Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chugga, Chugga Chugga

By the time BOS Chairman Bruce Gibson was finished listening to the appellant and general public input at the permit hearing for the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project, I was struck by how quickly he turned into Chairperson Sarah Christie of the Planning Commission.

After reading the staff report and proposal, Christie must have rolled her eyes something fierce and muttered, Oh really, after spending all those millions of Los Osians’ nice assessment money, this sucky spray fields idea is the best they could come up with? And then took the county staff, their sucky proposal and “her” board by the scruff of the neck and frog marched them straight into the new! improved! strong water conservation, ag exchange, water-in-basin, Giacomazzi property plan. And if any of her Commissioners snorted and skittered about looking like they might jump their traces, a quick snap of the snaffle bit –chink! chink!—and she had them quickly settled down and pulling the project wagon exactly where she intended to take it. It was beautiful to see.

And now here was Gibson, prepared outline (and reins) in hand, heading his fellow Sups swiftly along the path he intended them to take. And if there was any whinny or wither-shivvering -- ka-chink! ka-chink! – Gibson would snap that snaffle bit and they’d settle back in line.

‘splaining a blue streak for the audience, his fellow board members and by that hour of the evening, the record, Gibson firmly guided discussion. Gravity? Check! No, no problems with Broderson, the planning commission’s thinking on that’s just fine. Mitigation? Not a problems? The EIR’s got it all covered. No worries. Giacomazzi? Check! Treatment system as written? Check! Sludge? No problem. Salt water intrusion? We’re on it! The Planning Commission’s plan has nailed it just fine. The annoying, nit-picking appellants we’ve had to listed to all day have had their say. Nothing to see there, move along, move along. Our staff tells us we’ve got all bases covered splendidly! See, it’s all right here in their EIR. Time to get cracking.

Appeals denied 5-0. Project permit approved! Now, on to the Coastal Commission, Yippee-Ki-Yi!

Some random notes along the way:

According to the RWQCB, any “leaks” from the traditional, gravity cap & bell sewer pipes will likely be minimal and is that’s O.K. with them. This from the same people who brought you The Criminal Los Osos 45 who find their criminal septic tank only remains criminal if they still own the property. Once they sell their homes and move away, the septic tank that remains behind and the new owners using it and “discharging” and polluting the groundwater of the state of California, are suddenly transformed into non-criminals, no CDO, no problem. It’s one of those Los Osos “miracles.”

A goodly number of “Dreamers” and TPWers have weirdly gotten themselves stuck in a puzzling delusion. I repeatedly heard them say the project should be moved back to Tri-W because Tri-W is “fully permitted.” Uh, there is no “permit” on Tri-W. The original ginned up SOC was rescinded and the permit was allowed to lapse by all parties, including the Coastal Commission. Were the project to be put on Tri-W, the whole permit process would have to start from scratch and a new SOC would have to be filed saying that there is NO alternative non-ESHA sites available, which clearly isn’t now and never was the case. Somebody should break the news to these folks, but do it gently, please.

Steve Paige had some interesting comments. The property tax State deferral program for seniors is kaput, so any lien put on their homes (sewer assessment) will result in those homes gong immediately ito default, which means they can be seized for non-payment.(since the State’s deferral program is kaput.)

Also, interestingly, septic tanks are property and expensive property at that, all legal and properly permitted by the county and RWQCB. If they’re now “condemned” and shut down without just compensation for their loss and without a proper hearing, that constitutes a government “taking” since there has been no proper hearing and the owners will not be compensated for the loss of a privately owned, legally permitted, expensive device. Basis for a class action lawsuit? According to Steve, yes,

Supervisor Gibson single-handedly took STEP off the table by claiming the county already had Mongomery Watson Harza’s original in-the-ground plans so they’d save $ on the redesign and they could claim they were “shovel ready” for stimulus funds that didn’t pan out. Yet STEP never got put back on the table. So much for the promise to allowing both systems to duke it out through the design-build-bid process.

This becomes interesting in light of Andrew Christie’s (Sierra Club, an appellant) remarks: He told the BOS that the Sierra club would withdraw all their objections and appeals to the Coastal Commission if the BOS would put STEP back on the table and allow it to continue on to the bid process so that the community could finally get real time, real life, real hard numbers. He pointed out that nobody on the staff or Corollo Engineering or the Water Board had any real life experience with STEP so their numbers were, at best, guestimates and the BOS really needed to get testimony and numbers from some real experts in STEP, with real experience with STEP.

That suggestion went nowhere, of course. So the community will never know what the real cost savings with a hard-bid STEP system would have been. But that’s o.k. with the community. While even the staff’s numbers did show STEP as being cheaper, 1/3 of the town didn’t care enough one way or the other to return the Community Survey and the other 1/3 wanted gravity and would stick with gravity unless it could save them more than $30 a month. So, 2/3rds of the community wanted to pay more for their system, so that’s exactly what they’ll get.

The front-loaded $5 million water conservation efforts (retrofit toilets in every home, using the money to reimburse homeowners for the retrofit if they do it within the first year of the project & etc.) got muddled and wandered off the field a bit. The BOS and Paavo started in on their usual mantra about working on a conservation program, which in this county means something will get done, oh, let’s see. . . um. . . never. Planning Commissioner Wyatt came to the podium to try to make the BOS understand that the nexus for that $5 mil was immediate water reduction as part of the reduced flow the sewer system was now designed to handle and it was time sensitive since it was also designed to slow salt water intrusion NOW, not into some vague future. She also wanted to amend the original condition to give it less specificity and allow more flexibility to include commercial establishments & etc. So the Supervisors muddled around with the language and it’s not clear whether the emphasis remains on the up-frontness of the idea. Clearly, all homes must show proof of having high efficiency toilets and retrofit showerheads & etc. before they can hook up to the sewer. But it isn’t clear whether the details of the rebate/financial incentive program will have to come back later for hammering out. So, if there are delays in this project, there’ll be delays in water reduction, which means MORE salt water intrusion, the stopping of which should be the absolute #1 priority.

The most interesting question, of course, is why STEP wasn’t allowed – as promised – to compete head to head with gravity. I mean, it wasn’t as if several systems with hard, real-time bids came back and STEP lost on various counts. It wasn’t allowed to compete in the first place. So, what was the real fear preventing that from happening? After all, if the Process had been allowed to proceed as promised and as it should have proceeded, either STEP would fall away as being too expensive or being environmentally unsound or something. Or it would come in way cheaper and the community or the BOS could then decide to accept or reject it on whatever basis. Or it would be there to “keep gravity” honest, much like the “public option” is being touted as being necessary to keep private health insurance plans “honest.” But it wasn’t allowed on the table to even compete. Why? What was the BOS and county afraid of ? (C’mon, honest answer here, please.)

People holding undeveloped property in the PZ who are under the impression that once the sewer gets built they’ll finally be able to build their dream homes and hook up and live happily ever after are gonna be in for a rude shock. No building, no hook up until the Habitat Conservation Plan, the Estero Bay Plan and the Watershed Basin plan are updated and the water basin is shown to be in balance. When all that happens is not known. Weirdly, people outside the PZ are free to build and use water to their heart’s content, thereby helping to deplete the water while those inside the PZ are SOL, thanks to RWQCB.

The new CAO, Mr. Jim Grant was given the microphone to alert the audience and listening audience of the earthquake in Samoa and to warn of a possible 2-foot tsunami heading for the central coast so nobody should run down to Morro Rock at 9 pm. last night to stand on the rocks to watch.

And, finally, Supervisor Meacham asked Mark Hutchinson why the sewer plant can’t be put back on Tri-W and Mr. Hutchinson said that in today’s world, Tri-W would be $24 million more than the Giacomazzi site, to which someone in the audience said, “Imagine that,” no doubt rolling his eyes as well. $24 million more to build today? I guess “out of town” really is waaaaayyyyy cheaper? Well, well.

Next up, the Coastal Commisison. In their early-on warning-shot-across-the-bow letter, they listed several issues they were “concerned” with. So far, I think their sludge concerns may still be a sticking point. According to Mark Hutchinson, ponds that would eliminate more sludge weren’t recommended due to the specific site size restrictions and Los Osos weather that can be problematic. But we’ll have to see. The Coastal Commissioners may figure two out of three is about the best they’ll get and better than nothing.

And we’ll all have to now set up the betting pool: Who will be the first person/acronym/group to file a lawsuit? Hey, it wouldn’t be The Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project without a lawsuit.

Yippie-ki-yi . . . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Start Yer Engines!

The BOS will be meeting today at 9 a.m. for the appeals hearing on the Hideous Sewer Project. The Board may get to the point where they can vote on whether to accept the project as presented by the staff (after major tweaking by the Planning Commission which took to heart the warning pre-shots across the bow found in the letter sent to them by the Coastal Commission, plus all the incredibly hard work by local citizens in the Sustainability Group who number crunched and brought to the Commission some serious proposals for a better project than the original one the County came up with.)

Apropos of which, I doff my cap to Bo Cooper whose Sept 28 letter to the editor (Tribune) bears repeating here:

"Your editorial describing those of us who critique the Los Osos sewer project i hope of getting a more eco-friendly and economical project have consistently labeled us as "malcontnts . . . (in a) weekly gripefest" ("Blabbers of Los Osos, put a sock in it" Feb 1, 2008). And in the Sept 25 editorial, after viciously mocking Lisa Schicker, you wrote, "The circus surrounding the sewer project needs to end now."

Your editorial tone each time seems purposely disrepectful and degradating to those citizens of Los Osos who are presenting reasonable objections to various aspects of the project proposed by the county; the many changes recently made by the Planning Commission show that at least some of the issues brought forth by the "blabberers" were correct.

I'm okay with The Tribune having a different opinion than myself about the sewer project -- that's democracy -- but I am not okay with the attitude of mean-spirited mockery and disregard expressed in your editorials."

Amen, Bo. Instead of being a watchdog, the Tribune has been a water carrier for the status quo, a basically lazy organization that keeps violating the first rule of semantics: Thing 1 is not Thing 2 is not Thing 3. It's the same trap author Barbara Wolcott (Small Town, Perfect Storm) fell into. (I'm still advocating a necktie party for her editor who really, really did not serve her well at all.) And that problem is getting trapped by meaningless, ill-defined words that become lazy mantras that stop thought or block further information and discussion or (and this is the likely reason for using them, besides sloth) their real intention is to misinform and/or mislead. (Back to Wolcott again, she put Al Barrow into her invented category of "UltraOpposition," a form of super-sized "Anti-Sewer Obstructionsts" without ever 'splaining why an anti-sewer obstructionist/Oppositionist spent about a bazillion hours and years researching and bringing sewer folks to town for sewer workshops, sewer information outreaches, alternative sewer systems and so forth. For Al it's been one years-long sewer focus 24/7. True, he's been a strong advocate for a STEP/Steg sewer system, but a STEP system IS a SEWER system. And yes, he's tried everything in the book to obstruct an unaffordable sewer system in favor of an affordable system. But an affordable sewer system IS STILL a SEWER system. Yet he's classified as an anti-sewer ultra-obstructionst which obscures the complexities and contraditions involved. Thing 1 is not Thing 2 is not Thing 3.)

The Sustainability Group, for example, can be described as "anti-sewer obstructionists" (or blabberers or malcontents or clowns or any number of derogatory words) and dismissed in a "shoot the messenger" move. Or their "message" can be listened to with the result that this community may end up with a better project than originally planned. That's the problem with buzz words; they blind.

Well, let's hope today's BOS will be clear eyed and the public commenters can stay focused and any tweaks will result in better tweaks, not worse, and so the whole thing can go on to the Coastal Commission which are likely loading their cannons already. Chugga-chugga.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Your Sunday Recipe

This delicious simple-to-make soup comes from the October Sunset Magazine, which describes it thusly: “A smooth, silky, understated first course – the Greta Garbo of soups.” I don’t know about just being a first course or about being Greta Garbo. With a salad and some wonderful hearty whole grain bread, it’s a meal, a soup that causes your tongue to say, “More, please.” And fennel’s one of those weird veggies you see in the market and say, “What the hell is THAT!” So it’s nice to find a lovely soup recipe that uses its wonderful weirdness. (Fennel's also known as sweet anise, but don't be alarmed. The slight licorice smell nearly disappears leaving an elusive flavor. As I said, one of those weird veggies, like parsnips. You can't describe the taste of parsnips without using the word "parsnip," as in, "It tastes . . . parsnippy." Fennel's the same way. It's . . . fenneley. . " )

I made it both with and without the watercress, and I think I prefer without. It’s such a subtle, soft soup I think the watercress is a bit too loud, but try it both ways and see for yourself. The garnish of crumbled blue cheese is a perfect flavor note. Both our local Ralphs and Vons had fennel but no watercress, but New Frontiers has such fresh lovely fat fennel bulbs and they carry watercress regularly. Enjoy.

Fennel apple bisque

1 ½ lb. fennel bulbs (about two large bulbs or 3 medium)
2 large Fuji apples
1 large onion
1 c watercress (if wished)
1 box (4 cups++) low sodium chicken stock (or veggie stock)

spices to try: pinches of white pepper, powdered ginger (if you don’t use the watercress, adds a bit of bite, or use fresh grated), curry powder, garm masala, poultry seasoning (the poultry seasoning was particularly apt for some reason), sage. Sniff and experiment. The soup is so subtle, you'll need to use an easy hand so as to not overwhelm the fennelness of it all.

Trim root end and stalks from fennel. Chop. Peel, core and chop apples and onion.
Saute onion in butter/olive oil until softened. (5 minutes) Add four cups chicken broth, fennel, apple and bring to a boil. Simmer until fennel is soft, 15 – 20 minutes. If you’re using watercress, stir in 1 c.and cook until wilted.

Puree with immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Season with whatever spices are called for. Garnish with crumbled blue cheese.


Friday, September 25, 2009

More Tea! More Tea! Move Down! Move Down!

In case you were idly wondering about the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s CDO Mad Hatter Tea Party and Torquemada’s Auto de Fe CDO prosecution of The Los Osos 45 . . . oh, that’s right, you’ve forgotten all about those poor people who were terrorized, branded criminals, had their freedom threatened with statutory jail time, their property put under threat, dragged through a ridiculous, abusive “trial” that kept changing whimsically when the Board and staff’s incompetence kept tripping them over their own feet . . . and you thought to yourself, What in hell was THAT hideously expensive (tax payers picking up the bill) farce all about, anyway? Was it about clean water? Was it about protecting the waters of the State of California? Was it about stopping pollution? Was it about septic tanks? What was it about?

Well, now we know. One of the CDO holders sold their home and called the RWQCB staff to ask what happened to their CDO since they didn’t intend to dig up their septic tank and take it with them, you know, their illegally discharging septic tank that was polluting the waters of the state of California, the one that was under a CDO?

Well, the reply finally came back and here it is. Let me translate it for you. (1) All pigs are created equal, but some are created more equal than others. (2) Septic tanks in the PZ don’t pollute. Only septic tanks with CDO’s on them do. And when the CDO-holding “criminal” residents sell their property and leave (and leave their “criminal” septic tank in the ground when they move) the new residents using the exact same tank don’t pollute and are not “criminals” and are of no concern to the RWQCB, which does not intend to enforce their CDO policies equally and fairly to all residents in the PZ. CDO’s were clearly a sick joke, a clear abuse of state power that was only intended as an intimidation tactic, and electioneering device, that had NOTHING to do with either “fair and equitable treatment” (not even among the 45 CDO holders . . more equal pigs) or “science” or, hell, even “clean water.”

From a Sept 23, 2009 letter to a Los Osos CDO holder, from Frances McChesney, Senior Staff Counsel, State Water Board

Enforcement of Cease and Desist Orders

Mr. Michael Thomas has asked me to respond to your emails with respect to enforcement of cease and desist orders (CDOs) regarding septic tanks in Los Osos. In particular, you have questions with regard to the following section of Mr. Harvey Packard’s letter to you dated August 18 2009

What requirements does a CDO impose when a CDO holder moves or sells the subject property?

The pertinent parts of the cease and desist order state the following:
3. Discharger shall inform any subsequent owner or occupant at the Site of this Order and provide a copy of the Order. The Discharger is liable for the use of the Septic System, while the Discharger owns the Site, including but not limited to the use of the Septic System by any tenant or any other person occupying the Site.

4. The property owner shall notify the Executive Officer and the Staff Prosecution Team in writing of any transfer of ownership of the Site within 30 calendar days following close of escrow or transfer of record title after transfer of ownership.

CDO holders are required to inform the new owner and the Water Board if they sell the property. However, the order is silent on the issue of whether the order continues in effect after the sale of the property. It is the enforcement team’s position that the order is no longer in effect upon sale of the property, either upon the original CDO holder or upon the new owner.

The Advisory Team agrees with the statements in Mr. Packard’s letter. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) would consider the issue of the responsibility of the past and current owner to comply with a CDO only if the Enforcement Team brought an enforcement action after the property is sold, which, as Mr. Packard’s letter states, they do not intend to do. Therefore, the Water Board itself cannot make a decision or comment on this issue now, without a proposed enforcement action from the Enforcement Team. If the matter did come before the Water Board, I, as the Advisory Team attorney, would advise the Water Board that the existing CDO does not apply to the new owner or the previous owner once the property is sold. Water code section 13301, which pertains to the issuance of CDOs authorizes the issuance of CDOs against the current owner or operator, not the previous owner or operator. To enforce against new owners, the Water Board would need to issue a new CDO.

With respect to the existing CDOs, penalties only accrue from the date of any violation of a CDO, not back to 1988. If a CDO recipient is not violating a CDO, no penalties are owned or accruing at this time. In addition, enforcement of any CDO is not mandatory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Question Remains

The Tribune reports that the jury in the Dan De Vaul case (Sunny Acres and state fire codes and various county violations) returned a mixed verdict: guilty on three misdemeanor counts, acquittal on two others and deadlocked on five others. The DA is considering whether or not he’d refile on the undecided five charges and start this whole thing over again.

So, here’s the same question that needs to be asked of both the County and Dan De Vaul: Do you want to do something to help homeless people turn their lives around or do you want to be right?

Yes, Tax Them Froot Loops!

Here’s a two-fer one proposal: slap a tax on sugar and high fructose corn syrup, remove all federal subsidies and import protections for “foreign” sugar and for homegrown regular sugar (and, while you’re at it, slap mitigation fines on the huge agri-business, conglomerate Florida cane growers for the environmental damage done to the Everglades by their agricultural practices), then slap an extra tax on sugary soft drinks.

I understand there’s a new public interest ad out, similar to the ones being run against tobacco, that visually illustrates the problem by equating drinking sodas with drinking Big Gulps full of liquid, oozing yellowish liquid fat (Eeeuuuuuuu) in hopes that teens (and others) will think twice about the amount of nutritionally zero soft drinks they daily pour down their gullets. That’s a delicious idea and a good start.

Part of the tax collected could go to financing more such public info ads and other informational, educational formats, much like the tobacco tax goes for education efforts to prevent smoking. And the rest of the tax money collected could help offset the cost of medical care brought about by all the fat too many of us are carrying around as a direct result of swilling down too many soft drinks (not to mention inadvertently consuming all the hidden sugar and high fruit corn syrup that’s been put into nearly everything on the supermarket shelf.)

Oh, I know, Grover Norquist And His Cult Of No Tax Republicans, all of whom have signed a blood oath to him, will have cow. But they simply need to view the “tax” as just another cost of doing business. Some products cost more than others because some ingredients cost more than others. No big deal. If sugar is more costly, then that’s simply a part of doing business and the customer has a clear choice; to buy or not to buy. And isn’t CHOICE, (except for a woman’s control over her reproductive rights) something conservatives love to preach about? Well, nobody, not even a “nanny government” is forcing you to drink a soda. You have a choice and you're free to make that choice based on health issues or simply price issues. Just like you do all other products. Let’s see, do I have a Coca-Cola for $2.50 or do I have a bottle of water for $1.65. Hmmmm. . . let me think.

Go Ahead, Carbon It! I Dare You!

It’s finally time to get serious about a carbon tax. Cap and trade just moves the problem around. A nice, flat, across the board carbon tax would be a good start. Then remove all subsidies from all carbon based fuels, you know, nice tax breaks and depreciation allowances and such like for oil producers. Might even start billing a pro-rata share of the military budget needed to protect that oil while it gets from places like Iraq and keep it safe on the high seas via our wonderful Navy. The military can send the oil producers a bill for their services. Don’t frown, it’s simply the cost of doing business.

Then take that nice carbon tax money and use it to fund R&D and subsidize non-carbon based energy systems. (Hey, don’t squawk about Nanny Government. We’ve subsidized carbon fuels for years, not to mention farm products – all that nice government cheese—as well as any number of “protected” businesses and products. That’s nothing new. And if the government can subsidize cheese, which, to my knowledge does not threaten the future of the world, surely it can subsidize efforts to save the world for future generations, who can then be around to eat all that saved cheese.)

Then let’s get busy setting up a nationwide Rent-A-Roof program. Utilities, whether public or private, could contract with willing homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs. The utility would maintain the unit, supply the house with X amount of power, and capture the keep the rest and send it back to the grid. Win-win. Homeowner gets a lower (or even zero) energy bill, utility gets more power to sell, can delay building more expensive power plants, and already “disturbed,” non-environmentally sensitive urban habitat would become huge solar arrays one roof at a time, thereby delaying the need for screwing up wilderness areas with huge single arrays.

Yoo-Hoo, PG&E. Gotta roof right here. Be happy if y’all’d come put a few solar panels on it. We’ll do a fair deal on the energy produced so we both benefit. Whatya say? Call me. We gotta talk.

Public Option?

Why in hell is Congress pulling their hair out over re-inventing the wheel in the form of a “public option” for health care reform. It’s already been invented and is sitting there ready to be turn-keyed. It’s called Medicare. Simply make Medicare available to anyone under 65 who wants to opt in on a pro rated basis. And make sure the law as it’s being written allows anyone to buy in if they want to, even people who have health care at their place of employment. There, done.

If Medicare can offer what they offer at the price they offer it, surely private insurance companies can do the same, can’t they? And if they can’t, then they can’t compete and they go out of business. Isn’t that what capitalism and competition and choice is all about?

But to make a public option work, people need to be free to buy into the public option any time they want. The way the quasi-completed proposed bill has it, employees will simply be captives to whatever health care policy their employer foists off on them at whatever price the insurance company wishes to charge. That’s not choice. That’s not competition. That’s government mandated captivity.

Weirdly, all Republicans and some Democrats have been violently opposed to any kind of “public option.” Which means they are in favor of no choice and no competition and want to make all Americans captive to private insurance companies?

Well, that makes sense since Congress is a fully owned subsidiary of Big Pharma and Big Insurance. I guess they’re simply following the old dictum: Ya gotta dance with them what brung ya. And clearly, the American people didn’t brung the Congresspeople they thought they were voting into office to dance with them.

Ah, Well, Dear Sweet Voter. . .wrong on that one . . . sucker!

Monday, September 21, 2009

OMG! Another ASO?

Just got a notice in the mail on the SLO BOS's public hearing, 9 a.m., September 29, in the BOS chambers. It's the appeals hearing on the proposed Los Osos Sewer Project, and there's an interesting collection of people who have filed appeals, including Don Bearden. (You can read their appeals at the site.)

Don Bearden?? Like a metronome, Don's shown up at numberless meetings to urge The Powers That Be to brook no delay, to build whatever will be done quickest, to ignore those who would toss roadbocks -- like appeals -- in the way of whatever project has been proposed, that he didn't care what kind of system is picked (though he prefered gravity) he just wanted this project to move ahead a quickly as possible.

Yet here's Don's appeal, urging the BOS to return to Tri-W as a feasible site, which if the BOS does, will open a hideous can of worms (remember that old unsupported SOC? Remember the Bait & Switchy Coastal Commission? Remember Ron Crawford of endlessly connecting dots and telling us of his official filed complaint (on that SOC and SRF $$ being used for "amenities" just waiting to be turn-keyed, maybe resulting in investigations that nobody wants to get into, maybe public hearings, awww Gawwwdddd ) all of which will result in Delay! Delay! Delay!

Which then begs the question: Can we now start calling Don an ANTI-SEWER OBSTRUCTIONIST?

Oh, say it ain't so, Joe.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Your Sunday Poem

Stephen Dunn’s books of poetry, including “What Goes On: Selected and New Poems 1995-2009” and “New and Selected Poems 1974-1994” can be yours at your nearest bookstore. Support a Poet. Order a few books of their poems today.

If A Clown

If a clown came out of the woods,
a standard-looking clown with oversized
polk-a-dot clothes, floppy shoes,
a red, bulbous nose, and you saw him
on the edge of your property,
there’d be nothing funny about that,
would there? A bear might be preferable,
especially if black and berry-driven.
And if this clown began waving his hands
with those big white gloves
that clowns wear, and you realized
he wanted your attention, had something
apparently urgent to tell you,
would you pivot and run from him,
or stay put, as my friend did, who seemed
to understand here was a clown
who didn’t know where he was,
a clown without a context?
What could be sadder, my friend thought,
than a clown in need of a context?

If then the clown said to you
that he was on his way to a kid’s
birthday party, his car had broken down,
and he needed a ride, would you give
him one? Or would the connection
between the comic and the appalling,
as it pertained to clowns, be suddenly so clear
that you’d be paralyzed by it?
And if you were the clown, and my friend
hesitated, as he did, would you make
a sad face, and with an enormous finger
wipe away an imaginary tear? How far
would you trust your art? I can tell you
it worked. Most of the guests had gone
when my friend and the clown drove up,
and the family was angry. But the clown
twisted a balloon into the shape of a bird
and gave it to the kid, who smiled,
let it rise to the ceiling. If you were the kid,
the birthday boy, what from then on
would be your relationship with disappointment?
With joy? Whom would you blame or extol?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jimmy's Ear

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for Sept 18, 09

Former President Jimmy Carter’s recent remarks to NBC’s Brian Williams was a welcome breath of fresh air in what too often has turned into a weird psycho-socio-political, Jung/Freudian chthonic brew that’s been swirling around legislation that’s supposed to be about “health care reform.” As with most things, the health care debate too often isn’t really about health care.

Here’s what it’s really about: fear, money, power, class, hypocrisy, race, status, politics, subtext and “morality,” the usual suspects in a country constantly in denial about its history and its ongoing reality. In short, all the usual suspects that we are taught from an early age NOT to discuss honestly in polite company.

Here’s what Carter observed, “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barak Obama is based on the fact he is a black man, that he’s African American. . . . I live in the South, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the South’s attitude towards minority groups at the time, particularly African Americans. . . . And that racism inclination still exists.”

Here’s one of the signs carried by some “tea party” participants: “I want my country back.”

Here’s the subtext of that Cri de Coeur: Bring back the good old days of the white, Anglo Saxon power structure, the days when uppity minorities knew their place and a poor working class white man could feel he was better than . . . well, somebody.

And here’s the missing reality that nobody wants to honestly discuss in polite company. For at least 20 years, The American Dream World has been slowly turned upside down. The working class has been gutted, well paying manufacturing jobs have moved offshore, to the benefit of the corporate bottom line. America doesn’t make very much any more; it just consumes what others have made. That’s not a sustainable model for any society. Meanwhile, the middle class has been systematically diminished as the nation’s wealth (and tax breaks) were deliberately moved to benefit fewer and fewer groups at the very top. The consolidation of Corporate America, the rise of “Wall Street,” the marriage of corporate and congress has given us an unbalanced wealth distribution not seen since the days of the Robber Barons at the turn of the century. Toss in an economic collapse, add in a racial demographic shift, with “minorities” soon to be the “majority” in a few years, and you have the makings of a revolution.

But what kind of “revolution,” will depend on how honest we can be with one another about what has happened to this country while we were all in a trance shopping at the Mall. That’s why Jimmy’s ear for subtext is so valuable. A son of the South, he, better than most, hears what may be inaudible to many others. He knows the code, the wink-nudge, the unspoken look. He knows too the hidden fears, the dark heart, the history.

And it isn’t just a “southern” history. It’s American. It’s Apple Pie. And it is dangerous.

President Obama, in his address to Congress, set the discussion about “health care” into terms of “morality,” and “character.” What kind of nation are we that we continue to allow millions of our fellow Americans to sicken and die because they can’t afford proper medical care? No other “civilized” country does that. Only in America.

And we do that because we haven’t had an honest national dialogue about the real meaning of the founding documents we pretend to cherish, you know, all that stuff about all men being created equal, or equal justice under law, or equal opportunity or level playing fields or promoting the general welfare, or all of us being Americans and being in the same boat. All nice sentiments, useful for rhetorical flourishes on the Fourth of July, but the reality is this: In America, wealth, power, class and status are what we value, not “equality.” The rich powerful citizen is of value; the poor citizen is not. That’s the American “character” as it is lived in real time.

And it is of supreme irony that so many of the millions of people who have been systematically devalued and dismissed are the very people who voted for politicians and policies that devalued and dismissed them. And so they show up with signs about getting their country back from some illegitimate, black socialist commie Hitlerian usurper, not realizing that the old system they want back was the one that kicked them to the curb in the first place. And the only way they have any hope of hanging onto their piece of the American Pie is to understand that promoting the general welfare is meant to include them. But that will only happen if they insist that those who live on Main Street have as much, if not more, value than a corporate entity known as “Wall Street,” that lifelines have more value than bottom lines, and that the citizen is first in line, not under the stairs hoping for a few patronizing scraps.

Because we ignored that simple idea, we’ve brought ourselves to a crisis in search of solutions. Which means we can recalibrate, we can change directions, we can reassess our values and priorities so that we can change the way we treat one another and change the way America does business. But we can’t do any of those things unless we understand more clearly the meanings of the messages we are sending to one another, messages full of history, text, subtext, myth, reality, all being picked up by Jimmy’s finely-tuned ear.

And in those messages are some critical questions: Exactly what is it that people think they “want back?” Just what do we really value? What are our priorities? Is the country we have we created at this point really the one we want to live in and leave to our children?

If not, then it’s time to start working to form a more perfect union -- One honest brick at a time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Question For All Concerned

Here's a question for Dan De Vaul and the County, as De Vaul's code violation trial continues: Do you want to help homeless people or do you want to be right?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Your Sunday Recipe

Instead of a poem, time to make soup while some wonderful summer produce is available. This recipe is from the L.A. Times “Culinary SOS" column and originally came from The Organic Panificio CafĂ© in Marina del Rey. In Los Osos, the only place I could get parsnips was at Vons.

Sweet corn and parsnip soup

2 ½ tb butter (or use butter and olive oil)
1 c diced onion
1 stalk celery, diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed
3 springs parsley, plus chopped parsley for garnish, divided
4 sprgs thyme
1-2 bay leaf (discard before blending)
3 c. (1 lb) fresh, sweet yellow corn kernels (from 5-6 ears)
1/3 pound peeled, trimmed and diced parsnips
2 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper (season to your taste. I tossed in sage, poultry seasoning and curry powder, whatever else caught my fancy on the spice shelf.)
6-7 c milk (I use low fat milk since the soup is so rich and creamy from the corn, I think fat milk would be a bit much)

I use a large wok-type pan for the start, put in all the diced stuff (minus the corn) and saute on medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring. (to make sure the parsnips are soft) Add corn and sauté for another 15, stirring frequently. Then I dump it all into a large soup pot, fish out the bay leaves, add the milk, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Cool a bit then puree with an emersion blender. (Or scoop out in batches and use a regular blender) Adjust seasoning to taste and add more milk if needed.

If you want to get really chi-chi, could run it all through a food mill to really remove any bits of fiber. Or you if your dice is small enough, could remove ½ the veggies, puree the rest, return the dice and turn it into a chunky chowder. Either way, it’s rich and yummy, especially if you can get your hands on sweet fresh corn. Enjoy.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

O Lord, Not Another Republican Family Man?

Assemblyman Mike Duval, a good, staunch married “Family Values” Kinda Guy, from conservative Yorba Linda, in Orange County has resigned. He was caught yakking and yukking it up during a legislative hearing when he thought his microphone had been turned off, telling his fellow committee member, during a break in the meeting, about his “sexual escapades with a woman he says is 18 years younger,” who also happens to be a lobbyist, as reported by Juliet Williams of the Associated Press.

Sounding more like a Valley Girl than an Assemblyman, the story details his conversation: “I’m getting into spanking her,” sez our Assemblyman, the guy who “received a 100 percent rating from Capitol Resource Institute, a conservative advocacy group, for his votes on legislation considered pro-family during the 2007-08 legislative session.” And “She goes, ‘I know you like spanking me.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s ‘ cause you’re such a bad girl.’ . . . “ Oh, she is not! I talked to her yesterday. She goes, ‘So are we finished?” I go, ‘No, we’re not finished.’ I go, ‘You know about the other one, but she doesn’t know about you,’” referring to yet another woman in the Assemblyman’s stable.

Well, like, OMG! So after Mike was caught with his mic open, here’s what he said as he resigned: “I am deeply saddened that my inappropriate comments have become a major distraction for my colleagues in the Assembly, who are working hard on the very serious problems facing our state. I deeply regret the comments I made in what I believed to be a private conversation. This is a private matter and I ask that everyone respect the privacy of all involved.”

And here’s what our own Sam Blakeslee, the Assembly Minority Leader, Republican from San Luis Obispo, had to say about our man Mike: Mr. Duvall recognized his inappropriate comments would be an endless source of distraction for this institution, and out of respect for his colleagues and love for his family decided to resign. I respect his decision to put his family first during this difficult time.”

Hmmm, let’s see. A lobbyist screwing an elected official, a lobbyist who’s in Sacramento to get laws passed by elected officials, perhaps even the one she’s screwing, and this is just a private matter? Naw, Mike. This went public when you crawled into bed with a lobbyist. Next time, stick with “civilians.”

And here’s what Our Man Sam should have said, “Mr. Duvall recognized he violated ethical standards consorting with a lobbyist and violated his moral standards in committing adultery and demonstrated himself to be a hypocrite in maintaining the public outward appearance of an upright Family Values man, while in private he was just acting like another phony horn dog. The good citizens of Yorba Linda deserve better.”

And the best, and most typical, is old Mike himself. He doesn’t regret his behavior. He doesn’t regret violating his marriage vows. He doesn’t regret his hypocrisy. Nope, not a bit of it. He only regrets that he was caught with both his mic and his fly open and that his comments went public.

Ah, sigh, the days The Putting Of The Paper Bag Over The Head In Shame are clearly long, long gone.

Also Long Gone

Congressional shouter, Joe Wilson, he of the yelled out “YOU LIE” to President Obama during his recent address to Congress is also another of those No Paper Bag Of Shame For Mike public figures. He apologized for his boorish behavior but instead of being shunned as if he had B.O. and resigning in utter humiliation, he’s gathering lots of happy wingnut supporters, including tons more campaign money from the health insurance industry, which, no doubt, accounted for his verbal enthusiasm during the president’s speech? Ya think?

Well, no paper bag for Joe, either. But maybe he’ll turn out to be a bellweather in our toxic political climate. Maybe we can look forward to other Republican corporate shills turning Congress into the House of Commons wherein backbenchers heckle and call out questions and holler British Snark at the Prime Minister during his Q&A sessions.

I sincerely hope that isn’t the future. The British have a long history of truly educated snark. Americans have neither the education nor the gift of the withering rebuke. They’re just embarrassing and would soon turn Congress into a bigger joke than it already is.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Again

The following excerpt was from a column I wrote for the Bay News in 2003 on the anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. Today, it’s another anniversary and again, all that I can feel is sad fatigue at the utter waste and loss of all that transpired since those planes hit their mark. Sadness and a terrible knowledge that Osama bin Laden was absolutely correct in his evaluation of America and his clear understanding of just how fragile this country really was/is. He knew that all it would take would be for one dramatic strategic hit and Americans would finish themselves off and end up with a country crippled, bankrupted in a ginned up phony war, an economic system ruled by and for the elite that was as fragile as the twin towers themselves, vulnerable to the slightest economic hit, a country filled with easily frightened and fooled, willingly uninformed people, helpless sheep heading for the cliff. One strike and it all came to pass.

I can only hope that this anniversary finds this country at least more awake and paying attention. But observing what passes for political discourse nowadays, I have my doubts. Perhaps we simply never learn anything.

The Falling Man

The power of that photograph still stuns. It’s what the eye does not want to see, the heart does not want to comprehend. He is seared into memory, the falling man, so calm, so straight against the vast, vertical expanse of the World Trade towers. Head down, his legs slightly bent, hands at his side, his back straight, he will remain trapped eternally in a moment of unspeakable horror, falling forever.

The photographer, Richard Drew, wrote the story that accompanied the photograph. He was puzzled why this photograph, “denounced as cold-blooded, ghoulish and sadistic,” soon vanished from the national media, yet to this day still remains the one picture people remember and ask about. He notes that, “My fellow photographers call it ‘the most famous picture nobody’s ever seen.’ But, in fact, you have seen it.”

We all have and its power to stun remains awful because, as Drew concludes, “. . . we already know the identity of the man in the picture. He is you and me.” . . . . .

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Sierra Club's Newsletter Checks In

The following comments appeared in the Sept newsletter on the Planning Commission recommendations on the Los Osos Sewer.

Santa Lucian • September 2009

Sewer Myths Busted

The County Planning Commission
hearings on the Los Osos Wastewater
Project shone a bright light on
various claims asserted by the County
and the Public Works Department
about the biggest, longest-running
public works project in county
history. They fell like autumn leaves
before the questioning of Commissioners
and in the face of hard data.
A short list, with corrections:
[in italics]

Gravity sewers don’t leak; any
evidence of such deficiency is a result
of old technology, the failure of 100-
year-old clay pipes, etc.

-- Major infiltration and inflow of
groundwater has been found in gravity
systems less than ten years old.

Gravity sewers are environmentally
preferable to STEP/STEG collection.

-- The only significant environmental
benefit of gravity over STEP is the
reduction of the amount of sludge
produced when a gravity system is
used with facultative ponds. If facultative
ponds are not used, there is no
environmental advantage to a gravity
sewer. Facultative ponds are not (yet)
part of the County’s project.

All collection systems would have
roughly equivalent impacts and the
Coastal Commission has no issues
with the selection of one over

-- Dan Carl, Central Coast District
Manager, California Coastal Commission,
wrote to County Public Works
Director Paavo Ogren on July 15 to
say that sludge reduction should be
made a “a high priority in the
selection of preferred collection and
treatment technologies.”

The Tonini disposal site might not be
outside the water basin because, theoretically, there could be connecting
strata between the aquifers.

-- The Tonini site is outside the water
basin. Treated wastewater disposed of
at Tonini would be water wasted.

The Andre site cannot be used
because PG&E will not allow the hay/
grass crop that would be required to be grown under power lines.

-- PG&E restrictions apply to the
heights of trees and structures under
power lines, not grass and hay.

The use of recycled water in the Los
Osos basin cannot be required until
the basin has been adjudicated.

-- State law requires that recycled
water must be used in lieu of well
water by ag users if recycled water is

“We’re trying to give the
county some guidance and
direction to avoid a train
wreck at the end of this
- Peter Douglas
Executive Director,
California Coastal Commission

A Sewer, Almost
Never did a project so flawed get so much better so fast

As a rule, improvements in what you
are given are extremely unlikely if you
simply take whatever is offered.
On August 13, after hundreds of
hours of study and public testimony,
two field trips, 8,000 pages of documentation
and 170 pages of findings
and conditions, the County Planning
Commission proved this point when it
approved the permit for the Los Osos
Wastewater Project.

The Commission vastly improved on
the project as originally submitted by
County Public Works -- a project that
had no chance of receiving a coastal
development permit due to its
impermissable environmental
impacts. Sewage will now be subjected
to a significantly higher level of
treatment, producing effluent that
can be safely recycled for use on
crops. The treatment plant and
disposal method will not consume
645 acres of prime agricultural land.
The treated effluent will remain in the
basin and be put to work curbing
saltwater intrusion instead of being
sprayed away outside the water basin
in the middle of a drought. A mandate
to reduce water use by 25 percent is
included, more than doubling the
originally proposed level of water

The improved project demonstrates
the reason why the Sierra Club, in
agreeing at the outset that we all
needed to “support the project,”
elected not to follow the path of least
resistance in doing so. We joined with
concerned local citizens who insisted
that the project feature tertiary, not
just secondary treatment of wastewater;
that treated effluent be disposed
of inside, not outside, the ground
water basin and be made available to
growers to reduce pumping of the
lower aquifer and seawater intrusion;
and that a more aggressive water
conservation program be mandated.

And so it has come to pass.

Unfortunately, what the Commission
did not do, despite a wealth of
evidence that it should, was mandate
the use of a pressurized effluent
collection system and the use of
facultative ponds for treatment. The
selected gravity system and Biolac
treatment would result in greater
quantities of toxic sludge produced as
an end product of treatment. These
two parts of the project still need to
be changed to ensure that the County
takes the environmentally superior
course of action on the largest public
works project in its history.

The Environmental Impact Report
on which those decisions were based
was correctly and repeatedly characterized
by Commissioners as “flawed.”
They were being kind. Golden State
Water Co. correctly summed up the
fatal flaw of the EIR’s “failure to make
a connection between the facts
presented and the conclusions
reached.” Further: “because the
County fails to set forth an accurate
project description, a meaningful
alternatives analysis is impossible.
Because the DEIR does not provide a
stable project description to which
alternatives can be compared, the
‘alternatives’ presented in the DEIR
are more akin to a series of proposed
projects, rather than the means to
compare the worth and value of
alternatives to a proposed project.”

The Sierra Club is appealing the
certification of the EIR in order to
correct those flaws, correctly state the
project’s environmental impacts and
clarify the collection and disposal
options before a permit is approved.

The Planning Commission’s process
and the project that emerged from it
was a testament to the value of public
advocacy. Local residents, community
groups, wastewater experts and
environmental organizations brought
their concerns to the Commission,
backed them up with facts and data,
and the Commission listened.

Had we all heeded the call to “just
do it” and acquiesced to the project
that Public Works submitted to the
Planning Commission, none of the
above improvements would be part of
the project now.

When the permit comes before the
Board, for the sake of the aquifer, the
Morro Bay Estuary and the citizens of
Los Osos, those improvements need
to stay there, and two more need to
be added: an environmentally preferable
treatment method, and the
consideration of an alternative
collection system in the bidding

"The estimated progress of seawater
intrusion since 2005 is the third, and
biggest bulge; the rate of progress
for the prior 20 years is shown in the
layers to the left of it. The rate of seawater
intrusion into the basin is now under the
Los Osos downtown and commercial area
and appears to be four to eitht times faster
than it was fourt years ago"

Cleath & Associates/Keith Weimer, LOSG

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Din-Din?

The following excerpt is from Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s new book, “Crow Planet; Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness,” a splendid book now available at your local bookstore.

“So you’re saying crows are the birds we deserve,” friends have suggested as if crows – bulky and black, stalking about – might be present as a punitive reminder of our ecological missteps. It might sound as if that’s what I’m saying. Certainly it is ironic, at best, that we remove forests, replace them with concrete and shrubbery, line the sidewalks with plastic cans full of food scraps and topped with ill-fitting lids and then lament the presence and noise of so many crows. But no, if it were about deserving, we would have no bird at all. As it is, we have a shiny, black, intelligent, native, wild bird we’ve been given.

“It is difficult to know just how many crows there are. The international avian conservation organization Partners in Flight estimates the American Crow population in the United States to be about thirty-one million, but some crow experts, including John Marzluff at the University of Washington, believe that number to be a bit low. There are more than three hundred million people in the United States. Marzluff tells me that while he doesn’t know for certain, he thinks there might be about one crow for every five to ten humans. This would be consistent with his studies showing that nesting pairs in suburban areas tend to claim and defend two houses with their accompanying yards as breeding territory. There is, then, roughly one crow per family. I like to think about this when I set the table for dinner; I imagine a dark visitor, our allotted crow, perching on the back of a chair with one of our best china plates in front of it, waiting for the spaghetti.”

Friday, September 04, 2009

Miracles End

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Kahil Gibran

As all miracles must, The Small Miracle of the Carrots (And the Green Beans, too.) came to an end. Kasimu, my little Basenji was dying of kidney failure and since his disease made everything taste awful, he was facing starvation until he decided, out of the blue, to gobble down some raw carrots. That was followed by green beans, then kibble and we began day by day taste trials, sampling any number of foods hoping that one would be palatable enough to sustain him. The kitchen counter soon filled up with bags and cans and treats and biscuits of every sort. But nothing lasted for long and slowly the little guy grew thinner and thinner, despite a ferocious Mr. McCawberian will that surely “something will turn up,” and a determination to stay very much present and engaged with his world.

Until time and strength began to run out and we both entered Dying Time, that strange place where time stands still and rushes by with terrifying speed, all at the same time. A place where hope and despair rise and fall with stomach churning frequency. A time of wasteful worry and muddled prayers. “Please, let him die right now. No, wait, please let him get better. No, wait . . .”

And Kasimu made it hard for me to get into the proper frame of mind at any given time. I would put on my sorrowful, grief face and prepare myself for his passing, so weak had he become, only to watch him hop out of his cuddler and totter around the other dogs as I was readying them for a walk. He, who looked like he could hardly walk across the room, demanded that he be allowed to go along too. “You’re dying,” I’d say. “You can’t possibly be up for a walk.” But he’d insist, getting horribly agitated at the thought of being left behind, being left out, being left alone. So we’d take a “pretend walk” to the end of the driveway. Then he was happy. For him, a walk was a walk, pretend or not, since there were always new smells in the front yard that required his close inspection.

And when he’d refuse food for days, despite being rail thin and running on fumes, and I’d steel myself that the end must surely be near, I’d find him suddenly wandering among the tall dog legs at evening biscuit time, Hoovering for crumbs. He likely wasn’t really hungry by then, but, by gosh, he wasn’t about to be left out of The Ritual of the Night Time Snacks. And so it went, an emotional roller coaster of hope whipsawing with despair that got more awful and more comical as time passed.

The day before he died, I got a call to do some emergency babysitting of his other brother and sister, who lived in Morro Bay. I brought the two visitors into the front door to be greeted by the pack and there was Kasimu, tottering out of his death bed to cross the room for a sniff-fest, greeting siblings that he hadn’t seen in several years – the whole litter together again for the last time.

By the next morning he had slipped into unconsciousness, but was resting and breathing comfortably. I ran some errands and when I returned home I gave him a few drops of Rescue Remedy then washed his face with a damp wash cloth, something that I suspect brought forth memories of puppyhood and the comfort of being licked clean by his mother’s warm tongue. I told him it was O.K. to go. I told him what a good little boy he was. He had a mild seizure and when it ended, my jug-eared, carrot-eating, endlessly optimistic canine Mr. McCawber – Kidogo Hodari Kasimu, my Brave Little Keeper of the Forest –stepped alone and forever into the green darkness.

I buried his ashes under a newly planted sacred white sage plant. Soon his white bones will be part of its pungent silver leaves. And when I sit in the corner of the garden and look at its silvery softness, I will be reminded of what Kasimu’s dying had to teach me about living, lessons that I clearly hadn’t learned yet: Be brave. Don’t assume anything – each moment is brand new so things will always turn out differently than you expected. That’s why you must have the courage to wait and see what will turn up.

And if kibble’s off the menu, try carrots.