Andrew Christie, in the July/Aug Santa Lucian newsletter of the Sierra Club ( http://www.santalucia.sierraclub.org/ click on "Santa Lucian" on the sidebar to the right) has a few choice words on the Los Osos Sewer Project, among which was the very apt observation that “. . . instead of “conducting a genuine public process, the County behaved as though it were running the war room of a political campaign and trying every trick in the book to get its guy elected.” Including, Christy notes, a “’community survey’ distributed to determine if residents of Los Osos would rather have a gravity system or a STEP system, [that] was virtually a self-parody of the ‘pick a card, any card, pick the one in the middle’ genre of stacked-deck push-polling, with leading questions designed to elicit only the desired (gravity) response.” (Heh-heh, a deliciously apt description of our infamous “Community Survey.”
Then he runs through a brief history of the transit from what the County originally proposed (sprayfields): “Narrow, status-quo groupthink came up with a project that, by design, would do only one thing: collect, treat and dispose of waste-water. Replacing the groundwater that would be lost, preserving environmentally sensitive habitat, maintaining the aquifer and avoiding its total loss to rapidly advancing seawater intrusion were deemed by the SLO County Department of Public Works to be issues of secondary importance and/or beyond the scope of the project.”
And adds that “it is a sad fact that every member of the County Board of Supervisors accepted this .. . one-trick pony version of the sewer despite the fact that, for several years, we spelled out its deficiencies to them in detail, and the necessity for agricultural reuse of the treated water inside the basin and more aggressive water conservation measures.”
Until intervention by the Planning Commission (headed by his sister, Sarah) that put the project on a more sustainable path, noting that “. . .the Planning Commission listened to and acted on what residents, environmental groups and independent experts were telling them. The Planning Commission tore up the inadequate plan and insisted on a project that comprehensively addresses the Los Osos’ water issues.” And that [Sarah] “Christie used public input to guide a remake of the project, making it possible for it to receive a Coastal Development Permit.”
And at the end of the long recap, in a long overdue sidebar, Christie goes on to thank and acknowledge some major players:
Dana Ripley and the Ripley Report that spelled out the practicality of ag water reuse and the “imperative to seal the sections of the collection system to be laid in areas of known high groundwater.”
Keith Wimer, of the Los Osos Sustainability Group, “and high on the County’s list of Least Favorite Persons,” . . . who “was steadfast in sounding the alarm on seawater intrusion and the necessity that the problem be addressed in and integrated with the wastewater treatment project, not separately and sometime later.”
Sarah Christie and the Planning Commission.
And, finally and delightfully, a big Thank You, Troublemakers, a shout out to all the Board of Supervisor’s “least favorite people.” Of those people, Mr. Christie says: “In the end, the Los Osos sewer saga was not a spectacle or a soap opera, nor endless, wall-to-wall strife and divisiveness for its own sake. Enough of the dust has settled for this much to be clear: The citizens of Los Osos have racked up a record of civic courage
above and beyond the call of duty. And as it turns out, that was a smart move. Had a sewer been built three decades ago, or even ten years ago, that project would not have contemplated groundwater loss and the peril to the aquifer from seawater intrusion, let alone ways to solve those problems. Instead, it would have greatly aggravated them, and disaster would have followed.
“And the potential solutions to those problems would not be part of the project today if the Sierra Club, Surfrider, The Los Osos Sustainability Group, SLO Green Build and concerned residents hadn’t spoken up and insisted on being heard despite constant shouts to shut up and sit down and “just do it.”
“The “secondary issues’ have been forced onto the table, where they can no longer be dealt with later. They must be dealt with now. “
Smack! Smack! Smack.
And there, in the midst of Christie’s recap, is the real tragedy of Los Osos: The ability of a small group of people to frame an issue wrongly, and then brand any input, no matter how scientifically sound or valid that didn’t follow the party line as “anti-sewer obstruction,” an incorrect label that then allowed any and all non-party-line input to be shut out, shut up and shut down. That and the unfortunate willingness of elected officials and appointed ones, to go along with whatever grand lie was easiest.
It’s a government failure. And a human one. It’s far easier to do the simple wrong thing than take the time to slog through the complex stuff needed to do the complicated right thing.
So, Thank You, Los Osos Troublemakers, indeed.
I’m not a runner. My dogs walk me, but run? Nope. But a friend send me a birthday present book that’s a doozie: “Born to Run; A Hidden Tribe, Superatheletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen,” by Christopher McDougall.
McDougall was a former war correspondent for the AP, contributes to Men’s Health, has written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He’s a wonderful writer, very funny, very engaging, and even if you’ve never run a single step and have absolutely NO interest in Ultra-marathoners or the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, the world’s greatest long distance runners who actually run down deer for dinner – literally, run the thing down for hours and hours until it drops from exhaustion, while they’re good to go for another 100 mile – you will be totally engaged by this book.
Plus, you get the added bonus of his research into how Nike has absolutely ruined a whole generation of joggers who ran in their high tech shoes and thus destroyed their knees and hips, when all they really needed was to learn something important from a small band of Indians hiding out in the remote Copper Canyon wilderness of Mexico.
It’s a great read!