakdowns on sealed, vacuum, STEG, unsealed pipes & etc, so the Commissioners could see the cost-benefit among the various collection systems. (Environmental concerns included the degree of damage between raw sewage leaks vs. septage leaks, for example.) While Linde Owen asked for side by side project comparisons, saying Ripley could do a presentation of their STEP plan in a couple of weeks, she assumed that the Vacuum Folks, (the ones who sent information ?) could prepare a presentation in a few weeks, and the Commission already has the County’s plan, so they could compare/contrast three different systems rather than what’s now being considered which is one system with a few variable parts.

The next PC meetings will be two, back-to-back all day affairs, June 29 & 30, at the BOS chambers, staring by 9. They’ll take up the list again and see how far they’ll get.

Uh, Oh, Ron Crawford’s Asking Questions, Again

Over at Ron’s asking “Why is Montgomery Watson Harza Even Close To Getting A Third Chance To Fail In Los Osos?”

Well, I sure have at least one possible answer to that question: Suppose I hire an architect and tell him, “Build me a house on top of Morro Rock. Cost is NO object.” The architect has two choices: He can say, “Are you nuts? In my professional judgment, that’s a really, really bad idea and while it CAN be done, it will cause all sorts of problems and additional costs. It would be much better to build that house over here or over there. That site will be better and it can be done for about the same amount of money, but it’ll avoid a great big train wreck. Why don’t you ask the community for a vote on the matter. Do they want A or B?,” or he can say, “ Whatever you say, Boss.”

Now, I don’t know if architects have professional codes of ethics that they’re supposed to follow, ones that say that if your client is creating a disaster you MUST (ethically) save the poor soul from himself, or whether you’re under no professional obligations to prevent such harm. Just as I don’t know if engineers have codes of ethics that they’re supposed to follow, either.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Planning Commission Today

The Planning Commission will again take up the Los Osos Wastewater plan today. It's scheduled last on the agenda so will likely get underway in the afternoon. The meeting is held in the BOS chambers in SLOTOWN.

Message To California Residents

Front page of the Tribune: "Castle may close under proposal; Governor wants to shut down 80 percent of state parks, including Hearst, as part of a plan to close the $21 billion budget deficit."

O.K. Californians, listen up. You elected and re-elected more and more polarized Pols , some of whom have taken blood oaths to people like Grover Norquist, so it's pointless to think they will come together to balance a budget based on judicious cutting AND judicious taxing, so they're worse than useless. But you kept electing them anyway.

Then, you keep voting for initiatives that are loaded with unintended consequences that futher bolix up any attempt at governing the state. (Prop 13 is a perfect example). THEN you keep demanding all kinds of services but keep wanting THE OTHER GUY to pay for them. And when it all goes to hell and you have a chance to step in and vote for a temporary fix, you say, Pfffsstfffft, so now the Pols are threatening to cut services to the bone -- a move that will have the harshest impact on the poor, the young, the old. (No taxes on yachts!)

So, here's the deal: If the Pols shut down vital services, services you rely on but don't want to fairly pay for, I DON'T WANT TO HEAR A PEEP OUT OF ANY OF YOU! Not a sqwak, not a whine. Zip it. Did your husband die because there weren't enough EMTs available to come help him? Too bad. Not enough firefighters to keep a hillside blaze from turning into a maelstrom that engulfed your home? Don't call me. Did uninsured sick people put such a strain on your local emergency room that it's now closed down, bankrupt, and you've been injured in a car accident and you end up permanently crippled because there was no emergency room nearby and not enough EMTs to take you there in time anyway, Hey, talk to the hand. Did you car fall into a pothole because the county didn't have enough money to fix it and now your car's kaput? Awww, poor baby. Too bad. No state parks to go to for an affordable vacation? Tough. You want a state park? Go buy one and pay for it yourself.

After all, Who needs the State, anyway? No taxes! No Services! It's Grover Norquist Country! You want a service, go buy it from a private provider. If you can't afford it, too bad. You'll just have to suck it up or die. If you're poor, nobody cares about you anyway. Now shut up and go away.

Californians! Behold! This is the state you have created. Rejoice! Thank you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for May 28, 2009

I Do, I Do, You Too, but NOT You

Awww, Gawwd. Hand me that brown paper bag to put over my head. I don’t’ want anyone to know I live in California. I mean, the State is running on stupid now – partisan politicians unable to fix a busted budget, a state facing bankruptcy, a good portion of the pols having taken a blood oath to an anti-government, anti-tax zealot, they’ll slash programs designed to help the old, the sick and the poor before they’ll raise a penny to tax yachts.

Meanwhile, the populist/special interest-initiative process allowed in this state has resulted in overlapping populist/special interest-backed laws that can best be described as patches needed to fix previous populist/special interest-backed initiatives that created unintended consequences which needed more patches until the whole tangle is now crashing down like a bowl of spaghetti.

And on top of all this fiscal insanity, we now have the ridiculous spectacle of our Supreme Court hoisted on its own petard. In May 2008, the court declared that they could find no compelling (secular) state reason to deny gay couples the fundamental right to marry, a right that had been exclusively available only to straight couples. About 18,000 same-sex couples got married, including many who married in a church/synagogue of their choice, thus “sanctifying” what is, at its heart, a civil secular, state sanctioned legal contract – the old “by the power vested in my by the State of [fill in the blank], I declare you . . . whatever” once you sign the “state-issued marriage certificate.”

Well, having gay citizens enjoying the same right to marry as straight people did not sit well with the Mormon and Catholic churches, among other religious groups, who mounted a well-funded Proposition 8 campaign to change the state constitution to limit marriage to only straight people. The initiative, which passed by a slim majority, was fueled by the usual fear-mongering ads about gays molesting children, gays teaching gayness in schools and other such scoundrel-driven nonsense, and promptly ended up in front of the same Supreme Court that had already decreed that they could find no compelling state reason to deny gay marriage.

Which is why they came to be hoist on their own petard when they ruled that, Yes, the people of the state could indeed change their constitution to remove a previously granted right from a certain class of people, but they left intact the 18,000 gay marriages, thus creating a state with an Animal Farm system of justice: All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others.

So, under our newly amended California Constitution, the one that used to guarantee equal rights under law for all, we now have a system that guarantees that ALL straight people and SOME gay people will be granted the full rights, privileges and responsibilities of “marriage, while ALL OTHER gay people in the state need to get to the back of the bus.

You see why a paper bag for the head is in order? I mean even Iowa’s Supreme Court, fer Gawd’s sake, sent down a more coherent ruling to ensure that all its citizens would be treated equally than our court did. Ah, the shame, the shame. IOWA?

Well, this whole mess isn’t over. Both sides are now raising war-chest money and there are bound to be various legal appeals making their way to federal courts that will likely have an impact on various states’ anti-gay marriage laws. Like all other civil rights issues, I have no doubt that this issue will be resolved in the same way: Full and equal civil rights under law for the latest “out” group.

But the real shame and evil is to be found in humans beings who waste so much time and effort dividing one another, excluding one another, demonizing one another, reserving and guarding tiers of privilege for themselves while using the might of the State to enforce second-class citizenship for the designated “Other,” or whatever group du jour is in the shooting barrel. It all eventually comes to naught. The “out” group, after often bloody struggle, much ugliness and worlds of pain, is finally included and everyone looks around and wonders what the fuss was all about. The Republic doesn’t fall. The world doesn’t end. God doesn’t send plagues. Previously designated “Second-class citizens” vote and buy houses and marry and raise families and one of their sons, one of those dreaded, ostracized, demonized “Others,” grows up to become President of the United States.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Look, Mommy, Interesting Dots . . .

So, let’s add another weird dot: A regulatory agency declares an “emergency” in the town’s drinking water, high nitrates that will create “blue babies” and sick people, nitrate levels that violate the law and the highest emergency measure -- a building moratorium – is declared. AFTER which over 1,000 new septic permits are issued and signed off by the very regulatory agency that called the “emergency” in the first place and to this day nobody can ‘splain how having “too much” of something is fixed by adding MORE of the same something. Ah, just another one of those mysteries to be found in . . . Chinatown. . .

Los Osos is …“Chinatown”
Asked to reveal the deep, dark secret behind the long-running and strange goings-on inside the Los Osos sewer saga, a few owls in Los Osos have been known to whisper “Chinatown.” Now, “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne sheds light on more than a few historical points in common between LA of the early 1930s and Los Osos today, starting with the water, who owns it, how much it’s really worth – and land grabs. Los Ososans should read Towne’s comments and then see how many chilling similarities they can come up with ...
Read more ... on The Rock at

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Your Saturday Poem

This is one of my favorite poems. I first stumbled upon this poem in The New Yorker. Jack Gilbert is one of those poets who writes dangerous poems, the kind of poems that will leave a bruise or a sharp needle to the heart. This is one of those poems, a poem that resonates more and more as the years pass, that deepens as age and life bore in and the mysteries deepen. The poem is first in his 2005 collection, “Refusing Heaven,” a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Available in paperback from your local bookstore.

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of the world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island; the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back in is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Aww, Gawd, Ponies, Books and now . . . houses?

"Corruption Eruption!" at

Awwww. Gawd. . .
Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for May 21, 2009

Aw, Gawd, Pullleeezzze Don’t Tell Mother Calhoun That She Has To Explain It All To You . . . Again

The terrible thing about the quest for truth is that you find it.
Remy de Gourmont

Actually, the epigram above is only partially correct. Sometimes you will find the truth, if you actually look. And sometimes you can work very, very hard to cover up the truth, burying it under a high load of Happy Horsepucky, only to discover it has its own path to the light and shows up anyway. Like a day later in a local newspaper headline.

About 10 days ago, the Board put the county’s top two administrators, CAO Dave Edge and his second in command, Gail Wilcox, on paid leave while they went into 10 hours worth of closed session huddling while discussing “anticipated litigation” and “significant exposure to litigation” – government speak for: “We’d better dump these people/problem or our behinds will get sued off.”

Meanwhile, the blogsite posted a story claiming that “anonymous sources” claimed the issue was some sort of “sexual harassment” issue. This, of course, set off a barrage of speculation, bouncing from CalCoast to SLOTown’s Tribune to The New Times’ “Shredder,” and outraged replies that this was all baseless, un-sourced, scurrilous, sleazy rumor-mongering! Of course, “sexual harassment” speculation would pop up easily, given County government’s past history of hanky-panky at the civic center – County Auditor Paul Floyd, County Environmental Health Director, Jerry LeMoine, County Clerk/Recorder Mitch Cooney -- there was a time there in the late ‘90s when the place was one huge, embarrassing Animal House frat-fest.

Then Dave Edge was hired and suddenly heads were knocked together, departments reshuffled, sexual harassment training classes arrived, and for over 10 years, nary a peep about panties appeared in the headlines. There were other grumblings, but no threats of panties. Until now.

Then on May 19, the BOS met and the shoveling started. First, Dave Edge was allowed to speak. After the usual blandishments about his pride in his fellow employees, the honor of government service, and [now telling in hindsight] his efforts to act “. . . with compassion and concern for employees struggling with huge personal stress,” he noted that he welcomed a full investigation into whatever allegations were behind his dismissal, saying, “I have absolutely nothing to fear or hide,” while also acknowledging that that would be a waste of time since the deal had been done behind closed doors days ago and this “public” hearing was simply the Board “executing its discretion.”

Interestingly, Assessor Tom Bordonaro, during the public comment portion of the agenda item, spoke in favor of offering Edge a chance to have a full public hearing while Board Member Katcho Achadjian initially supported that notion. (Lacking the courage of his own convictions, and wishing to please the Board and join the majority, Katcho later said he wanted to vote “no” to the dismissal so Edge could have his hearing, but swiftly changed it to a “yes” so the Board could have a unanimous vote.) So, no hearings, no full disclosures, no investigation, no explanations.

Meanwhile, Boardmember Patterson confused anonymous blog comments on various blogsites with actual non-anonymous, sourced, signed blogs themselves and scolded the public not to pay any attention to anything found on any “blogs,” like nobody should return to to see what they will continue to report? With a real news blackout and various officials clamming up, reporters and blog reporters alike will be busy over the next few weeks, digging. And since Edge was an at-will employee, his MOU grants him 8 months salary plus any accumulated holidays & etc. so he’ll walk away with about $237,000 worth of tax payer money. And the citizens will be correct if they feel they’re entitled to know just why they’re coughing up that amount of dough for their former CAO.

And shovel-wielding Chairman Gibson blandly assured the public that this is nothing more than the fact that the relationship between a CAO and the Board is a delicate and complex matter and when a Board seeks a different style or vision or different path, then it’s natural to chose a different CAO -- as if this were simply an abstract philosophical issue. Gibson made no mention of 10 hours of closed door sessions or “anticipated litigation” or “significant exposure to litigation,” or that this was a “sensitive situation” and that the “best interests” of the county demand this termination. “Significant exposure to litigation” is not simply a vision thing.

Thus endeth the hearing with nothing having been said that would begin to address just why the Board had put their two top executive officers on leave and now had just fired one of them. Instead, the only thing to be heard in the BOS chambers was the sound of shovels – digging and hurling, digging and hurling -- and in the background, the whicker of a horse.

The next morning the pony began emerging from the pile of pucky. Fired Edge declared to the Tribune that he had mentored Wilcox for the 10 years they had served together, he had counseled her through her struggles [“with huge personal stress,” perhaps?] and had bought her a self-help book by clinical psychologist Judith Sills, “Getting Naked Again: Dating, Romance, Sex, and Love When You’ve Been Divorced, Widowed, Dumped or Distracted.”

Apparently Ms. Wilcox filed an informal complaint of some kind, and, as Mr. Edge told the Tribune, he now believes he may have crossed some sort of line, he feels Wilcox has betrayed their mentor/protégé relationship and concludes that “he does not believe it wise and perhaps not possible for people of opposite sexes to develop personal friendships in the workplace.” Ms. Wilcox has not been heard from yet.

But Mother Calhoun is beyond annoyed. Back when the county government was awash with sexual harassment hearings, i.e. the pre-Dave Edge era, she wrote several columns outlining what county employees needed to do to protect their behinds. Clearly, nobody listened to Mother Calhoun’s Sage Advice For The Clueless, so here we go again:

1. Being a CAO is God’s way of saying that playtime with the children is over. It’s not your job to personally help your employees with huge personal stress. That’s what the Human Resources Dept. is for.

2. If you want a friend, get a dog. CAOs are a government’s version of the Medieval “Sin Eaters.” That’s why we pay them the big bucks and why their careers are nasty, brutish and very, very short.

3. Be aware that when you mentor someone, you nurse a viper at your vest. That’s not being mean, that’s simply the structure of the arrangement since mentorees are intended to replace their mentors. Sometimes it goes smoothly, often it doesn’t. You have been warned.

4. If your involvement with another employee crosses past professional cool and moves into murkier, very human waters, understand that that at any moment you will be on Carthaginian ground zero and the killing will commence. There will be no quarter given. Everything once benign will turn malignant. There will be no one left standing. Not even your accuser. Go look up the words “Pyrrhic Victory,” in the dictionary. Contemplate it well. You time in hell is about to commence. Mother Calhoun sends her deepest sympathy to all involved parties.

5. Every morning before leaving for work, look into the mirror and read yourself the Miranda Rights. Pay particular attention to the part about “. . . can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Now, go to work. Have a nice day.

6. And for the elected officials who shovel horse pucky and think the watching public is stupid enough to believe that “significant exposure to litigation” is another word for “philosophical, vision-thing differences of opinion,” let’s hope the voters remember that come election time.

Meantime, the taxpayers of a busted-budget county in a flat-broke state have just purchased a pony and a book worth $237,000, not to mention whatever other expensive shoes will soon drop as collateral damage fallout on this matter.

Luckily, the horse pucky that came along with all of this was free, as it usually is.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hurry! Hurry Hurry!

Run, do not walk' skip, do not crawl; hop, do not shuffle to the Cal Poly Spanos Theatre (the "old" original theatre nestled behind the large PAC) for the College of Liberal Arts and the Theatre and Dance Department's amazing presentation of "The Phantom Tollbooth."

Woa! The students did a extraordinary job, the whole cunningly done set was on stage with the audience snugged up onstage too, and wait until you get a gander at the costumes, designed by Thomas John Bernard with Kathy Dugan, the Costume Shop Manager, stitiching up everything. Not to mention Los Osos resident, Ron Roundy's whimsical car and puppets, all beautifully directed by Erma Stauffer.

I had missed reading this children (young people's) classic book in my misspent youth, but it's a quest tale of our bored young hero into an Ozian/Alice in Wonderland world filled with Lethargarians, Verb & Noun Sellers, the Spelling Bee, a fabulous orotound Humbug and Dr. Discord and the Decibelles, to learn a whole lot of critical lessons about time and courage and what's important in life besides being bored. It's magical, enchanting, funny, very wonderfully wrought, pure theatre magic.

It's playing today at 2 pm. (Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! can get tickets at the door) and also May 20, 21,22 at 7 pm. General Admission $14.00 Students and Seniors (kids?) $12.00. Seating on stage is limited so you can call 756-2787 to see about tickets. Or just get up and go. Parking in the huge PAC lot was free (we were told that if nobody's out collecting $ at the top of parking lot entrance, then it's free).

Don't miss this presentation. Take the kids, take a friend. You'll have a magical, fun time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Your Saturday Poem

From "American Primitive," Poems by Mary Oliver

The Snakes

I once saw two snakes,
northern racers,
hurrying through the woods
their bodies
like two black whips
lifting and dashing forwards;
in perfect concert
they held their heads high
and swam forward
on their sleek bellies;
under the trees,
through vines, branches,
over stones,
through fields of flowers,
they traveled
like a match team
like a dance
like a love affair.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Show Me Da Money!

As folks here in Los Osos know, there’s a Sewer Bill coming down the pike that may force an unknown number of residents to sell their homes and move out of town. Especially hard hit will be people on fixed incomes. I checked a few months ago with Chrys Barnes of Pacific Capitol Mortgage, here in Los Osos, since I had plans on writing a column on the issue and she gave me a great deal of information. In addition, homeowners here in Sewerville were recently mailed an invitation by True Compass Lending Corporation in Paso Robles to attend a seminar on Reverse Mortgages (and, thank you, a tasty free lunch) at the Madonna Inn on May 5th. Katie Bateman gave the seminar, about 20 people and I showed up and, as promised, here’s some of my notes:

First and foremost, there’s an enormous amount of information out there on reverse mortgages. Here’s some email address for further investigation:
Fannie Mae (FHA/HUD is the approved lender):
NRMLA – National Reverse Mortgage Lender’s Association:
NCHEC- National Cneter for Home Equity Conversion:
The National Council on Ageing:
Katie Bateman (who gave the seminar): (423-3112) or here in Los Osos, Chrys Barnes, from Pacific Capitol Mortgage (528-5353). And there are many other companies offering these mortgages .

And, at the county, John Diodoti, at the Public Works Department, is working on money/finance/help issues and you can call him at 788-2832. He’s working not only on various grants, but also grants that will help low-income folks on hook-up costs & etc.

Now the caveats: Reverse Mortgages are something that each person needs to look into carefully. They certainly aren’t for everyone, they need to be weighted carefully in light of each person’s individual personal and financial situation. However, the rules and safeguards and variety of options now in place can make this method of staying in your home a viable option for many people.

When I spoke to people about RMs, the most frequent response I heard was the fear that the RM would eat up their home leaving nothing for the kids. Or the bank would take away their home and they’d be shoved out on the street. In the bad old days of no independent oversight, unscrupulous loan-writers, and for people who lived in areas where homes not only didn’t appreciate but actually depreciated as the years went by, that could certainly be the case.(Except for the “thrown out of house” part. That doesn’t happen, unless you’re actually dead and/or you haven’t been in the home for a year (i.e. in nursing home, for example) and won’t be returning.)

But here on the Gold Coast, where for the last 20 years, bubble excluded, the average house appreciation rate was pegged at about 5% by the county realtors association, and with the variety of types of loans available (from lump sum fixed rate to to lines of credit type loans or other combos) and the required counseling and review session provided by a neutral HUD-sponsored counselor before any loan papers can be signed, and prudent evaluation by the individual, the chance of that happening is slim. (Yes, I suppose somebody could max out their equity, blow it all in Vegas, then when trouble hit, be left bereft, but if someone’s that imprudent, that scenario would happen in any case.)

So, with that in mind, some info from the Seminar:

Lender owns your home; You’ll have no estate left; Bank shares in the appreciation of your home; Can’t qualify due to poor credit (this one carries a footnote – if you’re over leveraged, you wouldn’t have any equity left and since the loan amount is based on equity, you’d be out of luck); You have to be debt free; You’ll end up owing more than what the house is worth; It will impact your Social Security & Medicare (again a footnote; if you’ve got disability payments and/or on Medicaid/state aid programs, would have to check regarding assets allowed under those programs); Only desperate people get reverse mortgages (O.k. here in Sewerville, I’d have to agree; there’s going to be a lot of desperate people when the bill arrives.)

What is a Reverse Mortgage?

Allows homeowners 62 and older to convert home equity into cash (or line of credit, etc.)
Is not paid back until the last borrower in the home no longer lives there (i.e. if you die, your spouse can continue to live in the home until they leave permanently or die)
No monthly repayments
Money is tax free
No income or credit requirements to qualify
Non-recourse loan

The amount of money you can get is based on:
Age of the youngest borrower (the older you are the more money you can get since the bank knows you’ll die sooner and so their loan will be paid back quicker, unless you’re 92 and your wife is 37, maybe)
The amount is base on the appraised value of the home or the National lending (maximum) limit which is currently pegged at $625, 500 (until Dec 31, unless it’s extended; if not the cap will return to $425,000 which was the cap before the recent “Recovery Act” legislation)
There are no credit or income qualifications.

Payout Options
Lump sum
Monthly Income or Tenure payment
Line of Credit
Any combination of the 3 above
The loans can be either HECM Monthly ARM: Index based on 1 month Libor or 1 Year T-bill, or HECM Annual ARM: Index based on the 1 year T-Bill or HECM Fixed Rate: live pricing
There’s even a new type of RM loan specifically set up so that it can be set up to enable you to use an RM to buy a new home (like a down payment, the amount repaid when the old home sells & etc.) if you’re planning on relocating anyway.

Interest rates: 1 year CMT (treasury bill) index or 1 month Libor
Fees are capped
Mortgage Insurance (2% of appraised value or lending limit or appraised value, whichever is less)
Origination fee
Closing costs (similar to any mortgage application)
The loan costs can be added to the RM or can be paid out of pocket, whichever

How is RM Repaid
An RM is, in many ways, just like a regular mortgage. When the last borrower no longer lives in the home, the loan is due in one lump sum. The estate or Heirs can: Sell the house, pay off the RM (just as they would if the home had a regular mortgage) and keep the difference or refinance the amount owed and keep the house. The bank does not take the house. Also, you can always re-pay the RM, supposing you win the lottery or your dear old uncle Herbert dies and leaves you a nice chunk of money. And you can refinance an RM, (i.e increase the amount borrowed, say if further down the line you ran into medical expenses, for example) since as your equity grows, so does the available line of credit, if you need it.

For folks over 62 who are house rich but cash poor and who cannot pay the sewer fees, an RM is certainly one option (Another option is if they financially qualify to have their annual tax bill held in abeyance until they die or sell the house, could allow them to put a hold one bill thereby leaving some money available for the other bill, a sort of owe Peter, pay Paul deal. Of course, the property tax abeyance program is also a kind of RM run by the state, by which they hold the property tax and charge compounded interest on it, and after 20 years, like a RM, a large chunk of amortized change will be owed by the heirs when the house is sold. ) Or they can move, which carries with it high costs, not to mention social dislocation. And, selling in today’s bubble-depressed market, rather than waiting, say, 10 years, could really cost an even bigger bundle.

A Simple Example

My thanks to Ms. Bateman who prepared the following scenario: Mr. Sewer Guy, 65 years old, owns free and clear home valued at $400,000, (according to a local Los Osos realtor, the “average” post-bubble Los Osos home is now $300,000, but these numbers were run on a $400,000 sample), HECM Libor 3.250, rate is monthly adjustable, margin is 3.25% and the rate can never exceed 13.66%m calculation assumes an annual growth rate of 4% for value of home.

Guestimate “Sewer Bill” payoff: $25,000, Insurance Fees $8,000, Financing Fees, $8,074. (8+8,074=$16,074 these are like “closing” fees) so a total of $41,074 is financed for 20 years, with a remaining line of credit of $186,292 (which will grow as the house appreciates and Mr. Sewer Guy ages). Total, guestimate of amortized amount owed at the end of 20 years using these parameters :$181,431.

Meanwhile: Home value: $400,000 x 4% appreciation a year = $16,000 x 20 years = $320,000. $400,000 = $320,000 = $720,000. Is it reasonable to assume that in twenty years a house worth $400,000 today would sell for $720,000? Especially here on the Gold Coast? If so, Mr. Sewer Guy would live there for twenty years, sell his house, pay off the $181,431 Reverse Mortgage, and still leave his heirs $538,569. 00. Or, get very conservative and figure house appreciation at 3% (the low end for this county as a whole). Either way, Mr. Sewer Guy leaves his heirs a nice chunk of money and still gets to stay in his home 20 years. (Ironically enough, using these figures and looking at the bubble-crashed real estate market right now or by August 10, 2010 (when the assessment officially is locked in on the tax bills), Mr. Sewer Guy might well come out worse if he is forced to sell his house in today’s market rather than taking out an expensive RM and waiting 20 years. Or even 10 years. And, yes, we could have another housing bubble crash in 20 years, since we seem to have them as regularly as swallows return to Capistrano. But perhaps Mr. Sewer Guy would recognize the signs and sell and move at the next Bubble High End, and so still come out ahead.)

According to John Diodati, the most likely deadline before the sewer bill shows up on your tax bill will be shortly on or about or prior to August, 2010. Furthermore, the county plans on offering homeowners a chance to pay the cost up-front, if they wish. Prior to Aug 10, 2010, they’ll also have a “final” “real” price tag. (Right now, people can mail the County a flat $25,000 which will be held in an escrow account, the actual amount removed on Aug 20, 2010, when it’s known, and the rest refunded. If the County refuses to take the project, the entire amount will be returned, and we'll ALL be out on the street.)

So, to any Los Osos homeowner 62 or older, who’s house rich and cash poor and facing being booted out of town with the rest of the riff-raff when the sewer bills start arriving, I would suggest now’s the time to do some serious investigation and number crunching. Folks offering RM’s are happy to sit down with you and run your individual numbers and look at your personal situation and discuss the different options available, all with no obligation.

Do RM’s cost a lot of money in order to get money? Yep. Does selling a house and moving cost money? Yep. Does the sewer cost money? Yep. Is forcing old folks to take out a Reverse Mortgage just to pay a sewer bill right? Nope. But it is what it is. And it is filled with terrible irony.

Years ago, before the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” Americans considered these large infrastructure projects as part of the “National Commons,” and taxpayers all over the country paid taxes to the Feds who then made those monies available to communities all over the nation to help offset some of their more onerous infrastructure projects. But Americans changed that process. They didn’t like taxes. President Reagan said the government was the problem. So they wanted everyone to “bootstrap” it all by themselves. Privatize or what President Obama called “the ownership society – you’re on your own.” So a lot of federal help disappeared. And now that Los Osos taxpayers, many of whom, paid taxes over the years to help a county in Missouri build their water system, and now expects those nice Missourian taxpayers to help pay for our sewer project, well, Los Ososians, you’re out of luck. Tough. Unless, we get lucky and some new Federal help actually can be located. If not, then the wind that dismantled The Commons that voters sowed for the past 20-some years has now returned to Los Osos in the form of a destructive privatized whirlwind.

Time to get serious about battening down the hatches and start now to look into various survival mode options. The clock is ticking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oh, Thanks For Letting Me Know, Guys ...

Typical. Saturday I went to post some more entries only to find the blog page locked with a note that the page would be down for 10 minutes Sunday morning at 2 a.m. So, O.K. I figured Yahoo did't know how to tell time. When it was still locked at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, I contacted Greg, the Blog Master to see what was up. After much fooferawing, we figured out that Yahoo changed up the whole blog sign in routine, and forgot to tell their clients. Anyway, Greg got it straigtened out so, we're baaaccckkkk. Happily, the blog comment section worked so my dedicated Sewer Dawgs have been happily chewing on each other's ankles while I've been gone. Well, here's some new meat.

More Tea! More Tea!

Ah, a splendid day at the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The update on the Sewer brought out the Usual Suspects, but there was one inadvertent agenda item that was pure gravy for Los Osos residents who came early and were sitting in the audience.

I’m speaking, of course, of the City of Grover Beach being brought to heel and informed that they would be required to enroll that day in the SWMP (Stormwater Management Plan, pronounced “swamp,”) and so be brought under the direct control of our RWQCB staff, and under the Statewide General Permit.

Oddly, Grover Beach’s officials, backed up by testimony from Jerry Bunin of the Home Builder’s Association, were there to object, explain why they objected, and to plead for more time. It was beyond delicious and I could sense first disbelief followed by Cheshire Cat grins from all the Los Osos folks sitting in the audience.

Here’s some of what had Grover Beach’s officials panties in a bunch: The proposed program they were being “asked” to join was:

** Roger Brigg’s recommendations were seen overly restrictive and in some cases, difficult to achieve, the standards have and keep changing and GB wanted to look again at those requirements to see which worked and which didn’t work and were pleading for more time – 2 years instead of 1 – to make sure they were able to get this right.

** The plans required were too costly and often impracticable to implement

** Costs keep ramping up, regs keep ramping up, and so this is too great a burden financially on the city’s budget, which is near busted. Neither the City nor the people of Grover Beach can afford what’s being demanded.

** The SWMP program was seen as exceeding the Maximum Extent Practicable (MEP) rule and the city considers it all as an unfunded mandate.

** To which Jerry Bunin added, that the RWQCBs plan, which GB was being “asked” to sign on to that day, was that their requirements were contraindicated if GB was going to attempt to achieve “smart growth,” tended to make sprawl more likely, used data that was 6 years out of date instead of newer EPA regs (i.e. bad science.) and could end up making an o.k. situation worse instead of better.

Well, Briggs and the Board were having none of that. They weren’t about to brook hesitancy from these “anti-stormwater obstructionists!” No, no, they assured the reps from GB, who had by now made it perfectly clear they were leery as hell, not only of these regs and this program, but made it clear that their problem was with STAFF and that problem was that STAFF often made decisions that may not comply with the general rules or even directives from the Board itself. In other words, the officials from GB didn’t feel safe with what STAFF was doing and felt there was a disconnect between just who was in charge here: the Board or Briggs?

Ah, well, replied Mr. Briggs, with silence from the Board. No need to feel distrustful of OUR intentions, said he, with his bright teeth shining. We here in the SWAMP will require that you enroll today, but don’t worry, all the details you’re concerned about can be worked out . . . . later . . . . so just come lay yourselves down here on the bank of the great, grey greasy Limpopo River. Never mind the crocs. They’re here to . . . serve you.

And so it came to pass. The dear, sweet naifs from Grover Beach disappeared into the SWMP Enrollment while all the Los Osos residents sat there and smiled and smiled and smiled. . . . unaffordable . . . onerous . . . bad science . . . out of date . . . counterproductive of smart build . . .pointless requirements . . . unfunded mandates . . staff running amok . . .

Ah, deju vu time. And soon, for the poor dears in Grover Beach, it’ll be time for them to understand, WE’RE ALL LOS OSOS NOW.

Then it was on to the update of the Los Osos Wastewater Project and immediately the issue of Water raised its ugly head. (I know, hard to imagine, this being the Regional WATER QUALITY Control Board). What came to the fore were the issues of taking water out of the basin, rebalancing the basin, and sea water intrusion.

Most telling of all was Dr. Monica Hunter who noted that the basin water numbers were all over the map and what she wanted to know was a simple question that sent knee-jerk shudders up and down the line of her fellow Board members: There’s new studies that should be ready by June that will give newer (and hopefully better) numbers as to just what the water basin yields are. Since the County is under direct pressure by the RWQCB to brook NO DELAY, noted Dr. Hunter, (drolly? ironically?) would the Board see a way to send a letter or otherwise make it clear that the County should “delay” any final plans or RFPs or bids or designs UNTIL they had a chance to review the latest studies just in case those new water numbers might indicate a design change and so they’d be able to make those changes BEFORE moving ahead, instead of moving ahead and then, uh-oh, too late, too bad, finding out they could have done things a little differently with far greater/better results?

Delay? DELAY to get better data so as to ensure the project will actually work as planned, rather than just build whatever so as to not DELAY? Slow down . . . pause . . . delay even by a few weeks???? The shudder through the Board was palpable and sent, once again, the clear message: The majority of this Board STILL doesn’t “get it.” Burned into their brains is the Original Big Lie: That Los Osos is a bunch of urine swilling, anti-sewer obstructionists who must be punished and any project jammed through, even a bad one.

Clearly, despite a recap presentation yet again of the assessment vote, the survey results indicating strong community support for water reuse issues, as well as the public testimony of concern about the water, the Board still doesn’t get it. Dr. Hunter requests that this Board support making sure the County gets and uses the best ,most up to date science concerning WATER, even if it means a couple of months “delay,” and the Board shivers and recoils.

Ultimately, after some hemming and hawing, Project Director Paavo Ogren soothingly noted that it’s highly likely the June water reports will come in on time, the CEQA rules require it be evaluated and any project changes be done if the new information warrants it, and all that will take place before the County reports back to the RWQCB again. This let the Board off the hook. No need to take a stand or write a letter or take any action concerning WATER or SCIENCE or anything else, and if they do write a letter, it should simply just vaguely “encourage” the County to keep the June reports in mind and Mr. Briggs had no objection so long as the words “no significant delay” be added in, which would still give him the legal and procedural authority to call it and “fine Los Osos out of existence,” – ie. Prosecute all Los Osos homeowners immediately, since that’s the “trigger” for enforcing all the CAOs which are now already in place. (Most of Los Osos is blissfully unaware of this, of course.)

Then during public comment, Alon Pearlman once again asked a question he posed on this blog comment section: Who are the stewards for the water basin? That is a critical question since there appears to be so many partial stewards, each looking out for their own interests, it’s easy to see how the big picture – and the water – can slip away while nobody’s looking.

And then for some comic relief, CDO recipient Bev DeWitt Moylan asked for a simple accounting of the Board’s own Cease and Desist plans – as spelled out in their own procedures and rules—since they had spent gazillions of dollars (remember the Grand Inquisitor flown down to SLO for the endless Mad Hatter Tea Party “Trials?”) which singled out The Los Osos 45 for “prosecution.” In undertaking such a huge effort, the Board obviously must have been really, really serious about “Water” and making sure the CDO recipients did everything to comply with their CDOs and the RWQCB’s own rules, right?

Here’s Moylan's written comments submitted to the Board, some of which were delivered by her husband Bill (comment time was cut to 2 minutes for speakers so prepared statements had to be hastily altered), followed by the critical and hilarious questions she actually asked the Board:

From: Beverley De Witt-Moylan
Re: Comments for CCRWQCB Meeting of 5/9/09
Date: May 8, 2009

“In October 2005 we sent in our last mortgage payment after several years of sacrifice to pay it off early so that we would have no worries about our home following retirement. On January 30, 2006 we received our Cease and Desist Order. Eighteen months later we were retired, living in a home we own outright, a home you threaten to confiscate through daily fines dating back to 1988, civil and criminal prosecution, and a discharge prohibition that condemns our home.

To cooperate with the discharge prohibition to avoid any possibility of exposure to penalties and fines we have asked repeatedly to no avail for assistance in complying immediately with our Cease and Desist Order. We have heard from Mr. Briggs that, “There is no deadline to take this action as long as the County is proceeding with the project. At this time the County is proceeding satisfactorily, and we remain optimstic (sic) that the County will successfully see the project through to completion.” Our CDO, however, states that the enforcement process timeline commences on January 1, 2011. If the County is not making what you deem to be “reasonable progress” toward a wastewater treatment facility in Los Osos on that date, then we find ourselves on the road to eviction.

Mr. Briggs also stated that, “A legitimate consultant experienced in small-scale wastewater treatment could assist you.” We presume that “small scale wastewater treatment” involves an on-site system. Yet the CCRWQCB is on record as supporting no onsite system. Matt Thompson told my husband not to “go that way” when he asked for help in identifying an on-site system the CCRWQCB would approve.

Recently the Chairman told us that we “were raising the same issues…and it is not productive nor a good use of time to keep repeating this cycle.” We do not believe we are repeating a cycle. We are repeating a request which has not had a response from this board that helps us resolve the dilemma you and your staff contrived for us..
As you are well aware, San Luis Obispo County supervisors recently approved a short list of gravity only purveyors. If their decision results in appeals and law suits, it virtually ensures delay in the County sewer project.

We require an answer. In the event that there is material cessation to the County project resulting from delays caused by protests, appeals, and lawsuits based on recent Board of Supervisor decisions, you need to provide a plan for how we are to meet the terms of our Cease and Desist Order. This is a situation that has not yet had a reasonable, comprehensible answer. If you insist upon retaining the enforcement actions then you must assist us in complying timely with this order.”

And Moylan’s questions read to the Board:

Questions for the CCRWQCB staff who proposed our Cease and Desist Order and for the CCRWQCB Board Members who executed our Cease and Desist Order:

What material benefit to the groundwater in Los Osos can you report following 2-to-2 1/2 years of individual cooperation by 45 families with the requirements of their random individual enforcement orders to date?

What are your criteria to determine the success or failure of random individual enforcement against 45 families in Los Osos as a groundwater management strategy to date?

Given the current state of the County project and the implied certainty of delay through protests, appeals, and litigation, what plans do you have in place to assist those of us with Cease and Desist Orders to comply with the prohibition deadline as a groundwater management strategy?

If you have no plan in place, when will that plan be in place?

It was too bad the dear, sweet naifs from Grover Beach, so recently “enrolled” in the SWMP, weren’t there to hear the Board’s silence. They would have understood what they’re now facing, as swamp enrollees. And you can also understand just why, earlier in the meeting, all those folks from Los Osos were grinning like Cheshire Cats listening to those poor GB dears talking about unfunded mandates, bad science, out of date studies, counterproductive requirements, stonewalling silence, run amok staff, and unaffordable and useless plans. Not that those Cheshire Cat smiles weren’t full of sympathy. They were, they were.

A Later Note

On the same agenda was an item for the Board to vote to give $950,000 to the Wild Cherry Canyon project, a plan to put together piles of money to buy a large chunk of land to extend Montana de Oro State Park to Avila Beach. The money is fine/settlement money from an old spill/clean up settlement. The STAFF of the RWQCB nixed the plan, wishing to spend the money on SWMP-type programs. But the board overruled the staff’s recommendation and voted to help this once in a lifetime conservation effort.

Even though the money was coming from RWQCB “fines,” I couldn’t help thinking about all the money the RWQCB wasted on the Mad Hatter Tea Party and Torquemada Inquisition Kangaroo Court trying and convicting and hanging The Los Osos 45.

To date, nobody can get any guestimate as to the amount of the taxpayers money they wasted on that appalling decision. Responses to inquires as to the total expenditure are returned with a bland comment that the Board doesn’t keep track of stuff like that. The amount had to be a genuinely huge bundle -- days and days of hearings, a Grand Inquisitor being flown down from Sacramento, endless staff time, eighty seven tons of paper. In short, a bundle. All totally wasted because it didn’t fix a single drop of water. Think of what good that money could have been used for had it been used properly. Sad.

Ka-Ching! Ka-POW!

New posting over at The Rock,, “Rock Exclusive: BOS Clears MWH, Paavo Ogren of Conflict of Interest in Los Osos Sewer; Schicker Stands Firm.”

Reading the posting, what I found fascinating was County counsel Jensen’s comments: “My review of the materials that were submitted . . . I found nothing substantial in the materials that were submitted . . . .” [emphasis added]

Reading this and knowing LawyerSpeak, I kept finding myself mentally adding, “ . . . of course, I haven’t opened the box yet, but in reviewing the cover letter here, I can absolutely declare that I see nothing substantial in this cover letter. Nope, nope, nothing in this letter. Of course, I haven’t opened the box yet. And right now I’m thinking that I don’t have to do that since I can declare, with absolute certainty here from the dais, that there’s nothing about the fiber content of the cardboard, or how old the string is, or how many stamps are on it, that indicates anything substantial, so maybe nobody will notice that I haven’t actually opened the box before declaring the cover letter to be insubstantial, which, you will agree, is, at this moment in time, a FACTUALLY correct statement, the part about the cover letter, you see?”

As the Rock’s “exclusive,” snarkily notes, “Jensen did not disclose as to whether he researched any of the referenced documents listed in Schicker’s materials.”

Well, perhaps Mr. Jensen will actually open the box and write a more detailed report as to what’s in the box. Or maybe not. As I have noted before, nothing is “Illegal” until a DA somewhere says it’s “illegal.” And while public officials are required to LOOK at formal complaints, there is no law that says they have to SEE them. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and all up for interpretation. The Jensen Report will ‘splain it all.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Rock 'em, Sock 'em, Part II

"When the Microphone Went Dead, Part II," wherein retired Judge Martha Goldin finishes her remarks to the BOS, at

Thursday, May 07, 2009

And Now, Another Voice

The following was written by my fellow scrivner, John Brannon, who's been writing his wonderful columns for the Cambrian for years. This piece ran in the Cambrian on April 30, 2009, and is posted here with John's permission. From time to time, as John allows, I'll happily share some of his other columns.

Things are tough all over

With time slipping away at an ever-increasing pace, I recently decided to visit New York City one more time.
Wandering down Broadway on a lovely spring day, I was startled by the sound of gunfire ahead of me. The air was soon filled with screaming sirens as police cars arrived from every direction and formed a half-circle in front of a large bank. I was nearly a block away, but I could hear a policeman shouting from a bullhorn. My immediate impression was that there had been a bungled bank robbery and the bad guys were still in the building.
At the same time, I noticed an older gentleman running from store to store across the street. Actually, he wasn’t running, it more like a rapid shuffle. Why he went from store to store was beyond me.
The police rushed the bank and captured the bungling robbers in short order. The crowd broke up and life resumed its normal hectic pace in this famous metropolis.
I observed the elderly man, sitting on a bus stop bench. He was dressed in a suit that was a little worn; the cuffs showed wear and the sleeves were a bit too long. He wore glasses with thick lenses that used to be called Coke-bottle lenses. He seemed a little confused. I instinctively felt there might be a column here, so approaching the old guy and introducing myself, I explained that I wrote a weekly column for my local newspaper.
He smiled, “I used to work for a newspaper. But it folded and I’ve felt quite lost ever since.”
“May I sit with you and chat for a while?” I asked. He scooted over and made room for me. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Kent.”
“Well, that’s a coincidence,” I responded, “that was my brother’s name as well.”
I could see that things had been difficult for him. His tie was too short, sort of an old-fashioned style. His shirt front had multiple stains from years of spills. His heavy glasses had broken at one time and were being held together by Scotch tape.
“Oh, Kent is not my first name, it’s my last name. My name is Clark Kent … I used to be Superman.”
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but time and change have taken a toll on me. When I saw that the bank was being held up, I kept trying to find a phone booth so I could change into my Superman outfit … but there aren’t any phone booths anymore ― everybody has these dadgum cell phones. I got so winded from running around, I had to rest on this bench for a few moments. Oh, I’m tellin’ you … things have really changed.”
“Tell me about Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. What happened to them?”
“Lois retired from the Daily Planet and moved to a retirement home up around Schenectady; she began writing a cooking column for a newspaper in that area. She passed away several years ago ― I miss her terribly. But she has a granddaughter out in a small town in California who has carried on the tradition of writing a cooking column. Her name is Consuelo … she and her husband live in a delightful village called Cambria.”
“My gosh, Mr. Kent, that’s where I live!” I said excitedly. “Consuelo is a dear friend.”
“It is indeed a small world, young man.”
“And there was Jimmy. Did you know his real name was James Bartholomew Olsen? He moved to a Lutheran home in Minnesota and was sort of a master of ceremonies at their annual talent show, a delightful person … his red hair turned white, however. He’s gone too.”
Clark paused and then said, “With all the daily newspapers failing and the Internet taking over, I don’t know what the future holds for me. We don’t have real heroes anymore, just over-weight, over-paid egotists screaming into a microphone. Things have certainly changed.”
He rose from the bench, smiled and said, “Well, time for me to go. I don’t like to be out after dark … my eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Formal Complaint to BOS

The following was presented to the Board of Supervisors on May 5th, 2009 with supporting documents now on the public record

Dear Supervisor Gibson and Board Members:

As promised, here is a copy of my presentation from today (I got through about 1/4 of it during public comment) with the additional reference documents attached. Please include these in the public record and post in the official minutes for the meeting.

It has taken quite a bit of time to gather all of these documents for you, and many of these were referenced in several of my earlier communications with your Board.

Mr. Jensen, the AB2701 advisory vote was not in the bill, that was my error, but it was something that Assemblyman Blakeslee and I discussed extensively and I believe it is included in his personal notes that accompany the Bill, along with his request that the State audit the LOCSD waste water project; he understood the seriousness of these issues. I will look for his notes and I suggest you discuss this with him, too. Paavo and I also discussed the timing of an advisory vote regularly, perhaps he can shed additional light on this topic for everyone.

Please Mr. Gibson, do not "shoot the messenger", my comments today were not opinions, nor were they "unsubstantiated claims", as you stated in your closing comments. I presented both facts and questions to your Board that require clarification. These facts presented were derived from my first hand experiences and observations and I am simply presenting these facts to the current decision-makers for their evaluation.

It is my duty and responsibility, that is how I see it. And just like you said about your decisions, "its not personal" for me either.

I believe that my concerns have merit, and I have no ulterior motive for making this effort to collect all of these documents for you other than keeping my promise to the people of Los Osos.

My promise to my community was to deliver an affordable 21st century sustainable water and waste water project as soon as possible, and I worked night and day towards that goal for over six years now, first as an activist and then as an elected official, despite unbelievable adversity.

My promise to my community was if the LOCSD supported AB 2701, we would be assured a fair, honest and open process and that all alternatives would be explored - including gravity and step and everything in between - so the people would get the best project for the best price.

That is why pre-empting the decisions of the Planning Commission, by expediting Public Works' recommendations to short-list gravity collection teams with the MWH design only is a bad idea - it circumvents the fair and coequal process that you promised the people, and it stifles the creative solutions that we need, and that is what is currently causing this recent citizen upheaval.

My goals are ones that I think we all share. The only way we can get there is by working together, citizens with their elected officials in an open democratic process, through these very tough issues and with mutual respect for our various points of view.

Thank you in advance for reviewing these additional materials.
Lisa Schicker, Past President and LOCSD Board Member 2004-2008



In light of the information that has been provided to your Board and to the public and for the record, I request that your Board take action:
1. Vote to agendize a review of the LOWTP design build procurement process and rescind the current consultant shortlist, if it has been approved, until a complete investigation can occur and implement independent third party oversight for the Wastewater Project design build process.
2. Vote to agendize an audit of all County/Agency contracts that the Public Works Director has managed, including the Lopez Lake Dam Retrofit project, and including his past relationships with consultants such as RMC, Carollo, Carella, and MWH, among others. These same firms were the shortlisted bidders for the design of the LOCSD waste water project and most of them are already working on your project, too.
For your consideration:“Elected and public employees are charged with a legal duty to report a suspected crime or illegal activities… If Board members knew about the illegal activity, their vote approving the final contract affirmed and condones it and all subsequent actions approving warrants and amendments to the contract simply continued the fraud on the public. They essentially participated in the criminal activity.” (Excerpt from the D.A.'s letter to LOCSD and their Attorneys, March 2, 2006)

This quote is timely for you; as you now have in your possession information and disclosure of illegal acts that have tainted the shortlisting and design build procurement process for the Los Osos project. This information will apply to all subsequent decisions that you make.

As I have said many times before, all Los Osos has ever asked for is a fair and honest process. We can still get there. Thank you for consideration of these materials.
May 5, 2009

RE: Formal Complaint: Mr. Ogren’s Illegal MWH Contract, Conflict of Interest with MWH and Flaws with the Short listing of MWH and the Design-build Procurement Process for the Los Osos Wastewater ProjectDear Honorable Chairperson Gibson and Board of Supervisors:As part of my duties as a previously elected person with direct knowledge of events that will influence decisions you will soon make on behalf of Los Osos citizens, it is my duty and responsibility to make you aware of information and activities that are unethical, illegal, and/or a suspected crime.This will be my tenth communication and correspondence with you regarding a formal complaint filed a month ago, alerting you to past illegal activities of the Public Works Director, Paavo Ogren that are related to current County business and to unethical activities by consultants hired by Mr. Ogren for SLO County projects, including the LOWTP.I have confirmed that your Board and/or County Counsel received my previous correspondence and documents which provide Attorney, DA and Engineering documents describing how Paavo Ogren (as IGM), directed the execution of an illegal MWH contract for the LOCSD's LOWTP. Mr. Ogren appears now to have also violated the design-build code and contract procurement requirements for the County's project by hiring MWH in the fall of 2006, ignoring the refusal of the LOCSD to issue the necessary conflict waiver, and then short listing this same MWH firm again in April 2009.

MWH is a firm that has already made millions in Los Osos from this illegal contract, for a project that no one wanted (see your recent survey results), and has filed lawsuits against the citizens/LOCSD that are still active. They are also under investigation by the DOJ and FBI in Florida - for bid rigging and unethical billing practices. How did MWH ever make it past the reference check that was conducted by the County's Design Build interview panel? Who conducted this interview and what were their prior relationships with MWH? Did MWH disclose their current lawsuits, their legal problems in Florida or complaints still pending against them at the Construction Management Association to the County, as is customary?My purpose is to assure, for the public record, that you are fully aware of the seriousness of these allegations. I recommend that each of you request that County Counsel compile a complete set of materials sent to you regarding this matter and that you have all the supporting documents, too, in order to remain completely informed. I also request that you take prompt action to protect the County taxpayers and Citizens of Los Osos from any further financial harm. Please do not allow the continuation of a tainted procurement process being led by the Public Works Director, when at the very least there now is a perceived conflict of interest; both MWH and your Public Works Director must be immediately removed from working on this project.I have attached additional supporting documents in PDF format for your review; most are new, and some have been previously referenced in writing and/or during my public testimony from March 28, 2009 to the present.Here is a list of the enclosed attachments:1. Official Memo from GM Bruce Buel, sent to LOCSD Board: January 6, 2006, stating that Interim GM Paavo Ogren directed him to backdate the first MWH contract for $288,000. According to the County DA, this is considered a “violation of Penal Code Section 424 and Government Code Section 6200, both of which prohibit falsification of public records such as the backdated contract...” Paavo Ogren knowingly directed the backdating of the original contract, affecting all subsequent amendments and contracts for over $16 million with MWH, which were executed after the fraudulent first contract. 2. Copy of the LOCSD/MWH backdated contract. The Attorney (and "approved to form" statement) and the Board President signatures are missing, as are required on LOCSD public contracts. Dated September 1, 1999, Paavo Ogren, IGM was in charge, before Bruce Buel, eventual GM, was even employed.3. LOCSD Resolution 2005-47, requiring DA to investigate the MWH contracts. December 2005.4. Letter 1 to DA, all attachments, citing illegal acts and false claims, and including false claim letter to MWH (12-8-05), and an invoice showing Ogren's approval of $29K invoice from MWH without board authority in Nov 1999. This letter to the DA constituted the reporting of a crime, which by receipt of this note, you now have also been notified.5. Letter 2 to DA, citing illegal acts - March 2006.6. Letter to AG with all copies of DA correspondence, citing illegal acts - March 2006.7. LOCSD letter to Construction Management Association, citing illegal acts, conflict of interest and examples of MWH poor engineering judgment. March 2006.8. LOCSD letters 1 and 2 to MWH, terminating contracts and detailing all False Claims. August 2006.9. Newspaper articles regarding these issues. In light of the information that has been provided to your Board and to the public and for the record, I request that the BOS:
1. Vote to agendize a review of the LOWTP design build procurement process and rescind the current consultant shortlist, if it has been approved, until a complete investigation can occur and implement independent third party oversight for the Wastewater Project design build process.
2. Vote to agendize an audit of all County/Agency contracts that the Public Works Director has managed, including the Lopez Lake Dam Retrofit project, and including his past relationships with consultants such as RMC, Carollo, Carella, and MWH, among others.One last thought, for your consideration:“Elected and public employees are charged with a legal duty to report a suspected crime or illegal activities… If Board members knew about the illegal activity, their vote approving the final contract affirmed and condones it and all subsequent actions approving warrants and amendments to the contract simply continued the fraud on the public. They essentially participated in the criminal activity.” (Excerpt from the D.A.'s letter to LOCSD and their Attorneys, March 2, 2006)

This quote is timely for you; as you have in your possession information and disclosure of illegal acts that have tainted the short listing and design build procurement process for the Los Osos project. This information will apply to all subsequent decisions that you make.

As I have said many times before, all Los Osos has ever asked for is a fair and honest process. We can still get there. Thank you for consideration of these materials.

Most Sincerely,

Lisa SchickerPast President and Director, LOCSD 2004-2008
Cc: The citizens of Los Osos, members of my community will also receive copies of this formal complaint
County Counsel, Design Build Institute of America, Construction Management Institute of America, DOJ, DA and AG
This Formal Complaint was presented in person during public comment at BOS Meeting - Los Osos Wastewater Update and hand delivered to each supervisor and the County Clerk for inclusion in the record

This formal complaint with all attachments was emailed to the BOS, and County Counsel on the evening of May 5, 2009.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is That A Morph or Memorex?

Uh-oh, Ron Crawford's thinking about the "M" word, in response to a recent Dave Congelton KVEC show. Run for the hills . . . mmmmm, mmmmm, it's "The Morph Lie" -- A 9-year-and-counting cover-up over at

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

This by Mary Oliver from "American Primitive."


I lift my face to the pale flowers
of the rain. They're soft as linen,
clean as holy water. Meanwhile
my dog runs off, noses down packed leaves
into damp, mysterious tunnels.
He says the smells are rising now
stiff and lively; he says the beasts
are waking up now full of oil,
sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams. The rain
rubs its shining hands all over me.
My dog returns and barks fiercely, he says
each secret body is the richest advisor,
deep in the black earth such fuming
nuggets of joy.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Now It Can Be Told

This is a Sewerville Story. For years I’d heard a canard that sounded like an urban legend about a certain Los Osos resident who was delighted by the plans to sewer the community, even with an extremely expensive system, because it would clean out the riff-raff. I had heard that story credited to several different people but never found the person who actually heard it in person. Until Thursday, April 30, at the Planning Commission.

There, during public comment, Jack Hunter went to the microphone to tell the Commissioners that the real “elephant in the room” is the issue of cost, and felt a personal anecdote would suffice to illustrate the real problem facing my beloved Bangladesh by the Bay: Seems Mr. Hunter ran into a former neighbor of his who enthusiastically explained that having an expensive, “unaffordable” sewer for Los Osos would start a process that would drive out the riff-raff, and having a lot of homes suddenly come on the market all at once (the riff-raff’s homes) would drive prices down in general (glut on the market) thereby allowing developers and other people flush with capital to come in and buy up the properties and either tear them down the riff raff houses) and put up McMansions for the wealthy who would soon be retiring and leaving L.A. and SF or sit on the properties for resale at a handsome profit to the non-riff-raff folks who would be arriving in this beautiful, now riff-raff-free little piece of paradise to play golf and enjoy their leisure years.

According to Mr. Hunter, his neighbor was solidly behind and happily enthusiastic about this scenario, not sad or rueful or regretful or ashamed of feeling such glee over his little scenario regarding the economic cleansing that was coming here, as it is everywhere along the “Gold Coast.”

So, yes, Virginia, that formerly assumed Urban Legend is no legend. I asked Mr. Hunter after public comment who was that neighbor, but he refused, for ethical reasons, to divulge his name, though I’ve heard just who it was from several folks, so I can only presume Mr. Hunter wasn’t the only Los Osos resident to hear this gentleman’s happily reported economic scenario.

Ah, yes, only in Los Osos.

Two Down, Five or Six to Go.

Thursday’s Planning Commission hearing again took up the Hideous Sewer Project and in an organized fashion started nibbling down the decisions. First up, Tertiary or Secondary: Hands down 5 to 0, Tertiary.

Second up: Gravity or STEP. After much discussion and additional public comment, including some further input from Dana Ripley, with reference to the so-called “Ripley Report,” the Commissioners voted sort-of 5 to 0 for Gravity. Chairperson Christie stated she had been initially strongly for gravity, but after further study, was strongly leaning towards STEP, primarily for one interesting reason: gravity pipes 23 feet deep leak (all pipes and pipe joints do, sooner or later) and she kept thinking about the environmental damage and financial burden of fixing such a deep leak, until it became clear in discussion that state standards allow a certain percentage of leaks (“discharges”) from pipes. So, leaky pipes are not of particular concern (unless you’re a resident of the PZ; in your case it’s NO “discharge,.”a peculiar anomaly the RWQCB refuses to discuss or explain.) But, in the case of leaky, “discharging” sewer pipes, regulators are fine with it, so the Commissioners certainly weren’t going to fuss over it either. Pipe breaks will cost a bundle to fix, the RWQCB can impose huge fines for “polluting,” especially huge fine, I might add, since a gravity pipe buried 23’ deep can “discharge” a lot of fineable pollution before it’s discovered, so everyone’s happy.

It was also clear that the whole argument over STEP and gravity had been mooted out by the county’s pre-emptive move to eliminate STEP from the plan under review by the Planning Commission by short listing the contractors and limiting the RFP requirements to gravity only, thereby leaving an EIR document under review with a huge hole in it, while pulling an Emily Latella moment: “Never mind.”

And the Planning Commission was happy to oblige because, as was delicately pointed out, if the PC had balked and refused to issue a permit unless it also included full info on STEP , the County could simply appeal that decision to the BOS. (It was a delicate chain-jerking moment, that Big Dog deliciously metallic clank making it clear that the PC had better remember exactly where their part of the porch actually ends.)

Which pointed up another interesting wrinkle in this whole hearing. In usual Planning Commission protocols, there’s the “Applicant” – Mr. Jones – and “The Staff,” and the (Neutral) Commissioners, acting as “judges” in a kind of adversarial procedure, as in, “Did so, Did not, Nuh-Huh, Uh-huh,” after which the Commissioners make a ruling on the points in contention and the “Applicant,” if unhappy, troops off to the BOS to try for a better ruling.

But in this case the Applicant and staff and public and planning commissioners are ALL ONE, since this is a “public project.” Which makes for a kind of odd one-sided, non-adversarial procedure, as in, “Did so, We agree, Yes, Us too, Thank you Me, You’re welcome, Me, Don’t mention it, Likewise,” with the Commissioners left looking around the room for . . . who? Who is there but, perhaps, the public to act as any form of rebuttal or counter any “facts” being presented by the County. And everybody knows that anyone who disagrees with the County’s proposed project is an “anti-sewer obstructionist and general all ‘round urine-swilling, Moonbeam McSwine crazy.” And what Commissioner in his or her right mind would listen to anything they had to say?

As the clock was ticking past closing time, Chairperson Christie added the comment that she could sense the vote would go 4 – 1, and expressed disappointment that the BOS chose to eliminate STEP for the Commission’s real consideration and debate since such a discussion could have allowed significant issues to be brought forward which are now forever short circuited so they’ll never be brought forward. And Commissioner White noted that before they make their final decisions, they could always revisit any section and see if any new information had come up that could change any of their votes to this point.

The meeting was adjourned until May 28, starting time 8:45 a.m. but not known exactly when the Sewer issue will be fitted in until the agenda could be shifted around. Best to check the planning Web site: and track down the updated agendas.

Anatomy of The TV / Talk Radio / Print Media Ratings Game



Day Three: Flu Variant, May Be More Dangerous Than Normal Flu, Maybe Not

Day Four: Flu Outbreak Likely to Be Typical, Wash Your Hands, Take Usual Flu Season Precautions.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Calhouns Can(n)ons for May 1, 2009

Oh, Look, It’s Chip Kahn. Prepare to Die

If you’re of that certain age most likely to really need good, reasonably priced healthcare, you’ll probably remember “Harry and Louise.” They were the brilliant work of Chip Kahn who, in 1993, was a lobbyist for the insurance industry who pitched an idea to advertising executives to create a national ad campaign to defeat any efforts to fix or reform our health delivery system. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s newly proposed health plan was the primary target, but the insurance industry wanted any and all talk of reforms likely to interfere with their profits killed.

Well, Chip – and Harry and Louise – were the ones to do it, with ads featuring two actors huddled around their kitchen table staring at a "Clinton Plan" book the size of the New York phone directory on steroids, wringing their hands and expressing terror that if the Clinton health plan became a reality, they’d -- GAAKKKK! -- “lose choice” and be forced by government goons into an implied hideous medical gulag or worse, an HMO of some kind.

The ads terrified the nation, as intended, and all discussion of reforming our medical system stopped dead. Ironically, into the void waltzed employers (wishing to save money) and insurance companies (wishing to make more money) with the end result that over time, insurance profits soared into the stratosphere while more and more employers shifted their employees health benefits to HMOs (no choice) or to increasingly limited health plans (no choice), or disappeared altogether (truly, no choice).

And now, once again, health care coverage is on the table and so Chip Kahn is back. But instead of being a hired gun to protect insurance companies, this time he’s President of the Federation of American Hospitals (a lobby group) and his job is to protect the hospitals that are being hammered because his previously successful efforts to stop health care reform in its tracks resulted in more and more uninsured people showing up in emergency rooms, an untenable situation that is eating the hospitals alive.

Well, Chip is not alone in realigning his (paid for) loyalties. For generations, one of the strongest lobbies against any kind of health reform or national health insurance has been doctors via the AMA. Even a whisper of reform immediately received the sobriquet of “Socialized Medicine,” with doctors declaring, “You don’t want some Washington bureaucrat making health decisions for you, do you?” Until it finally became clear to doctors that it wasn’t Washington Bureaucrats making the decisions, it was some health insurance number cruncher with a green eyeshade but without any medical training telling doctors what they could or could not do to treat their own patients, then drowning them with paperwork while their patients died from delayed or refused treatment.

Well, they’ve all seen the light now, running full page ads urging Americans to get serious about fixing this medical mess, along with the wolves in sheep’s clothing – the insurance companies themselves. Strange bedfellows, indeed.

The March 23, 2009, Newsweek story makes the coming “national discussion” about health care stunningly clear: “Yet veterans of earlier battles recall there was great enthusiasm, too, when Bill Clinton first raised the need for change. It makes sense for all parties to be enthusiastic in the early going, if only to be in a better position to defend their interests. As the Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon quipped recently to USA Today,‘they all want to be at the table because they don’t want to be on the menu.’” Adds Brandeis University health professor or Stuart Altman, “ . . . the Clinton effort went ‘all downhill . . when they started to put meat on the bones.’ He expects opposition to mount again. ‘Everyone is supporting this until it comes time for them to pay, he says.”

And there it is, with one key added wrinkle during this go-round: Americans must decide whether they want their health care to be a for-profit luxury, or a not-for-profit right. In other words, should the focus be on creating a system whose primary concern is making money for insurance company stockholders and CEOs, or should it be focused on delivering the best-care-for-the-dollar service for the consumer? Which type of system We the People pick will make all the difference.

As for Harry and Louise, they’ll be back in some other form. Chip Kahn says he won’t be bringing them back, but you know somebody will. They were an extraordinarily effective tool that was used to protect extraordinarily powerful vested interests.

As for the vested interests of the average American, it remains to be seen who will show up to protect those. Did the recent economic meltdown finally alert enough people to just how fragile and frayed their health care coverage actually was – one job away from being uninsured altogether? Or just how many strings of their safety net had been snipped away in the name of profit? Or that they were one illness away from financial ruin?

If that awakening hasn’t occurred, then Harry and Louise will appear to frighten and bamboozle them back out into the cold with shoddy, for-profit, overpriced, unaffordable bad insurance. Or leave them again with no health coverage and then, insult to injury, stick them all with the entire bill . . . . again.

It’s enough to give you a headache, but nowadays, who can afford an aspirin?