Monday, January 10, 2011

A Letter To The Santa Lucian

In the January edition of the Sierra Club’s “Santa Lucian,” editor Andrew Christie’s story, “A Tale of Two Sewers,” outlined the recent mini-train wreck in Morro Bay: Despite constant warnings that the Draft EIR on the proposed Morro Bay/Cayucos sewer treatment upgrade was seriously lacking and needed to go back to the drawing board since, as written, it couldn’t possibly get a Coastal Commission use permit. And, sure enough, “Then the hammer came down. On November 12, California Coastal Commission’s Central Coast District office staff sent a 12-page leter to Morro Bay Public Services Director Rob Livick, confirming and expanding on every one of those fatal falws and more, in extensive detail, and citing numberous environmental impacts requiring greter analysis of alternatives and ignored by the EIR. “

“How could something like this happen?” asked, Christie, who concluded “Only one reason: failure of leadership. The elected officials of Morro Bay and Cayucos essentially ceded their role as decision makers. Instead of giving clear direction, the City Council majority bowed to staff, and staff was wedded to the project they had proposed. Despite the urging of hundreds of citizens, environmental advocates, and councilmembers Betty Winholtz, and Noah Smukler, over years of public meetings, the majority of Cayucos and Morro Bay elected officials refused to instruct staff to give full consideration to project alternatives.”

And then goes on to note, “In 2009, almost exactly the same thing happened to the Los Osos sewer, when County staff were in our-way-or-the-highway mode.”

Yup. Déjà vu, hence my letter to the editor:

Dear Sir:

I read Andrew Christie's "A Tale of Two Sewers" with sad dismay. As a close observer of the Hideous Los Osos Sewer Wars, I had hopes that poor Morro Bay would not roar off the same cliff. But apparently, there is some kind of blockheadedness that sets in on these huge public works projects. Penny wise and pound foolish, instead of heeding the red flags thrown down on the tracks and the warning signs being frantically waved by members of the public that the train track is heading for a cliff, staff and elected officials start shoveling more coal into the firebox so the train can fly off that very expensive cliff even faster.

For years, many Los Ososians who had devoted enormous time keeping tabs on and offering competent, fact-based and serious warnings about the many permutations of The Hideous Los Osos Sewer Project were deliberately mischaracterized, disparaged and dismissed as "anti-sewer obstructionists," or "sewer crazies," or mere disgruntled cranks, which made it easy to dismiss their comments, many of which turned out to be all too correct. So I can't help but wonder if the false mischaracterization of public commenters in Los Osos has carried over to Morro Bay. After all, why should staff or elected officials or anybody listen to a bunch of "sewer crazies" and "anti-sewer obstructionists?"

And so another train heads off another cliff, because nobody learned anything. Sigh.


Alon Perlman said...

Written sunday; I was present and speaking at the waterboard EPA hearings when secondary waiver was up for reconsideration and again at the JPA when the waterboard changed and supported higher level treatment. MB has it's own activists,who were present. Then at MB council when the cost was pegged at 2 million. Then other stuff happened and years passed, finally I did go to Cayucos for a JPA meeting where the plan was to move the entire plant to a new footprint (discovery of flooding issues). PERC may had been still early in the process. I’m pretty sure it was earlier than April ‘09 (A date mentioned in the Lucian) but that may had been the date. I took a ride with other LO sewer activists. I spoke for the allotted time and focused my remarks (similar to Andrew and Mr. Pienack)
Mostly I spoke in response to comments earlier by the Mayor “We are moving the buildings to another location on the same site”-paraphrasing and my comments- “from a regulatory perspective you are looking at a brand new project”.(also paraphrased to my best recollection)
Other Los Osos activists suggested different technologies and having the plant elsewhere (similar to but different than “Location alternatives”) . A couple of the technical comments made were contradictory. I did not suggest that the “MWH is the Devil” was counter-productive and kept it to myself.(Just read your comment GRO- since PERC is currently out of the running, I suggest you document what happened with the non-disclosure agreement)
Much has happened since, and I didn’t keep track. My personal position was “The information is out there, let the MB citizens make their own mistakes” it also involved not wanting to deal with a cringe factor. I have stated here that “Build it first, and uses for the reclaimable water will come” Andrew pre-saged and uses the Coastal commission argument-“many of the effluent disposal options will be completely different from those that have been evaluated, and could significantly change the scope of the project.”

Alon Perlman said...

Yes- there is a literal blockheadedness on the part of agencies, and yes many of the red flags were valid. In my opinion/experience; strident over formulized criticism tends to further entrench said institutional-block-headedness. Former MB Mayor Janice Peters identified ; “we are not the experts, we contract with the experts.” ( paraphrased). When activists show up and imply expertise beyond their actual capabilities, they get tuned out by those close to the project. But not necessarily by all the untrained audience. Not everybody is an Eric Greening or an Andrew Christie. There is a broad distance between the non-gender specific “Bored Los Osos Housewife” and the “enlightened activist”, and a greater distance yet between the activist and the elder statesperson without a portfolio, speaking from the public side of the dais.
The phenomena of “overreaching” took further hold in Los Osos due to prior- packaging and availability of reams of information during the TAC and the EIR processes.
When you graduate from Los Osos Sewer University you get to compose your own diploma. Let’s face it; Every high tide, does not deposit new messiahs on the Baywood shores, standing on a huge Pismo-clam-half-shell dressed in nothing but long locks of hair.

Los Osos Sewer activism has become institutionalized, with a lowered entry bar, a high internal acceptance of grandstanding and less checks and balances then a CSD or a city council. What affect had the Exportation of Los Osos Sewer activism to Morro Bay? Don’t really know, but I think it increased “Entrenchment”.

Spectator said...

Perlman, you are truly brilliant in your assessment of the obstructionists of the Los Osos sewer project. Yes, their activism and opposition increased entrenchment. Of course it was very clear that the opposition were not experts by any means.

Ann: You must consider that much of the opposition to the original sewer project was speculative at best. However, there was clarity of thought as to the foul economic consequences of the project. Hence, once again, "cheaper and better" prevailed in the overthrow of the project.

Of course, we will see if the county project ends up "cheaper and better" IF it ever gets built in our lifetimes.

Mike Green: Written on my new 17 inch MacBook Pro. Very fast, very cool!

Mike Green said...

Jon, welcome to the bright side! Once you've gone Mac, you'll never go back.

Spectator said...


I love it!