Yesterday’s Tribune had a glowing paean to retiring Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board executive officer Roger Briggs. Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s typically smarmy, oleaginous pull quote was featured. Said Gibson, “I know him [Roger] as an executive officer who is deeply committed to preservation of groundwater quality. I think he pursued his job with a great deal of integrity.”
Really? I daresay there’s a great many people here in Los Osos who would beg to disagree. And anyone who sat through Roger’s Mad Hatter Tea Party and Torquemada’s Auto de Fe Kangaroo Kort of The Los Osos 45 would snort through their noses at such an idea of . . . integrity.
For those who have forgotten, when the good citizens voted to move their sewer plant to a site out of town (a not unreasonable idea, in a sane world) Roger cooked up his Mad Pumping Scheme and presented it to the full Board. In a fit of pique and with an astonishing lack of knowledge of how septic tanks actually work, Roger presented for Board approval a plan to have everyone in Los Osos pump their tanks every two months. The septage would be hauled to Santa Maria for disposal, thereby removing gazillions of gallons of water from an already overdrawn water basin. This looney scheme made absolutely clear that Roger didn’t have a clue how septic tanks worked. Neither did the Board itself, which is absolutely astounding in a Board that had life and death power over a community made up entirely of homes on . . . septic tanks.
During the Mad Pumping Scheme hearing, citizens after citizen rose to tell Roger and the Board what they already should have known: Too rapid a pumping schedule disrupts the flora and fauna of a properly operating tank and results in worse discharges and hampered leach fields. It’s the worst thing you can do if you want to “preserve groundwater quality.” Only a complete incompetent could have come up with such a hair-brained scheme and only a dangerously uninformed Board would have sat there with their fingers up their noses seriously considering such nonsense.
Finally, into the fray, appeared Dr. Wickham, CEO of Sludgehammer Septic Systems, a guy who does know something about septics. He cleaned everybody’s clocks and made clear to the world what idiots were in charge of this Board.
Then the head of the regional air quality board wandered up to the podium and put the hammer down: Gazillions of trips with pumper trucks into and out of Los Osos times 4,500 homes would spew out gazillions of tons of pollutants and that was soooooo not gonna happen on his watch. Which stopped the whole ridiculous dog and pony show cold.
Now, really, really miffed, Roger, “committed to preservation of groundwater quality,” came up with an even more damaging scheme: He singled out 45 happless citizens, The Los Osos 45, by a process that to this day remains unexplained, the documents to the selection process conveniently having been destroyed. Then he slapped CDOs (cease and desist orders) on the 45 and set up the biggest looney-tune Mad Hatter CDO trials the world has ever seen. Nobody who sat through that mad proceeding could believe their eyes. It was beyond the looking glass.
For months and months, 45 citizens were jerked around, their homes threatened, their health damaged, their peace of mind ruined, their lives turned upside down. At least one premature death was, from all reports, a direct result of Roger’s pique and ire. The “case” started lumbering, huge reams of testimony was duly recorded, vast piles of money was expended, tax-payer money, then the attorney for the terrified 45 pointed out a few legalities and the whole thing came to a screeching halt.
Do over! Do over! yelled the Board, as if you can un-ring a bell. So the whole shambling show rumbled back to life, now more confusing than ever. To this day nobody is sure what testimony was in or out, one CDO recipient is still in limbo, and now the whole thing sits on appeal, having cost the State of California at least $500,000, likely closer to a cool million.
And what was the “trial” all about? Well, Roger told the Board that it was about “water quality.” But the CDOs put on the homes of The Los Osos 45 disappear when they sell their homes. Since nobody digs up their septic tanks when they move, the tanks remain behind, but with no onerous CDO on them. Same tank. Same discharge. So, no. The Mad Hatter Trial and the CDO’s had nothing to do with water quality. They were, plain and simple (and made clear from the dais by board Chairman Young) electioneering blackmail to get the community to vote the “right way” on the sewer bond issue. (Something the community was going to do anyway, without threats.)
And that small inconvenient fact illustrates the truly despicable element of the whole behavior of the Regional Water Quality Control Board and Roger, their CEO: They believed a false narrative about Los Osos. They believed that false narrative, fed them by Roger and other certain groups, primarily among them the Pandora Nash-Karner-led “Dreamers,” that anyone who opposed a sewer in the middle of their town was “an anti-sewer obstructionist;” that the whole town was anti-sewer, that we were a community full of Moonbeam McSwines willfully rolling around in our own urine, scofflaws and miscreants who deserved to be punished and “fined out of existence,” as Pandora so sweetly put it in an email to her good buddy, Roger.
That was a lie. That was a lie that Roger fed the Board repeatedly and it was a lie that the Board didn’t bother to examine for themselves. Which exposed the Board as a gaggle of incompetents who were not willing to do their due diligence. In a sane world, Roger Briggs should have been fired after Dr. Wickham got done with him and his staff. And for agreeing to go forward with the whole looney Mad Hatter “trial,” the entire Board should have had brown paper bags popped over their heads and been frog-marched into resignations, to be replaced with a competent Board that put science and facts and common sense pragmatism before pique and lies.
But we don’t live in a sane world. So we got Board failure, CEO deception, staff and Board incompetence, illegal electioneering, a huge waste of public funds on a nonsense fake “trial,” and none of it – none of it – had a beneficial effect on so much as a single drop of water. Indeed, Roger’s lunacy and the Board’s failures and incompetence made things worse by delaying progress on the sewer, diverting time and energy and money, and fueling an already frightened, divided community into hostility and unnecessary opposition instead of working for a unified effort focused on moving forward. Not to mention, Roger’s pointless mad schemes hastened the death of at least one person and damaged the health and lives of many more.
And now Roger’s off on a happy retirement, not a care in the world, Supervisor Gibson’s smarmy words in a bold pull-quote on the front page of the local section of the newspaper, complete with a picture of Roger, smiling.
Oh, and yes, the Tribune does note, “Briggs described the controversy caused by his agency’s efforts to stop the water pollution in Los Osos as ‘not a happy memory.’” No, indeed not.
Well, good riddance, Roger. I hope your replacement as CEO will be someone who has more integrity and common sense than you did and understands that false narratives (lies) and Mad Hatter Trials and Mad Pumping Schemes don’t do a lick of good to keep our waters clean. They just damage the organization you work for and can do untold damage to a whole community.