Los Osos is …“Chinatown”

Asked to reveal the deep, dark secret behind the long-running and strange goings-on inside the Los Osos sewer saga, a few owls in Los Osos have been known to whisper “Chinatown.” “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne sheds light on more than a few historical points in common between LA of the early 1930s and Los Osos today, starting with the water, who owns it, how much it’s really worth – and land grabs. Los Ososans should read Towne’s comments and then see how many chilling similarities they can come up with…

By ED OCHS

Asked to reveal the deep, dark secret behind the long-running and strange goings-on inside the Los Osos sewer saga, a few owls in Los Osos have been known to whisper “Chinatown.” Now, “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne sheds light on more than a few historical points in common between LA of the early 1930s and Los Osos today, starting with the water, who owns it, how much it’s really worth – and land grabs. Los Ososans should read Towne’s comments and then see how many chilling similarities they can come up with…

Screenwriter Robert Towne’s Oscar-winning script for “Chinatown” (1974), according to Wikipedia, was “set in Los Angeles in the 1930s and inspired by the historical disputes over land and water rights that had raged in southern California during the 1910s and ’20s, in which William Mulholland (“Hollis Mulwray” in the movie) acted on behalf of Los Angeles interests to secure water rights in the Owens Valley.”

Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, “Chinatown” is a story within a story: Mulholland’s historic quest for new water to fuel LA’s rapid growth in the early 1930s, and how the rich got richer forming a real estate syndicate to buy up near-worthless San Fernando Valley land, just before diverted water greened the Valley into an agricultural oasis that would turn into tract homes for millions — and fortunes for a few.

Here, excerpted from the DVD “Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature” is Robert Towne talking about “Mulholland’s Dream,” interspersed with key dialogue from “Chinatown” (which “Cadillac Desert” filmmakers call “bad, contorted history … but powerful myth”). Towne’s comments are in bold. Movie scenes are in italics:

You could make a case for this being this incestuous cabal of hidden Jonathan Club, California club oligarchy, Old Boy’s WASP network – no Jews, dogs, blacks, Mexicans allowed.

Jake Gittes: There are going to be a lot of irate citizens when they find out that they’re paying for water they’re not going to get.”

Noah Cross: Aw that’s all taken care of. See, Mr. Gittes, either you bring the water to LA or you bring LA to the water.

What (Cross) simply meant was that you would bring the water to where you want to bring it and call that place LA. And therefore you could get Los Angeles taxpayers to pay — what in effect was a cabal of real estate spectators – to have the city pay millions of dollars for them to pump water down to land that was not in fact part of the city and then cause them to vote that as part of the city, and thereby increase the value of that land, which they had purchased and held, a thousand fold. So they were causing one city in effect to pay them to develop another city and then say, well, it’s really the same city.

Jake: They’re conning LA into building it, but the water’s not going to go to LA, it’s coming right here (to the San Fernando Valley).

Evelyn Mulwray: What?

Jake: Everything you can see, everything around us. I was at the Hall of Records today.

The original title for “Chinatown,” I actually was going to call it “Water and Power,” because that’s what it was. Water was power, it was money, and those who knew how to manipulate it, much more adroitly than anybody could ever manipulate a stock market, could make money off of it. And you could see it. It was a palpable thing, running through your movie, like a river of greed.

Jake: Do you have any idea what this land would be worth with a steady water supply? About $30 million more than they paid for it.

As Jean Renoir said, everyone has his reasons, and I’m sure (Mulholland) had his reasons and he justified it, because he had to. I can see how it would have been very easy to get carried away by powerful men saying, “See what you can do for the city”… you know… “What a great man you’ll be.”

Jake: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?

Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes, the future!

And the crime that he committed in the name of the future, against the future, is really the history in California, here in LA, I mean it’s just the supreme irony.

Cross: See, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact, at the right time, in the right place, they are capable of anything!

Sometimes there’s some monsters that they can’t figure out how to punish them, so they actually sort of reward them. Mulholland’s name is on the scene route of the city (Mulholland Drive), and criminals’ names are on plaques as city founders, rather than in jail where they belonged.


The Mystery of “Chinatown”:
When Jake was a young police officer on the beat in LA’s Chinatown, he once tried to protect a woman, but she died as a direct result of his intervention. This made Jake cynical and apathetic. Years later, Jake again tries to protect a woman, Evelyn Mulwray, and once again, she is killed as a direct result of his intervention. Never forgetting what happened to him before, Jake finds no consolation in the final irony of a former colleague’s advice, “Forget it, Jake; it’s Chinatown.”

LA “Chinatown” Rogues Gallery Then:
Mayor Fred Eaton; Businessmen Henry E. Huntington and Moses Sherman; Los Angeles Times Publishers Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler.

Los Osos “Chinatown” Rogues Gallery Now: Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee; Regional Water Board Chairman Jeffrey Young and Executive Director Roger Briggs; Board Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Jim Patterson; Public Works Director Paavo Ogren; Former Public Works Director Noel King; Former Supervisor Shirley Bianchi; County Counsel Warren Jensen; Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox; former LOCSD director Pandora Nash-Karner and recalled directors Stan Gustafson, Richard LeGros and Gordon Hensley; current LOCSD board member Maria Kelly; Carollo Engineering’s Lou Carella; Wallace Group President/former County Public Works Director John Wallace and LOCSD District Engineer Rob Miller; Tribune Publisher Bruce Ray and VP Sandra Duerr; global engineering conglomerate Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH).

Los Osos is not alone. There are more “Chinatowns” in California and all across America.

#

Thanks to Ann Calhoun and Susan Shaw for pointing the way to “Chinatown” in Los Osos.

UPDATE: CORRUPTION ERUPTION!

Longtime County Administrator David Edge is fired. CalCoastNews.com reporter says County may be subject of a federal investigation. The lid is blowing off the volcano of corrupt County government, and it’s all happening during Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s reign as Chair of the Board of Supervisors. But are the latest headline-grabbing allegations of wrongdoing just a smokescreen for deeper, more serious allegations that just won’t go away?

 

ROCK NEWS WIRE

UPDATE: KSBY INTERVIEW ADDED

Longtime County Administrator David Edge is fired. CalCoastNews.com reporter says County may be subject of a federal investigation. The lid is blowing off the volcano of corrupt County government, and it’s all happening during Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s reign as Chair of the Board of Supervisors. But are the latest headline-grabbing allegations of wrongdoing just a smokescreen for deeper, more serious allegations that just won’t go away?

It was never an easy task to begin with, but trusting the officials of San Luis Obispo County to govern themselves, let alone manage County business, just got even harder.
    
On Tuesday, May 19, after 11 years as County Administrator, David Edge’s employment contract was terminated by the County without cause, that is, without having to provide a cause or reason for letting him go. Edge’s contract required a public vote by the Board, but Edge, in his sometimes critical, fatalistic comments to the Board, called his termination a predetermined “public execution” and urged its “inevitable” conclusion so “everybody can continue to do what they need to do.”
    
Edge said he welcomed a full, public investigation to clear his name, although, unless a lawsuit materializes, no investigation is likely.
    
“Unlike some,” said Edge, “I have absolutely nothing to hide or fear or hide from that kind of review. I think it would serve me well. For the rest I’m not so sure.”

[ADD TO TOPIC OF FIRING – KSBY INTERVIEW: “The majority (of the Board of Supervisors) clearly wanted to go in a different direction. For a couple of years the relationship has been souring a little with a couple of Board members who wanted to operate in a different way than I was used to operating, and with the election and changeover of the Board they had a majority. It was I think an inevitability… (Retirement was the likely outcome until the allegations surfaced and that provided (the new Board majority) with the opportunity to do what they wanted to do anyway.”]

When Gibson called for a Board vote on Edge’s fate, a seemingly distraught Supervisor Kachadjian couldn’t quite bring himself to vote “yes.” “I decided not so support it, simply because Mr. Edge is the person on trail, if we want to put it that way, and he wants an investigation, so be it…”

Gibson interrupted to ask Kachadjian for his vote. “…But I’m regrettably going to vote ‘yes’ because just to show unanimity among us and move forward for all the good reasons that possibly don’t exist…”

Said Edge about our County government, a government shrouded in what he calls “a stifling political correctness”: “I suffered hubris back in 1998 in thinking that I could actually change such a deep-seeded organizational culture as that which we have here (in San Luis Obispo).”

[ADD TO TOPIC OF COUNTY – KSBY INTERVIEW: “(The County government) is a place where you simply can’t have honest conversations in without running the risk of detrimental action thereafter.”]
    
On May 12, in a story headlined “Who’s running SLO County?” Karen Velie of Web site CalCoastNews.com reported that both Edge and Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox had been placed on indefinite paid administrative leave.
    
A single source told CalCoastNews (CCN) that Wilcox had leveled sexual harassment charges against Edge, her mentor, defender and boss, and that he had “stepped down.” The same CCN source claimed that the Board of Supervisors met in closed session on May 8 to discuss the allegations and that Edge and Wilcox were then placed on paid administrative leave, Edge on May 7, Wilcox on May 11.
    
Single-source stories are not the standard for better newspapers, and Velie sought confirmation or denial of the tip from County officials. By law County employees are not permitted to discuss confidential personnel matters with the public, and Velie was referred to Supervisor Gibson’s office. Gibson’s Legislative Assistant, Sherri Aispuro, told CCN that Wilcox was on paid administrative leave and thought Edge was on vacation, “back east as his son’s graduation.” Based on confirmation that Edge and Wilcox were placed on leave at the same time, Velie went with the story.
    
At his hearing Edge called the leaks from closed session that may have formed the basis of the CCN story “rather inaccurate… It’s generated some extreme unpleasantness in the blog world … and that particular unpleasantness will inevitably taint my reputation as I move on…”
    
Said Board Chairman Bruce Gibson, “This action today is not about the speculation on the blogs. It’s not about the wild accusations, rumors, supposition and innuendo” of sexual harassment allegations involving Edge that were not mentioned or addressed at the hearing because his at-will contract requires no explanation for his firing. 

[ADD TO RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS – KSBY INTERVIEW: “That’s what I’ve been told (that an informal complaint had been made that I created a hostile work environment). I haven’t seen any complaint… As I understand it the allegation is that the series of conversations and communications that Gail (Wilcox) and I have had over the years she felt were unwanted intrusions into her private life… I don’t believe (she has accused me of sexual harassment). The issue if it became formal would be one of a hostile work environment… It really took me aback, I had no idea … Gail and I had been close for a decade in the office… We had extensive conversations over the years, of a professional nature and of a personal nature… I felt I was being there, simply doing what I do for employees that wanted to talk… Something like this is such an unexpected kick that it hurts.”]
    
CCN is not a blog, but a well-researched and documented news site, and this was not the first CCN story involving Edge and Wilcox. In June 2008 CCN broke a story, summarized on CCN’s Web site, as “a cozy mortgage relationship between Wilcox and attorney and a prominent county vendor, attorney Clay Hall, in a deal approved and defended by Edge” – which raised conflict of interest questions then.
    
The same day the latest story hit the ground, Velie was a guest on “The Dave Congalton Show” on KVEC talk radio. She told Congalton that this matter could also possibly be part of a larger investigation.
    
“I’ve had County employees tell me that there’s still an investigation into the allegations,” Velie said on the radio show, “and I don’t know if it’s regarding this house purchase (where) the vendor put quite a bit of money down on her home, or if it’s related to something else, but numerous County employees have called repeatedly, usually anonymous sources, and said there’s some investigation by the federal government into the County. Now this may or may not be true, I am not sure.”
    
After CCN broke the story, Bob Cuddy of the Tribune jumped on it as “breaking news” on the Trib’s Web site, www.sanluisobispo.com – quoting, but not crediting, CalCoastNews.com as the source – a cardinal sin of journalistic envy, sometimes referred to as plagiarism. At least Cuddy updated the story by adding a few quotes from a brief telephone interview with Edge, and a briefer comment from Supervisor Gibson, current Chair of the Board, that served as a confirmation of the general allegations.
    
Gibson told Cuddy that the paid leaves of Edge and Wilcox were “for investigation of personnel issues.”  Privacy laws prevent Gibson or County employees from elaborating, but Gibson’s comment could easily be construed as surrogate language for misconduct.
    
According to Cuddy’s update, Edge called the CCN story a “sleaze piece.” He denied he had resigned or had been asked to resign, or that
he had any intention of leaving his post – which proved to be less than true. Edge left for his son’s college graduation back East on the same Tuesday the story broke. He wouldn’t comment on the sexual harassment charges, neither to confirm nor deny them. All he would say is that he hadn’t been sued by anyone as a result of the allegations — “to my knowledge.” He told the Trib “the issue” would “likely… be resolved within a week.”
   
One week later, the Board met to determine — or, as Edge claimed, ratify – his last day on the job with the County.

Closed Session Leak
    
The story began to take shape Friday afternoon, May 8, when the Board of Supervisors met behind closed doors in a special executive session. The topic on closed session agenda, Item B: “Conference with legal counsel. Significant exposure to litigation. Number of cases: 2. Facts and circumstances not known to potential plaintiff which indicate significant exposure to litigation.”
   
The session broke up at 7 p.m. and reconvened Monday at 8 a.m., lasting until 2 p.m. For the 10 hours of private discussion, all County Counsel Warren Jensen would say was “no reportable action was taken.”
    
Edge, 56, had been County Administrative Officer for more than a decade. He often mentioned retirement in recent years but remained, he said, to help steer the County through its current fiscal crisis. Wilcox, who is reportedly on leave until June 1, was assumed to be his successor. That chain of ascension is no longer automatic.
    
During the radio show, former 2nd District Supervisor Shirley Bianchi called in to voice her opinion on the story. However, Bianchi, an Edge supporter, did not call in to talk about the paid leaves, any allegations, or a County in apparent disarray; she wanted to talk about the illegal leak of confidential information from closed session.
    
Said Bianchi, “My understanding is that (in) the final closed session that is being alluded to here (in the CCN story) there were only five supervisors there and County Counsel Warren Jensen. Well I know Warren would never ever break a confidentiality, so it had to be one of the five Supervisors, so which one? And if you tell me that it was a woman that called (CCN) that doesn’t mean anything to me because the Supervisor could have had a woman call.
    
“My point is that the bigger story is who the ‘Hail Columbia’ leaked this story?”
    
Congalton asked Bianchi, “Why is that a bigger story than allegations of misconduct by our top two County officials?”
     
“Allegations float around that courthouse like you would not believe,” said Bianchi. “It just goes around and around and around. At the beginning of this item, Dave, you were referring to the three who were convicted (in previous County government sexual misconduct controversies), not just allegations, but who were convicted, to the point that my husband was calling it ‘the cavort house.’ This is before David (Edge). There is someone apparently on that board who leaked this story, and that to me is an even bigger story (than) a bunch of rumors floating around.”
    
Bianchi criticized the legitimacy of CCN’s story: “You’re asking a clerk to make a differentiation between what she can talk about and can’t talk about. Clerks don’t do that… Instead of building up an entire case around an alleged source that allegedly is talking about a Board of Supervisors closed session, that source that leaked something from closed session, that also needs to be followed through. Who did that?”

Los Osos Betrayed
    
While Edge and Wilcox are in the spotlight right now, the government official most likely to wind up in the hot seat as a result of the chaos in the County is Supervisor Gibson, who is running for reelection in November 2010.
    
Certainly, the biggest hot spot for Gibson’s re-election bid is Los Osos, where he has served as ramrod for the County’s flawed project. In his aggressive promotion of the County’s costly gravity-collection system, Gibson has offended elements of the community that previously had voted for him or even worked for his campaign, or the campaigns of fellow supervisors voting with Gibson.
    
After repeatedly promising the community a “head-to-head” cost comparison of the STEP collection system versus the County-favored gravity system, on April 7 the Gibson-directed Board of Supervisors suddenly decided to eliminate the STEP alternative from the design-build cost competition. Many who previously had trusted the County process to deliver the best project at the lowest price, who had voted “yes” on the 2007 Proposition 218 assessment vote because the County promised a choice and costs, now felt betrayed.
    
Immediately following that announcement, based primarily on the results of a County-crafted community survey. Chairman Gibson imposed a 10-minute speaking limit in the morning and 10-minute limit in the afternoon for non-agenda public comment on the Los Osos sewer  – to be divided by the number of speakers that showed up for either public comment session.
    
Retired L.A. Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin of Los Osos was among the first to test the newly enforced talk limit – and Supervisor Gibson’s very limited patience – when she spoke, or tried to speak, about her concerns with due process and the County process. When she attempted to talk about the appearance of conflict of interest between Public Works Director Paavo Ogren and global contractor Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH), Gibson cut off her microphone on the word “Harza” (See “When the Microphone Went Dead”). As far as Gibson was concerned, the debate was over. It was going to be gravity collection and he made it clear that nothing was going to change his mind.
    
In return, Gibson’s heavy-handed tactics and thinly veiled contempt for certain public commentators from Los Osos has aroused the ire of residents protesting his broken promises as well as their detrimental economic and environmental consequences. His dumping of STEP, or any progressive, affordable “alternative” technology for that matter, before the design-build finals of the project – before bottom-line cost comparisons could be made — not only alienated former Los Osos supporters of Gibson, but also some who voted for Gibson in 2006 as “the lesser of the two evils” (against Morro Bay’s Rodger Anderson). Gibson may not have that margin of “dislikeability” working in his favor again in 2010.
    
The timing of the Edge/Wilcox “news” drew attention away from more significant Los Osos sewer matters, such as the relationship between Public Works Director Ogren and MWH. The Tribune was working on a MWH story at the time, but put it on hold because of the ongoing Edge/Wilcox story, as if they couldn’t work the two stories at the same time.
     
MWH is suing the LOCSD and the LOCSD filed a cross-complaint alleging bid-rigging and false billings. The original project management contract between the LOCSD and MWH, in September 1999, was signed by future GM Bruce Buel, not by then Interim GM Paavo Ogren, nor 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. Buel has claimed that Ogren advised him to sign the backdated contract. Ogren has said he exercised no authority over Buel. The backdating may have been a felony at the time, according to the District Attorney’s office, but the three-year statute of limitations had since expired on the 1996 contract.
    
“In fact,” former LOCSD president Lisa Schicker recently told The Rock about Ogren’s May 5 response to her conflict of interest complaint, “Mr. Ogren didn’t address the allegations in
my complaint at all; he did not refute them, nor did he deny that he directed the backdating of the MWH contract, which is a fact, according to former LOCSD General Manager Bruce Buel.”
    
The sheer volume of allegations and weight of support documentation make it difficult for the County to deny absolutely all of it (other than for legal liability reasons) without attracting further scrutiny. According to his stated timeline, Jensen’s final written report on Schicker’s complaint is due next week, unless Edge/Wilcox matters delay Counsel’s response on MWH. If substantiated, the conflict of interest allegations could potentially cost MWH their top spot on the County’s shortlists and millions in contracts to build both the collection system and treatment plant. It could also cost Ogren further directorship of the project, if the County weaves a cover-up that eventually tears apart.

Trouble Spots
    
Ogren, who recently responded publicly to refute any conflict of interest with MWH, and MWH, under scrutiny for its business practices in Los Osos and Cape Coral, Florida, can relax — for now. Edge/Wilcox has conveniently knocked Ogren/MWH off the headlines, allowing the County’s “one-legged” gravity-only design-build phase to keep moving below the buzz line. The distraction is effective: Ogren and MWH fade to the sidelines as the spotlight shifts — away from allegations of too-cozy relationships between the County and its inner sole-source circle of consultants and contractors — and on to more alluring allegations of sexual misconduct at the highest levels of County government.  
    
Unfortunately for Gibson, there are more trouble spots in his 2nd district than Los Osos. Gibson also has ignored serious sewer problems in Morro Bay, where old, cracked gravity pipes continue to exfiltrate raw sewage into the groundwater and bay, and no one seems to want to tell Morro Bay taxpayers how much it’s going to cost to clean it up. While pollution of the bay by Los Osos septics remains unproven, it’s well known that the broken Morro Bay sewer system is polluting on a continuing basis. Yet, ironically, Gibson is forcing an unaffordable, $200 million leaking gravity sewer on Los Osos while Morro Bay’s antiquated, collapsing gravity sewer system pollutes bay and groundwater without a word of concern from the Supervisor.
    
In another painful twist of fate, Morro Bay resident Carrie Burton has repeatedly asked Gibson for help with the illegal septic system at the Roandoak of God compound on Chorro Cheek Road. Roandoak sits over the aquifer and less than 600 feet from Chorro Creek, which flows to the ocean. The building is unpermitted, in a flood zone, within 200 feet of wells, and has multiple non-permitted septics and multiple non-permitted failed leachfields still in use, all above a major aquifer. The facility is polluting nearby wells near Chorro Creek, possibly the creek itself, but Gibson has done nothing, even after several requests.
    
The County recently reactivated a proposed new permit application for the fourth time in 39 years, even though the property is zoned for use as vacant land. The County now claims that the non-permitted building there is a single-family residence; it is, in fact, home to more than 30 residents, and rent is being charged. Previous correction notices and Planning Commission records define it as a multi-family residence — carrying more stringent conditions than a single-family dwelling.
    
That excessive volume of sewage and gray water is not permitted or engineered to sustain the numbers of residents there, and is possibly making its way to the creek and into city wells. With the County’s almost two decades of knowledge and Roandoak’s blatant violations, it should be obvious that Roandoak should be red-tagged, cleaned up, and cleared up with proper permits, engineering and EIR, but Gibson won’t touch it.
    
Recently, Burton spoke at a Board of Supervisors meeting and a fidgety Gibson made a point of claiming the County was in the process of resolving her complaints. It taught her a lesson about speaking at BOS meetings under Gibson’s gavel.
    
Instead of taking action on the serious health and safety hazards she reported at Roandoak, the County retaliated against her, and cited her and her husband for having a dumptruck and a large container on their property.
    
The County has done nothing to resolve the Roandoak issues — the conditions Cal Fire specified for the certificate of occupancy were never met and the septic systems were never permitted. For years, the Morro Bay City wells there have been polluted with coliforms and nitrates – there are six years worth of Morro Bay well water test data to prove that, but still there has been no action from the County.
    
While Gibson has stepped up harassment of the De Vaul Ranch at Sunny Acres for running what the County claims is an unlicensed car junk and salvage business, and County Code Enforcement has threatened De Vaul for sheltering the homeless in potentially unsafe housing, Gibson gives Roandoak a free pass to break the law to dump at-risk individuals on rural Morro Bay so they will be out of sight, out of mind of, out of town — in a firetrap with no heat, crumbling asbestos siding, a questionable electrical system, no functioning sewage disposal system (chemical toilets have been installed outside the facility) and no clearance from Cal Fire.
    
The Regional Water Quality Control Board has also been slow to react to the ongoing violations there, and along with the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, have failed to prevent or stop the Roandoak “sanitation system” from polluting local waters. Morro Bay’s distance from downtown and the absence of an attorney willing to take on a hostile County some have called the most corrupt in California have conveniently keep the regulators and politicians away so they can focus on furthering their private agendas.
    
Gibson knows all about Roandoak, but does nothing to protect the people who are living there and paying $550 a month for the “privilege,” nor does he do anything to protect the Morro Bay City wells there, which have been shut down by the CDPH.
    
Gibson can ignore all this, but he can call Los Osos an environmental disaster – based on suspected pollution from septics — while the pollution from Morro Bay isn’t suspected, it’s documented fact.

Integrity Gap
    
Ogren isn’t the only conflicted official with a Los Osos history. Gibson has his own issues to deal with, as well.
    
Jack Greene, who introduced himself as Gibson’s campaign manager in Los Osos in 2006, is a partner in GeoSolutions Inc. in San Luis Obispo, a subconsultant to MWH, reportedly under contract for the Los Osos wastewater project prior to the recall election of 2005. Greene also at one time is said to have worked or consulted for Earth Systems, one of the original County subconsultants hired to confirm pollution in Los Osos to bolster the need for a project. GeoSolutions benefited directly with contracts on the MWH project, and the two companies stand to make even more on the “new” project. Gibson has not publicly defined Greene’s role in his last campaign, whether GeoSolutions should be recused from future contracts, or whether he feels it timely to address the appearance, if not the fact, of his own conflict of interest.
    
Pandora Nash-Karner, currently County Parks Commissioner, appointed by Gibson, is a close friend and advisor to Gibson in Los Osos, and supported his election. Nash-Karner submitted a contract proposal to the LOCSD on the previous MWH Tri-W project for approximately $750,000 for public relations services, at the same time she was serving on the Los Osos wastewater committee. (That proposal was rejected by the CSD.) MWH contributed $10,000 to the “Save the Dre
am” campaign to fight the recall of three board members behind the MWH Tri-W project. The head of that political campaign was Nash-Karner. The campaign failed, and the three midtown sewer leaders were voted out of office. Yet their influence has never been stronger on top County leadership behind the Los Osos sewer than it is today.
    
On May 5, a week before the Edge/Wilcox story broke, an angry Gibson followed Los Osos public comment with a strong rejection and denunciation of extensive, documented allegations of conflict of interest involving Ogren and MWH, which were submitted by former LOCSD Board President Lisa Schicker.
    
Gibson asked County Counsel Jensen for his legal opinion on Ogren’s prior role as Interim General Manager of the LOCSD and his association with MWH during that time. “My conclusions,” said Jensen in a preliminary report to the Board, “were that the materials that were submitted do not prove that there was any wrongdoing by Mr. Ogren.” This comment was made despite the fact that it already had been proven and verified that backdating a contract is a felony.
    
Ogren responded to Counsel’s remarks with bold confidence. “County Counsel has obviously indicated that his review has been limited to the information that has been submitted to him. If individuals out in the public or otherwise have more information,” he said, “I would certainly urge them to submit that as well, because unequivocally I have not engaged in any illegal or unethical activities.”
    
“In fact,” Ogren added, “I think that this is simply more of a pattern of behavior associated with the Los Osos Wastewater Project… There are some public references to other projects Montgomery Watson has worked on and that they should essentially be ‘blacklisted’ from this project. It certainly would not be my recommendation to ‘blacklist’ any firm in terms of their qualifications overall… In response to the very concept that we would ‘blacklist’ any firm, that’s very troubling to me. That would be the type of action that I believe would be significantly unethical, and I would not engage in or support.”
    
Schicker told the The Rock: “It was troubling as well that Mr. Ogren would use the word ‘blacklisting’ so many times in his comments, as this was never a request that I made in my complaint, but Ogren is notorious for his long-winded explanations and embellishing his soliloquies.”
   
“Suffice it to say,” Gibson addressed the chamber May 5, “I’m troubled by these submissions. They are rife with a number of unsubstantiated assertions of illegal activity by Mr. Ogren and corruption by Mr. Ogren, and I take considerable offense at those assertions, especially when the pattern is quite clear, that some information from here or there, a dramatically incomplete record of information, is thrown out and a great leap is made clearly in the direction of asserting some malfeasance on behalf of any individual who in my estimation conducted himself with impeccable integrity through this very long and arduous process.”
    
Schicker never mentioned the word ‘corruption’ – Gibson did.

ROCK EXCLUSIVE: BOS Clears MWH, Paavo Ogren of Conflict of Interest in Los Osos Sewer; Schicker Stands Firm

Former LOCSD President Lisa Schicker calls perfunctory dismissal of her complaint by the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel “troubling” and “premature.”

Former LOCSD President Lisa Schicker calls perfunctory dismissal of her complaint by the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel “troubling” and “premature.”

Construction engineering giant MWH was green-lighted to lead the two short-lists of all-gravity and treatment contractors bidding for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, and Public Works Director Paavo Ogren was given a clean bill of legal health by County Counsel Warren Jensen in Jensen’s May 5th preliminary report to the Board of Supervisors on conflict of interest complaints lodged against MWH and Ogren.
    
Jensen’s unusual televised response was prompted by a detailed, sourced complaint from former LOCSD president Lisa Schicker regarding allegations and potential conflicts that would disqualify MWH from the bidding process and bump Ogren from further managing of the project. Schicker’s complaint was filed with the Board on April 7th, but the lack of a promised response from the Board and repeated calls to address the complaint by Schicker and others during public comment apparently forced Supervisor Gibson to call for Counsel backup.
    
Even after Schicker presented additional written materials to support the complaint during public comment that afternoon, Chairman Gibson appeared to have already prepared a response, and it was apparent he intended to go forward with it.
    
Gibson said, “Mr. Jensen is in the process of finalizing a written report, and feels he is close enough to the final version of that written report that he would feel comfortable discussing the findings of that analysis publicly at this point. We think it’s appropriate.”
    
Jensen acknowledged receiving new material from Schicker that day and that he would include it in his written analysis for public release due in one to two weeks. However, after analyzing Schicker’s initial submission of materials, Jensen said, “The … main point that was raised was that there’s a belief that Montgomery Watson Harza is disqualified from participating in the design-build process because of the work they did as a subconsultant to Carollo, apparently starting back in about 2006, and we believe that that is not a disqualifying situation under that Public Contract Code 21033D1(b). Actually, that (code) only applies to a contractor who is retained by the County to prepare project specific documents, and that’s not what Montgomery Watson Harza was doing back in 2006.”

Rushed Conclusions
    
Schicker was equally troubled by the premature, incomplete report given by the County, ignoring “the key concerns that were listed in the complaint,” she said. “From Counsel’s report, it was apparent that he had not researched all of the referenced materials that were mentioned.”
    
Most troubling about the Counsel’s report for Schicker was that “he completely ignored the reporting of a felony committed by the public works director for falsifying a public contract, one that involved the same engineering firm – MWH – a firm the County was now considering for the wastewater project.”
    
Jensen also ignored reporting on Schicker’s other concerns about Ogren and MWH. Ogren hired MWH in the fall of 2006, after he had asked the LOCSD to sign a waiver to release MWH, a waiver that he did not receive. The LOCSD board refused to issue the legally required waiver because MWH was suing them. The LOCSD offered to give Ogren all of the MWH project plans and engineering documents to assist him — work that the citizens had already paid for.” Ogren ignored both the offer of assistance and the required waiver and hired MWH against the LOCSD’s request.  
    
Because the County is requiring the use of the MWH collection design for use by all of the competing consultants in February 2009, Schicker also raised additional design-build code violation concerns that were not addressed.
    
Continued Jensen, “Beyond that there were a number of reasons set forth in Ms. Schicker’s complaint as to why Montgomery Watson Harza should be removed from the short list, or that certain people, including Paavo Ogren, Carollo Engineers, Lou Carella and the Wallace Group, should be recused from the process. My review of the materials that were submitted determined that there simply wasn’t any substantial basis for the board to do that, based on the materials submitted. I found nothing substantial in the materials that were submitted that indicated that the process was tainted.” Jensen did not disclose as to whether he researched any of the referenced documents listed in Schicker’s materials.
    
Even though Schicker offered to assist, she was never contacted by any County staff. She was also denied any access to the Supervisors. When she called to make appointments, she was told she would be unable to have any appointments until after the County Counsel concluded a review of her materials.

Ogren’s Medals
    
Gibson then directed Jensen to the subject of Ogren’s prior role as Interim General Manager of the LOCSD and his association with MWH during that time. “My conclusions,” said Jensen, “were that the materials that were submitted do not prove that there was any wrongdoing by Mr. Ogren.” This comment was made despite the fact that it already had been proven and verified that backdating a contract is a felony.
    
“In fact,” said Schicker, “Mr, Jensen and Mr. Ogren didn’t address the allegations at all; they did not refute them, nor did they deny that Mr. Ogren directed the backdating of the MWH contract, which is a fact, according to former LOCSD General Manager Bruce Buel.”
    
Ogren responded to Counsel’s remarks with bold confidence. “County Counsel has obviously indicated that his review has been limited to the information that has been submitted to him. If individuals out in the public or otherwise have more information,” he said, “I would certainly urge them to submit that as well, because unequivocally I have not engaged in any illegal or unethical activities.”
    
“In fact,” Ogren added, “I think that this is simply more of a pattern of behavior associated with the Los Osos Wastewater Project… There are some public references to other projects Montgomery Watson has worked on and that they should essentially be blacklisted from this project. It certainly would not be my recommendation to blacklist any firm in terms of their qualifications overall… In response to the very concept that we would blacklist any firm, that’s very troubling to me. That would be the type of action that I believe would be significantly unethical, and I would not engage in or support.”
    
Commented Schicker, “It was troubling as well, that Mr. Ogren would use the word ‘blacklisting’ so many times in his comments, as this was never a request that I made in my complaint, but Ogren is notorious for his long-winded explanations and embellishing his soliloquies.”
    
Ogren noted for the record that among the nation’s top design firms, MWH “was No. 14 last year, No. 16 this year. In terms of top design-build firms nationwide, they were No. 29 last year, No. 27 this year, and in terms of the top 200 environmental firms for 2008, they were No. 10 last year, No. 8 this year.”
    
“MWH rankings were not an element of my complaint,” Schicker commented, “their unethical business practices in Florida were, but these were also ignored by Counsel and Ogren, as well as the lack of any discussion about the prior and continuous relationships with and between key project personnel.”
    
In response to a number of public records request, Ogren confirmed that MWH was also, in fact, employed as construction manager by the County on the Lopez Seismic Remediation Project, for which Ogren was project direct
or. Lou Carella, now of Carollo Engineering (the current consulting Project Manager), and then, as a part of RMC Engineering, was also employed for the same project. Ogren proudly cited the Lopez project as an award-winning project, and even showed off his medals.
    
Lou Carella was also on the five-person County review panel for the selection of a short list of engineering firms who would continue to compete for the wastewater project. This panel interviewed and numerically ranked all candidates, reducing the selection down to three firms, MWH ranking first.  
    
Carella was the sole panel member to conduct the telephone (and additional) checks on all of the prospective firms. According to the County’s ‘FOIAA’-released engineering-team score sheet, none of the other four panel members conducted reference checks, and Carella was solely responsible for 35% of each member’s final ranking score – that alone might have biased the results to put MWH on top. Schicker raised the question as to whether MWH disclosed to the panel their problems in other states, and asked how the review team could have missed all of this — unless Carella didn’t tell them or unless MWH didn’t disclose this info as is required.
    
Questioned Schicker, “Lou Carella used to work for MWH, and Carella and MWH worked together on the Lopez project under Ogren – how can ‘friends’ objectively interview ‘friends’? With this long-term and apparently very cozy relationship between Ogren, MWH and Carella, will the county taxpayers eventually get the best project for the best price? Perhaps this is how it works in the private sector, but this is the community paying for this public project, not a private developer.  
    
“How will the County taxpayers be guaranteed both a fair process and a competitive price if the process appears to be unfair, and that certain consultants are treated differently? What other competent contractors will ever compete in this County for work if the appearance of favoritism is so blatantly obvious to even the casual observer?”

Angry Gibson
    
An angry Gibson admitted restraining his comments for public consumption. “Suffice it to say,” he said, “I think the word I’d use in public session is that I’m troubled by these submissions. They are rife with a number of unsubstantiated assertions of illegal activity by Mr. Ogren and corruption by Mr. Ogren, and I take considerable offense at those assertions, especially when the pattern is quite clear, that some information from here or there, a dramatically incomplete record of information, is thrown out and a great leap is made clearly in the direction of asserting some malfeasance on behalf of any individual who in my estimation conducted himself with impeccable integrity through this very long and arduous process.”
    
Schicker never mentioned the word ‘corruption’ – Gibson did.
    
“I see nothing of substance, nothing in any way credible about the material Miss Schicker has brought forward,” Gibson continued. “It seems mostly (in) regard (to) the inner actions between the Los Osos CSD and Montgomery Watson Harza (and) has no credible assertion, much less proof of anything to do with Mr. Ogren’s conduct or anything the County has done, and I think we can safely, simply dismiss them as anything significant we have to weigh in terms of our consideration.”
    
Schicker responded to both Gibson and Jensen’s final statements by stating that she was equally troubled by the County’s complete lack of response to the most serious items described in her complaints: “Counsel did not address the key issues I raised about Montgomery Watson Harza suing the LOCSD or about them being hired by the County without the required legal waivers or the long and financially beneficial relationship between Ogren, Carella and MWH on projects paid for, not by the private sector, but by County taxpayers.
    
“We, the community of Los Osos via the LOCSD, are in litigation with MWH, and there is an LOCSD cross-complaint alleging serious charges,” she said. “It is beyond me how the County can short-list a contractor to work in our community that’s suing us, a firm that designed a failed project that it appears that no one ever wanted in the first place, at least according to the County Survey.
    
“Why did County Counsel omit speaking to the public about these elements of the complaint, instead focusing on MWH as one of the bankruptcy creditors? That wasn’t even an issue listed as a concern in my complaint, and didn’t require any explanation – and it was also confusing to the public who were looking for answers.”
    
Schicker was deeply troubled by Gibson’s apparent lack of understanding about the roles and responsibilities of current or previously elected public officials. “It was my legal responsibility to come forward and report any suspected unethical or criminal behavior,” she said, “and I was compelled to do so because of my unique position as a previously elected official with first-hand knowledge.”
    
Schicker was also troubled that Gibson had to resort to what amounted to a verbal “public flogging,” one which Schicker or anyone else could respond to, as a result of Schicker’s willingness to come forward as a former elected official and state her concerns to the Board for the record in order to safeguard the public.
    
“All he had to say was, ‘It appears that Miss Schicker’s complaints have no merit – so far.’ He should have waited and reviewed everything before giving legal opinion on the record,” she said, “rather than appearing to be judging me or the carefully sourced and referenced information I presented in good faith as a responsible citizen and former elected district officer.”
    
Jensen said his written report should be available to the public within two weeks.
    
“I look forward to County Counsel providing the public with a more thoughtful, balanced written review of all the submitted material,” Schicker said, “one that more accurately reflects the many remaining issues of concern.”

When the Microphone Went Dead, Part II

It took exactly a week, until May 5th, for Retired Judge Martha Goldin to finish her remarks, rudely interrupted by Supervisor Bruce Gibson during public comment at the April 28th Board of Supervisors meeting. This time the Judge ruled: “The process is irretrievably damaged and must be halted.”

It took exactly a week, until May5th, for Retired Judge Martha Goldin to finish her remarks, rudely interrupted by Supervisor Bruce Gibson during public comment at the April 28th Board of Supervisors meeting. This time the Judge ruled: “The process is irretrievably damaged and must be halted.”

[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.]

Said Goldin during public comment on non-agenda items, “(Supervisor Gibson) cut me off and as a consequence, he deprived me of my right of free speech by exercising prior restraint upon my speech in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 2 of the California Constitution.  

“The irony in all of this is that only two speakers had utilized the chair’s 10-minute Los Osos speech rule… When I got up to speak, nobody else had spoken on Los Osos, so six minutes were gone and I started. Theoretically, there were four minutes left for Los Osos, the prohibited speech. Instead of allowing me the three minutes or asking again if anyone else wanted to share the four minutes or doing anything that might have amounted to reasonable process, the Chair again prohibited me from speaking in violation of his own – in my opinion – unconstitutional 10-minute rule.”

During comment on the Los Osos wastewater project update, Goldin recalled the topic that she was discussing prior to her microphone being cut off last Tuesday.

“The County has embarked upon a tainted process, which should be halted. An employee of the County, Paavo Ogren, appears to have had improper dealings with respect to a contract for a particular company, Montgomery Watson Harza. The matter is the subject of a formal complaint and has come to the attention of the public through an article published in the online CalCoastNews (.com).

“That article states, ‘Ogren was temporarily running Los Osos district when contractor Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH) of Broomfield, Colorado, was retained by the district for wastewater project management in early September 1999. Ogren did not sign the pact, nor did any board member. Instead, Ogren waited several weeks for Buell to become district manager, and then told Buell to backdate the MWH contract.’   

“Now, the same County employee is a leading figure with respect to another project involving the same contractor. There’s a Latin saying, ’False in one part, false in all,’ and there’s jury instruction on credibility of a witness: ‘A witness faults in one part in his or her testimony is to be distrusted in others.’   

“While the matter before this board is not the veracity of a particular employee, the issue is justice and the appearance of justice; fairness and the appearance of fairness. The issue is the appearance and the actual propriety of a process. Regardless, whether it is Los Osos or any place, whether it is a wastewater project or any project, the past of apparent involvement of a leading County employee with a particular contract – in conduct which may have been illegal and is unethical, if nothing else – compromises the process in which that same employee is involved with that same contractor.   

“It taints the process with such a gloss of impropriety that the process is irretrievably damaged and must be halted, purged of the parties and entities that have compromised it and allowed to proceed only after it had been freed of the blight. That’s what I intended to say about the process.”  

Goldin concluded, “Now, just as an afterthought, I note that we are being protected today by the sheriff. Welcome. I hope everybody feels very secure and not threatened by an octogenarian grandmother who has come here to exercise her right to free speech.”


When the Microphone Went Dead, Part I

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 …)

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.

#

Los Osos Citizen’s Anecdote Cuts to the Heart of Sewer Debate

‘We’re going to make a sewer system so expensive that it would drive the riff-raff out of town.’

‘We’re going to make a sewer system so expensive that it would drive the riff-raff out of town.’

During Public Comment at the April 30th Planning Commission hearing, Los Osos resident Jack Hunter spoke about the issue of cost and illustrated his point with a personal anecdote. He told a story about a former neighbor’s cheerful explanation of the benefits of building a big-city megasewer in Los Osos that few could afford. Following is a transcription of Mr. Hunter’s comments telling the tale:

“The elephant in the room that’s not being addressed… is the cost,” Hunter prefaced his remarks.

“I moved to Los Osos in the early ’90s and rented for several years. I had a neighbor there and we became acquaintances and then I bought my own house in another part of the town. I did not see that neighbor again for many years until just a couple of years ago. I don’t believe he understood that I was still living in Los Osos and so I asked him how the rental business was going. He told me that he had sold most of his rentals and I asked him if he had retired. He said, ‘No, no, I’m just preparing for what’s to come.’”

“So I asked what that was and he says, ‘Well, we’re going to make a sewer system so expensive that it would drive the riff-raff out of town. The beauty of it, he said, is they’ll all be forced to sell at the same time because of the price of – not just the sewer but – the water that will be priced upwards as well. That will put all their properties on the market at the same time. That will reduce the price. ‘We’ll buy those properties for a sum, we’ll scrape those cottages, we’ll recombine the lots and we’ll build mansions for the L.A. and San Francisco equity refugees.’”

“He was very proud of how it was all going to work,” Hunter recalled.

“I was shocked, of course, because I realized I only have a middle-class job. I’m part of the riff-raff,” he concluded.

Planning Commission Backs Supervisors’ Gravity Sewer – as Expected

Reduced to an echo by the County Board of Supervisors April 7th decision to drop STEP from consideration for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, the County Planning Commission voted unanimously on April 30th to support the County’s earlier decision, which had basically rendered the Commission’s vote on this subject moot.

Reduced to an echo by the County Board of Supervisors April 7th decision to drop STEP from consideration for the Los Osos Wastewater Project, the County Planning Commission voted unanimously on April 30th to support the County’s earlier decision, which had basically rendered the Commission’s vote on this subject moot.   

The County is applying for a land-use permit to build the sewer treatment facility at the out of town Tonini property site, presently zoned for agricultural use.

Had the Planning Commission (PC) voted to advise the inclusion of STEP back into the County’s plans, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) no doubt would have overturned it on appeal. The PC is a recommending body subordinate to the BOS, which previously voted 4 to 1 to eliminate the STEP system and only short-list gravity system contractors for the County’s design/build phase.   

The hearings provided a few awkward moments as the Commission sought to define its role in what amounted to the County seeking a permit from the County, with Public Works the “applicant” and Planning a sister board. Chairwoman Sarah Christie had to ask Counsel if the BOS had overridden the Commission’s authority, since the County had already selected the gravity system as the sole system for the LOWWP.

The gravity-versus-STEP discussion, however moot, seemed to occupy a disproportionate amount of meeting time relative to Planning’s authority to affect the decision of the BOS.     

The lone dissenting opinion in favor of STEP was delivered by PC Chairwoman Sarah Christie, who said: “It seems to me a given that we are going to continue to have nitrate pollution into the bay with a gravity system. It seems like we’re all accepting that that’s indeed the fact, and now we’re just talking about how to deal with it, and that troubles me.

“I’m not going to carry the day (with STEP),” Christie concluded, after listening to fellow board members, “but I do think it is very unfortunate that the Board of Supervisors has chosen, at the recommendation of staff unfortunately, to eliminate this (option) from consideration, because I think  there are some legitimate benefits to STEP, and we’re not in a position now really to nail down what those benefits are, but I think there could have been some significant costs savings to the community that would have illuminated (that savings) if we’d been able to move forward.

“I also think that there are significant environmental benefits, not just with the effluent itself, but the laying of the pipe and various other components of the project. So I’m sad we’re not going to able to get that information,” Christie lamented, “but it appears that we aren’t. This is one of those times where we have to make a decision and move on, and it appears there is a majority of votes for a gravity system.”

Critics of the PC insisted that the discussion of collection systems was unnecessary. Given that the Board of Supervisors previously deliberated on similar policy issues, critics argued that debating collection systems delayed talks of approving the County’s request for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP).   

During the two days of public hearings, the Commission heard testimony from Public Works Director Paavo Ogren, Project Engineer John Waddell and Department Administrator John Diodati, RWQCB’s John Le Carlo, and Dana Ripley, author of the Ripley Pacific team’s district-commissioned 2006 “Plan Update” and an outside consultant to STEP contractor W.M. Lyles. In public comment the Commission heard expert opinion from Cal Poly soil scientist and Architecture Engineering lecturer Larry Raio and others.

The PC also voted unanimously for tertiary treatment over secondary treatment.

Hearings on the project are continued to May 28 with the discussion turning to pipe technology, plant location and type, disposal, storage options, conservation, and other vital issues involved in the permitting process for the LOWWP.

For the latest information, check the updated agenda on Planning’s Website at: www.slocounty.ca.gov/planning.htm.