It was a Star Wars moment. Dear Supervisor Meacham. I think he’s genuinely concerned about the cost of the Los Osos sewer project and the terrible impact it’s going to have on the many people of the community.
At the recent BOS update on the project, after many questions from the public, including opposition to taking design-build off the table for the collection system (hence taking the possibility of STEP off the table permanently), and including comments by Dana Ripley, reiterating his testimony before the Coastal Commission that he could build a STEP system that would save about $50 million, Meacham asked rather plaintively, How do we justify not laying different systems on the table for a side by side comparison (via the design build process that was promised to the community originally)?
Paavo Ogren’s Obi-wan-Kenobi’s soothing voice started in on one of his mesmerizing replies, starting with the statement that the $50 million promised claims aren’t $50 million and droned on and on. Dana Ripley stood up and walked over to stand by the wall, in plain sight – ready to reply – but Meacham didn’t look at him or call on him for a question or a response. You don’t need to see Ripley’s papers, Paavo soothed. I don’t need to see Ripley’s papers, Meacham muttered. These aren’t the droid’s you’re looking for, cooed Paavo. These aren’t the droid’s I’m looking for, murmured Meacham. Move along, said Paavo. We can move along, said Meacham.
And so he did, which allowed the STEP beast to be formally killed dead. Off the table. Oh, sure, the design-build concept was suggested as still being possible, maybe, for the design of the treatment facility, but not for the collection system – which is the most costly part of the project and where the maximum amount of money can be saved, providing you had taken a design-build approach from day one, which the County never did.
But there was an additional comic moment when the Board was informed that the $84 million USDA loan did not allow any design-build, thereby implying that somehow design-build was illegal or the Feds won’t allow it, or some such. Turns out that was not quite correct. Design-build is totally allowed by Washington, but the USDA’s administrative department in California is a bit behind the times and hasn’t changed it’s procedures and paperwork to handle design build, so they made it a condition of the loan that it must be the old-fashioned design-BID-build since that’s how their paperwork’s set up and it would take time and some trouble to change, which they’re not about to do.
So, once again, Los Osos will be getting 19th century technology (gravity sewers) and will be forced to deal with old paperwork systems because the CA branch of the USDA is behind the times. No possibilities of savings and innovation for Poor, red-haired step-child, Los Osos. Overpriced second-hand clothes are good enough for her.
Next up was the issue of Rates & Charges. That’s the additional amount, above and beyond the $25,000 capitol assessment costs, that each homeowner must pay. Right now, the capital costs are guestimated at $105 a month. The R&C will add about $80 a month, for a total of about $194. (Plus hook up costs for each homeowner.)
The trick with the R&C is the 218 vote for undeveloped property owners. They have to have a vague “reasonable” expectation of development, which will hinge on water, habitat conservation plans, & etc. before they can be dinged for R&C. And if the undeveloped property owners don’t pay “their fair share,” that amount will land on the shoulders of the developed property owners in the PZ.
Which sets up the interesting issue of “benefits:” As a homeowner, what “benefit” do I get from paying for my neighbor’s empty lot? As the owner of the empty lot, what “benefit” do I get paying for a sewer for property with no toilet on it?
So the County wordsmiths are now at work on that “protest ballot” and there will be workshops here in Los Osos and dare we hope for another glossy brochure, like the ones we got touting the vast benefits and plans the county had for utilizing design-build? Oh, right, that promise, like so many others, is soooo yesterday.
In the meantime, better mark your calendars. The “protest” vote on the R&C ordinance will arrive during the very busy holiday season – End of Oct to Mid Dec – so we can start laying bets: How many Los Ososians will lose or overlook or forget to mail in their “protest” “ballots” in all the Holiday busyness? Which is what makes “protest” ballots so interesting – it takes a 50% plus one to have a successful protest. In a community where one-third of the residents never even bothered to reply to the critically important Infamous Sewer Survey, the possibility of getting that 50% is realistically impossible. So, stay tuned on that one, but if you’re a home owner, better pray the “protest ballots” of all the vacant lot-owners will get lost in the holiday shuffle and so get not returned . Then, of course, on top of this, there’s a couple of legal rulings (one concerning Paso’s Water Woes, another in L.A., also a water woe tax vs. “fee” case) that may have bearing on this R&C ordinance.
By meeting’s end, the BOS voted for all the items listed in the agenda, including spending another $750,000. Frank Meacham voted no on that one.
Like I said, he seems concerned about money and costs, until Obi-Wan’s mind control kicks in. Then, not so much.
-- Once again, in a community in critical water overdraft, the concern was again expressed regarding gravity sewers. They require X # of gallons to operate properly and if everyone’s going low-flow and all conservation-y, when clogs occur (due to lack of the required # of gallons needed to operate properly) the county will be forced to flush the pipes out with scarce water, thereby wasting it, thereby increasing salt-water intrusion, thereby violating various Coastal Commission project requirements that we conserve water & etc.
-- since STEP had just been permanently killed, has a vacuum system been looked at as being compatible with the gravity pipe design already done, so it could be quickly adapted and would not strain water use for flushing gravity pipes. No answer on that one.
-- In a basin already in overdraft, there appears to be no restriction on development outside the PZ, which means those homes are sucking water out of an already over drafted system, so where is the water supposed to come from to allow build out? No answer on that one either. There will be further water reports in the future. Perhaps those will have some clues.
-- Still no answer as to why the USDA grant was “lost”, i.e. reduced from 16 mil to 4 mil. According to Julie Tacker, who reviewed the emails from USDA and county, there was no “blame” assigned in those emails. Supervisor Gibson has publicly “blamed” the loss on folks who appealed the project to the Coastal Commission, which also included a Coastal Commissioner as well. But, according to Ms. Tacker, that “blame” factor information is missing from the official emails. So, that question wasn’t answered either.
-- Los Osos is still waiting for that $35 million “grant” that Ms. Capps has been working on for years. It’s in the pipeline, has been authorized, but hasn’t been funded. So, say your prayers on that one.
-- A suggestion that the County look at the variety of SRF loans available to get a lower cost was met with the reply that one does not ask SRF for anything. One takes what’s offered. No questions asked. A sort of beggers and choosers type deal.
-- Yet another concern regarding the amount of power the gravity system will use, which also adds to the cost. Also another promise to re-submit Ripley’s testimony before the Coastal Commission back to the Coastal Commission for an answer: Why are we spending more money for the approved gravity system when there’s another (STEP) system that can save X $$ and water and energy and so forth. I can guarantee there’ll NOT be an answer on that one.
-- And, of course, a reiteration of the County’s stated core values for this project – i.e. No one should be forced to leave one’s home because of a sewer. And again the plaintive question, Why wasn’t the promised side-by-side, let the best technology determine the system, side-by-side design-build Process followed?
Right. No answer. But, you don’t need any answers. No, I don’t need any answers. And you need to stop asking questions. Yes, I need to stop asking questions. Now move along. Yes, I’ll move along.