When Did the Microphone Go Dead?

Retired Judge Martha Goldin from Los Osos was cut off by trigger-happy Supervisor Bruce Gibson during her three-minute public comment on the County process at the April 28th Board of Supervisors meeting – at the very moment she brought up Public Works Director Paavo Ogren and global engineering giant MWH in the same sentence.

Retired Judge Martha Goldin from Los Osos was cut off by trigger-happy Supervisor Bruce Gibson during her three-minute public comment on the County process at the April 28th Board of Supervisors meeting – at the very moment she brought up Public Works Director Paavo Ogren and global engineering giant MWH in the same sentence.

(Following is a transcription of the Gibson-Goldin encounter, which was probably more audible in chambers than over the television, from which we taped. We apologize for not being able to provide more or all of Judge Goldin’s comments. You, the reader, will understand why as you read on …)

[Note: Retired Judge Martha Goldin served 16 years as a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court . Prior to that, as required by law, she was an attorney for 17 years. She retired from the bench in 1996, remaining active as a judge until recently. She is presently a member of the Los Osos Sustainability Group.]

Judge Goldin: Good afternoon. As I retired judge I think I have a few credentials with which to speak about process – due process, fairness, openness, the appearance of justice. First let me say, with respect to process, I will just point out that the agenda with respect to public comment does not have the Chair’s rule about 10 minutes for Los Osos, and that I believe is a violation of the Brown Act: One must have it on the agenda. So perhaps next time it will appear on the agenda, but it doesn’t today. That’s the first thing about process.

Secondly, I note that the process has been grossly subverted and is now so tainted that I would suggest to you that you need to start – I won’t say all over again – but that you certainly need to stop the process now. What am I talking about? I am talking about that it appears that Mr. Ogren, the head of the project, and now I believe that he (inaudible)–

(Supervisor Gibson interrupts)

Supervisor Gibson: Now, Miss Golden, excuse me, we’re not going to take comment on the sewer now.  If you have general comment – excuse me!
Goldin: I’m talking about the process, and due process.

Gibson: Then continue … on that subject.

Goldin: …The head of the project, I believe he’s now head of Public Works … appears to have been involved with Montgomery Watson Harza …
(Judge Goldin’s microphone suddenly goes dead just before the word “Harza”)

Gibson: OK, Miss … Miss … Miss … Miss Goldin, you’re talking about the sewer project. That’s … that’s … Miss Goldin, excuse me, that’s enough!

Goldin: (continuing to speak, most of it inaudible, microphone off, Supervisor Gibson drowning her out) … due process is due process, and you don’t seem to have it… (inaudible) concerning the process …

Gibson: (to County Council Warren Jensen) Mr. Jensen, what options do we have?  I have instituted a policy here on the matter of Los Osos. We have a public commenter who is unwilling to abide by it. I’m not going to physically remove her from the lectern, but I find this really unpleasant and disturbing in the sense that it is now co-opting others’ time to have public comment on —

Goldin:  (inaudible) … my time …

Gibson: Excuse me, Miss Goldin…

Jensen: We believe your policy is reasonable, it’s justifiable under the Brown Act, and that you may enforce that policy.

Gibson: All right, and with that – I would ask —

Goldin: … County Council (inaudible) … please …

Gibson: Miss … Miss Goldin… Let me ask County Council if I could, if there comes a point at which commenters refuse to abide by policies laid down by the Chair, do we have options on that…?

Goldin:  I will give up my time, but I would like to ask County Council about a (inaudible) not on the agenda …

Gibson: OK, your time is up, please sit down.

Goldin: I would like (inaudible) of County Council about the fact that (inaudible) Los Osos …  is not on the agenda.

Gibson: Please sit down!

Goldin: May I get an answer?

Gibson: No! Not at this point.

Goldin: (inaudible)

Gibson: Miss Goldin, please sit down … Mr. Jensen, I’d like to revisit the question of cooperation with policies for public comment. I mean, if a speaker, for instance, chooses to exceed the three-minute limit, what options do we have on that?

Jensen: Well, on very rare occasions we have had a couple of people escorted out of the chambers by Sheriff’s deputies …

Gibson: OK. And in terms of managing public comment, you’d mention to me in our conversations that we do have the option to limit the public comment to a very specific time frame. It’s on our agenda for 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the afternoon, is that correct?

Jensen: Yes, it’s expressly stated in the Brown Act.

Gibson: Further, other counties do have policies by which speakers who appear in general public comment at a meeting might be limited to a certain number of times a month to appear in that capacity?

Jensen: That’s correct.

Gibson: All right. So with that I would ask that speakers cooperate with the Chair. My policies on Los Osos are specific to the issue of that fact this board has other business before it, and I expect as a matter of civil behavior in the chamber of the Board of Supervisors, that members of the public would understand that and cooperate with that policy. This County has what I consider very open policies and rules of public comment. We listened to a number of items that are outside the purview of this body, which is not necessary under matters of the Brown Act. And I would ask County Council in general, are our noticing requirements for public comment adequate at this point?

Jensen: Yes, we believe they are.

Gibson: OK, thank you.

NEWS OF THE WEEK

NEWS OF THE WEEK: PBS’ ‘Poisoned Waters’ S.O.S.; LA’s Tricky Mail-in Prop 218; Brockovich Targets Groundwater Pollution; LA Eyes Water-Saving Cisterns; AP Reports on ‘Pharma-Tainted Water.’ News briefs of local interest from around the state, the country and the world.

NEWS OF THE WEEK: PBS’ ‘Poisoned Waters’ S.O.S.; LA’s Tricky Mail-in Prop 218; Brockovich Targets Groundwater Pollution; LA Eyes Water-Saving Cisterns; AP Reports on ‘Pharma-Tainted Water.’ News briefs of local interest from around the state, the country and the world.

PBS Frontline’s ‘Poisoned Waters’ Reports New Hazardous Chemicals Polluting U.S. Drinking Waters: PBS Frontline documentary “Poisoned Waters” reported April 21st that a new wave of chemical compounds that raise dangers for human health have been found in drinking water systems of cities across the country by the U.S. Geological Survey.
    “Poisoned Waters” reveals new evidence that today’s growing environmental threat comes not from the giant industrial polluters of old, but from chemicals in consumers’ face creams, deodorants, prescription medicines and household cleaners that find their way into sewers, storm drains, and eventually into America’s waterways and drinking water.
    “The long-term, slow-motion risk is already being spelled out in large population studies,” Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tells correspondent and Pulitzer-prize winner Hedrick Smith. Those studies correlate health risks with exposure to chemicals in the environment known as endocrine disrupters because they disrupt the body’s normal functioning.
    “We can show that people with higher levels of some of these chemicals may have a higher incidence” of disease and such harmful effects such as lower male sperm count, asserts Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “In most cases, we don’t know what the safe levels are.”
    Tests by the U.S. Geological Survey of source waters for urban drinking water systems, have documented new contaminants coast to coast. Other scientists say these chemicals are causing fish kills, frogs with six legs, male fish with female eggs in their gonads and other mutations. They see these mutations as warnings to humans.
    Millions of people are being exposed to endocrine disruptors, Lawrence explains, “and we don’t know precisely how many of them are going to develop premature breast cancer, going to have problems with reproduction, going to have all kinds of congenital anomalies of the male genitalia — things that are happening at a broad low level so that they don’t raise the alarm in the general public.”
    Using Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound as case studies, “Poisoned Waters” examines how these emerging pollutants along with old industrial contaminants like PCBs, lead and mercury and agricultural pollution from concentrated hog, cattle and chicken growing operations, have kept America from making many of the nation’s waterways fishable and swimmable again — a goal set by Congress nearly four decades ago.
    “The environment has slipped off our radar screen because it’s not a hot crisis like the financial meltdown,” says Smith. “But pollution is a ticking time bomb. It’s a chronic cancer that is slowly eating away the natural resources that are vital to our very lives.”
    For more information go to: www.pbs.org/frontline/poisonedwaters.

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LA’s Mail-in Prop 218 Ballot Seeks to Avoid Two-Thirds Vote: In a unique effort to pass a huge tax increase, the city of LA is asking Los Angeles property owners to conduct a Proposition 218 vote entirely by mail in order to avoid a two-thirds vote requirement. A “yes” vote would quadruple their monthly payments to clean up stormwater pollution.
    According to the April 23rd Los Angeles Daily News, the city’s Board of Public Works will ask the LA’s 788,620 property owners to tax themselves from $23.04 per month per parcel to $47.16 per month next year. The rate would rise to $99 per month by 2014. Fees had not been increased since 1993.
    Two City Council committees are taking up the issue, despite complaints from city officials that the plan is being rushed. The Council’s Budget & Finance and Energy & Environment committees will consider allocating $450,000 for ballots and setting a June 23 hearing on the election.
    City officials acknowledge that the mail-in ballot approach has never been done on a citywide basis. Public Works has used mail-in ballots for small assessments on property owners for improvements such as street lights, but never conducted a citywide election for a parcel tax. However, by using a mail-in ballot to send to property owners, the requirement for voter approval drops from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority under the terms of Proposition 218, dramatically increasing the chances that the tax will pass.
     Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which crafted the Proposition 218, told the Daily News that the city’s proposal complied with the law. “But we say the voters should reject it because this is an expense that should be part of the city general fund,” Vosburgh said. “All they’re attempting to do is shift a general fund cost to property owners to free up money for their pet projects.”
    Cynthia Ruiz, Board of Public Works president, said the proposed fee increases are needed to keep the city in compliance with federal clean water standards. A citywide election with a mail-in program, Ruiz said, would allow a citywide election to be conducted immediately, instead of having to wait until the next citywide election in June 2010.
    “This way, if it is approved,” Ruiz told the Daily News, “we can get it on the November tax statements of this year, but that’s a decision the City Council will have to make.”

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Brockovich Investigates Groundwater Pollution in Michigan: Environmental crusader Erin Brockovich is helping to investigate groundwater pollution near the Bird’s Eye cannery in Fennville, Michigan, according to a report from ABC-affiliate WZZM.
    “It appears to be an arsenic problem in quite a few peoples’ wells,” Brockovich said last week after meeting with Fennville residents to discuss wastewater discharges from the Bird’s Eye factory. Tests show some wells near the plant have high concentrations of metals and arsenic.
    Brockovich and her team are asking Fennville residents to answer questions about their property, how long they have lived there, and any illness or symptoms they might have. After the Los Angeles lawyers she represents review the answers, they will decide if they will file a lawsuit against Bird’s Eye asking for damages.
    “Sure, sometimes we win big money and people win a big award,” Brockovich told WZZM. “But that doesn’t begin to compensate for the cancer and problems they have gone through.”
    A written statement from Bird’s Eye says they are waiting for state approval to build a $3 million wastewater treatment system. The company has also dug new wells for some residents and is providing others with bottled drinking water.
    Brockovitch’s fight with Pacific Gas & Electric, which ended with a $300 million settlement, became a hit movie starring Julia Roberts. Residents hope Brockovich will help them, too.
    “I’m hopeful she can push something out of them, get them to do something,” said Royal Streiecher, who lives near the plant.
    “She gets results,” added resident Carol Church. “That’s what we are looking for, results.”

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Cisterns Save Rainwater, Test Future Role in LA: According to an April 24th CNN.com report, exploding populations from Phoenix and Las Vegas to suburban Los Angeles, where demands exceeds supply, have turned the issue of water supply from problem to crisis.
    Human consumption isn’t the only problem, because as
cities grow, so does the amount of pavement and concrete that seals the natural watersheds. That in turn prevents rainwater from refreshing underground aquifers, “nature’s water tanks.” People need to start thinking about rainwater.
    Presently, building codes in Los Angeles County, as in most parts of the country, require rainwater to be moved from rooftops to the street. As a result, even in mostly sunny southern California, a massive amount of water gets flushed into storm drains every year.
    Said Andy Lipkis of TreePeople, a community-based, non-profit environmental organization based in LA,working with government agencies on water issues, “When it rains an inch, Los Angeles hemorrhages 7.6 billion gallons of water.”
    Part of the solution to the water crisis, Lipkis says, is collecting as much rainwater as possible because “it represents half or more of all the water we need in this big city.”
     Lipkis envisions when as many as a million homes and businesses have rainwater cisterns all electronically networked and ready to provide treated drinking water to the public.
    Cisterns have been used throughout history to collect rainwater, and exist now as part of building codes in places like Bermuda, which lack fresh water resources such as lakes or rivers. Lipkis believes it’s an idea whose time has come to the deserts of the West.
    TreePeople, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, has built five demonstration sites in Los Angeles, which include a large hilltop cistern at the organization’s Coldwater Canyon Park headquarters. Lipkis said when it rains an inch those five little projects capture 1.25 million gallons. And it is all free water.
    Storm runoff presents many problems in LA. When it rains heavily the water goes from the streets into the canals of the Los Angeles River and straight into the ocean. With that runoff is all the garbage and toxic pollutants picked up along the way.
    Another problem is the heavy reliance on the almost 100-year-old California Aqueduct, which routes water from the Eastern Sierras. A huge amount of energy is spent bringing water in from hundreds of miles away. “Moving water and using water,” Lipkis says, “consumes, overall, 19% of all the electricity in the state and one-third of the natural gas.”
    It is the single largest use of electricity in the state, the most populous in the country, and which, were it an independent nation, would be the eighth-largest economy in the world. “That’s quite a carbon footprint,” states the CNN report.
    Lipkis believes a hybrid water management system is the best solution, one that would include cisterns, natural watershed management and existing water infrastructure, including a less power hungry aqueduct. And it would include the cooperation of water supply agencies, flood control agencies and sanitation agencies, which he believes have done too much conflicting, single-purpose cost-benefit analyses in the past.
    Lipkis sees only an upside to a large-scale cistern and rainwater infiltration project, and not only because of the environmental benefits. A study in the late 1990s conducted by TreePeople estimated that up to 50,000 new jobs would be created by a sustainable infrastructure system.
    “Why would we invest billions of dollars on old infrastructure we know doesn’t work anymore?” he asks. “It’s very important to start putting this new alternative on the table.”

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AP Probe: Pharmaceuticals Contaminate U.S. Drinking Water:  “Pharma-tainted water” — most cities and water providers still don’t test for it, but scientists say that wherever researchers look, they will find it.
    An Associated Press investigative report released April 19th described how U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released tons of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water. The federal government has consistently overlooked the contamination, according to the report.
    A variety of manufacturing, including drugmaking, uses hundreds of active pharmaceutical ingredients, such as lithium to make ceramics and treat bipolar disorder, nitroglycerin is a heart drug and also used in explosives, and copper shows up in everything from pipes to contraceptives.
    No one tracks the extent to which pharmaceuticals are released by U.S. manufacturers as drugs, federal and industry officials say, and therefore they don’t know the extent of the problem. However, an analysis of 20 years of federal records revealed a glimpse of pharmaceuticals coming from factories.
    An ongoing AP “PharmaWater” investigation into trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water identified 22 compounds that show up on EPA and Food & Drug Administration lists. The EPA monitors them as industrial chemicals released into rivers, lakes and other bodies of water under federal pollution laws, while the Food & Drug Administration classifies them as active pharmaceutical ingredients.
    Both the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey have studies under way comparing sewage at treatment plants that receive wastewater from drugmaking factories against sewage at treatment plants that do not. Preliminary USGS results show that treated wastewater from sewage plants serving drug factories had significantly more medicine residues. Data from an EPA study show a disproportionate concentration in wastewater of an antibiotic that a major Michigan factory was producing at the time the samples were taken.
    The data doesn’t show precisely how much comes from drugmakers versus other manufacturers, but the amount-released figure is “a massive undercount,” according to The AP, “because of the limited federal government tracking.”
    Drugmakers have dismissed the suggestion that they contributes significantly to drug pollution in water, and federal drug and water regulators agree. But some researchers say the lack of required testing amounts to a policy of denial regarding drugmakers’ contribution to water pollution. Studies in the U.S. and abroad are now confirming doubts over industry denials.
    Last year, the AP reported trace amounts of a wide range of pharmaceuticals in American drinking water supplies, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. Recent findings in Dallas, Cleveland and Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have detected pharmaceuticals in the drinking water of “at least 51 million Americans.”  
    Consumers are considered the biggest contributors to the contamination by excreting what bodies don’t absorb and flushing unused drugs down toilets. The AP also found that an estimated 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging are thrown away each year by hospitals and long-term care facilities.
    Researchers have found that even extremely diluted concentrations of drugs harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species. Also, according to The AP report, researchers report that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs. Some scientists say they are increasingly concerned that the consumption of combinations of many drugs, even in small amounts, could harm humans over decades.
    Utilities say the water is safe. Scientists, doctors and the EPA say there are no confirmed human risks associated with consuming minute concentrations of drugs. But those experts also agree that dangers cannot be ruled out, especially given the emerging research.
    Two common industrial chemicals that are also pharmaceuticals — the antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide — account for 92% of the 271 million pounds identified as coming from drugmakers and other manufacturers. Both can be toxic and both are considered to be ubiquitous in the environment.
    However, the list of 2
2 includes other troubling releases of chemicals that can be used to make drugs and other products: 8 million pounds of the skin-bleaching cream hydroquinone, 3 million pounds of nicotine compounds that can be used in quit-smoking patches, 10,000 pounds of the antibiotic tetracycline hydrochloride. Others include treatments for head lice and worms.
    Several big drugmakers were asked this simple question by The AP: “Have you tested wastewater from your plants to find out whether any active pharmaceuticals are escaping, and if so what have you found?”
  No drugmaker answered directly.
  It’s not just the industry that isn’t testing.
    FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly noted that his agency is not responsible for what comes out on the waste end of drug factories. At the EPA, acting assistant administrator for water Mike Shapiro — whose agency’s Web site says pharmaceutical releases from manufacturing are “well defined and controlled” — did not mention factories as a source of pharmaceutical pollution when asked by The AP how drugs get into drinking water.   
Edited from an Associated Press special report.

Broken Promises: In Their Own Words

You want specifics, you say? Where and when did the County promise Los Osos anything? Well, here are the facts and nothing but the facts, in their own words.

From Brochure 5 Los Osos Wastewater Project from San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Works, Noel King, Department Director, Paavo Ogren, Project Director.
PROJECT SELECTION AND MONTHLY COSTS
LETTER TO THE COMMUNITY
Project Technologies vs. Financing Terms
Page 2, paragraph 5, line 2
“The County plans to include a design-build approach for the collection system. This approach will allow private industry contractors of the STEP option to submit bids and compete for the project.

SLO County Board of Supervisors Meeting 8/14/2007. Agenda item F-1.
Staff Recommendation:  

1. Consider the presentation of Project Screening Analysis by the Project Team.
5. Approve “Exhibit A – Project Selection Strategies”

Lou Carollo of Carollo Engineers: “Both STEP and Gravity will be carried forward as Community Options.” “Alternative contracting methods can demonstrate which option is less costly.” “We believe this to be very important … in the end  it will be what the contractors will commit to in writing through the bid process that will determine the final cost of these systems.”

Paavo Ogren: “We believe a design/build method of public contracting is a methodology that will be very appropriate to get private industry to compete to get the different technologies to be competitive and to bring in real contractual commitments in developing a less costly project option.”

Carollo Engineers: Lastly, it is also important to recognize that the cost variations in the estimates between the different technologies can only conclude, at this time, that the technologies are very competitive with each other. The estimates are, therefore, also close enough to conclude that a competitive process involving public contracting and design/build strategies will provide the greatest opportunity to obtain the lowest cost option for the community.

Supervisor Gibson:
“The way that the project team has structured the project selection strategies private competition on design/build on the one hand, through bids on a designed system on the other and a possibility of more widespread design/build authority allows private companies to compete on this.”
 
SLO County Board of Supervisors Meeting 2/5/2008 Item F1
Recommended Action: It is our recommendation that your Honorable Board:

4. Approve the attach agreement for environmental consulting services with Michael Brandon Associates for Environmental Consulting relating to the Environmental Process Workplan and Scope for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, with an amount not to exceed $81,572 ($74,320 fee for the base scope of work plus $7,432 contingency ) and direct your board to execute.
5. Approve the attach agreement for environmental consulting services with Michael Brandon Associates for Environmental Consulting for Environmental Impact Report Preparation for the Los Osos Wastewater Project with an amount not to exceed $1,924,820 and direct you board to execute.

Staff Report (Discussion)
Design Build Contracting
During 2007, the design’build approach to project contracting was identified and endorsed by your board. The primary factor supporting DB contracting is to enhance private industry competition and to develop assurances on the least-costly project alternatives. The DB approach will also enhance our ability to implement the project in a timely manner.

Agreement for Environmental Consulting Services for the Los Osos Wastewater Project:
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS AGREED by parties hereto as follows:
1. Scope of Work,  CONSULTANT shall at its own cost and expense, provide all services, equipment and materials necessary to complete the work described in exhibit A, which is attached hereto and incorporated herein by this reference. All work shall be performed by normal industry standards.

Exhibit A
Scope of Work (Draft EIR, Final EIR) Michael Brandon Associates
Purpose: The effort will focus on producing a Draft EIR and a Final EIR to be used in conjunction with a community preference survey and the design/build (RFP) for two different wastewater collection systems (STEP/STEG and gravity) and provide for wastewater treatment facilities.

Question: Did Los Osos get what it paid for … and what was Los Osos promised through board resolutions?

SLO County BOS meeting 4/7/2009
Supervisor Bruce Gibson:
“Some have claimed this is a biased process and some will continue to say we have broken a promise…. I heard a couple of very objective commentators here, people that I respect, make it very clear that the promise was never verbatim, a head to head comparison of bids… The promise was to allow STEP to compete with gravity through the design/build process.”

Compiled by Dave Duggan

Rock Publisher Ed Ochs to BOS: ‘You gave Los Osos the most expensive sewer in the country’

(Full text of limited speech delivered by Rock editor/publisher Ed Ochs at the April 14th Board of Supervisors meeting, when public comment from Los Osos was suddenly reduced without notice.)

Ten minutes of total public comment for all Los Osos speakers is not enough time to appeal the death sentence for affordability for thousands of Los Osos residents.

    Granted, there is other County business of great importance that requires the attention of this board. However, none involve thousands of people losing their homes, and when they lose their homes, they lose their life savings and everything they put into that home.
    The reasons offered for not keeping this board’s promise to the community simply do not hold up under closer scrutiny or simple rebuttal, and are extremely harmful toward an extraordinarily high percentage of Los Osos residents.
    It should be more than obvious to this entire board, and anyone in the audience here and at home, that the one and only reason why STEP was ruled out was because the County’s predetermined project cannot stand up to a fair, open cost competition, which STEP would have won hands down — and which would have eliminated insider MWH. That could not be allowed to happen. Dig deeper, Supervisors. STEP had to be stopped. The County couldn’t stand the competition — because the competition was just too good.
    Granted, Chairman Gibson is a truly professional politician, polished and passionate for what he believes in, but he is still tragically wrong on issues that matter most to the broader population of Los Osos, and you must know that and act on that.
     Never confuse Might with Right. Chairman Gibson is wrong, his reasoning deeply flawed and biased, which is exactly why we need that vital cost comparison … Only in those numbers can the objective truth be found and the dark cloud over this project rolled away.
    I’m not asking you to open the process for one competitor, but to reopen the competition to return that one competitor locked out of the process back to their rightful place in the process, for they are the sole alternative left to protect taxpayers’ interests and the legitimacy of this effort.
    What kind of competition is it when all the competitors have been knocked out of the race, one by one, before they even reach the starting gate? Everyone on this track from the stablehands to the little old lady in her Easter bonnet knows this race is fixed.
    You could have healed the community. It was the moment of truth. You had the power in your hands to deliver on the promise this board made to a whole community, and you squandered it, along with whatever political capital or trust you may have built up in the larger community.
    I am not one of the disillusioned ones today. I knew exactly what was coming and what is coming — devastating consequences for thousands far beyond any raised here last week, consequences apparently unforeseen by all but one of you.
     You had the chance to give us a project Los Osos could afford so people could keep their homes, but instead gave us the most expensive sewer in the country. President Obama is providing stimulus money to create jobs to keep people in their homes, but you are doing the opposite, using stimulus money as an excuse to tax people out of their homes.
    You have not only let down Los Osos, but also the rest of the County, by showing that you can do the same thing to them that you did to us. It shows them just what kind of board you are. Those that made the mistake of trusting the County are the ones hurting the most right now. Many more will hurt later. I suspect some still have not learned their lesson — to only trust those who keep their promises and to hold accountable those who don’t.

Los Osos Goes Gravity

On April 7th the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to rule out the STEP/STEG, the sole alternative system surviving a flawed rough and fine screenings, in favor of fast-tracking the more expensive gravity collection system. Supervisor Mecham, the lone dissenter, cited concerns over affordability, fair process — and “conscience” — as key factors in not supporting the vote.

Rock News Wire

Following up a favorable community opinion survey with a stunning display of power politics, the SLO County Board of Supervisors on April 7 voted 4 to 1 to drop the STEP collection system from final consideration as an alternative technology to gravity collection for the Los Osos Wastewater Project.

    The vote came as STEP was about to have its real costs compared to the County’s gravity system to see which one was cheaper and by how much. It was a sudden and alarming turn of events for alternative technology advocates who believed the County had promised to compare costs, system to system, to determine the “best value” solution for Los Osos.

   The County’s monthly Los Osos project update meeting drew about 70 speakers queued for hours of public comment. Most speakers requested that STEP costs be compared “apples to apples” with gravity costs through the design/build stage, which had been repeated as the stated goal by the County up to this point. That’s why the power move by the County was such a surprise.

    If the County was using the cover of “shock and awe” to break from the process and enforce their brand of governance, the “awe” part was how clearly obvious it was by the groans of disbelief through the chamber audience that the board’s decision had already been made before the board’s vote was taken.

    County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren told the board that there was no compelling reason to move forward with STEP. “We do not support the continued expenditure of fiscal and project efforts on this alternative…

     “We do recognize that STEP as a technology is an alternative that is appropriate in situations, in some cases that share some characteristics with Los Osos. But the research, evaluations and opportunities with STEP in Los Osos do not in our opinion outweigh its uncertainties and risks,” Ogren concluded.

     Supervisor Gibson agreed, expressing cursory disappointment at the turnabout. “I had hoped that STEP could be carried further through the design/build process than it had been, but in both my heart and my head I concluded that staff is right in bringing the recommendation… that further work on STEP should be tabled… For a number of reasons, I think it is simply not a technology that’s going to fit the needs of this particular project.”

    Yet, Gibson also admitted, “a benefit [of exploring STEP would be] a more definitive cost comparison. If we move STEP forward there would be a clear benefit of a more definitive cost comparison. We might see a less expensive project. That is a potential benefit of moving STEP further down the process.

     “But at this point it’s uncertain,” he said, “and we have a definite cost to open the process for further competition to one competitor.”

     Supervisor Frank Mecham asked Project Engineer John Waddell, “Do we know what the costs would be to delay this [process] for a comparison?”

     Responded Waddell: “There would be additional costs for developing the RFPs (to include STEP/STEG system in the design/build procurement) of $150,000 to $200,000. Then we would also have significant delays in the project process and miss out on the opportunity for stimulus funding. Beyond that the quantification of what the actual costs of several months of delays are… The only hard costs we know right now are to develop the RFP documents would be approximately $200,000.”

    Meacham asked staff: “If [contractor W.M. Lyles] suggested a STEP system, couldn’t they actually, somebody suggested, put together something to propose with the same time frame that we are looking for by September? Could that not happen?”

    Without providing a direct answer, Waddell reemphasized the difficulty in trying to quantify the cost of “the additional funds and schedule delays that would result, and then the risk of the missing the opportunity to pursue for stimulus funds for the project.”

     As of the April 7, the County had already appropriated more than $7 million reimbursable dollars from the general fund on studies, including $1 million to a Washington lobbyist. The $200,000 costs to add STEP back in consideration seemed nominal compared to millions already spent, against the potential savings to “Prohibition Zone” homeowners bearing the main burden of sewer costs.

     Said Dana Ripley of Ripley Pacific Company, author of the 2006 “Los Osos Plan Update” and a Lyle team consultant, during public comment about the possibility of a STEP plan meeting the County’s deadline for stimulus funding: “The report that we did in 2006 can be used as a facilities plan updated and be every bit as fast and responsive to the stimulus funding deadlines that your staff has given you.”

‘Things happened’                                                                                            

    Gibson believes STEP already had been already fairly evaluated in the County process and didn’t merit further expenditures.

    “If this were a race,” he said, “we had a qualifying heat. We had a competition through the response to the qualifications, and staff found that the one entity out of 10 that was proposing STEP did not come up to the quality of the three [gravity teams] that they had proposed for the short list.

    ”I realize that I’m probably never going to convince certain of the folks who show great concern for this process and come here often to talk about it that I’m not breaking the promise regarding competition of STEP/STEG in the design/build process.”

    Gibson said that the promise to include STEP through design/build was misconstrued by the system’s proponents as carved in stone, impervious to changing circumstances.

    “Some will claim that this is a biased process and some will continue to claim that we have broken a promise,” he said. “I heard a couple of very objective commentators here, people that I respect, make it very clear that the promise was never verbatim, a head-to-head comparison of bid. The promise was to allow STEP to compete with gravity through the design/build process.

    “Now,” he explained, “many envisioned, and I will put myself among them, that competition meant getting to the point of a STEP proposal, or one or more STEP proposals and one or more gravity proposals, that we apply head to head. That was the idea when that strategy was formed many months ago, many months ago before a lot of things happened, before the economy took the turn it did, before the analysis had been completed as it had, before the possibility of significant government funding was put on the table for us.”

     Despite Ripley’s clear statement to the contrary, the threat of STEP endangering stimulus dollars was the key reason Gibson and staff kept turning to, again and again.

Survey Results

    Emboldened by the results of a questionably-worded, County-commissioned community survey, which indicated as many as 70% of respondents preferred gravity collection, the County apparently decided the timing was right to jettison the alternative option. The survey was one of several reasons given by Board Chairman Gibson and Public Works Director Ogren for abandoning STEP, the only alternative system left in the process, along with comparing STEP’s cost to gravity. Alternative system supporters’ had long claimed that gravity received a “free pass” throughout the County’s process and that MWH, a global builder deeply invested in the aborted Los Osos project, owned the inside track on the new project, despite its badly checkered track record in Los Osos and Florida.

     Several speakers during public comment challenged the validity of questions that appeared, even to Supervisors
Hill and Patterson, written to generate a positive response for the County’s gravity preference, the most expensive system, bringing into larger question the validity of the survey itself and how it was designed and used strategically as the prime reason for pushing for the elimination of any alternative. The community survey was biased and should not have been utilized in decision making of this magnitude, with so much at stake.

    “Some have asserted that I have lost integrity and manipulated the community and that the [community opinion] survey is flawed,” said Ogren. “I find it simply impossible to believe that I have the ability to hoodwink a community to such a great extent that would have been needed to obtain the survey results that we see…. I believe that the consensus we have on the (gravity) collection system is the strongest consensus that exists on a component of the LOWWP.

    “Some have said that we have varied from the process or we need to follow through. Today is the process. We have evaluated. Coastal (Commission) has commented. WRAC [Water Resources Advisory Committee] has had its special session and acted.”

‘Conscience’ Vote

    Supervisor Frank Mecham disagreed with the majority and registered the lone “no” vote: “I heard more than anything the comment of process and the comment of ‘give us some comparison costs,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience feel that we are doing that. I’m very sensitive to the issue of affordability, too… as we’ve heard time again. And when we went and pled the case to Washington we talked about a community that was not a high-end community…

    “I’m concerned that we are not going to be affording them the opportunity to take a look at a couple of options that might in fact reduce the cost of this.”

    The main reasons echoed in Gibson and Ogren’s duet for dropping STEP boiled down to often repeated catch phrases such as: “uncertainties and risks,” “overwhelming survey results,” “loss of stimulus funding,” “RFP costs of $200,000,” “unknown delay costs,” “differentiating local characteristics,” “general readiness” “differentiating local characteristics,” and the evergreens, “inappropriate” and “we need to move forward.”

      For Gibson, delaying the unknown results of stimulus funding was more significant than the unknown of cost-comparing cheaper STP against more expensive gravity. When all so-called reasons were easily rebutted by Ripley in three minutes at the podium, and the results of a premature survey lacking any costs to justify its existence thrown away, all that remains was the $200,000 and “differentiating characteristics.”

     Ogren cited a Virginia Tech study and chart on “differentiating characteristics” that help rule out STEP for Los Osos “The closest [STEP system in the country] that we could find that was of the size of Los Osos [Charlotte County, Florida] still had some distinguishing characteristics that were very much not like Los Osos.” The “differentiating circumstances” prevailed solely on the professional opinion and judgment of the Director of Public Works who, perhaps significantly, is not an engineer.

     Curiously, the “characteristics of Los Osos” are neither defined nor identified as a selection criteria, based on the terms of the RFQ. The RFQ is used for the purpose of creating a short list of qualified design/build entities to respond to an RFP. An RFQ is not a tool to evaluate a team specific to the “characteristics of Los Osos.” It should be designed to select the teams that provide proven experience, the best approach to assuring all or “the most” goals and objectives are used, and provides the “best value” to the end-user.

     That leaves the $200,000 “late fee” the County was charging STEP. Any delay caused by not issuing an RFP to STEP contractor W.M. Lyles Co. appeared to be the County’s fault, not the cheaper STEP system and not the homeowners in Los Osos’ “Prohibition Zone,” whose tax dollars are building the sewer.

     STEP wouldn’t appear to be late if the County had been included it all along, from the beginnin, just as gravity was. Since the County has already spent more than $7 million of what will be Los Osos’ money on what now seems like window-dressing, including $1 million for just an unseen lobbyist reporting to the County, the $200,000 would have been community money well spent.

    Instead, thousands of hanging-by-a-thread, cash-strapped PZ homeowners, facing a $300-$400 a month sewer bill to build a sewer they can’t afford, were robbed of choice and costs, just as vital cost comparisons were about to be made, at the moment before the very moment of truth.

Community Survey Concerns Raise Questions of Fairness

By Aaron Ochs

Prejudiced as it was, the hotly debated Los Osos Community Advisory Survey received a stamp of approval by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on April 7th, 2009. The Board of Supervisors and County Public Works concluded that the survey results showed “significant community opposition” toward the STEP/STEG collection system.

The County’s action to include the community survey as one of the primary reasons for eliminating STEP/STEG and additional collection component options was heavily debated by several members of the Los Osos community during public comment at the April 7 meeting. Supervisor Bruce Gibson would later conclude the meeting by imposing limitations of discussing and debating STEP/STEG. As the reason for silencing the opposition to STEP/STEG, Gibson cited what he called “overwhelming” community support for Gravity – regardless of widespread economic and social impacts – as shown in the survey results.

Out of a total of 8,167 mailed questionnaire forms that were sent on February 18th, 2,771 (34% of the total amount of forms sent) were returned and tallied. Out of the 2,771 questionnaire forms returned, 69% of respondents definitely or probably would prefer a gravity collection system. Approximately 1,912 respondents out of a total of 8,167 questionnaires sent to residents favored gravity. Only 23% of the total amount of questionnaires sent preferred gravity.

“The overwhelming reality is that the response to that question was overwhelming in one direction (for gravity). It was not a close call,” said Gibson, despite the community’s response to gravity being statistically lackluster, though a valid sample number.

Board of Supervisor directors Adam Hill, Frank Mecham and James Patterson discussed concerns with Gibson over question #17 on the survey, which read:

“Two different collection systems are being considered: ‘hybrid’ gravity system and a STEP/STEG system. The Project team has found both options to be technically viable for Los Osos. A Project peer review by the National Water Research Institute also found the two systems are ‘functionally equivalent.’ However, the Draft EIR has determined that a gravity system has slightly less environmental impacts than STEP/STEG. A gravity system will also be less disruptive to individual properties and have less initial out of pocket costs for property owners, because it does not require the installation of new septic tanks in front yards, nor upgrading of your electrical panels. A STEP/STEG system might result in a lower overall project cost for property owners and residents but that is uncertain, especially considering the time required to design a new collection system and that further delays could jeopardize grant funding. Which system do you prefer?”

The questionnaire packet that was sent did not include the NWRI peer review or the Draft EIR analysis. Instead, Opinion Studies, the San Luis Obispo-based research group hired by the County to put together the survey for them, projected their own analysis.

Question #17 showed the benefits of gravity collection and expressed only concerns of uncertainty for STEP/STEG. There was no analysis or rebuttal in defense of STEP/STEG, thus raising questions regarding the legitimacy of the County’s promised due diligence review of the two collection components.

“I believe the specific [survey] question in mind laid out the facts and basically let people decide on a set of true statements,” said Gibson.

On page 18, Section 3 of the County’s “Final Community Survey Results” document, after delivering the results found in question #17, Opinion Studies concludes, “This is a clear mandate for decision makers to move forward with plans for a gravity-based system.”

During public comment at the April 7th meeting, Los Osos resident Michael Jones claimed that the survey is the embodiment of a political campaign technique called the push poll. The survey questions presented are designed to convince the respondent that they are participating in a questionnaire when the true objective is to modify and influence the views of the respondent.

The partiality shown in the community survey is one of many stumbling blocks toward the fairness that was once touted as the mission of the County process.

Ripley Steps Up to the Mic for STEP

Following is the full test of public comments by Dana Ripley of Pleasanton, California-based Ripley Pacific Company, made at the April 7th Board of Supervisors meeting. A 30-year veteran of the wastewater industry and author of “The 2006 Ripley Update” for the LOCSD, Ripley is a consultant with the W.M. Lyles group, the STEP company that applied for the project, but was ultimately rejected.

    “I’m pleased to say that STEP collection was fundamental to the plan that we developed in 2006. It was reviewed by the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) in November 2006 and completely validated in their report of December 2006.
    “What I’d like to share with you today is agreement with four points that Joe Sparks, president of the LOCSD made, in that the design/build process, by carrying it forward and having alternative technologies, does three things: It provides for a practical design; it provides for cost containment; and it provides for a ‘best-value’ design. If you preclude a particular technology, those three points will be voided.
    “The fourth point that Mr. Sparks indicated was his concern over timing, and I’d like to say that having listened to the staff report I am at odds with the statements that the STEP collection system will take longer to design, to permit for CEQA clearance and for any type of approval via the stimulus funding relative to gravity. I believe that the report that we did in 2006 can be used as a facilities plan updated and be every bit as fast and responsive to the stimulus funding deadlines that your staff has given you.”

 

MWH Business Practices Haunt Florida Project

What happened to the Cape Coral, Florida, utility expansion project should raise eyebrows in Los Osos. Both projects hired MWH for construction management, and now MWH appears twice on the short list for the Los Osos Wastewater Project. Have the necessary lessons been learned by SLO County, or is history helpless but to repeat itself – at great cost to Los Osos PZ homeowners?

In 2004 Cape Coral, Florida, was “the fastest-growing city in the country,” southwest Florida’s News-Press reported, “thousands of new hookups were pushing the city’s water and sewer plants toward their limits. MWH mapped out the $469 million plan for the facility expansions and started work in 2006.”
    The city utility expansion program was launched to bring sewer and water services to 10,000 homes in southwest Cape Coral, but audits found that the process wasn’t compliant with state requirements.
    According to the State Attorney General in 2007, the City of Cape Coral may have violated a state law when it negotiated two contracts for major utilities projects. The Attorney General’s opinion addressed issues raised in the state audit concerning utilities operations between Oct. 1, 2000, and March 31, 2005.
    Stated the Attorney General: “Separately negotiating each phase of a multiphase project that has been awarded to a construction manager at risk or program manager at risk does not comply with the plain language or intent of section 287.055(9)(c), Florida Statutes.”
    Cape Coral City Manager Terry Stewart responded to the State AG’s comments on the Construction Manager at Risk: “The Attorney General’s opinion may have significant repercussions for communities and agencies beyond the City of Cape Coral…
     “The Attorney General’s report said the city was wrong to negotiate the price for complex utilities contracts in phases rather than all at once. The findings could have far-reaching implications that could affect how future utilities projects are bid, how lawsuits are resolved, how quickly the utilities expansion program continues and how much confidence citizens have in the city’s government.”
    Added Stewart, “Because of this widespread impact, one option may be to pursue legislation that will clarify the intent of these statutes.”
    Two years later, the project has been stopped, and the March 31, 2009, News-Press reported, “A halt to the billion dollar utility expansion project, stunted population growth and a dismal economy are reasons the city is considering the unprecedented rate increases to pay the bills.
    “Fewer customers are coming online, pushing the cost of facility expansions and design work onto the existing 50,000 rate customers.”
     From the March 26, 2009 News-Press: “City officials say they have no choice. The higher bills are needed to pay for $479 million worth of almost-completed water and sewer facilities and work on future expansion projects that remain in limbo. If the City Council doesn’t raise the rates, Cape Coral will default on $315 million worth of bonds, destroying its bond rating — akin to a credit score — and leaving the city unable to borrow money.”
     Water and sewer bills could almost double, reported the News-Press, on average 93% over the next five years.
     What happened to the Cape Coral, Florida, utility expansion project should raise eyebrows in Los Osos. Both projects hired MWH for construction management, and now MWH appears twice on the short list for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, for both the collection system and treatment facility.
    If history repeats itself from coast to coast, Los Osos “Prohibition Zone” taxpayers can look down the road to a troubled future of major cost increases, accounting and accountability issues, and, inevitably, based on past experience, higher fees and rates on sewer and water. Has the County learned anything from Cape Coral?
    Said County Council Warren Jensen at the April 7 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, when asked if the County had any conflict of interest with MWH: “The mere fact that MWH is a creditor in the Los Osos bankruptcy doesn’t suggest anything particularly sinister. They had a number of creditors when they went into bankruptcy. I just don’t see that that alone has any significance. Now whether there’s some other facts I don’t know…”
 
‘Taken Advantage’
     Councilman Tom Daly believes the City now needs to move ahead with utility expansions, add more customers to the system, and bring the project back under city control, according to the News-Press, “almost a decade after the Cape hired an outside construction management firm to oversee the project.
    “I think people felt like they got taken advantage of with (project manager MWH),” Day told the News Press. “We need to get the profit motive out of the picture.”
    But by the time the audit results were complete and MWH could be impacted, it was already too late to shut everything down. Projects in areas known as Southwest 1, 2, 3 and along Pine Island Road in Cape Coral were under construction at the time. Work on the next phase of the project, Southwest 5, was called “too far along” to stop. City council had already approved the start of the next phase before any changes could be made. Work was also under way in Southwest 4. Those lines reportedly will cost each of the area’s nearly 4,000 homeowners $25,000 to $40,000, and the level of outrage in Southwest 4 is running high. Assessments in areas completed earlier fell between $11,000 and $15,000.
    “The council would have to calculate the costs of killing a contract with a firm called MWH Americas to manage the construction phase,” the mayor said.
    Three different audits criticized the city’s management of the utility expansion program, reported the News-Press. One 2006 state audit led to the Attorney General’s opinion. A 2006 audit by New York-based Kessler & Associates opened a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into possible bid-rigging in prior projects. The third audit, by auditor R.L. Townsend in 2005, concluded the city was overpaying to run the program.
     Concluded Kessler: “In conducting this inquiry, Kessler encountered issues that it believes require systemic reform within the City. Some of the issues have already been addressed implicitly in this report. These include taking steps to guard against future deception of the taxpayers; diligently monitoring vendors and accurately responding to citizen complaints and inquiries and not discounting them simply because of their source. The fact that certain items at issue in this inquiry — from questionable bidding practices to obstructing authorized fact-gathering efforts — pervaded during this engagement suggests serious and systemic management failings.”
     Continued Kessler: “The City should also re-examine its policies relating to allowing vendors complete control of projects without adequate City oversight and determine whether changes need to be made in those policies to ensure that future multi-million dollar contracts are properly supervised and taxpayer funds properly spent.
    “The conduct of certain employees in the context of this engagement is also very disturbing, all the more so since the most egregious conduct was committed by persons in positions of substantial responsibility and leadership.”
    The City Auditor’s Office concurred with Kessler’s concerns about questionable bidding activity.
    At least four lawsuits related to the utilities projects were filed.
    John Sullivan, a Cape Coral resident suing the city, told the News-Press that the AG’s opinion only raised more questions. “Are these contracts illegal? If they are, what recourse do citizens have? Are our public officials responsible for this?
    “People have a shot at starting a class-action suit against the city,” said Sullivan, who founded the Cape Coral Minutemen, a group of residents dedicated to lowering costs of the utilities projects. “This is just going to shore up lawsuits.”
    MWH’s website (www.mwhglobal.com) says “MWH provides comprehensive management services and solutions across our global platform of 197 offices in 38 countries.”  
    One of t
hose 197 offices listed on the MWH website is at located 1236 Los Osos Valley Road in Los Osos, an office closed since 2005. It could open again soon.
    “It’s like living in the twilight zone,” commented Councilman Mickey Rosado about Cape Coral’s predicament. “It’s outrageous.”
    Even more outrageous than “like living in the twilight zone” is living in the twilight zone and the “Prohibition Zone” and in Los Osos at the same time, continuously, for 26 years.
    It doesn’t get much more outrageous than that.

Compiled from articles originally reported and published in the News-Press, Ft. Myers, Florida.

The Vote to End Affordability and Transparency: The Gibson/Mecham Exchange

Following is edited transcript from the dramatic, almost day-long April 7th Board of Supervisors meeting in San Luis Obispo in which Board Chairman Bruce Gibson and Supervisor Frank Mecham each explained their votes – wily veteran Gibson in favor of dropping STEP and board newcomer Mecham opposed.

Gibson: “While I understand the emotional concerns, as we sort through the issues before us today we have to be rationale about the decisions we make and strategic is the application of the principles that we’ve laid out… So what I’m hoping for here is a proper balance of heart and head as we move forward in this… It seems quite clear we do need to move forward on moving the gravity system through the design build process and we need technical specifications of that… I move that we accept staff’s recommendation regarding the amendment of an engineering consulting services contract. Is there any discussion on the motion?”

Mecham: “I’m not going to support the motion and I guess mainly because two things. One, I completely agree in terms of head and heart. I never once have ever questioned the integrity of anybody that’s working on this project, nor the people that I work with, nor those who come before us.] I heard more than anything the comment of process and the comment of ‘give us some comparison costs.’ I cannot in good conscience feel that we are doing that. I’m very sensitive to the issue of affordability, too. As we’ve heard time again, and when we went and pled the case to Washington we talked about a community that was not a high-end community. I’m concerned that we are not going to be affording them the opportunity to take a look at a couple of options that might in fact reduce the cost of this. I don’t always agree with [former LOCSD board member] Miss Julie Tacker at all, but I don’t hang my hat on stimulus stuff, either. This is money that we hope will come in, that we are trying to hope that we can to find a way to make it happen.  But I don’t believe that we can hang our hat on that and think that that’s going to make this project work. That’s why I have to go back to trying to find another alternative option that might be a little bit more affordable…. I cannot in good conscience support the motion. We are excluding anything else.”

Gibson: “I too am disappointed that we’re not at a point where we have an easy comparison here, but there’s nothing about this project that is particularly easy. It is a complicated, expensive, contentious bit of business. But on the matter of getting gravity specs going forward we need to do that, and I would hope that we give staff a clear recommendation here that we move forward.”

Mecham: “I can support your motion if it would include further investigation and discussion about that.”

Gibson: “It’s not going to.”

Mecham: “Well then I can’t support it.”

Mecham: “I take exception with the responsibility that we have in [not] taking things lightly. I don’t take anything lightly. [I feel that my responsibility is, first of all, to the community that I would be representing, which is the San Luis Obispo County.] I’m not arguing that the gravity system isn’t a good system, and I’m not arguing that that might rise to the top. I don’t know that from a cost (comparison). You (Chairman Gibson) made the case when you talked about the economy. You said that the economy has turned. We don’t know if there’s a cost savings here. I don’t want to run the risk of not finding some type of a funding mechanism to try to help these folks out, that’s the last thing I want to do, but I just don’t feel that from everything I’ve read and everything I’ve heard that we gave them the option to make that choice from the community.”

MWH in Los Osos – Unanswered Questions

MWH is the No. 1 qualifying contractor for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, topping the short list for both the collection system and treatment facility. Do potential conflicts of interest and a costly history in Los Osos make the Bloomfield, Colorado-based global builder a risk to the community? Following is a list of events and activities in Los Osos wastewater history that shed light on MWH business practices with the LOCSD and wastewater project from 1998 to 2009. This summary provides reasons how working with MWH on the County’s current project could come back to cost the community, and why the Board of Supervisors should rescind staff’s decision to short-list MWH for the LOCSD wastewater project.

■ September 1999. The original project management contract between the LOCSD and MWH, discovered in December 2005, was signed by future (but not then) GM Bruce Buel. It wasn’t signed by Interim GM Paavo Ogren or by the Board President. The backdated contract, authorized by Buel, who was not employed by the LOCSD at the time the contract was implemented, was amended several times for millions of dollars.

■ 1999-2005. Two original contracts between the LOCSD and MWH were both amended several times each, with millions of dollars in unscoped work added to the original project costs. All additional work was sole-sourced to MWH.

■ 2001 Project Report and Final EIR. MWH Project Report determines that an out-of-town project is cheaper, and FEIR finds it environmentally preferred. MWH’s conclusions about “cheaper-out-of-town” were not disclosed in the FEIR, dividing the town over the project and location. MWH’s design disposal rate information for the Broderson site caused numerous professional, legal and permit challenges based on dubious engineering decisions and accounting practices that proved very costly for citizens.

■ Spring 2005. Project bids for three separate elements of the construction of the wastewater project came in 40%-57% above MWH professional Engineers Estimates.

■ Spring 2005. The largest amendment made to the MWH design contract was for Construction Management Services. The amount was for $7.48 million — more than $10,000 a day (for a staff of only five), and it was based on a percentage of the higher bids that came in. There was no competition. This was a sole-sourced contract (on a 3-2 LOCSD vote), and the decision was primarily based on advice received from MWH who stood to directly benefit from their own recommendations to the LOCSD board.

■ Summer 2005. Aiming to save their lucrative contract with the LOCSD, MWH makes $10,000 donation to “Save the Dream,” a political campaign group organized to fight against the recall of three LOCSD board directors.

■ Fall 2005. In November 19, 2005, there was a “break-in” and robbery of the MWH offices at Sunnyside School in Los Osos. This occurred shortly after the successful recall of three member majority of the old board. Reported stolen: computers and files from the Los Osos Wastewater Project.

■ Fall 2005. LOCSD passes several resolutions and requests for a formal investigation of MWH contracts and false claims.

■ Winter 2005. Letter to DA and False Claims complaint filed against MWH detail all irregularities with the first and subsequent contracts and amendments. DA acknowledges illegality of contract between MWH and LOCSD but doesn’t prosecute. Complaint goes to AG. Results pending due to bankruptcy.

■ Winter 2005. Formal complaint filed against MWH with Construction Management Association of the Americas, describing allegations, contract irregularities and conflict of interest. Investigation still active and pending due to MWH lawsuits against LOCSD in bankruptcy.

■ Spring 2006. MWH sues LOCSD. Still active due to bankruptcy.

■ Spring 2006. Court audit reveals that MWH was improperly paid out of SRF funds in the fall of 2005. These funds had been mandated to reimburse the district for borrowed project monies, not to pay consultants.

■ Fall 2006. County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren requests that LOCSD Board release MWH so that County can hire them. LOCSD refuses due to lawsuits and false claims in bankruptcy and offers to provide all MWH design work to the County. Ogren tells LOCSD that he “hired them anyhow.”

■ Winter 2006. Carollo’s Scope of Work with County for wastewater project lists MWH as subconsultants.

■ Spring 2009. County BOS announces that MWH collection design will be incorporated into the design build process in order to save time.

■ Spring 2009. MWH selected for County short list for both collection system and treatment facility, listed as first choice. SLO County also chooses previous MWH collection design and incorporates this work into the design process.

■ Spring 2009. Design/build code appears to disqualify MWH from short list due to use of their design products and their assistance to the County and Carollo. Explained County Project Engineer John Waddell: “MWH was not retained by the county to assist in the development of project specific documents related to the design-build process and is eligible to submit a design-build proposal under Section 20133.”

■ Spring 2009. Formal complaint is filed with County regarding MWH, submitted by Lisa Schicker, LOCSD President and Board Member 2004-2008.

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