Next Speaker… Shut Up! The Los Osos Public Comment Scandal

It’s not sexy like the Edge/Wilcox scandal, but the Los Osos Public Comment scandal and coverup will cost Los Osos and County taxpayers millions of dollars more in rigged contracts, costs increases, additional fees and charges, further damage to Los Osos’ threatened drinking water supply and probable litigation. The man pulling the strings behind the scenes of both scandals could pay at the polls in 2010, if voters take a deeper look…

It’s not sexy like the Edge/Wilcox scandal, but the Los Osos Public Comment scandal and coverup will cost Los Osos and County taxpayers millions of dollars more in rigged contracts, costs increases, additional fees and charges, further damage to Los Osos’ threatened drinking water supply and probable litigation. The man pulling the strings behind the scenes of both scandals could pay at the polls in 2010, if voters take a deeper look…

By ED OCHS

The cloud over Los Osos has barely moved all summer. Neither has the cloud beneath the cloud.

It’s been a long season of disappointment and discontent for homeowners unfortunate enough to live in Los Osos’ infamous Prohibition Zone. The fight against the County’s costly, economically devastating and environmentally inferior gravity collection system has been all but lost, paving the way for the $200 million central sewer that a line of experts have long concluded to be unnecessary.

Lost in the fight for a better project was all hope for affordability, and with it a future in Los Osos for many of the town’s current homeowners who can’t afford to eventually pay up to $400 a month in additional property taxes and rising sewer fees and charges, every month for the next 30 years.

Yet, it was County Public Works and Board of Supervisors clearly on the defensive at the July 14 monthly update on the Los Osos Wastewater Project (LOWWP).

The County was seeking the Planning Commission’s Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and approval of its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the LOWWP. Emboldened by the Planning Commission’s more open deliberations on key issues, Los Osos residents were ready for public comment on the update with a combination of vital information and stinging criticism, as they attempted to leave their mark on the five-man board that will ultimately decide the fate of the Los Osos project and therefore the community.

Led by even-handed, fair-minded Chairwoman Sarah Christie, the Planning Commission conducted a painstaking public review of Los Osos input and options that the County had long since ignored or dismissed. The Commission’s revisions to the project, such as moving the sewer off the Tonini site and closer to town, over the groundwater basin, rejecting sprayfields for disposal of tertiary-treated effluent—cornerstones of the County’s proposed project—had apparently affected Ogren’s willingness to face Los Osos residents on July 14.

In fact, Ogren, Environmental Specialist Mark Hutchinson and Grants Administrator John Diodati did not show up for the July 14 monthly update, their absence unexplained by the Chairman. It was only Public Work’s monthly update of the $200 million Los Osos Wastewater Project, and three-quarters of the Public Work Department project team couldn’t make it to work.


Efforts on hold

Project Engineer John Waddell was left to deliver a downbeat progress report, prompted by Public Works’ unhappiness with the focus and pace of the extended Planning Commission hearings.

Noted Waddell, with more Planning Commission hearings ahead in July and August, “The time before the Planning Commission has had an impact on the design-build process.

“As you (the board) know, a short list of design-build teams was established in April. The next step then would be the release of the Requests for Proposals (RFP). Based on prior direction, the project team was focusing on the RFP for the collection system. However, since the end of April when the Planning Commission hearings were continued, those efforts have been on hold.”

Also on hold, according to Waddell, was the project budget. It had all been basically spent or allocated through the end of the fiscal year of June 30. Millions more would be needed to continue funding work on the project. Public Works would soon be requesting, and receiving, millions more from the board.

“But,” Waddell restated, “all essential work on the project is on hold right now as we go through the Planning Commission hearings. There’s no efforts going on related to working on the RFPs or the facilities plan. Basically only essential efforts needed to be responsive to the Coastal Commission are what’s going on.”
 
Worse for Waddell than delivering the update on this Tuesday afternoon in July, he was the last man standing from Public Works and would have to bear public comment alone.

During days of hearings spread over months, the Planning Commission had taken extensive public comment from all sides of the sewer debate, including from Ogren nemesis Dana Ripley, author of the 2006 Ripley Pacific “Los Osos Wastewater Management Plan Update,” as well as Sierra Club’s Andrew Christie and Los Osos Sustainability Group’s Keith Wimer, along with others who felt they hadn’t received the same fair, open and honest hearing from the Board of Supervisors that they did from the Planning Commission.

By giving an ear to Ripley and STEP proponents, Christie and the Planning Commission had breathed new life into Los Osos Sustainability Group members and allies, whose goals Gibson had prematurely crushed on April 7 when the board eliminated STEP collection and any alternatives from their promised design-build cost competition.

This day, with hopes raised anew for restoring STEP to the design-build phase, thanks primarily to Christie’s attempt at independent review, Los Osos speakers would be out for their three minutes each, a minute for each year of Gibson-Ogren plotting, resulting in a porous project needing a major makeover by a junior board, $7 million later, with millions more on the way to keep it afloat while under repair. 

New Rules
Facing increased protests from Los Osos homeowners after unilaterally breaking his promise and pulling the plug on STEP and alternatives in April, Gibson decided to change the rules for Los Osos public comment on off-Tuesdays when Los Osos wasn’t on the board’s agenda. He limited all comment on the Los Osos sewer to a total of 10 minutes, no matter how many people showed up to speak. This served to reduce public comment on Los Osos to two minutes per person, rather than the customary three.

Concerned about competing with friends and neighbors for limited air time, and of making the drive downtown and not being able to get heard at all, fewer speakers showed up over time. Gibson’s new rule had slowly begun to work: Less time, fewer speakers, less protest, silent go the sheep.

While ignoring public comment is one of the most effective weapons in the board’s arsenal against Los Osos—the board rarely responds—it is Gibson’s displays of anger during Los Osos public comment that reveal his elitist views about the democratic process, his dictatorial inclinations and deep-seeded biases.

The acerbic supervisor has made a habit of interrupting Los Ososans during their public comment. He turned off the microphone on Retired Judge Martha Goldin for mentioning MWH and Ogren in the same sentence during General Public Comment. He publically discredited Lisa Schicker’s complaint against MWH and Ogren before reading the full submission, and, on August 4, he tried to embarrass Keith Wimer, one of Los Osos’ most respected citizens, by questioning his credentials for reporting on the increasing rate of seawater intrusion in the Los Osos groundwater basin and the failure of the County’s project to address overarching groundwater management issues.

Immediately after Wimer finished his three-minute presentation on seawater intrusion—a presentation inaudible to television and online viewers because of sound difficulties that lasted for the duration of his comments and his comments alone—Gibson cross-examined him from the bench.

“Mr. Wimer, your analysis of seawater intrusion is based on whose technical analysis? I’m just curious who di
d the work?”

“I did… ,” said Wimer.

“I’m just curious as to your qualifications on hydrogeology,” Gibson inquired.

“I don’t have to be a hydrogeologist,” answered Wimer. “All I have to be able to do is read.”
 
“OK,” said Gibson, “So you’re not a hydrogeologist. That’s all I needed to know, Mr. Wimer. Thank you.”

“Next speaker is … ”

History of abuse
Few politicians, local or national, have developed such a documented history of abusing power in such a brief time as Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose 2nd district includes Los Osos.

As board sewer whip, Gibson’s close partnership with Ogren on driving the MWH gravity project for Los Osos, and Ogren’s failure to produce a project acceptable to the Planning Commission and Coastal Commission, may come back to haunt him. Gibson, Cayucos resident and wealthy land owner, may have difficulty getting reelected in 2010, if a candidate emerges that listens more closely to Los Osos concerns. Many in Los Osos who voted for him in 2006 won’t be repeating in 2010, and Gibson has few successes to boast about as Chairperson of a board sitting atop a volcano of corruption and scandal that has exploded under his administration.

While Gibson’s decisions are clearly one-sided, as his aggressive pursuit of his big-money agenda is relentless, it’s the disdain he doles out to constituents, most who voted for him and who now challenge him, that is the attracting the most attention.

In April former LOCSD board president Lisa Schicker filed a formal complaint with the County, supported by 100-plus pages of documentation, against contractor MWH for bid-rigging and Ogren for conflict of interest involving MWH. County Counsel Warren Jensen, echoed by Supervisor Patterson, promised a written report to be posted on the County’s website within weeks. Weeks passed. Nothing from Jensen,

Reacting to public pressure in May, an angry Gibson railed in public with Schicker in the gallery, “I see nothing of substance, nothing in any way credible about the material Miss Schicker has brought forward. 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 was troubled that Gibson had to resort to what amounted to a verbal “public flogging” as a response to her 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.”
    
After months of silence on what became 1,300 pages of documentation by Schicker, Jensen finally issued a “preliminary legal evaluation” on August 18. Based on Jensen’s and Gibson’s earlier remarks, it should have been no surprise to any Los Osos observer that Jensen’s long-delayed “evaluation” turned out to be little more than a two-page letter of dismissal of all allegations against Ogren and MWH.

1,300 pages and not a word of it true, no facts that connect, not a drop of concern by the County for the taxpayers who must foot the bill for the cost of corruption. Schicker might as well have filed blank pages or not filed at all. The message was clear. MWH and Ogren were good to go, pure as the driven snow.

Los Osos Updates
Besides geography, Los Osos and current County staff have something else more relevant in common: Neither has experienced building a sewer before, nothing remotely on the magnitude of Los Osos, with its catalog of unique characteristics. And nothing remotely as costly, in terms of money spent, homes lost and lives wrecked.

In an unprecedented move for an unprecedented project, the County sets aside the first Tuesday afternoon of every month for an update by Public Works on the status of the proposed Los Osos Wastewater Project and to receive public comment on staff’s report. The County started the Los Osos Monthly Updates sessions in 2007, after taking over the project upon passage of Assembly Bill 2701 the previous year.

No other community in the County is singled out for such a bloc of government time each month, only Los Osos, Then again, no other community in the County is ultimately being taxed up to $400 a month (most of that appearing on homeowners’ property tax statement, the rest in fees and charges). No homeowner in any community in the U.S. is paying as much for sewer service to flush their toilet as they will in Los Osos. And that sewer tax largely targets only a select group of homeowners within the community, those living in the so-called “Prohibition Zone” —not the entire district, nor those homes in the PZ situated on an acre or more.

Aided by the intense lobbying efforts of Gail McPherson working for the County within the community, the County managed to convince most in Los Osos to trust the County process through the successful “blank-check” Proposition 218 vote in 2007, up to the moment of truth in April 2009 when the County abandoned the so-called “process” and any pretense of cooperation with the community along with it. Trusting the process shaped public comment for years and gave the community County control, MWH and gravity.

Public comment at monthly updates has almost always featured a few speakers chiding the County, staff or process, occasionally in a raised voice, sometimes in the race to beat the three-minute clock. However, the majority believed the County would “do the right thing” and keep its promise for a head-to-head comparison of the top collection systems, including alternative technologies, to determine the most cost-effective project for the officially disadvantaged community.

All that changed on April 7 when it suddenly became apparent to those who formerly trusted the County up to that point that they had been strung along and betrayed. To those who paid attention and already knew, and to those who now knew in hindsight, it was clear that the County never had any intention of keeping its promise to homeowners who voted for the 218—in no small part because of County’s promise to compare real system costs for the best value.

Following his edict to exclude STEP, Chairman Gibson responded to a wave of criticism by capping comment about Los Osos at board meetings, except in Los Osos’ designed update time slot. He enacted the 10-minute rule on non-update Tuesdays, and became even more confrontive toward Los Osos speakers, interrupting any speaker during General Public Comment who mentioned “Los Osos” or “sewer” or anyone involved in it.

In May, County Counsel Jensen emerged from his legal haze of sex and corruption scandals only long enough to declare the Gibson had authority within the Brown Act to limit public comment.

By the time the August 4 update rolled around, three weeks after the July update, the Planning Commission had held two more meetings. As bold and brave as Chairwoman Christie appeared earlier in the hearings, seeming to open up the debate anew, she suddenly decided not to make a stand for STEP. Instead, she backed off any further effort to advance STEP and allowed gravity to proceed uncontested, despite the huge cost difference in systems, in their impacts, and her own deep environmental concerns addressed only by STEP.

As a result, County
staff was feeling better about itself at the August 4 update, apart from the many changes conditioning the permit that made staff appear somewhat less in charge before the Planning Commission. Ogren even made an appearance at the podium after public comment, not before, to talk about the overall status of the ISJ process and other topics such as harvest wells. He droned on for several minutes, spinning webs with words, reminding anyone who might wish otherwise that he is still very much the Public Works Director.

Rubbing in salt
Gibson was back on the prowl again, looking for payback, and focused his glare on Keith Wimer of the Los Osos Sustainability Group, who he blamed for creating a wedge issue by convincing the Planning Commission and Coastal Commission that the County’s project would do nothing to stop seawater intrusion in the basin, which Wimer called “out of control.”

To further minimize Wimer’s warning, supported by LOCSD documents, a bristling Gibson turned to District Engineer Rob Miller and coaxed him into admitting that seawater intrusion could be eliminated by the water purveyors alone, according to Gibson, through “a redistribution of pumping patterns that actually halt seawater intrusion.” At the same time he was admitting that addressing seawater intrusion was not part of the $200 million wastewater project, but rather up to the purveyors, not the County, to fix—and basin users to pay for.

Gibson: “So without the wastewater project at all, it would be possible to stop seawater intrusion if the purveyors were to change their pumping practices in the basin.”

Miller: “The model predicts that that’s possible, but there are challenges in actually getting that water out of the ground…”

Gibson, interrupting: “But it’s conceptual and that’s why this result is so important. Because when you analyze the other situation, which was I guess the proposed wastewater project which brings a certain amount back to Broderson, the safe yield to the purveyors drops by 50 acre feet a year and you’re suggesting that could be covered by conservation, but again 2050 acre feet a year could be produced with seawater intrusion stopped.”

Miller: “When we say it’s stopped, it’s probably better to say managed, because there is a small fraction over on the west side that will have some chlorides coming into those wells. It’s maintained below 250 milligrams per liter, safe to manageable levels …”

Gibson, interrupting: “It meets safe drinking water standards.”

Take that, Mr. Seawater Intrusion.

Upon closing public comment, previous Board Chairmen, including most recently Supervisor Patterson, used to ask other board members if they had any comment on any of the public comment they just heard. Gibson doesn’t even ask.

Now, to respond to Los Osos public comment a supervisor would have to interrupt Gibson in the act of calling for the next item on the board’s agenda. Rarely do any of the other supervisors interrupt to comment or ask a question, as if they either lack the intellectual curiosity or courage to inquire any further than Gibson allows, or they have been told not to ask any questions.

The next monthly update of the Los Osos Wastewater Project—and public comment—will be held in Board of Supervisors Chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 1.

County Counsel Tries to Bury Schicker’s MWH/Ogren Complaint

Warren Jensen’s belated response to Lisa Schicker’s MWH/Ogren complaint paves the way for MWH to move forward, without legal impediments, in the design-build phase of the wastewater project as No. 1 contractor on the County’s handpicked short lists for both collection and treatment. At the same time, Counsel’s disclaimer shields the board. Schicker’s reaction…

Warren Jensen’s belated response to Lisa Schicker’s MWH/Ogren complaint paves the way for MWH to move forward, without legal impediments, in the design-build phase of the wastewater project as No. 1 contractor on the County’s handpicked short lists for both collection and treatment. At the same time, Counsel’s disclaimer shields the board. Schicker’s reaction…

It was four months in the making but didn’t waste any ink getting to the point.

It only took two pages for County Counsel Warren Jensen to dismiss former LOCSD board president Lisa Schicker’s complaint against Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH) for bid-rigging and Public Works Director Paavo Ogren for conflict of interest involving MWH.

Schicker was disappointed but, having heard Jensen and Supervisor Gibson’s earlier public dismissals, not surprised by Jensen’s response, or lack of one. “I think Jensen’s response was hasty, premature and prompted by public pressure and the upcoming Board meeting to certify the faulty EIR and Coastal permit,” she told The Rock. “The main points of the complaint appear to be purposely ignored and the responses carefully crafted to avoid including anything of substance, especially all the evidence submitted after April 30, 2009.”

After Schicker first raised her complaint on April 7, followed by a promised response from Counsel—followed by months of silence on the serious allegations— Jensen’s August 18 “Preliminary Legal Evaluation of Materials Submitted by Lisa Schicker Regarding Paavo Ogren, Montgomery Watson Harza, and Related Matters” was little more than a wholesale, cursory dismissal of all allegations.

Jensen acknowledges in his posted legal opinion that time constraints played a major role in both delaying and limiting his response. “Time does not permit detailed discussion at this point. In the interest of releasing this preliminary evaluation without further delay…,” he issued what amounted to a pardon in advance, clearing a path for MWH to dominate design-build and for Ogren to continue heading the project without the appearance of wrongdoing shadowing him.

Jensen’s inability to provide a complete review of all the material submitted by Schicker, he says, was “due to staffing constraints and an increase in competing demands on our time beginning in early May.” A few of Jensen’s “competing demands” were the Edge/Wilcox scandal and their subsequent firings, settlements and potential lawsuits, a closed session leak, a corruption outbreak in Public Works road maintenance, a budgeting crunch crisis, and the siege of Sunny Acres.

It wasn’t just time and circumstances that held back his report. Schicker’s expanding evidence file was “now in excess of 1,300 pages,” stated Jensen. It kept growing. “As time permits, or as the Board directs, we will complete our review of the remaining materials and announce our conclusions.”

The Board should “absolutely” direct Jensen to complete his review and then announce his conclusions, said Schicker. “Many important facts have been completely ignored. Focusing on my cover emails is an excuse not to investigate.”

Jensen missed a lot, Schicker contends, and Jensen’s statement confirms that. By his own admission, his evaluation did not include any material submitted after April 30, when the bulk of material was submitted after May. That material is not included and remains unevaluated in Jensen’s August 18 opinion. He plainly acknowledges that his review is incomplete, inconclusive, that he hasn’t had time to read everything, or anymore than he’s already read—the amount of which isn’t clear¬—and won’t unless the Board of Supervisors so directs him.

At the same time, Counsel’s response shields the board from a host of liabilities. To further protect them, Jensen will not call for the board to investigate itself, nor seek an independent investigator to do it. He will not assist Schicker in proving her claims again his client, the County.

To the contrary, he has officially dismissed Schicker claims, laying the legal groundwork for rejection of her claims by any local judge. Schicker can hire as attorney to represent her complaint to the Board in legalese, but that hardly guarantees the Board of Supervisors will pay any more attention to Schicker’s attorney that they did to her, and a lawsuit against the County or MWH has a citizen’s chance in hell of succeeding in the politically sealed courts of San Luis Obispo County.

The Tribune trumpeted news of Jensen’s delayed “findings” under the headline, “Conflict-of-interest charges dismissed.” Said Schicker about the finality of the word ‘dismissed’ in the headline, “The report was clearly labeled as ‘preliminary.’ It is incomplete and most of the evidence that was referenced in the April cover letters was submitted in May, in order to assist Jensen because he told me he was ‘swamped with work’—which turned out to the Edge/Wilcox corruption scandal and the Public Works theft scandal.”

Schicker noted that Jensen apparently didn’t let the facts get in the way of his opinion. “For example,” she said. “it is a fact that Ogren was hired by the LOCSD in 1999, and as interim general manager he requested that new manager-to-be Bruce Buel backdate a contract with MWH, which was determined that falsification of records, such as the backdating of a contract, is a felony, according to the DA. Evidence was provided.

“It is a fact,” Schicker continued, “that MWH is suing the LOCSD and that both Carollo and Ogren hired them in 2006 and 2007, without the required legal waivers. It is a fact that Ogren did not disclose his long history and prior business relationships with Lou Carella and the Wallace group, both as an employee, a paid consultant, and a public employee with authority to let contracts and spend taxpayer money.

“It is a fact that Lou Carella and Wallace Group sat on the interview panel and shortlisted their prior business partner, MWH. It is a fact that Lou Carella conducted all the phone interviews and reference checks , then added those scores to all five panel members who shortlisted the teams for the project.

“It is a fact that Warren Jensen, Gail Wilcox and Paavo Ogren crafted the County’s needs for AB 2701 that allowed the County to sole source large engineering contracts without any competitive bidding, as is normally required for any project over $10,000.

Finally, said Schicker, “The statements made by Jensen regarding hearsay and opinion were unfounded, each and every one of them. It is apparent that the County did not conduct any investigation of their own. … Jensen was given his ‘marching orders’…”

While the quality of Jensen’s response to the allegations is intentionally underwhelming in its brevity and lack of specifics, the intent is quite clear. It is MWH’s ticket to move forward, without legal impediments, in the design-build phase of the wastewater project as top contractor on the short lists for both collection and treatment. It keeps Ogren in the driver’s seat of the MWH juggernaut, and substantially defends a troublesome point of attack for gravity collection opponents.

Schicker hasn’t decided how she will proceed with her complaint at this point. “If the County is unwilling to dig into the reasons behind the latest $7 million spending fiasco—money spent on sole sourced contracts—then this complaint and others like it need to go forward to the Department of Justice and the stimulus funding people,” she said.

“There are many of us who are interested in getting justice for the citizens of Los Osos. We have been abused by government for too long, and we have paid too much in our tax bills for County government mistakes over the years. Our taxes have been collected, but where are our parks, why are our roads and drainage in such a disastrous state and where is our in
frastructure? All ignored over the past 30-plus years.

“Instead,” Schicker said, “our taxes went to inflated County salaries of many corrupt and/or unethical employees while the Los Osos infrastructure has rotted from years of neglect and lack of funding. It’s time for SLO County to come clean with Los Osos. No more rip-offs, lies, coverups and excuses.”

In an August 18 email response from Jensen to Santa Margarita blogger Ron Crawford (http://sewerwatch.blogspot.com), who questioned, among other points, Jensen’s legal criteria for determining conflict of interest, Jensen responded:
 
 “… Even if Mr. Ogren did everything you cite, that would not amount to a legally cognizable “conflict of interest.” To have a legally cognizable conflict of interest, Mr. Ogren would have to have (1) a financial interest in MWH, or (2) a common law conflict of interest. There is no indication in Ms. Schicker’s materials that Mr. Ogren has a financial interest in MWH (i.e., that he has an ownership interest in the company or that he receives financial benefits in the form of income, loans, or gifts). Nor is there any indication in Ms. Schicker’s materials of anything that would amount to a common law conflict of interest. The facts you cite do not raise (sic) to that level, in my opinion. … In no case does Ms. Schicker set forth facts that show either a financial conflict of the type I described above, or facts that show a common law conflict of interest.”

In other words, unless Schicker produces a photo or video of a MWH bagman handing Paavo an envelope that says “Payoff Money,” with thousand dollar bills sticking out of it, even then … no matter what Schicker says, the Big Sewer Show must go on.

—Ed Ochs

#

Preliminary Legal Evaluation of Materials Submitted by Lisa Schicker Regarding  Paavo Ogren, Montgomery Watson Harza, and Related Matters

Prepared by Warren R. Jensen, County Counsel, San Luis Obispo County
August 18, 2009

Materials Evaluated. Ms. Schicker submitted materials to the Board of Supervisors and/or County Counsel beginning on about April 7, 2009. Due to staffing constraints, and an increase in competing demands on our time beginning in early May, County Counsel has not been able to complete review of all of the materials submitted, which are now in excess of 1,300 pages. This evaluation is based on complete review of the materials submitted in April, 2009 and some of the other materials subsequently submitted. As time permits, or as the Board directs, we will complete our review of the remaining materials and announce our conclusions.
 
General Evaluation of the Materials. A variety of materials has been submitted by Ms. Schicker. Few of the documents evaluated so far are original source documents and few of the documents come from impartial sources. Many of the pages reviewed were authored by Ms. Schicker or others who have staked out partisan positions that are consistently at odds with County staff. Many of these documents would not be admissible in a civil action because they are inadmissible hearsay, and/or they are lay opinions without foundation, and/or they simply are not probative. Perhaps the materials submitted beginning in May 2009 will prove to be different, but a sampling indicates that they are not significantly different in character.

Preliminary Conclusions. Based on my review of the materials submitted before May 2009, and a sampling of some of the materials submitted thereafter, my preliminary conclusions are as follows:

1. No Conflict of Interest Proven for Paavo Ogren. Although Ms. Schicker repeatedly asserts her opinion that Mr. Ogren has various conflicts of interest, she does not provide specific identification of those conflicts or reliable evidence of such conflicts. The “evidence” she submitted consists almost exclusively of her personal opinions, without corroborating details or documentation. Such “evidence” would be inadmissible in court and does not seem substantial enough to warrant further consideration.

2. No Illegal Contract Proven Between LOCSD and MWH. Ms. Schicker has not provided all of the relevant original source documents, at least in the materials reviewed to date. If we accept the secondary materials that Ms. Schicker submitted at face value, the most that she has shown about the contract between LOCSD and MWH is that there was a procedural defect in the manner in which it was executed. Ms. Schicker’s materials completely fail to deal with the possibility that any such defect was subsequently cured by ratification of the contract. Such ratification is implicit in the LOCSD Board’s repeated subsequent payment of invoices submitted by MWH, including one invoice that expressly seeks payment for services provided before the September 1, 1999 effective date. In addition, the LOCSD Board repeatedly amended that contract, each time implicitly endorsing the original contract. Moreover, Ms. Schicker’s written materials completely ignore the concept of promissory estoppel, under which a government entity can be required to pay for services that are rendered prior to the execution of a written contract where the entity induced the contractor to provide those services based on unwritten assurances that the work would be covered by a future contract. That appears to be exactly what happened according to the memo prepared by Bruce Buel, and included in the materials submitted by Ms. Schicker.

3. No Negative Inferences Justifiable, based on Pendency of Investigations. Ms. Schicker refers to various pending investigations and seems to draw the conclusion that the mere pendency of these investigations is a reason to avoid dealing with MWH. Logically, this makes no sense because anyone can trigger an investigation and therefore the mere pendency of an investigation means nothing about the validity of the triggering complaint. Only when a neutral investigative body has reached a conclusion is there a reasonable basis for negative inferences.

4. No Negative Inferences Justifiable, based on Cape Coral Situation. Ms. Schicker refers to a controversy involving a wastewater project constructed by MWH in Cape Coral, Florida. She submitted newspaper coverage reporting on allegedly excessive costs incurred and she submitted newspaper coverage of an Attorney General opinion criticizing the City of Cape Coral. No original source documents were included in the materials evaluated. Newspaper articles are not admissible evidence in court and are not substantial enough to warrant further investigation. Perhaps there are original source documents in the materials that have not yet been reviewed. If so, they will be considered. At this point, however, no negative inferences can reasonably be drawn from the materials evaluated.

5. No Negative Inferences Justifiable, based on MWH Filing of Bankruptcy Claims or Other Litigation. Ms. Schicker refers to the fact that MWH has filed a claim against the LOCSD in the Bankruptcy filed by the LOCSD and seems to draw the conclusion that the mere filing of a claim was improper. This is completely illogical. Two other creditors of LOCSD also filed claims against LOCSD. Were their claims improper too? The actual outcome of those claims, after arbitration, was that these two creditors had valid claims for $10 million.

6. No Other Negative Inferences Warranted. Numerous other claims of impropriety are advanced by Ms. Schicker in the materials reviewed. Time does not permit detailed discussion at this point. In the interest of releasing this preliminary evaluation without further delay, suffice it to say that the materials evaluated did not support any other inferences of impropriety in the County’s efforts pursuant to AB 2701.

Respectfully submitted,

WARREN R. JENSEN
County Counsel

Best of Summer Public Comment: Los Osos Residents Fight Back Against Gibson Gag With Wit, Knowledge and Advice

Public comment on the Los Osos wastewater project at Board of Supervisors’ monthly updates is the time when no good deed goes unpunished, as  Supervisor Gibson and idling board sidekicks turn the vice tighter and tighter on critics of the County’s town-sweeping $200-million megasewer built on the flimsiest foundation of lies and fraud. Following is a just a sampling of the vital public comment from Los Osos residents at monthly project updates on July 14 and August 4—ignored or dismissed by a board that almost never responds. We bring back some folks for an encore because public comment passes too quickly and should not be so quickly forgotten…

Public comment on the Los Osos wastewater project at Board of Supervisors’ monthly updates is the time when no good deed goes unpunished, as  Supervisor Gibson and idling board sidekicks turn the vice tighter and tighter on critics of the County’s town-sweeping $200-million megasewer built on the flimsiest foundation of lies and fraud. Following is a just a sampling of the vital public comment from Los Osos residents at monthly project updates on July 14 and August 4—ignored or dismissed by a board that almost never responds. We bring back some folks for an encore because public comment passes too quickly and should not be so quickly forgotten…

GWEN TAYLOR ON LISA SCHICKER’S COMPLAINT: “We have waited a very long time to hear a determination by (County Counsel) Warren Jensen on the documentation of assertions that Miss Schicker brought to the County. I would hope that today would be the day that we hear what he has to say about the documentation that she presented to this board, since we have been here for several Tuesdays expecting it but always being told it was going to be postponed.”

Dr. C. HITE ON SEWER SCAMS: “Anyone who pretends that a $250 a month sewer bill is not going to affect homeownership in Los Osos is just pulling my leg… My mother lives in a resort town on a lake and pays $33 a month. Does my mother have the right to live in a resort community overlooking without being taxed $250 a month sewer bill? Yes she does. If she were hit by her County with a $250 a month sewer bill we would consider it a scam and potential elder abuse… Her decision to stay in her home now is dependent on what her bills are. She would not be expecting a $250 a month sewer bill (when) she is paying $33.”

DAVID DUGGAN ON CEQA IMPLICATIONS: “It’s not the environmentally preferred project, it’s the County’s preferred project—the opposite of what CEQA is trying to tell you to do. They want the environmentally preferred project, unless costs make it unfeasible… Without studying all the treatment alternatives, how are you going to say the cost is a factor here? You don’t have that assessment. … CEQA regulations clearly state that you have to look at all alternatives. If that has not been done, any responsible agency can shut this project down—or change it.”

GAIL McPHERSON ON THE BROKEN PROCESS: “The concern has always been about cost. Project cost savings are realized through three things. The first is competitive process of design-build—you’ve lost that. It can’t happen unless the project criteria will allow competitive and creative alternative designs and differing technologies to compete. That’s been blown out, that’s gone. The work to drive down costs is what people believed when they were voting for the 218 vote… Bid-rigging is not foreign to the County or other agencies, and of course it causes harm and taxpayers pay the price. I believe that bid-rigging has occurred in subcontracts, bid suppression, complementary bidding, and it’s gone on for a long time here.”

KEITH WIMER ON SEAWATER INTRUSION: “What you are looking at is the progress of seawater intrusion since 2005. What’s in yellow is the progress of seawater intrusion for the 20 years prior to that. We’re talking about what at least appears to be a major increase in the rate of seawater intrusion in the basin—four to eight times as fast. The first overhead actually shows [lower aquifer] Zone D seawater intrusion progress and, as you can see, the actual front edge of seawater intrusion is way under the downtown and commercial area. Zone E is a huge aquifer, so we’re talking about massive amounts of water being contaminating, huge percentages of the basin. The final overhead shows where we are in relation to the entire basin and the fact that it tapers off, so the progress of seawater intrusion could even be more rapid. Seawater intrusion is out of control in the Los Osos Valley water basin and immediate action is needed. Waiting even a few years could be too late. That’s why the Los Osos Sustainability Group is asking you to support the Planning Commission’s conditions on the Los Osos Wastewater Project for 20% conservation and using all the recycled water beneficially at project start-up. The LOSG is also now asking your board to implement a basin-wide management plan to stop seawater intrusion by stopping all pumping causing seawater intrusion within one year of project start-up. That will take about 800 [acre] feet of reduced pumping. This can be done by maximizing conservation, ag reuse and ag exchange with the project, and by implementing a basin-wide plan that does the same thing. You didn’t create the problem, but you are the only ones who can fix it. It must be done now, and it must be done with a basin-wide ordinance—you are the only ones who can enact such ordinance. You are about to okay a $100-200 million wastewater project that won’t be worth a dime if the basin is lost. What it comes down to is this: You can fix the problem with all the means at your disposal or you can preside over what is likely to be one of the biggest environmental, social and economic disasters this county has seen or is likely to see in the future. The decision is yours.”  

FRANK AUSILIO ON WHO PAYS FOR SEAWATER INTRUSION:
“My concern is that the additional cost that’s going to be for saltwater intrusion [is going to be] put on the people of the Prohibition Zone. This is a basin issue, not a Prohibition Zone issue. Seawater intrusion affects everybody in the basin. Everybody uses that water and everybody should be responsible for paying for that water.”

RHIAN GULASSA ON HOW TO AVOID A ‘TRAINWRECK’:
“The staff has spent about $7 million so far and the result is a trainwreck. Dedicated citizens of Los Osos came here week after week warning you of these very issues. Mr. Gibson, when you became Chair, you chose to limit Los Osos public comment time, saying you that you had heard it all before, but were you actually listening? You, our Board of Supervisors, can help resolve the problems (Coastal Commission) Director (Peter) Douglas identified: No. 1, by adopting the Planning Commission’s conditions; No. 2, by using the Los Osos Sustainability Group’s conservation and water management program; and No. 3, by creating a strong basin management plan to stop seawater intrusion within one year of project start-up.”

CHRIS ALLEBE ON UNKNOWN COST OF BACKWARDS PROJECT: “We can’t say what’s going to happen until we spend $200 million on a project. The County doesn’t seem to have an answer to that except, ‘Well, we’ll find out after we build the project whether it’s successful or not’ … You don’t spend $200 million on a maybe. Eventually, unless we grow fins and tails, we’ll be getting our water down at Trader Joe’s and taking sponge baths for the rest of our lives.”

CHUCK CESENA ON CORRUPTION OF DESIGN-BUILD PROCESS: “Today I am reminded of the first time I addressed the LOCSD on this project. It was December of 2003 and I had just discovered that the engineering reports clearly stated that it would be cheaper to build and operate a treatment plant at the environmentally preferred out of town site even though the 2001 EIR had contained a Statement of Overriding Considerations alluding to the lower coast of a centralized collection system as the reason the plant had to be built in the middle of town. In my mind that was fraud, pure and simple. I remember stating that I was trying to convince myself that it was the consultant who had constructed that deception because it hurt too much to believe that public officials could have been responsible. But being a lifetime staffer at a public works agency myself, I knew that consultants rarely go where they are not directed to go, and they certainly would not override their own
conclusions with a deceptive Statement of Overriding Considerations. Your Public Works Department just spent $7 million on an EIR that didn’t even satisfy your own agricultural policies, much less the Coastal Commission’s. If you are not shaking in your boots, either because of anger or fear, something is wrong. The questions asked by your incredibly brave and honest Planning Commission, and the comments from the Coastal Commission, are leading the project back to something very similar to the 2006 ‘Project Update’ that the LOCSD had prepared. A project with treatment facilities located north of the cemetery with effluent disposal based upon an agricultural reuse program within the Los Osos groundwater basin. The only difference is that we believed that a STEP system—with its totally fusion-sealed collection system—would be necessary to deal with the infiltration and inflows inherent in a gravity collection system. The extra cost of treating more water than necessary because of I&I from our high groundwater, and the possibility of saltwater leaking into the collection system rendering the effluent unsuitable for reuse, made a truly sealed system imperative. The fact that this system was guaranteed to be 20% cheaper than a gravity system in your Public Works Department’s RFQ process makes it even more attractive. Why was STEP ignored when it came time to short list the so-called qualified engineering teams? Public works says that a 20% savings wasn’t enough and that the engineering team wasn’t intimately familiar with Los Osos. This in spite of the fact that the Lyles team included Ripley Pacific, the author of the CSD’s 2006 ‘Project Update.’ The proposal outlined by Ripley Pacific was credible enough to be included in the 2007 ‘Water Reuse’ textbook co-authored by Dr. George Tchobanoglous of the NWRI, a non-profit research institute hired by the Public Works agency to review the current proposal. Dr. Tchobanoglous verbally stated that he was struggling not to use the words ‘gravity biased’ regarding the current proposal. Your $7 million EIR discarded a STEP system from further consideration because of a faulty greenhouse gas emissions study that was refuted by the Lyles team and a community survey that claimed that residents did not want the on-lot disturbance associated with replacing septic tanks. But without a maximum cost proposal from an engineering firm, how were residents to know how much they could save with a STEP system? And the extremely small lots in some parts of town could be handled by neighborhood cluster tanks, as are two subdivisions that currently exist in our community. The design-build process has been totally corrupted by the Public Works Department. You have to bring the design-build process back into control. Take it away from Public Works…”

ELAINE WATSON ON ACHIEVING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE:
“You all are obviously aware of the position that the Planning Commission, the Coastal Commission, even water purveyors (such as) Golden State have taken on the use of Tonini and sprayfields outside our water basin. They’re saying the very same things that Los Osos residents have been coming here and saying for many, many months now. Tonini, in the words of Coastal Commission Executive Director [Peter Douglas], is ‘an impending trainwreck,’ a trainwreck because once again it uses prime ag land and literally wastes vast amounts of our precious water. Getting rid of Tonini is the first step. Water must come back to our basin and we must stop seawater intrusion. The one and only way we can accomplish this is through conservation. A Pacific Institute Report found that California can meet its water needs for the next 30 years by implementing off-the-shelf, cost-effective urban water conservation. Keith Wimer and the Los Osos Sustainability Group have brought you eminently implementable suggestions on how to do it, and begin it now with ordinances if necessary. Retrofit low-use toilets, shower heads, washing machines, zeroscape landscaping, etc. Begin water audits, with leak detection and repairs. Over the longer term initiate LID technologies, from the collection system that is least prone to leakage and breakage, and despite the Provincetown event, this would still probably be small field pipes. Design a recharge and disposal system that efficiently returns our water to our basin. Be certain treatment is as sustainable as possible. … Los Osos is unique and very fortunate. We have our own water source. Over-pumping and misuse can no longer be tolerated. Everyone who takes from this basin must participate in sustaining it. It is your responsibility to help us sustain and maintain a healthy, viable basin. It is eminently do-able, it is just a matter of vision and your political will to make it so.”

DR. MARY FULLWOOD ON ADVANCING STEP: “If STEP can provide the benefits that the Planning Commission is conditioning for the LOWWP and be more affordable within these parameters, why wouldn’t it be advanced to the RFP? Lyles has had a 100% advancement rate to RFPs until this project, and the reason given (by Public Works) was that they didn’t show intimate understanding of the issues in Los Osos. The Planning Commission has shown otherwise because Mr. (Dana) Ripley, one of Lyles’ consultants, has provided detailed, intimate input at the PC hearings. Additionally, Lyles is planning to bid a guaranteed maximum price proposal to prevent hidden costs from occurring during construction.”

RET. JUDGE MARTHA GOLDIN ON ADDRESSING SEAWATER INTRUSION: “The Los Osos Sustainability Group has presented to you more than once and again today plans that would help solve the saltwater intrusion problem. The Planning Commission was alarmed at information they received about saltwater intrusion in the basin. The Coastal Commission’s staff members are highly concerned and hopefully the Coastal Commissioners are concerned about the fact that the basin is going to be destroyed if we don’t stop saltwater intrusion. It is time for this board to direct staff to start looking at solutions that have been presented as do-able solutions, instead of having a staff that recalcitrantly goes out and tries to oppose every kind of change that would be environmentally sound and sustainable in our basin… If you directed staff to be a little creative we could have an environmentally sound treatment system that was not an industrial plant but used ponding or some other technology which would be green, attractive, unobtrusive and no doubt, with the slightest bit of education, not opposed by any of the landowners on the proposed closer-in sites that are within the basin, and they would help do the job of stopping saltwater intrusion.”
 
RICHARD MARGETSON ON LOST FUNDING OPTIONS: “It’s interesting that Mr. (Supervisor Adam) Hill can compose a question to Mr. Waddell about a treatment plant not located in this state, and Mr. Waddell can go on and on about the specifics of what happened there, but at the Planning Commission, when the Commissioners asked staff how much it would cost to seal 5.2 miles of pipe in the high groundwater area, for two days they couldn’t come up with an answer. … Funding. $7 million. You heard there’s hardly any money left. Everything’s been put on hold. I hope a component of this project that has not been put on hold is how we’re going to fund this project and the pursuit of the grants and the SRF process and the money from the Department of Agriculture, because at the last meeting there were a number of slides put up about what the funding possibilities were to get the cost down. Well, in consultation with Mr. Diodati, who I’m surprised is not here—I’m also surprised Mr. Ogren is not here today—two or those scenarios have been deemed unfeasible, and one of them is SRF funding with stimulus for 30 years at 1%. And I have an email to that affect from County staff. The Holy Grail is now out the door. So now what are we banking on? We’re banking on the new Ho
ly Grail that was brought before us today… Elimination of Tonini took the Commissioners less than a half an hour. It may have been less than 15 minutes. Unanimously they eliminated Tonini and wanted the project moved inside the basin. … For those who want Tri-W back, I want anyone in this County who’s been involved with this project to show me a document that says Tri-W is the environmentally preferred project without overriding considerations. Until that comes forward that site cannot come forward as an option.”

JERRI WALSH ON STAFF LOBBYING: “I’d like to bring a complaint to this board. I find it highly inappropriate for County staff on the Los Osos project to lobby via email and stir up sentiment against moving the project closer into our basin from the Tonini site. The recent sentimental letter in the Bay News decrying the Planning Commission’s suggestion of moving the sewer plant from the $7-million, prime-ag-land Tonini site because it was next to the graves of deceased military veterans was written by one of the landowners near to the cemetery, Mr. Branin, as a direct result of the email request sent to him by Mr. Waddell. I ask you, is it appropriate for County staff to send such emails lobbying behind the scenes against the County Planning Commission and Coastal Commission? Was this done on County time? Are we, the people of Los Osos, paying staff to lobby against saving our water by rejecting sprayfields at Tonini and bringing it back to Los Osos? Are you as supervisors supporting behind the scenes lobbying by staff, or do you find it as highly inappropriate as I do?”

ALON PERLMAN ON PREDICTING THE COUNTY’S ERRANT PLAN:
“There’s something very wrong with the system when ordinary citizens can come up with the same conclusions that regulatory agencies do… Now the people of Los Osos are even further out from the decision-making process.”

LiSA SCHICKER ON HER COMPLAINT SUMMARY: “I have prepared for you a seven-page summary (of my complaint against MWH and Public Works’ Paavo Ogren). Please, Supervisors, just skim the summary. If you do nothing else, skim the summary. Reading from page three: “It now that appears that Carollo, Lou Carella and John Wallace Associates had both financial and business relationships with the applicant, MWH, through prior LOCSD and County projects, including the LOCSD wastewater project and the design at Lopez Lake, and these projects were supervised by your Public Works Director. Both of these gentlemen served on the interview panel interviewing their former business partner, MWH. Mr. Carella conducted all the reference checks on all the interviews for all the terms. This is a conflict of interest.”

ERIC GREENING ON ‘CASH FOR CLUNKER’ SEWER:
“I have to make the kind of jaundiced observation that seeing what’s going on in Washington, DC with ‘Cash for Clunkers’ perhaps we need to forget all of the urgency, build the most obsolete, inefficient and polluting project we possibly can and use that to try to qualify for government money to demolish it as a ‘clunker’ so that we can finally get the funding to build something right. I’m hoping we don’t have to go that way but that seems to be the way the White House and Senate are pointing right now.” [Mr. Greening is not a resident of Los Osos.]

LINDE OWEN ON LOSS OF WATER TO TREES AND SHRUBS: “The project does little or nothing to address the loss of 1000 acre feet of effluent disposal that is currently taking care of landscape, shrubbery, and even some native areas that are now dependent on that water. This project addresses nothing about in one or two years removing every drop of that water for that habitat. It needs to address it. How are you going to get the water back, put it on Broderson and that’s going to take care of 5,000 septic tank disposals? That’s not going to happen. I think everybody is missing a very serious point… the loss of that water to the habitat that’s so important to Los Osos. So, if we don’t need trees and shrubs and bushes in Los Osos, yeah, this will be a great project.”

ELAINE WATSON ON ECO-IMPACTS OF TAKING SEPTICS OFF-LINE: “In a report on the water basin last Thursday we heard from a consultant who acknowledges that when septic tanks and leach fields are taken off line, Los Osos will see a dramatic change in our landscape vegetation and our precious ecosystem. I believe he called it the regime change, which is apparently a euphemism for a significant loss of wetlands vegetation and naturalized trees and plants that make up our present landscape. We also heard from Spencer Harris at the Planning Commission June 30 meeting that, as a consequence of the present project, Willow Creek will go dry because of the loss of several hundred acre feet that presently feed Willow Creek and the vegetation that runs along South Bay Blvd. The photograph that you’ve got is of Baywood in the 1930s. As you can see this was before Baywood was developed, before septic tanks and leach fields. As you can also see there is almost no vegetation. It is all sand and sage. When our septic tanks and leach fields are taken off line, and we no longer have the 1000 acre feet feeding these systems, what will Los Osos look like? What will Los Osos look like without Sweet Springs, without our trees, without our wetlands? These are what make Los Osos the special environment that it is. This is not a matter of if; the question is not whether it will happen, but how close it will come to returning to predevelopment. The experts agree. Everyone one understands. How will Broderson’s 440 acre feet of disposal, whether or not it percolates as we’re told it will, how will that replace the 990 acre feet we have now? The answer is, it won’t. It can’t. No one wants to see our community return to some approximation of the image that you’ve got and without water, which it most assuredly will. Where is the mitigation and the County plan for these issues? Why wasn’t this addressed in the EIR? Without a carefully crafted mitigation plan, the only recourse will be to use aquifer water to keep our trees alive, resulting in more plumbing, further exacerbating seawater intrusion. Seawater intrusion is the most significant threat to our aquifer. The Los Osos Sustainabilty Group has presented a comprehensive, integrated plan that addresses the potentially very severe impacts of seawater intrusion and the impacts on our ecosystem. Please re-read our recommendations carefully and please carefully consider what will happen without adequate remedy.”

RET. JUDGE MARTHA GOLDIN ON REVERSE MORTGAGE HAZARD: “It seems the more we change, the more we are the same. You have heard the 20-year-old comments by Pandora Nash Karner, among them the fact that the project being then planned by the County was going to cost over $200 million. Today’s guestimates, without considering operation and maintenance, without considering how to recharge the basin, is estimated to cost the homeowners of the Prohibition Zone $250 a month, or more, every month for 30 years. A number of years ago, one of the big proponents of the current County plan—it was a little different then, but basically massive, antiquated, so-called gravity sewer with lots of pump stations … cavalierly said, ‘well, if people can’t afford the $250 month they can get a reverse mortgage.’ So today I would like to make a few remarks about this wonderful tool for paying for a sewer. This is how it works, in case nobody has bothered to look at it. Your home is presumably worth $300,000. You have some equity in it, maybe a lot of equity in it, and you borrow $100,000 to pay for the sewer and to pay off the old mortgage, and to fix the roof and do whatever the place needs so that you can continue to live in it. You can either get this as a lump sum or you can get it on monthly payments. Now, you get to pay $15,000 or more right up front for closing costs, you
have to pay another $15,000 right up front for insurance that’s going to go on through the life of your loan, and of course you are paying, most likely, a variable interest rate. That money didn’t come for free. So now you’ve taken out the money and now, because in the United States we don’t have a single-payer decent healthcare system like other civilized countries do, you have a serious illness and you need $200,000 to pay for that exorbitant treatment. But you don’t have any equity left in your house, the only source of your income. That’s how people are expected to pay $250 a month plus for dumping their you-know-what down a wastewater treatment system.”

DR. MARY FULLWOOD ON STEP’S COST-SAVINGS:
“It is overwhelmingly clear that cost is PZ homeowners’ No. 1 concern and, as stated by (Project Engineer) John Waddell, the 12% fusion-sealing for gravity collection will add millions of dollars to the project. STEP, which is 100% fusion-sealed, would represent at minimum a 30% reduction in collection costs and a 20% reduction in treatment costs over gravity collection and treatment. This estimate made to the Planning Commission by the consultant to the Lyles design-build team. Why would you not verify this statement via the bidding process? All we are asking is for STEP to participate, for a direct comparison alongside gravity. We urge you to reconsider this significant issue and allow the RFP design-build process to do what it is designed to do.”

LEON GOLDIN ON ‘OTHER SOLUTIONS THAT MAY EXIST’: “I want to direct your attention to a paragraph on page four of the staff report … which states, ‘It is important to recognize that the groundwater pumping solution considered in the Cleath Harris Report is just one potential scenario, that other solutions may also exist, and that the ISJ parties have not agreed to a specific plan at this time. The next step in the ISJ process is the development of a basin management plan which will formalize the specific plan to balance the basin.’ Now, aren’t we entitled to find out what these other plans are? Now you may think, since my qualifications is I’m an inactive member of the State Bar, that I’m a nitpicker about this, but I’ve sat here and listened to a whole procession of things—‘shovel ready,’ we forgot about that, didn’t we? ‘There’s money on its way.’ A matter of fact, I think it was at the last meeting we heard it that was bankable because it had been put into some bill or other, which is dreaming of the worst kind. And then we come along with this (Cleath Harris Report). What’s going on here? And this report, by the way, costs the County almost $100,000. … Really, isn’t it time, particularly since despite the allegations at the beginning of this project that the wastewater project was not about water, we are discovering time and time again that it is about water. Don’t you as supervisors want to have a staff that when it says ‘other solutions may exist’ are going to tell you what those other solutions are? So at least you can have an informed judgment as to what you’re going to vote for?”

JULIE TACKER ON RISKS OF DRINKING BLENDED WATER: “(District Engineer) Mr. Miller’s presentation (on seawater intrusion) shifts reliance to the upper aquifer and its safe yield, largely depending on a blending of good lower aquifer water with bad upper aquifer water for supply to the people that live in Los Osos and drink water from purveyors. The definition of safe yield relates to quality and quantity. In 2006 … Cleath & Associates was hired to do a characterization study of the constituents in that upper aquifer. Let me read one sentence from the conclusion: ‘Use of the upper aquifer for a community drinking water supply is not without potential risks based on the documented wastewater influent.’ What that means is that medications, including hormones, solvents from gas stations and dry cleaning facilities, detergents, these are endocrine disrupting constituents that are pollutants that can’t be blended away. I would like a little more information about the LOCSD’s blending station. It was years in development. It was constructed some 10 months ago and is still not on line. … We’re going to be drinking wastewater in Los Osos. This was not analyzed in your EIR and I believe you have CEQA implications.”

ALON PERLMAN ON EXPERTS AND AQUIFERS: “I’m not a hydrogeologist, but I did have a career in applied science, with the production and interpretation of complex interdisciplinary documents, and during that time we had a tongue-in-check (line). There’s something called ‘The Journal of Irreproducible Results’ in that they identified as an expert as anybody who has made three correct, successive predictions. In other words, you don’t have to be a doctorate, you just have to be right. … You have to accept responsibility. Whoever takes on the Los Osos Wastewater Project takes on responsibility for the aquifer, and it’s very clear that since conditions that you cannot ignore was made by the Coastal Commission, the condition to have changed the project to supply tertiary water. Once this tertiary water is available, the County has magically transformed itself, not into a wastewater project implementer, but into a basin management implementer. Embrace your role as the stewards of the aquifer.”

— Compiled by Ed Ochs

The Freestyle Magic of Osaka Joe’s Sushi

Good news travels fast in Morro Bay. Since opening early summer, Osaka Joe’s Sushi, the brainfood child of entrepreneur Joe Yukich and Chef Hiroki Ohata, has rapidly gained a following for its high quality sushi, its small, cozy, relaxed café atmosphere, and friendly, attentive staff. But that’s only where Osaka Joe’s begins, or takes off…

Good news travels fast in Morro Bay. Since opening early summer, Osaka Joe’s Sushi, the brainfood child of entrepreneur Joe Yukich and Chef Hiroki Ohata, has rapidly gained a following for its high quality sushi, its small (seats 32, 10 at the bar), cozy, relaxed café atmosphere, and friendly, attentive staff. But that’s only where Osaka Joe’s begins, or takes off…

Behind Osaka Joe’s local chic is fine hotel dining at its gourmet best. Spinning out world-class creations from a colorful palette of international influences, Chef Hiro prepares sophisticated dishes that constantly dazzle with their visual appeal, amaze with their levels of time-release tastes and flavors, and delight with his magician’s finishing touch.

One of the top sushi chefs in Hawaii, Chef Hiro learned the art of French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, Cajun and Caribbean cuisines on land and sea until his passion for fusing the tastes of the world became his specialty. The secret of Osaka’s Joe’s success lies in the sushi master’s world of experience, his artistry, and his ability to surprise unsuspecting diners with new and exciting dishes that change in a flash the way people think about Japanese food.

Mixed Sunomono

If it’s rolls that rock you, there are more than 30 rolls on the menu, all the classics, favorites and specials, and even more off the menu. Go for the daily specials on the blackboard, like the Lava Flow Roll with spicy tuna, deep fried and cut in to eight pieces, served with a teriyaki sauce, the Chef’s special spicy mayo sauce and a Sriracha hot sauce, which makes it look like lava flowing down a volcano ($9.50); the Big Bertha Roll with deep fried spicy tuna, avocado and cucumbers, topped with slices of salmon and served with ponzu (citrus soy sauce) and teriyaki sauce ($14); or the Olivia Roll with shrimp tempura and cucumber rolled and topped with California roll, crab and avocado and served with teriyaki sauce ($8.75).

Osaka Joe’s offers everything you go to a Japanese restaurant for, the best cuts of sushi and sashimi in all its forms, but Osaka Joe’s is much more; it’s a most unique and unusual hybrid of sushi and beyond, offering up dinner specials on and off the menu that vividly illustrate what Chef Hiro calls “freestyle” —boldly combining two or more cuisines in one dish to create something new and special.

Setting the stage, the Mix Sunomono appetizer—thinly shaved cucumber with tender shrimp, crab, octopus and radish sprouts in a ponzu sauce ($4.95), and the udon—thick, soft noodles—with salmon roe, onion, micro greens and baby tomatoes in a sesame/wasabi/garlic sauce ($4.75) are intensely satisfying, elegant harbingers of a new wave in Morro Bay.

Salmon Udon

Risk and reward play a big part in Chef Hiro’s culinary art. Sameness is not on the menu. Breaking new taste barriers makes everyone happy, and Hiro’s special dinners are natural mood escalators. That’s why the sautéed salmon filet in a fine tomato/butter sauce ($13.95), the beef rib-eye slices with cucumber, spicy grated radish and Japanese dikon noodles in a garlic/citrus ponzu sauce ($9.50), and Hamachi Kama—grilled yellowtail cheef served with ponzu sauce, green onion and spicy grated radish ($11.50) tend to leave behind only blissful smiles and warm congratulations to Chef Hiro.

Osaka Joe’s offers something for everyone and at reasonable prices. Prepared with the same creative flair as all their dishes, the chicken, beef and salmon teriyaki dinners with soup, rice and salad average $8.95. The sushi combination ($16) and sashimi ($20) aim to satisfy fish enthusiasts, while the Combination Dinner Box features chicken, beef or salmon teriyaki, sashimi or sushi with rice, soup, pot stickers, fried chicken, California roll and ice cream ($15.95).

Salmon in Tomato Sauce

Osaka Joe’s offers a lunch menu of over 20 rolls, salmon and chicken teriyaki dishes with rice, soup and salad for $9.95 each, as well as a wide variety of chicken, beef and tempura bowls cooked with egg and onion and served with miso soup ($6 to $7.95), as well as sushi and sashimi combo lunches for $8.95 and $9.95. For dessert there’s green tea ($2.25), tempura ($4.95) and mochi ice cream ($3) and banana tempura ($3.95), all sweet and rich complements to the best sushi in Morro Bay and for miles around.

Osaka Joe’s Sushi, 3118 N. Main St., Morro Bay, off Hwy. 1 in Manfredo Square. Open Tues through Sun. Dinner hours only: Wednesday, Thurs and Sun. (5-10 p.m.) and Fri. & Sat. (5-11 p.m). Closed Monday and Tuesday. Website: www.osakajoesushi.com Tel: (805) 772-7987.

—Ed Ochs
August 2009

Los Osos Sustainability Group: Leading the Fight to Save the Basin

According to the water re-use reduction targets in the volunteer group’s Basin Management Plan, the goal is to have each household use 33% less water, effectively reducing the monthly usage rates while aggressively reducing the effects of saltwater intrusion. “[Saltwater intrusion] is much worse than people think,” says the group’s Keith Wimer. “We have a serious problem that can’t be avoided any longer—and the [County’s wastewater] project has got to address it.”

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