A group of Los Osos citizens have launched a new online publication, The Los Osos Sentinel, to stop the County’s plan to build a central sewer system in Los Osos.

The new website (http://www.lososossentinel.com) is on a mission not only to better inform the community on the deep roots of the Los Osos central sewer project — but to rally the community to fight back in federal court.

The Sentinel has one three-pronged goal in mind, according to its publisher, who spoke to The Rock on condition of anonymity.

 “The goal of The Los Osos Sentinel is to expose the criminal activity connected with the fraudulent central sewer project and identify the terrorists responsible for the 30-year Reign of Terror with irrefutable, verifiable evidence,” he said, “(as well as to) encourage Los Osos into taking the one action guaranteed to save the community hundreds of millions of dollars, and bring the terrorists to the civil and criminal bars of justice.”

By “terrorist,” The Sentinel’s publisher refers to the Webster’s Dictionary definition — “one who administers or coerces a government or community by intimidation.” He feels this definition also applies to the local, domestic variety. “The Sentinel has amassed thousands of pages of evidence documents and support material exposing the massive fraud and conspiracy surrounding the Los Osos central sewer debacle and revealing all those responsible.”

Specifically, The Sentinel seeks to raise millions of dollars to support a federal R.I.C.O. (Racketeer-Influenced Corrupt Organization) action against former LOCSD directors, State and San Luis Obispo County officials he believes intentionally misled the community at critical junctures of the sewer fiasco. The Sentinel calls for a unified Los Osos to sue the architects of the central sewer fraud that has been compounded by the passage of Assembly Bill AB2701 and the County’s no-alternative, blank-check Proposition 218 vote of 2007.

“Until now there has been no central source of accurate information reinforced by evidence available to the community. Whenever the light of truth has shone, the corrupt terrorist machine and their allies that include The Tribune and now-defunct Sun Bulletin did their best to snuff it out. But this website is immune to the terrorist propaganda machine. They are unable to deceive and divert community attention by attacking the messengers or distorting the issues. They are unable to refute the evidence, so where do they go?”

The publisher also declined to disclose the names or numbers of supporters behind The Sentinel. “Once the Los Osos Federal R.I.C.O. Civil Action has been filed, The Sentinel will proudly print the names of those responsible for its publication.”

He defended his decision to remain anonymous for the launch of The Sentinel. “By remaining anonymous, the terrorist propaganda machine has no one to smear; the central avenue of attack has been closed to them. They are incapable of attacking the facts… It is information that has been deliberately kept from the community in order to advance the terrorist agenda and must be available to the community without distraction.”

In addition to longtime residents familiar with the 30-year history of the sewer project, many newcomers have moved to Los Osos in recent years and some believe that history began when they moved in, unaware of the facts on when and how it all started and the critical factors, mostly hidden from the community, until now.

“Over the past eight years a number of new residents have joined our community. Many have easily accepted the lies and are willing to support the fraudulent project. These new residents need the truth and need to support the community effort. They do not need the terrorist propaganda machine feeding them more lies in an ongoing campaign as if it was based on some kernel of truth that never existed.

“This Web site is accessible to anyone around the world 24/7,” he stated. “The facts are here, the evidence is here, and the only solution guaranteed to permanently end the 30-year Reign Of Terror and bring those responsible to the Bar of Justice is here. Now the online edition of The Sentinel reaches communities and individuals around the nation and around the world. Too many people for the terrorists to go after will be watching Los Osos now.”

He describes the Los Osos R.I.C.O. Civil Action as “the last and only hope for Los Osos. The sad and despicable fact is that the legal system in San Luis Obispo County cannot be relied on to uphold justice.

“In the past,” he explained, “every tier of the system designed to protect and serve has continuously ruled on the side of injustice despite the facts to the contrary. Whether the courts, the District Attorney, the LOCSD or the Board of Supervisors, the only truth has been that there is no truth. In San Luis Obispo county law takes a back seat to corruption.

“R.I.C.O. is federal. R.I.C.O. laws are some of the strictest criminal laws in the nation. R.I.C.O. was created with the single intent to bring the Mafia and organized crime to the Bar of Justice. The punishments for criminal R.I.C.O. violations are intentionally severe.

“Over the past decades the primary use of R.I.C.O. has been civil. This has opened the door to opportunity for individuals, businesses and communities to cast off the chains of corruption and slavery and seek justice at the highest legal levels…

“A successful R.I.C.O. civil action will open the door for the Justice Department and the FBI to finally fully investigate, indict and prosecute those responsible. A successful R.I.C.O. civil action will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs to the federal criminal agencies and streamline their timelines, which will be a significant inducement.”

The Publisher believes that a R.I.C.O. suit has an “excellent chance” to succeed in federal court. “The Sentinel has consulted with qualified retired federal authorities who, after being made aware of the facts, have all said that the one and only action under the circumstance guaranteed to permanently end the nightmare is a R.I.C.O. civil action.

“The action’s ultimate success or failure will rest entirely on the determination of the community to unite and fight as one voice for their freedom,” he concluded. “A united community cannot and will not fail.”

The Los Osos Sentinel is located online at http://www.lososossentinel.com.

Cracking the 218 Code

The County has made the upcoming Proposition 218 vote so confusing, some Los Osos residents may not know what they’re actually voting for—at their great peril.

The County’s proposed Proposition 218 vote, scheduled for launch in late summer, is in serious trouble. The signs are everywhere.
To figure out exactly what the County’s version of Prop 218 is all about and what they are voting for, residents will require clear, solid information. So far they have not received any intelligible information that does not require a translator paid by the County.
Based on what they have heard already from the County, the majority of Los Osos speakers who attend Board of Supervisors meetings have vowed to vote or campaign against the 218. Even those who support it conceptually are confused about the details, and are worried about the County undermining its own efforts by appearing blatantly biased and risking the vote.
Confused residents who do not get cable-accessed Channel 20 or 21—at least 30% to 40% of the community—and have no or low access to the Internet—may not have a clue what they are voting on and just might throw out the ballot with the junk mail when it comes in August or September. It’s hard to imagine how any explanation on the mail-in ballot could achieve anything other than confuse people further.
Fueled by partial, convoluted, revolving and evolving information from the County, many in the Los Osos community view the County’s 218 vote as one big fiery ball of confusion. What makes it so confusing? The problems lie with the County’s overall approach to the vote. It’s written in government-ese, a language unto itself, and it’s not easy to decipher. To add chaos to confusion it is also “out of order,” that is, not in a sequence familiar to local 218 watchers of Article XIIID of the State Constitution.
Even County translators have a difficult time comprehending it.
“It took me a long time to understand, and asked many questions for myself to understand why the County was doing it in the order they’re doing it, and I finally think I understand it,” said a key member of the County’s engineering TAC. “I struggled with that for a while, not that I necessarily like it. It’s just that where we’re at.”
Some in the community do not like this take-it-or-leave-it approach—and don’t accept ‘that’s where we’re at’ as a reason to choose Tri-W, since liens will be placed on homes once the assessment passes—and then there’s no turning back, no matter how expensive the sewer turns out to be. Too many explanations by the County end this way: “We’re doing it because we’re doing it this way” and “It’s important to do it this way because it’s important.”

Before and After
“The Supplemental EIR and additional CEQA review should be done prior to any 218 vote, not afterward,” said Cal Poly Professor, Dr. Tom Ruehr. “All community and regional considerations must be made prior to the 218 vote. This is again the reason so many problems have arisen in the past. All the facts must be known to the residents before they are willing to vote to support the sewer project. We cannot afford to have another debacle with unknown problems occurring and tremendous cost overrides after the 218 vote. We must never buy a pig in a poke regarding the Los Osos sewer.”
The County’s 218 is not a “yes” or “no” vote on a specific project, but on whether to fund the County to build a project yet to be determined, at a cost yet to be determined by the County—basically a financial obligation for the maximum amount for the maximum loan, payable almost entirely by Los Osos homeowners in the “Prohibition Zone.”
“If the Proposition 218 vote is project specific,” County Project Director Paavo Ogren tried to explain to Supervisor Katcho Achadjian at an April Board of Supervisors meeting, “and that specific project fails for one reason or another…  As we know two major projects have already failed in Los Osos. That means we, you have to start all over again. We have to start back with the 218 procedures, and you have to start back to square one. With the funding decision coming first, that gives us the best flexibility of going down the road in a lot of the additional work that’s going to be necessary, and really tailoring the project to meet the best needs of the community.”
Yet, at the same time, Bruce Gibson stated: “The provisions of 2701 are that the project gets returned to the LOCSD, with a large pile of information that’s been developed over the course of the County’s efforts. The specifics of that haven’t been worked out yet.”
Of all the supervisors, Achadjian is the only one that has shown any sincere interest, any interest at all for that matter, in the social and economic impacts of an unaffordable project on the greater community of Los Osos. Even if Achadjian were to vote against the Tri-W project as his final choice of projects—not that he will—the Board vote would probably fall 4 to 1 for Tri-W.
“The Community advisory survey should be made a long time prior to any 218 vote. The citizens must know clearly what they are paying for instead of continually changing the system after the 218 vote,” said Dr. Ruehr. “It appears a vast waste of time and effort to do the process of comparing several cost estimates after the 218 vote—as has been suggested be done with the current TAC. This means we will have NO idea of the cost prior to voting on what it will cost. This is a totally asinine approach.”    
Ogren contends that the County is within its legal obligations to conduct the 218 vote in the order the County has introduced.
“Some misperceptions in the community exist on what is needed to comply,” Ogren wrote The Rock last July. “Some have indicated a belief that a specific project design [note: design is not part of the process]] is needed prior to the Proposition 218 vote, yet no such requirement truly exists.
“In addition to numerous procedural requirements, Proposition 218 requires the preparation of a ‘detailed engineer’s report’ that suggests the proposed assessments that will be voted on, but it does not require final product selection. Indeed, if the Proposition 218 identified a final specific project, then other regulatory compliance issues would also need to be fully addressed prior to the Proposition 218 vote.”
So what’s wrong with that order? What’s wrong with getting the 218 vote right this time, with one project with one cost, even if it takes additional time, rather than risking the chance of the vote failing and having to start a 218 all over again? Because it’s not in the budget.
This sequence, Ogren continued, “would substantially increase the current $2 million estimate that will be borne by County-wide taxpayers, and which will not be reimbursed if the vote fails. Plus, the community has never agreed on what the ‘final project’ should be and it is unreasonable to expect the County to identify a final project prior to the property owners making the commitment that they do, in fact, want the County to construct a project.
“With a perceived ‘catch 22’ that exists, “ he said, “our Board’s adopted strategies nevertheless include a community advisory election [note: the 218 is not an election] to decide the final project, and with that promise adopted in writing, the final selection will only be controversial if the community continues to be divided in that final vote to select an alternative.
“By then, though,” he said, “the decision to construct or not-construct will have been made and the end of the controversy will be in sight.”
Not promised and not offered is any agreement by the Board of Supervisors to abide by the community advisory vote. The Board of Supervisors has the final say, not the property owners of
Los Osos. That fact does not sit well in some quarters of the community that believe a vote without a voice is a vote for Tri-W. It leaves the gate wide open.
“The 218 vote must clearly define all of the benefits to be gained from adopting the completed proposal to install the sewer,” said Dr. Ruehr. “The vote should only be taken once the full costs are disclosed. The final cost must not be exceeded under any circumstances. Proper contingency expenses are included in any engineering project. We must ensure the creeping costs do not exist. The Tri-W site and Broderson site are examples of previously approved systems with now-obvious engineering fatal flaws that would have necessitated millions of dollars of creeping costs increases over time.
“These provisions for a definite cost maximum, assurance of no creeping costs, a clearly articulated design for collection, treatment, water reuse, and a firm deadline for completion must be spelled out before the citizens of Los Osos can be expected to approve a 218 vote.”

Special Benefit Debate
The Proposition 218 vote must determine special benefits, and while the County is still working those calculations, at the same time a final ruling on a revised definition of benefit is currently still being briefed in the Supreme Court.
“The issue with benefit right now as it relates to assessments is under great debate,” said Eileen Didio, paralegal to the Director of Legal Affairs, Timothy Bittle, for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “The Supreme Court of California right now is hearing a case called the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association versus Santa Clara Open Space Authority, and it deals with the issue of benefit and what the true legal analysis should be of benefit, of who should have it, because anyone can benefit from anything. They are trying to establish that.
“So I can’t give you a legal analysis (that addresses benefits) as it compares to Prop 218 because that case has yet to be decided.
“They’re still allowed to do (assessments), but as far as us bringing suit or even talking with (the County) about their methodology of how benefit is being applied, there is no solid base we can go off of. Once that Supreme Court decision is heard, once they release it, then we’ll have an idea as far as what that interpretation is on 218, and could take steps if it’s in a positive light, as far as (Los Osos’) situation.”
Didio expects to finally hear the court’s opinion in September, just as the Los Osos advisory vote is underway or due for return. If a court decision is finalized in September, and if applicable to Los Osos, the timing of its release may very well come too late to help reshape the vote, although a court decision could bring a lawsuit in its wake.
Didio said the HJTA will review the engineer’s report and the ballot “to take a look at it and make sure is legal as far as following all the provisions of the Constitution. That’s the best as far as we can do right now.
“As far as certain projects, sort of up in the air as far as price, once you find that you’re asked to vote yes or no on this, you’re going to have all the facts in front of you. It would be completely illegal for them to ask you to vote yes on something and you not know how much it is and what it’s for. So there’s going to be a detailed engineer’s report in which they’ll describe the projects, they’ll describe how the assessment is calculated, who pays what, what is it going for.
“Based on my own research,” Didio said, “that’s what they’re currently doing right now, and that’s why it seems sort of chaotic.
“They have all these projects to pose and they’re trying to figure stuff out. Any type of assessment when it’s proposed goes through this kind of planning and re-planning.

You’re never going to be asked to approve an assessment and not told the price for it, that’s completely illegal.”
Legal? Perhaps. But will anyone understand what they’re voting for? Will they know they are voting for maximum amount of assessment that can be levied?

The End of Affordability
Dr, Ruehr points to Figure 1.1 in the TAC report as “a classic example of the problem.
“It says, ‘Proposition 218 assessment to match final project selected.’ Again, we see the paternalistic and blank-check approach the County Engineering believes is the only way. Certainly, the County Engineering wants to run up the total costs as much as they can. We must do everything possible to turn this around allowing the citizens of Los Osos to be in control of what they will have to pay by knowing up front the true costs of this project. It is time to treat the citizens of Los Osos with respect and mature reasoning from facts and fiscal responsibility, rather than continue the paternalistic dictatorial approach used in the past.”
Affordability, as an embedded issue in the 218, is non-existent, and has all but disappeared from the County’s radar, although sighnificantly more affordable options, such as Ripley Pacific and Orenco, are clearly available to Los Osos.
Said Ogren recently: “One of the things we have shared in our grant efforts is the basic affordability analysis, that the EPA guidelines of 2.5% of MH median household income in comparison to the cost of the project…  Clearly, just the technologies that are available are all very expensive ands that’s why we are looking at multiple ways of mitigating of affordability challenges.”
“The community must have an ‘Economic Impact Analysis’ prior to any vote,” writes Dr. Ruehr. “We need to know the full impact on this community, especially because of the large number of retired people living on fixed incomes. Two ‘Economic Impact Analyses’ are needed. One including only the residents within the prohibition zone and one including all those potentially benefiting from the proposed sewer and potential hooking up in to the future from outside of the prohibition zone.
Residents have been focused on this 218 vote, and most don’t realize that this 218 is only the beginning. If the 218 passes, and the County votes to press on with the project, it’s just the first assessment in layers of assessments, along with fees and charges, yet to come. The County is not giving property owners the trust cost of the sewer, which they are entitled to know before they vote, since liens will be placed on their homes once the assessment passes. Those additional costs will eventually surface. Once this 218 passes, the floodgates of assessments will open. Then there will be no turning back, no matter how expensive the sewer turns out to be.

Paavo Ogren did not respond to questions submitted by The Rock.

S.O.S. From Afar: ‘There’s Something Going on in Los Osos—it’s Bad’

David ‘The Waterguy’ Venhuizen’s recent online thread on Los Osos provoked an array of responses from experts across the U.S … who are aware and watching.


“It’s very bad,” concluded David “The Waterguy” Venhuizen about the Los Osos sewer predicament, in a mid-January email forum on “onsite/decentralized wastewater management issues.” His commentary drew several well-known water and wastewater experts, a few very familiar with Los Osos.
Wrote Venhuizen to the far-flung EPA “decentralized list” (decentralized@lists.epa.gov): “There is something going on in Los Osos, California, that should give great pause to anyone who is concerned about the rationality of how society responds to water resources management challenges, and the impact of that on our field of endeavor. Quick synopsis—it’s BAD!”
What makes Venhuizen’s comments stand out from similar comments heard from all sides of the sewer debate is that Venhuizen, an expert in decentralized water and wastewater management, sent out his S.O.S. from his home base in Austin, Texas. He has studied the maps but has never been to Los Osos. Yet his keen observations from afar over the past year often capture the dynamics of the controversy better than most who live in Los Osos, and he has spent considerable time and energy investigating the sewer debate, even jousting with RWQCB’s Sorrel Marks via email in April 2006.
After spending “a couple hours reading the pleadings of the ‘randomly selected’ citizens…tagged with ‘orders’ by the RWQCB to cease ‘illegal discharges’ from their ‘septic’ systems,” Venhuizen wrote: “I don’t pretend that there is anything simple or straightforward about the situation in Los Osos or the history of how it got to this point, but there is one thing that seems exceedingly plain. The mainstream will go to ridiculous lengths to impose its view that the ONLY manner in which wastewater should be managed in a place like Los Osos is with a conventional centralized sewer system leading to one treatment center. That is, to once again be redundant, they are hopelessly stuck in the paradigm.”
Following is the rest of Venhuizen’s post, and following that, a sampling of exchanges with fellow professionals in the field on Los Osos.

County liability

“Exhibit A in this assessment – All of the people being targeted have ‘septic’ systems that were legally permitted by San Luis Obispo County. The County was even allowed to issue permits for 1,150 more homes AFTER the supposed water quality problems were identified—that was an explicit provision in the ‘Basin Plan’ (the legal vehicle under which the ‘illegal discharges’ were defined and to have been abated) as I understand it. Doesn’t it seem that if the ‘septic’ systems sited in Los Osos were issuing ‘illegal discharges’ this would be exactly because the systems had not been designed, installed and operated to cope with the site constraints, and the very first thing one would see as necessary would be to modify the standards governing those ‘septic’ systems so that they did not issue ‘illegal discharges’? At the very least, you wouldn’t say, yeah, go ahead and install 1,150 more of these ‘illegal discharges,’ would you?
“Yet NOWHERE in any of the reams of verbiage about this matter does anyone even mention that those standards are deficient, or hint that the County should modify them in any way. Or that those legal permits have any bearing on the permit holder’s liability. It would appear this is because the RWQCB does not see ‘proper’ governance of those ‘septic’ systems—requiring them to cope with the site constraints in which they are installed so they don’t issue ‘illegal discharges’—as having any bearing whatsoever on the situation. Rather the RWQCB fervently believes that the ONLY means of addressing the matter is totally outside those governance processes–that is, the ONLY solution is to install a ‘sewer system’ instead.

RWQCB’s solution
“Confoundingly, the orders issued against the citizens explicitly—and some would say cynically, because they believe the RWQCB has no intention of ever approving them, in fact they appear to believe the methods simply don’t exist—state that the RWQCB would ‘reach around’ the County and directly approve any proposals to put in place an individual on-lot system that does not produce ‘illegal discharges.’ That is, while it appears to explicitly (or cynically) allow that the standards imposed on these systems are the problem and that alternative standards may be a solution, it completely lets SLO County off the hook for its regulation of those systems, or lack of same, and proposes to unilaterally displace the existing permitting process for those systems in Los Osos, and there only. Can’t wait to hear the legal theory on that. In any case, while it whitewashes SLO County’s culpability in the matter, it worked a deal to get the County put in charge of implementing the centralized sewer system. Isn’dt that fresh?
“I am told that under the CA Water Code, the RWQCB may not impose specific methods, rather it may only require outcomes. Yet, from all appearances, the RWQCB is asserting that it ‘knows’ that the one and only solution for Los Osos is a conventional centralized sewer system leading to one treatment center for the whole community [actually a portion of the community]. A CONVENTIONAL ‘big pipe’ sewer system, mind you, not any sort of ‘alternative’ sewer system, as other information on this matter makes abundantly clear. Spurring on the installation of that system—under that process to be run by the County—is an explicitly stated aim of its orders.

‘Threat to the field’
“This sort of dedication to form, to the complete neglect (and ignorance) of substance, is a major threat to the whole field practiced by subscribers to this list. It seems to be nothing less than a frontal attack on the very idea that ‘decentralized’ has any part to play in the addressing of water resources management challenges. This from a bunch of bureaucrats who, I’d bet the farm, couldn’t tell you how, say, a sand filter works if their lives depended on it. Yet they ‘know’ what the only solution is.
“The RWQCB will tell you that it did not rule that a conventional big-pipe system is the only, or best, solution, rather that this was put forward ‘by the community’ and they ‘just’ approved it. But that whole evaluation process appeared to be so devoid of any competent consideration of options, thus so ‘rigged’ that I hear some in Los Osos are considering racketeering charges. That seems to be a pretty strong statement about how closed-minded RWQCB is seen as being about this whole thing.
“This is a case in point for how intransigent the mainstream is, to how tightly it holds on to the paradigm, based only on its belief system. Is this religion or is this water resources management? And, of course, it also shows how broken the on-lot regulatory system is. Where is EPA’s ‘leadership’ on this? Where is NOWRA? Where is the Consortium? Where is WEF? Where are the professional societies—both engineering and legal? If there is truly any interest or intention on the part of any of our institutions that profess to be concerned about the quality of practice—and the quality of outcomes—to actually act on the report to Congress, to put ‘decentralized’ on an equal footing, why is something like this happening?
“It’s very bad.”

Following are excerpts of some of the responses to Venhuizen’s commentary:

PIO LOMBARDO, P.E., Lombardo Associates Inc., Newton, Mass.

“As many of you know, Lombardo Associates Inc. invested extensively in reviewing the situation and conceptualizing solutions during the Engineer selection process during spring 2006…  
“Compromise-negotiations-good will generation are essential ingredients for any solution – otherwise courts/legal system take over—as has occurred in many municipalities who can’t do it politically on their own. Boston is a poster child on this issue. Los Osos has significant challenges on these needed ingredients…

“Clearly the Los Osos situation is an example of the question of the limits of growth or limits on the density of humans in environmentally sensitive areas. At the end of the day, to live in balance with Los Osos water resources environment realities, water reuse is essential and advanced levels of wastewater treatment are required. In the Los Osos situation, it behooves the public to be proactive and consider how they should position themselves on what needs to be done to address the endocrine disruptors/pharmaceuticals/personal care products chemicals issues…
“In my opinion until the Los Osos, or any other, community develops a viable decentralized plan that is accepted by the community in a vote to implement the plan, comments regarding what outside institutions are doing to the community are similar to blaming someone else for one’s own limitations/behavior. As I understand the situation, that plan has not been generated by the community and obviously no vote has occurred. I understand the community was close—I do not understand why it was not actualized. Until that plan is developed and voted upon by the community, one is a victim of what others do. Again in my opinion, rather than paying legal fees, funds would be better spent developing a solution that the community agrees to implement. My experience in many controversial projects has been that when that is accomplished, the institutions have been very responsive and have changed. Perhaps California is different, but I do not think so. Also negative thinking of outcomes can be (is usually) self-fulfilling. This is not meant to be naïve about the political games that occur with wastewater management and engineering…
“These are my comments on Los Osos in the interest of assisting your efforts in a positive manner. I do hope that the community, with the County’s help, can create some good out of the situation. I wish the Los Osos community well; it would be good for us all in the industry for Los Osos to succeed. The Los Osos community still needs to vote on any plan.”

DENNIS McQUILLAN, Environmental Health Manager, New Mexico Environment Department, Santa Fe:
“Your reference to ‘supposed water quality problems’ gave me the impression that you were skeptical… We still see a fair amount of denial about the water quality impacts of septic systems here. We see it among some members of the onsite industry, developers, and elected officials.
“Then, after the water gets polluted, and enough of the community complains and gets organized, we see the requests for public funding of wastewater infrastructure even though some members of the community are still in denial. We think we are making some progress in educating our clients and the political decision makers that these water quality problems are real, and that big pipe is not the only potential solution to these problems.”

BOB RAWSON, President, IWS Corporation, Sebastopol, Calif.
“With so many traditional and innovative decentralized options available to solve almost any wastewater problem, this community, should not be forced into accepting an expensive big pipe solution. The big pipe project is most likely being driven by economic development considerations that are conveniently wrapped up in public health or environmental camouflage.
“The alleged CWA issues can be confronted within the context of the triennial review of the basin planning process.  Such basin plans can be changed if pressure and funding are made available to study the issues. Regional Boards tend to prioritize the proposed changes, and address the issues that can be funded when they are pressed hard. There is no reason why a community cannot fund its own study of the basin plan components that are at issue.”

TOM MURPHY, CEO, Advanced Environmental Systems Inc., Sparks, NV

“Most ‘alternatives’ AREN’T alternatives in the first place. They don’t meet the “qualifying” criteria to be incorporated into an area-wide plan as per the (Clean Water) Act and can NEVER get in the game until it does. Among all criteria, there are only two which your technology must first meet before it will ever be a viable candidate…
“If your alternative technology does qualify, it then becomes a threat to ‘their’ agenda. You still won’t have a future unless you can do one of two things, 1) enable them to still meet their agenda is the most mutually beneficial option, or, if this one doesn’t work, then you will have no choice but to do 2) (to be continued…) …
“One thing must be learned from all of this… ‘any viable alternative technology MUST ‘eliminate the discharge of ALL pollutants.’ There is NO EXCEPTION. Otherwise, you will have no chance to play in the ‘BIG GAME’!

“I enjoyed David’s well-spoken diatribe regarding Los Osos, CA. He mentions a possible lawsuit. Is it possible that a suit could be brought against the ‘big pipe industry’ that would challenge their ability to conspire to line their pockets at the expense of the Decentralized/Onsite industry, in violation of, I think the Taft-Hartley laws?  
“Are they not by various means fixing the price of sanitary treatment at an inflated rate and requiring the public to pay the high price? (If all the orthodontists in my town tried that they’d be in big trouble. Maybe some of you think they are already conspiring in your town.)
“I don’t expect the typical readers of this listserve to have the expertise to answer that legal question—I certainly can’t as a dentist. Are your readers associated with creative lawyers who could make such a case?”


“Regarding the process, absolutely the underlying problem is lack of cohesion in the community and consequent lack of ability to rally around even a plan to make a plan much less to arrive at a consensus on a plan.
“Very early on in my discussions with folks there I observed that perhaps the root problem is that Los Osos is not a community in any functional sense—that an urban enclave of some 15,000 remains unincorporated perhaps provides an indication of that—and so has been unable to function as a community to address this matter. Still, heart of the CURRENT matter is that the RWQCB is clearly intent on pushing Los Osos into accepting and installing a conventional centralized wastewater system without any meaningful review of the options available to accomplish the purposes which that centralized system is purported to be able to accomplish.
“Perhaps you are right that if the community came together in force to demand a “better” solution, the institutions would react in a manner more favorable to ‘non-conventional’ options.  The problem is how do you get that on the table? And that comes down to funding…
“Your points are well taken (Pio). Especially that all this needs to be determined by competent expertise in a ‘proper’ analysis of options for THIS community. Unfortunately, that brings us back to the top of the page…
“And the band played on while the ship went down.”

The Rock Interview: Dr. Dan Wickham

When Dr. Wickham spoke for the LOCSD and community at the televised Los Osos Cease and Desist Order hearings on April 28, he gave the Regional Water Board a very important science lesson in how septic tanks work that they either skipped or didn’t expect. Now school’s out for the Water Board to weigh the Blakesee proposal to freeze enforcement, or until they can locate an expert to counter Dr. Wickham’s irrefutable scientific evidence against the board’s actions, which will take a lot longer than it will take to build a sewer in Los Osos. But it wasn’t just what Dr. Wickham said, as profound as it was considering the venue, the moment and what’s at stake, but how he said it—knowledgably, clinically, simply, graciously—yet very firmly. For the beleaguered CDO recipients, his testimony was the first real ray of hope on an otherwise bleak moonscape, elevating Dr. Wickham to a Paul Bunyan with brains—a giant killer—in the battle for truth in Los Osos. The Rock revisits that fateful April day with Dr. Wickham when he stopped “The Show” by blinding them with science, and at the same time we asked him quite a few more questions than the Water Board did about septic solutions for Los Osos, as well as how the county takeover might impact the Los Osos sewer project.

When Dr. Wickham spoke for the LOCSD and community at the televised Los Osos Cease and Desist Order hearings on April 28, he gave the Regional Water Board a very important science lesson in how septic tanks work that they either skipped or didn’t expect. Now school’s out for the Water Board to weigh the Blakesee proposal to freeze enforcement, or until they can locate an expert to counter Dr. Wickham’s irrefutable scientific evidence against the board’s actions, which will take a lot longer than it will take to build a sewer in Los Osos. But it wasn’t just what Dr. Wickham said, as profound as it was considering the venue, the moment and what’s at stake, but how he said it—knowledgably, clinically, simply, graciously—yet very firmly. For the beleaguered CDO recipients, his testimony was the first real ray of hope on an otherwise bleak moonscape, elevating Dr. Wickham to a Paul Bunyan with brains—a giant killer—in the battle for truth in Los Osos. The Rock revisits that fateful April day with Dr. Wickham when he stopped “The Show” by blinding them with science, and at the same time we asked him quite a few more questions than the Water Board did about septic solutions for Los Osos, as well as how the county takeover might impact the Los Osos sewer project.

Q. How did you come to testify before the RWQCB on April 28th? Were you invited? Please explain by who and how.

A. I had already had a significant interaction with the Los Osos CSD because of our earlier Response to their RFP for an update on their earlier sewer project. We had installed a demonstration project for our SludgeHammer device at the Fire Station and it was through these contacts that the idea of me providing expert testimony at the CDO hearing arose. I did it largely as a favor to the community since there was no money available for it.

Q. Did you at any time ever look around the hearing room and realize you were the only “expert witness” called upon to testify for the community? Did you wonder why?

A. Frankly, I was a bit surprised by the lack of professional expertise at the hearing, both from the perspective of the Regional Board, and from the community. I could understand the community’s lack of representation because it looked to me as if they had been abandoned by the “professional” community. I have seen similar situations where non-professional citizens create their own expertise by dint of hard work and dedication. The cards are always stacked against them, but they often win. Bolinas, up in Marin County went through the same process in the ’80s and ’90s and defeated a similar line-up of political powers to preserve their community’s integrity. They all became far more expert in on-site and centralized sewer issues than any of them ever wanted to. But they had to.  

Q. Did you feel that some of the questions asked of you by the Water Board’s attorneys should have been asked long before they leveled CDOs against individual homeowners for allegedly polluting the groundwater? What could you infer or surmise, if anything, from the questions they asked you?

A. Most of the pertinent questions were asked by the CSD attorneys or citizens facing CDOs. I was surprised by the lack of serious questioning by the Board’s attorneys. I was expecting a much more hostile and intense grilling. The best questions came from the Board members themselves and not from the staff. This convinced me that the staff was just out on a hunt and the board was completely taken aback by their lack of preparation.

Q. In your opinion, does the lack of scientific data and direct evidence on the RWQCB’s part in any way undermine the validity and credibility of their case? Do they simply presume too much?

A. All of us must understand a simple fact. Board members are non-professional citizens placed in an uncomfortable position of authority. They can only rely on the advice of their staff.  In this case I think they were very poorly served by their staff. There still is a very significant argument to be made against the notion that any of the nitrate contamination is due to septics.  Sure, it seems likely, but their data never would have stood up to the type of scrutiny that I faced both as a graduate student at Berkeley, or as a research scientist for the UC system. If any of the staff had attempted to present their arguments at an AAAS or National Academy conference they would have been stripped bare and run out of the auditorium. Unfortunately, state regulatory agencies operate in a safe, unquestioned environment. They do not face the rigors of criticism that we University researchers take as a matter of course. It would serve them well to require the same kind of public argumentation that University faculty members need to face to get their tenure.  

Q. Barring acceptance of the Blakeslee proposal, the RWQCB plans to start its prosecution all over again in September. Not to help them make their case, but what do they need to do, in your opinion, to validate their claims? Or would you recommend they abandon this punitive approach entirely—and start negotiating?

A. For the life of me I can see absolutely no value in pursuing this course. The CSD has already responded to most of their demands. Ripley Engineers is updating the sewer study. They are responding to on-site systems that they manage. In fact, one of those is being taken care of by my company. Incidentally, a lysimeter placed just one foot below the leach bed at the Fire Station shows that we already are down to a level of less than 2 mg/l of total nitrogen in the effluent passing down to the aquifer from that system.  What’s their problem? I do not want to jeopardize my own opportunities but, frankly, I think this entire situation is childish. I grant that the Board is rightly miffed at how long this issue has festered. But, they must see by now that the community was completely in the right to stop the absolutely illegal and immoral juggernaut they were facing. I am a taxpaying citizen and I absolutely abhor the behavior of the engineering/development cabal that has forced our small communities to build obscenely overpriced central sewers that frequently cause more pollution than they cure.

Q. I know you recommend an isotope-tracking test to track the discharge plume to get a better “picture” of the alleged pollution trail. What other reliable tests would be useful in helping either side clarify the information being used to evaluate and assign responsibility for alleged polluting (if it even substantially exists to a degree that can then be “traced” to Los Osos septics)?

A. Los Osos already assumes it is guilty as charged. If it was proved to be the case, they would act no differently than they are now. If it were proved, however, that they were not, the egg on the faces of everybody who has profited from this debacle would be so thick they could only bring the eggs in with C5-A transports. Woe to the regulators if the cat comes out of the bag.  

But, outside of isotope studies, it would be a difficult and expensive study to confirm or deny the source of the pollution. I faced a similar dilemma when I was a fisheries biologist looking into the cause of the collapse of the Dungeness Crab fishery in the San Francisco Bay region. A really comprehensive study would have cost more than the resource was worth. Some times we simply have to accept ignorance and just act in good faith. Still, the isotope study is the best way to go since, even if it does not prove the case, it is less expensive than the alternatives.     

Q. In all your years of experience, have you ever seen or heard of homeowners (as opposed to an agency or company) being issued CDOs for allegedly polluting? Have you ever seen or heard of eminent domain by septics? If yes to either question, please explain.
A. No, No and No. Citizens served by on-site systems are particularly at risk. They are isolated and solitary. They have the full force of the state coming down on them. Unlike a sewer district, with thousands of individuals linked by a PUC and a municipal district, septic owners have a lonely fight. In a just world every one of the CDOs would be suing the state for every dollar it has. Unfortunately they would be suing for their own money. Alex de Toqueville said way back in the early 1800s, after his travels in the US, that when the government discovered that it could bribe the people using their own money, democracy as we know it was gone. Well, our government has been doing it for over 200 years and they get more and more of our money to bribe us with each day. The newest twist is to use our money to extort and browbeat us. I don’t think even de Toqueville expected that.

Q. Outside of quoting you and putting you on the stand again, what do you think would help the community shore up its defense, scientifically and technically, for any next round of hearings?

A. Fight the injustice of punishing individuals who are living in homes that have septic systems that the Regional Board permitted in the first place. I know lawyers who specialize in Federal Clean Water Act violations. They would be salivating at the chance to sue the Regional Board and the County of San Luis Obispo for creating the pollution in the first place. The harder the Regional Board works to prove the pollution, the bigger the settlement could become. The community has the strongest defense possible. They relied on the Regional Board for the septic permits in the first place. They are not guilty. The Board is.

Q. Do you think it’s “appropriate” that the Water Board’s action unilaterally voids one specific portion of a broader permit that is legally issued by another regulatory body without any formal action by that other body, and that the Water Board never, in the intervening 23 years, considered it relevant or appropriate to require that body to modify its permits, and to formally notify the holders of those permits of such modification, or to enjoin that body from continuing to issue such permits?

A. As Matt Thompson, of the Board staff stated, the ‘Prohibition Zone’ was established not to enforce, but to insure that someday, if they chose, they could prosecute without the nasty burden of proof. There is nothing even remotely legal or constitutional about the ‘Prohibition Zone.’ It has just never had a chance to be slapped down by the courts.

Q. Is it possible that wastewater treatment technology has advanced so substantially over the past 15 years or so that, at least for Los Osos, the “idea” of an expensive centralized sewer system has been superceded by technology that allows every septic to be upgraded to serve as an individual high-tech “sewer” unit that can do the job cheaper and maybe better than the mega sewer? In hindsight, perhaps an expensive centralized sewer was never the best answer for Los Osos then…and 30 years later?

A. This is a tough question.  If one were to prove that other sources were responsible for the nitrates, still an open question, then a central sewer is absolutely one of the most profound wastes of public funds imaginable. If they are proved to be a problem, then 20 or 30 years ago a sewer would have made sense. On-site was regarded by the EPA, back in the early ’70s when the Clean Water Act was passed, to be temporary stop-gap systems until that heavenly day in the year 2000 when everybody in the US would be on a centralized system. At that time 25% of the US population was on septic. In 1998 Congress asked the EPA for an update on their prediction of universal sewering. Well, it turned out that now 27% of the population was on septic, or on-site. What they did not realize was that there were several more sophisticated alternatives to septic tanks. But the real burst of creativity in on-site engineering occurred after the 1998 report. It suddenly became respectable to design on-site systems, and the industry has jumped into the void, now that EPA has admitted that on-site can be a permanent solution. In fact, more creativity is coming from on-site engineers than the “big pipe” folks. Companies like Montgomery-Watson just want to charge an arm and a leg for stuff they take off the shelf. Their shareholders sure don’t want them to waste time and money actually engineering anything.

But even “centralized” systems do not necessarily resemble their earlier prototypes.  Gravity sewers are dinosaurs, absolutely. STEP/STEG type of systems allow real flexibility, with treatment starting at the household, where it should start. The whole system should be integrated. Not the old model of collection, treatment and disposal as separate and totally isolated processes.

Q. Since you mentioned at the hearings that there are many cost-effective measures for on-site mitigation in use all over the country, is it safe to assume the RWQCB ignored this entire genre of remediators? Why?

A. California likes to think of itself as progressive. It was back in Pat Brown’s days. It has not been progressive in nearly a half century. I cannot think of a single state in the union, save Alabama, where they let you discharge your septic straight into the creek, or your neighbor’s property, as benighted as California with regard to on-site management.  I do not think they ignore all that much. They just do not have a clue. Why travel to Maryland to learn about on-site when your can go to Hollywood, or Disneyland. California has a terrible problem with over inflated egos. It’s just our way.

Q. Is it possible that the small-scale treatment center concept could be workable in much of Los Osos, i.e. finite clusters where the pollution is highest? Could the effluent then be dispersed in subsurface drip irrigation fields and provide landscape irrigation, with whatever is not evapotranspirated leaching into the groundwater through some prescribed minimum soil depth, delivering a vanishingly small amount of pollution with it?

A. Absolutely. In case no one has noticed, the Regional Board has already permitted such a system right in Los Osos at the Monarch Grove Plant. They do not use subsurface irrigation but they get full credit for nitrogen reduction through vegetative uptake. After all, a golf course uses a lot of fertilizer. What better way to recapture the value of these incredibly costly and rare resources.

Q. What are the primary approaches the town could take to include on-site systems in a program that works and works well?

A. Ask that any system be cost effective, and that it be compatible with a centralized system, or at least able to be integrated into a community-wide solution.  

Q. Does a $200-$300 million wastewater facility guarantee ending up with low nitrate levels? Based on your on-the-ground evaluation, do you think the gravity collection system is “right” for Los Osos?

A. I read the EIR pretty carefully when we prepared our proposal for the Project Update.  Montgomery Watson notes in their proposal for the Broderson leachfield, that since nitrate levels in the leachate beneath the site might exceed 20 mg/l there would be a need for a multi-million dollar extraction well and water treatment system just downslope from the site. What gives? The waste-discharge requirement was 7 mg/l of total nitrogen and the site is virgin. Who’s kidding whom? You do not get 20 mg/l of nitrogen when you start with 7.  Well, maybe they came up with a special new way to create nitrogen fertilizer. I am ready to invest when they prove it.

Q. In light of the county takeover of the sewer project, how do you see this new layer of government impacting the recent progress made by the LOCSD to develop a sewer system for Los Osos? As far
as you can see, where are we headed on this sudden change of course?

A. I really don’t know if the Blakeslee plan will be helpful or not. For one, I would certainly be uncomfortable on granting an entity like the county the authority to design and implement a project for Los Osos, if they had no tax obligation for the ultimate implementation of the plan. It is a bit like giving someone else the authority to build your house, but you end up paying for it whether you like the design or not. Somehow that seems unworkable.
It is possible, however, that since Los Osos could accept or reject the plan on a Prop 218 vote, they could insure that the design be more workable.
There also is the issue of stopping current design contracts. Our company bid on the project that Dana Ripley is doing. I know how I would feel if it suddenly were ended and I was only part way through.

My primary concern over this still goes back to the issue of documenting the source of the nitrate pollution. If, as part of the county study, they actually undertook the necessary characterization of pollution I would be for it. One way to do that would be to conduct isotope studies on the nitrates in the ground water and to compare them with the other possible sources: septics, NOX from the power plant which is currently allowed to release 8,000 tons (that’s 16 million pounds a year of non-degradable oxidized nitrogen), as well as the substantial agricultural component from immediately upstream of the aquifer.

We have a similar issue up here in Monte Rio on the Russian River. The county created a septic crisis by fiat, not by research. There is no evidence of the pollution they claim. Their sewer plant is designed to promote development. If they admitted that and built it on that basis I would have no problem. Communities should be allowed to develop if they choose to. But clearly the development interests feared going this way because it would require and informed choice by the public and they might lose. So, raise the red flag of ‘pollution’ and the community cannot resist it.

It is well past time for someone to document what the real conditions are in Los Osos. I am sure that isolated pockets are being impacted by septics. But does that require a sewer for everybody or smaller clustered treatment systems for those areas that are proven to be impacted.

I was a University researcher and we always studied things in detail. It was frustrating to see the level of science in the regulatory community, and we never seemed to get them to realize that our universities and research institutes are the places to get this type of work done. Why aren’t RFPs going out to the UC system and Cal Poly for this work?

Q. What do you think is the best way to handle the septic tank problem in Los Osos? What is your “big picture” “septic solution” for Los Osos?

A.  First, I would like to see a series of isotope studies undertaken to demonstrate that doing anything at all will actually solve the nitrate issue. If it is caused by ancient buried wetlands, or power plant nitrous oxide, or agricultural runoff from inland, or from auto exhaust NOX, then no matter what is done to septics will be of no use. I am not saying septics are not at fault, I am simply saying that no one has demonstrated it to the level of proof that we, in the University, demand of all data presented to us. Nitrogen isotope ratios are easy to sample and you can compare those found in the ground water with the potential sources, and I mean all of the potential sources, not just septic tanks. 

Still, a strong case can be made for a rational centralized system. STEP/STEG systems allow the community to use the existing tanks as the most important part of the treatment. Technologies like ours can improve the situation by starting the treatment upstream so that the system will significantly lower maintenance costs. In fact, a collection system that leads to ponds out in the eastern boundary of the town could provide nitrogen enriched reclaimed water to the agricultural community at great benefit. One must consider that the option chosen by the Regional Board, namely microbiological “denitrification” is an energy-intensive process. First, one must burn huge volumes of fossil fuel to generate the electricity needed to oxidize not just the organic carbon, but also the ammonia in the wastewater. So a traditional sewer plant spews CO2 into the atmosphere to create more CO2 from the organic waste, plus more CO2 to create the NO3, or nitrate, in the treated water. Then they have to redirect the NO3 back to a holding tank with more organic carbon, which they just got rid of in the aerobic treatment system. This is because the NO3 cannot be converted to nitrogen gas unless it goes into an anaerobic, carbon rich environment.

Yes, it’s complicated. No wonder it’s so expensive.

But what are they really doing. All that organic nitrogen came from our wastes. We got it from a fertilizer factory that burned fossil fuels to generate electricity so they could capture nitrogen gas from the atmosphere and convert it to ammonia fertilizer. Why not just use it to grow plants with non-denitrified reclaimed wastewater. We eliminate tons of CO2 by just feeding the plants what they need.  In fact I estimated that Los Osos alone could offset thousands of tons of CO2 by sending a lower level of treated water to your agricultural neighbors.

From a “big picture” perspective the easiest solution would be to go back to the CSD wells in the upper aquifer and immediately begin using this water for all outside use in the community. The nitrate is there, no matter its source, and using it as fertilizer for landscape would achieve several benefits.  First it would increase the amount of evapotranspiration, thus drying out the high groundwater in the upper aquifer while removing the nitrates through vegetative uptake. Second, it would immediately reduce the draw on the lower aquifer, thus reversing the salt water intrusion. That water should only be for in-house potable use. Third, the CSD could do this without any involvement with the Regional Board. It is a simple matter of separating the indoor from the outdoor plumbing at the houses and re-activating the old wells. I am sure that there are abundant grant sources for such a project.

Q. Let’s nail down this “pumping every other month” plan. What does pumping every other month do to mature bio colonies…septic efficiency…nitrate reduction… pathogen reduction? If pumping septics every other month has these ramifications, and assuming the board knew at least some of this going in, what conclusion, what “sense of events” can you draw, if any, as to their reasons for ordering mass pumping in the first place? A pressure tactic?

A. Septic tanks are fragile beasts. They really are there for one purpose, to provide a buffer and conduit for getting our wastes back to the natural environment. Back before agriculture made cities possible humans did what the bears did. And we all know that bears shit in the woods. The surface of the soil is rich in bacteria, carbon from dead leaves, fungus, insects, worms, protozoans, etc. The day we chose to flush everything with water, we locked ourselves out of the best biological venue for treatment. Water cannot hold oxygen in high enough concentrations but the surface soils can. Septics were pretty good, since they started the process anaerobically, causing the wastes to liquefy. Then they could go out to the soil, and air could penetrate the soil and do a pretty good job of cleaning up.  But we just have too many people on this earth now. Where is ZPG anymore? Does anyone talk about over population?  I sure am not hearing it. 

Nevertheless, septic tanks are always on the knife-edge of survival. Protect them and they work, to a limit. But start pumping every two months and you destroy just about any benefit they can provide.  Estimates say it
can take one to two years to get a good anaerobic community established. Actually I think that is probably an overestimate. But there is no way you can get biological treatment in a septic tank in just two months. And if there is no treatment then the only benefit you get is from the 1,000 gallons you remove at each pumping. The other 18,000 gallons during the rest of the two months, now has virtually no treatment, so you have gone from bad to worse in the process.

The Board staff knew it when they recommended it. They quote a paper published about research at the Massachusetts Buzzard’s Bay site to justify their claim that septic tanks only remove 1%-3% percent of the nitrogen load. They studiously overlook the fact that in this very same paper it was found that the soil under the leach field removed 21%-25% of the nitrogen and that a subsurface Geoflow drip field removed 42%. We conducted a study at that very same site, in fact the very same septic tanks and leachfields, and showed our technology removed 80%-99% of the nitrogen as it passed through the soil. The staff knows this. They chose to ignore it. You conclude what their motive is.  

Dr. Dan Wickham PhD is a principal partner in Kenwood, California-based ABG Wastewater Solutions Inc. (ABG WWS). He is co-inventor of the Pirana bio-remediator and the inventor of the biological aspects of the Aerobic Bacterial Generator. The Pirana prototype was launched in 2000. More than 1,500 Pirana systems have been installed by Dr. Wickham and associates over a time span of five years to customers that include families, businesses and institutions. For more information on ABG WWS or the Pirana, visit www.abgwws.com or write infor@abgwws.com.

The Benefits of the Decentralized Option

How a Decentralized Wastewater Treatment System for Los Osos offers more for less and solves the water supply problem


The Decentralized Wastewater Management Option for Los Osos would consist of a number of communal neighborhood systems serving all existing developed properties and build-out by complete wastewater collection, treatment and dispersal systems.
The number of communal/neighborhood systems is to be determined. Each system would serve different neighborhoods that could be represented by a homeowners association or the CSD. It is not unreasonable, nor does it cause management difficulties, for there to be 25+/- neighborhood systems.
The Decentralized Wastewater Management Option would produce reusable water complying with CA Title 22 standards for unrestricted water reuse. Use of the untreated wastewater for residential landscape irrigation—which represents approximately 50% of the Los Osos water use—would solve the water supply imbalance in Los Osos that has caused saltwater intrusion and thereby endangering the community’s groundwater water supply, as well as reducing in half on average, Los Ososean’s water supply costs. No other proposed wastewater solution meets the necessary performance criteria to restore the community’s water supply.
The Decentralized Wastewater Option would consist of a number of communal wastewater systems that would total the wastewater design flow of 1.2+/- MGD. Each communal system would consist of the following components:


– Septic Tank Effluent Collection System – maximizing the use of gravity (i.e. STEG) and using pumps (STEP) when necessary. Placing STEPs everywhere is an unnecessary expense and energy use.

– House Connection – all work associated with connecting an existing house’s septic system to the communal/neighborhood system is included. There are no additional costs to be borne by the homeowner.


– Recirculating Media Filters for Advanced Secondary Treatment
– NitrexTM system for nitrogen removal – which could have emergent wetlands if desired
– isinfection with UV-Ozone that additionally treats for the emerging contaminants


– Primarily by returning the treated wastewater to the individual properties generating wastewater, for drip/landscape irrigation. Additional drainfields would be provided for “excess” treated effluent that is not disposed of via drip irrigation to individual wastewater generating properties. Drip irrigation is a year-round activity and not subject to seasonal issues associated with surface land application, i.e. spray irrigation as proposed by others. Connection between communal systems for effluent reuse/dispersal would occur to address wastewater production-reuse/dispersal imbalances in communal areas.


Sufficient undeveloped land exists throughout the community to site the needed communal wastewater treatment facilities. At each of the communal treatment sites, virtually all wastewater treatment facilities would be below ground. With appropriate landscaping, the communal systems could be an open space amenity in the community and/or sites for solar collectors to reduce energy costs.

Operation & Maintenance

Operation and maintenance of the communal wastewater systems is simple, requiring little operator attention. Current comparable facilities operate with monthly visits. Monitoring requirements will require simple sampling. Electrical needs are predominately to operate small pumps that operate intermittently. No chemicals are needed. There is little sludge production in the treatment system. Odor issues are mitigated as there is no sludge processing and natural passive soil filters are used for purifying air venting of treatment processes.  

Benefits of the Decentralized Option:
1. Cost competitive – less costly
    Some centralized wastewater systems costs are eliminated or traded for more productive/valued uses, such as:
a. Elimination of force main to treatment plant
b. Dispersal system and land costs are traded for a water reuse/drip irrigation system that lowers property owners’ water supply costs by 50% +/- on average. This feature should also increase property values.
c. Eliminates the saltwater intrusion problem and restores the sustainability of the community’s water supply. It is noted that landscape irrigation is 50% of water use in Los Osos, and is the major cause of saltwater intrusion.
d. Eliminates centralized sludge treatment, usually a major source of odors and costs. Sludge generated will be predominately septage (septic tank pumping), which can be treated by simple subsurface land application or disposal at an existing centralized wastewater treatment facility.
e. Using the unit costs in the Los Osos Wastewater Project Viable Project Alternatives Fine Screening Analysis (FSA) and our experience for items not included in the FSA, the Decentralized Wastewater Option is cost competitive with the centralized options and with the reuse component, provides more for less.
f. GUARANTEED PRICE – the capital and annual operation costs will be guaranteed
2. Implementation Speed – the communal system modularity enables the project to be easily segmented and the individual communal systems can be implemented quickly.  
3. Environmental Benefits
a. Low energy use – low carbon footprint with use of solar collectors possible
b. No chemicals needed
c. Working within existing developed area, thereby eliminating impacts on new sites
d. Treated wastewater must be re-used for landscape irrigation for a sustainable community. The decentralized option is the only solution proposing this approach.
e. Treats emerging contaminants
4. Technical Issues
a. Gravity septic tank effluent collection systems do not have the infiltration problems of conventional systems.
b. Treatment processes are all low-energy use systems.
5. Financing
a. Private financing is available
6. Affordability
a. The decentralized option addresses both wastewater and supply issues and thereby eliminates unknown future costs associated with addressing the water supply salt water intrusion problem.
b. Reduces water supply costs by 50%. Consequently, future water supply escalation costs will not be as severe. Also, the value of reuse increases as water supply costs increase.
c. Least cost option for capital and annual Operation & Maintenance costs. Due to low energy use, no chemicals and simple operations, impacts of future inflation are reduced.
7. Groundwater Recharge/Reuse
a. The decentralized option is the only option that solves water supply imbalance at no additional cost.
8. Sustainability
a. Uses passive low-energy system
b. Avoids unnecessary pumping with out of town facility and unnecessary STEP units
c. Restores community’s water supply

Pio Lombardo is President of Lombardo Associates, Inc. of Malibu, Calif., and Boston, Mass., has completed a system in Malibu identical to what he is proposing for Los Osos, has been the Engineer of Record for $200+ million of innovative wastewater systems a number of which have involved installation of septic tank effluent collection systems in existing communities and design build-build-finance-operate, receiving engineering excellence awards, is the author of numerous USEPA Manuals on “Innovative Wastewater Management” and is a nationally recognized expert on decentralized wastewater systems. He has 35 years experience in decentralized wastewater management and his decentralized proposal for Los Osos is up for consideration by the County as a candidate for the Los Osos project. He can be reached at 866-964-2924, at Pio@LombardoAssociates.com, or through www.LombardoAssociates.com.

Los Osos Welcomes World-Famous Civics Designer

Legendary environmental artist Patricia Johanson, center, visited Los Osos on February 24 at the invitation of local residents, and toured possible sites for a ponding system with District Supervisor candidate Judy Vick and LOCSD board member Julie Tacker.

In the little over 24 hours she was in Los Osos—she drove down from Monterey where she lectured at the university—she managed to meet with community leaders Gail McPherson, John Fouche, Steve Senet and District Engineer Rob Miller. Johanson, who has worked extensively in Asia and Africa, is known throughout the world for creating innovative designs that combine the industrial and the imaginary in a way that—magically, through some eyes—turns wastewater projects, public works and town parks into their very opposites: realms of colorful, childlike joy and wonder that attract rather than repel. Johanson’s list of striking accomplishments include the ongoing Petaluma Wetlands Water Recycling Facility and 290-acre Shollenberger Park, Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas, Park for the Amazon Rainforest, Endangered Garden in San Francisco, and a 912-acre park in Seoul, South Korea—bigger than New York’s Central Park. This luminous willow of a woman, a cancer survivor, has been called “one of the most exciting environmental artists working today,” and those in the community fortunate enough to meet and speak with her found out why first hand. Johanson travels around the world by herself, summoned by a reputation that reaches even beyond the Internet, and wherever she goes, she’s always intently jotting down notes in her diaries, capturing almost every word local officials utter about a possible project site. Johanson humbly told residents and community leaders that she felt a kinship with Los Osos, and would certainly consider working here, if asked. (See page 8 for examples of her work, and visit www.patriciajohanson.com)

How to Defuse the Gravity Bomb

The Morro Bay/Cayucos joint sewer system and the gravity system pegged for Los Osos incubate immune pathogens with a high mortality rate and no certain cure to date. Civil engineer/environmental scientist Dr. John Alexander offers to defuse Morro Bay and warns Los Osos.

The Morro Bay/Cayucos joint sewer system and the gravity system pegged for Los Osos incubate immune pathogens with a high mortality rate and no certain cure to date. Civil engineer/environmental scientist Dr. John Alexander offers to defuse Morro Bay and warns Los Osos.

Currently unrelated plans to upgrade the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Facility and to build a conventional wastewater facility out of town in Los Osos both share at least one characteristic in common, according to Dr. John Alexander of Alexander Research in Cayucos: They are both dangerous.
“The $25 million ‘upgrade’ to the (Morro Bay/Cayucos) sewer system is far too costly and will not solve the contamination problem,” Dr. Alexander said. “The consultants have not kept abreast of the changes with immunity of pathogens, and the mutation which takes place in the so-called secondary treatment of a standard treatment plant.
“The proposed (Morro Bay/Cayucos) program will have exactly the opposite effect of the intention,” he told The Rock. “It will be a breeding place for pathogens. Those pathogens are already creating pandemics resulting in 60%-70% mortality. Chlorine is just no longer adequate. For about $4 million, a physical chemical treatment could be added to the present plant. This would add at least 30% to the plant’s capacity and overcome the contamination problem.”
Dr. Alexander is glad to share information or data with consultants, and offers his help without charge.

Troubling Research
The Morro Bay/Cayucos plant, built in 1954 and upgraded in 1984, is one of only three in the entire state that doesn’t meet all required clean water standards. Under a waiver, it is permitted to dump partially treated sewage into the ocean north of Morro Rock. Environmental groups want state water regulators to cut in half the time projected (2015) to bring the plant up to federal standards for secondary treatment, yet Dr. Alexander warns that rushing to meet secondary treatment standards is “exactly the wrong thing.”
“Secondary treatment is the most deadly part of the whole situation, because when they mix the sewage we’re beginning to get [pathogens] that are not curable anymore, and secondary treatment is actually growing this bacteria. Not only is it incubating the bacteria that is already what you might call poisonous, but (that bacteria) is mutating over to the other bacteria. One family could contaminate thousands.”
For decades it was widely accepted that active offshore currents quickly diluted effluents, and that was the basis of the discharge waiver. That isn’t as true anymore. Now, also surviving release into the ocean are pathogens, including bacteria resistant to antibiotic drugs, that pass through the plant’s incomplete treatment process. According to a recently released report by John Alexander Research on “Drug Resistant Bacteria in Conventional Water Treatment Systems,” “Studies reported in the scientific and medial literature dating back to at least the 1970s show failure of treatment to kill or remove all pathogenic bacteria. Thus, this is hardly new knowledge.”
What is less known by the public is the extent of the problem, the increased threat to public health, its historical context, and the real potential for an outbreak. “Multiple drug-resistant bacteria are particularly problematic due to the decreasing number of therapeutic options,” the report warns, options that include the latest and most commonly effective “wonder drugs.” These cornerstone drugs of modern medical treatments, the report acknowledges, “seem to be in trouble.”
“A less understood and even more troubling mechanism for the transfer of multi-drug-resistant bacteria is also found at the local sewer treatment plant,” the report also states. “As bacteria wind their way through these treatment processes, the selective pressures against them increase. In consequence, there is a greater effort by bacteria to pass on survival-enhancing genetic information. Additionally, as the environmental stresses increase, the bacteria up-regulate numerous other survival mechanisms to assure that they and their genetic material survive. These survived mechanisms can include increased chlorine resistance.”
“The fact is,” said Dr. Alexander, “all the contaminated sewerage goes to one place, and then they do secondary treatment, which is doing nothing but incubating the bacteria so there are enough of them to grow the pathogens. This was a fairly reasonable (procedure) for many years, but unfortunately, bacteria and viruses have become immune to treatment. Our ‘wonder drugs’ just aren’t cutting it at all.
“At one time they had a natural life cycle, but these pathogens have developed an immunity because of our misuse of ‘wonder drugs.’ We now have bacteria and virus that can take a temperature of 450 degrees. The old 250 degree (standard) doesn’t mean anything anymore (in that particular set of species).”
Emphasizes the report: “The take-home message is that drug resistance and the transfer of multi-drug resistance among and between species occurs in wastewater treatment plants. This information is now over a decade old.”

The Gravity Menace
The expensive Tri-W gravity plant for Los Osos, approved by the RWQCB and other state regulatory agencies, but defeated by voters at the polls last September, is a potential menace in the making, in town or out, according to Dr. Alexander. “It doesn’t make any sense at all. The fact that they gather the waste from thousands of people and put it in one common ‘mixing ground.’ All you’ve got to do is have one family that has ‘the bug.’ They get mixed up with the rest of [the bacteria] between incubation and mutation, and one family could end up producing trillions of pathogens that are contaminated and without cure… Dilution doesn’t work anymore. These pathogens are surviving even in saltwater… And they can spread around the world.
“Either of the programs the RWQCB is demanding is more dangerous than the bomb,” Dr Alexander said. “In either case, (these systems) are breeding deadly pathogens that are already pandemic with high mortality.
“[The RWQCB] has absolutely no concern their one-track programs are totally obsolete in the modern world. It hinders the technology that will eliminate our water shortage and the energy shortage. They spend their time trying to kill a flea on an elephant… Now, the very system they’re developing is one of the biggest hazards in life.”
The RWQCB hadn’t taken much of an interest in pathogens until the revised, post-dated CDOs were received by selected Los Osos homeowners in early April, with pathogens added to nitrates and fill-in-the-blank “other” as pollutants for which individual home owners are now responsible for cleaning up—or face fine and liens and who knows what else.
But that hasn’t changed the RWQCB’s pursuit of a conventional sewer for Los Osos. Even though all that sewage into one big plant is a disaster waiting to happen, Dr. Alexander asserted, adding that there is no such thing as an earthquake-proof sewer treatment plant. An earthquake could rupture sewer lines and knock out power to the plant—and the public health impact could be devastating. “Additionally,” the report states, “if the sewer mains are leaking, this increases the potential risk for materials reaching the environment, aquifer, rivers, or beach and ocean.” And, in the post-9/11 world, it can’t be overlooked that with its capacity to disseminate pathogens near and far, a central sewer plant could be an easy target for terrorism, which is a tougher target with individual household units.
“The tendency now is to go b
ack to individual systems, so we don’t have this massive problem to treat. The individual system certainly could have an overflow, but one little overflow is nothing compared to what you will have if you have millions of gallons of raw sewage floating around.
“Certainly, the system they are using now [in Morro Bay], even without the MRSAs [methicillin-resistant staphloccus aureus, a virulent strain of common staph bacteria] and ecoli 157, are making lots of people sick because they’re only half treating it, and the pathogens are not being killed by chlorine.”

Progress Made
John Alexander Research is working with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta to analyze various pathogens, discover their dissemination points and how they can be stopped. Alexander Research has developed a system called PH Pasturization, according to Dr. Alexander, which kills “identifiable” bacteria that have built up a resistance to even chlorine. They are also working on other promising approaches, including one that eliminates the water contained in the pathogens by “zapping the water and the water alone by using electro-magnetic energy.” He believes they are on the right track, but more conclusive proof is needed before scientists can claim success.
A broader, more frightening question lies in whether any of these pathogens can be found in our drinking water. Dr. Alexander doesn’t think so but can’t completely rule it out, since there is no conclusive proof today that as-yet-unidentified pathogens are not in the drinking water.
Dr. Alexander believes the public needs to pay closer attention to the pathogen problem and protest their concern to local and state officials who permit it. “It is despicable to let a handful of people, for personal gain, destroy the lives of thousands of people. It takes guts to fight city hall, but with so much at stake it is cowardly to give up,” he said. “Many Los Osos citizens think they have no choice and are willing to put up with the nonsense being pushed upon them. Thank goodness our forefathers had more intestinal fortitude.”

— Ed Ochs

Invasion of the Town Snatchers

It has been alleged that San Luis Obispo County is the most corrupt in the nation. In the minds of many, a large part of that corruption is related to the way in which developers have managed to infiltrate local government agencies, putting “their people” in key positions in order to ensure a development-friendly environment, and even to funnel public funds into projects that will save them money and increase their profitability. In Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos, there seems to be considerable evidence to support these assertions. Numerous decisions by local governments, made in the face of significant and ongoing opposition by local citizens, seem to indicate that it is the welfare of business interests, not the welfare of the citizens, that motivates some elected and appointed officials and government staff.



It has been alleged that San Luis Obispo County is the most corrupt in the nation. In the minds of many, a large part of that corruption is related to the way in which developers have managed to infiltrate local government agencies, putting “their people” in key positions in order to ensure a development-friendly environment, and even to funnel public funds into projects that will save them money and increase their profitability. In Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Cayucos, there seems to be considerable evidence to support these assertions. Numerous decisions by local governments, made in the face of significant and ongoing opposition by local citizens, seem to indicate that it is the welfare of business interests, not the welfare of the citizens, that motivates some elected and appointed officials and government staff.

How It’s Been Done Elsewhere – the Privatization of a City’s Water Supply

If the assertions regarding local government takeovers are true, we are not alone. It is not only developers who take over local governments to enhance their profits. In their book “Thirst,” which describes the worldwide takeover of water resources by private enterprise, authors Fox, Kaufman and Snitow describe the manner in which a large water company engineered the takeover of Lexington, Kentucky’s city government. Their objective: approval of a pipeline to bring Ohio River water to the town—to sell, of course. One local activist noted that, “The stated purpose was a backup water supply in case of severe drought. If you’re trying to solve the problem in the optimal, least-cost manner, you study all other alternatives. They didn’t do that. It was a straw man. They had already decided to build the pipeline. The rationale was devised later on.”

The authors note that it was clear that the company’s “…goal was to get the existing taxpayers to pay for a huge expansion of its service territory into the farmland surrounding Lexington. The project was a developer’s dream, but a horse breeder’s nightmare.” They describe how the water company, using four different public relations and political consulting firms, created and implemented their strategy to defeat locals who opposed the pipeline. Tactics included the formation of a local coalition that masqueraded as a grass roots organization with broad local support. It was actually backed by local construction and real estate industries and the water company. To seal the deal, they engineered the takeover of the Lexington City Council by providing (indirectly) financing and management for the campaigns of the water company’s own candidates.

The Impacts on Communities

Once business interests manage to place enough of their people in staff, elected, and appointed government positions, they are able to use their power to override the will of the citizens. Many do it so quietly, and so well, that few people even suspect what is happening. Negative impacts, many of which have been seen in local communities, are what one would expect when there are numerous foxes guarding the chicken coop. In a community where a developer takeover has occurred, public funds are funneled into projects aimed at paving the way for new development at taxpayer expense. Public infrastructure is ignored, except as needed to support development, and falls into disrepair. Projects that violate local zoning codes are permitted through exceptions and variances, and sometimes just through failure to enforce the law. Projects incompatible with local goals and needs gain approval. Communities pay the price of this ill-advised development for many years to come. By now, some, if not all of this may be sounding rather familiar.

Mortgaging a City’s Future – Morro Bay Development Impact Fees

Development impact fees, paid by property developers, are intended to help pay a community’s increased future infrastructure costs resulting from development. Morro Bay has, for some years, had much lower fees than other SLO communities, fees that critics said were far too low. Yet, during a previous administration, development impact fees were actually cut, and until 2007, remained static for years. Meanwhile, infrastructure costs were far outstripping the amount of money available to pay for much-needed repairs and enhancements. Council member Demeritt agitated for a fee hike and, eventually, a consultant was hired to do a study to determine the appropriate level for the fees. The September, 2007 Council meeting at which fee implementation was considered was attended by group of builders and developers whose behavior was described by some locals as “loud” and “unruly.”  Suddenly, in the middle of the discussions, Mayor Peters suggested that the fee amount recommended by the consultant be cut in half and raised later in a stepped approach. An apparently outraged Demeritt stated that she could hardly believe that the City would use taxpayer dollars to pay a consultant to determine the optimal fee amount, and then cut it in half. Demeritt and Winholtz resisted, but the vote to cut the fees was 3-2, and the reduced amount was approved.

With their streets crumbling, service levels dwindling, and Police and Fire services clamoring for more funds to protect the community, many residents were outraged. They asserted that the fee cut had guaranteed inadequate funding for infrastructure and services in the present and in the future. Community outrage increased when, a short time later, those who had voted for the development impact fee cut refused to grant a similar break to sewer system rate payers, insisting on implementing the full increase immediately. This time, Demeritt and Winholtz attempted to engineer a stepped approach to the sewer fee increases, for the benefit of low-income residents, but did not prevail, leaving locals wondering why the financial security of the developers was so much more important to the Mayor and two Council members than the financial security of the citizens of the town.

Concealing an Infrastructure Disaster – The Morro Bay and Cayucos Sewer Systems

The Morro Bay and Cayucos wastewater collection systems are in a serious state of disrepair, and leaking raw sewage into the soil along miles of collection lines, and irrefutable, documented evidence of the problems has been publicized in recent weeks. The evidence, consisting of videotaped inspections of the lines, and accompanying logs, proves that the system has been polluting local waters for many years. This situation, recently investigated and publicized by local clean water activists Richard Sadowski and Marla Jo Bruton, was known to some City staff members, but never revealed to the public. After Sadowski and Bruton provided the evidence to the State Water Resources Control Board and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the local board began investigating the situation.

Listings of videotaped inspections conducted, and statements from a prior Cayucos CSD employee indicate that such inspections were done as early as 1995, and continued over the years. The images on the inspection tapes show hundreds of misaligned and separated pipe joints, cracks and holes, many of which are obvious even to an untrained eye. The amount of sewage pollution from Morro Bay and Cayucos that has entered the ground water, Estero Bay and the Ocean has not been quantified, but it is clear from the evidence that the amount must be significant.

Who knew what, and when?  Given that Morro Bay and Cayucos staff members ordered the inspections and reviewed the results, it is clear that some staff members saw the evidence of the problem. A conscientious employee who knew of such a serious health and safety problem would be expected to immediately report it to the Council for action, but there is no evidence that this ever happened. Sadowski states that Mayor Peters was told by citizens, at a Januuary, 2005 meeting at the Morro Bay Community Center, that the City’s wastewater treatment facility and collection system posed significant health and safety risks to the community. Sadowski further states that in early summer 2004, he and another Cayucos Sanitary District employee made a lengthy presentation to FEMA and OES staff members, providing well-documented evidence of serious damage and deterioration in several miles of Cayucos sewer lines. He notes that Bonnie Connelly, of the Cayucos CSD, was present at that meeting.

Why was the state of the sewer lines in these communities kept quiet? Some Morro Bay residents believe that the reason was a desire to avoid a potential building moratorium that would stop development in the town. Recently, an additional possible motive was suggested. If it had been revealed that pollution attributed to Los Osos was actually coming from Morro Bay and Cayucos, it would have been difficult, if not impossible to force an over-priced sewer system on Los Osos. That community might then have been free to choose a simpler, less costly way of modernizing its wastewater treatment methods, thus foiling plans to create infrastructure needed to support major development in the town.

Paving the way for Developing a Community – the Los Osos Sewer Saga

Numerous articles published in prior editions of The Rock have made clear the reasons for the push to implement an over-priced sewer in Los Osos. Sewers pave the way for development, and if they cost enough, they can drive out thousands of citizens, lowering property values, and allowing developers to snap up homes and land at bargain prices. In addition, a “side effect” of the proposed sewer will be the need for Los Osos to import (buy) all its water, once the sewer is in place, thus generating business for a water company, and adding to the control that private enterprise has over water service.

Events of the past several years would seem to indicate that the alleged developers’ “conspiracy” driving the “gold-plated” sewer project may extend far beyond Los Osos’ borders. The interesting new question is, “Is the developer takeover in Los Osos connected to the concealment of the pollution from the dilapidated sewer infrastructure in Morro Bay and Cayucos?”

Illegal, Under-the-Table Favors for Developers?  –  Alleged Building Activities in Cayucos

An active lawsuit, filed by a former Cayucos CSD employee, alleges that the Cayucos Sanitary District illegally granted “Will Serve” letters to developers of several parcels with significant drainage problems. In several areas of SLO County, particularly in LAFCO areas with special districts such as the Cayucos Sanitary District, issuance of a building permit requires the issuance of a “Will-Serve” letter. The letters are issued by public entities responsible for various public services, such as water, sewer and garbage pickup service. The Cayucos CSD is responsible for ensuring that a building project adheres to related local ordinances before issuing a “Will Serve” letter. Necessary tasks include review of building plans, verification that existing sewer lines can handle the added flow, and assurance that there are no drainage problems on the property that could impact sewer lines. The lawsuit identifies projects where severe drainage problems were present, and developers were not required to correct them prior to receiving finalized “Will Serve” letters.

The suit further alleges that one CSD member has illegally extended sewer lines in the community without proper review and approval, violating the local ordinance that requires a public CSD vote for all such extension

The Project That (Almost) Nobody Wants – The Morro Bay Roundabout

Morro Bay residents complain that a few Morro Bay City staffers and officials studiously ignored numerous and vocal citizen objections, and pushed through approval of a roundabout at the intersection of Morro Bay Blvd and Quintana road, one of the most unpopular projects ever undertaken in Morro Bay. Despite major, ongoing citizen opposition focused on evidence that this project will result in increased traffic accidents, the project is moving forward. The pattern continued at the February 26 City Council meeting.  With a number of speakers opposing the roundabout, and only one person (considered by many to be Morro Bay’s most outspoken advocate for developers’ interests) supporting it, the Council again voted to allow the project to go forward. Demerrit and Winholtz argued against the project, citing risks to public safety, but were defeated in a 3- 2 vote. Many are puzzled, wondering why the Mayor, two Council members, and a small number of City staff members supporting this project are so committed to it. Others believe they know why.

Across the highway from the Albertsons shopping Center and the Morro Bay Blvd. and Quintana Road intersection is a piece of land known as the Tri-W property. Ordinarily, prospective developers of property, not the local taxpayers, are required to pay for the infrastructure improvements necessary to support development. Much of the new traffic, storm drainage, water and sewer infrastructure required will be constructed as part of the roundabout project

The Rock obtained a copy of two early documents describing plans for the site. The first is titled “Williams Bros. Pacific Coast Shopping Study, Project Description & Expanded Initial Study.” By Courtney & Associates Inc., The Morro Group, In., and Mid State Engineers Inc., dated September 1988. Contained in the document is a staff report by the Morro Bay Department of Public Works, dated February 19, 1988. Referring to an earlier proposal, the report notes inadequacies in plans for traffic circulation and signals, storm water drainage, water distribution, sewer collection lines, and other infrastructure needed to support the development. The document outlines plans to address these concerns. Proposed traffic circulation improvements include “ultimate widening of Morro Bay Boulevard to four lanes, Highway One overpass widening to four lanes, realignment of the interchange on-and off-ramps, and signals at the Ocean View Avenue/Morro Bay Boulevard intersection, at the interchange, and at Quintana Road/Morro Bay intersections.” It is further noted that, “It is assumed that the applicant will be reimbursed for the expenses over and above his fair share of the costs.”

The second document is a copy of a December 1989 study, the “Draft Environmental Impact Report, Pacific Coast Shopping Plaza,” prepared by EIP Associates. The document details extensive mitigation to address impacts of the development. Traffic and circulation,” and “Adequate turning radii for 18 wheeled vehicles shall be provided to delivery areas and at intersections and dead-end streets at the project site,” and “the project sponsor shall be responsible for providing and upgrading sewer lines serving the project.” With regard to water service and the estimated 40 additional WEUs required to support the project, it is stated, “Infrastructure costs shall be paid for by the project sponsor.” The document also contains a traffic study, which discusses issues related to signalization of the intersection. It should be noted that a Morro Bay City engineer stated, in a recent public meeting, that, in conjunction with roundabout construction, improvements to/replacements of water and sewer infrastructure under intersection will be made.

Some Morro Bay residents recall the presence of project sponsors at public meetings where plans for the intersection; a proposed roundabout, in particular, were discussed. Minutes from a Public Works Advisory Board meeting in March 2000 include the following comments: “Boucher stated there is an approved project for the other side of the highway, which involves widening of the bridge. The agreement states the costs would be shared by the City and developer, stated Boucher, but is an expensive project and staff would like to avoid spending the money if there is another mutual benefit option.” And “Marshall Ochylski, representing Tri-W, stated that his client’s concerns were 1) that there is adequate capacity to service their property and 2) if an adequate plan can be developed which didn’t allow a left turn off the bridge, they would prefer not to widen it either.”

Eight years have passed since that meeting. The intersection has not been signalized. The water and sewer infrastructure have not been improved, nor has storm drainage, and the Tri-W property has not been developed. Residents we spoke to wonder if the property owners might be waiting for something, noting that it is clear that, if the roundabout is built, whoever develops the Tri-W property developer stands to save a great deal of money.

If You Don’t Like the Law, Change it (Behind the Scenes) – Morro Bay General Plan and Zoning Update Irregularities

The California Supreme Court has identified the General Plan as the “Constitution” for all future development. Morro Bay’s current General Plan, created with the input from hundreds of attendees at City workshops, states that, “The present human scale and leisurely, low intensity appearance of Morro Bay should be maintained through careful regulation of building height, location and mass,” and “The present human scale in building design and style should be encouraged in all future development and redevelopment in lieu of high-intensity or high-rise concepts.” Yet, the zoning has never been updated to provide a means to implement these requirements. A recent citizen movement to manage the size of homes in Morro Bay has been met with significant and sometimes unruly developer opposition. In response to disruptive behavior at one City workshop, the subsequent gathering was attended by a uniformed police officer, brought in to prevent a repeat performance.

Developer efforts to obstruct any controls over the size of homes have allegedly been in the works for years. Some Morro Bay residents state a belief that the proposed General Plan and Zoning Ordinance, now under review by the California Coastal Commission, was altered after public review was complete, and that some of the public comment submitted for inclusion with the package sent to the Coastal Commission was left out. In the Planning Commission minutes for November 17, 2003, the following citizen complaint is noted: “Colby Crotzer was critical that it had taken so long to get the General Plan rewrite and revision and also of the late in the evening placement on the agenda because it didn’t facilitate people participating. Crotzer said it was a signal to him that real participation of the public is not what the Commission is seeking. Crotzer said Crawford, Multari and Clark’s expensive work ($120,000) and expertise as highly respected professionals in the field had been butchered in the process of deletion and cited examples.”

In the “Public Review Draft General Plan/coastal Land Use Plan – Policy Change Matrix,” dated August 2000, are two significant deletions of material from the General Plan, allegedly made by a (then) member of the Planning Commission. It is stated, in the document that “Policy LU-15. The present human scale and leisurely, low intensity appearance of Morro Bay should be maintained through careful regulation of building height, location and mass” is “Repetitive. The intent of this policy has been included in policies for Downtown, Embarcadero and neighborhoods, and incorporated into zoning regulations.” It is further stated that “Program LU-18.1. The present human scale in building design and style should be encouraged in all future development and redevelopment in lieu of high-intensity or high-rise concepts” has been “Incorporated into the City’s zoning ordinance (through maximum building height, setback requirements, and maximum lot coverage.” Both provisions are missing from the copy of the document now under review.

An examination of the proposed Zoning Ordinance tells a very different story than the one presented by the person(s) responsible for the deletion of this important material. One local citizen who reviewed the Zoning document noted, “The City has repeatedly indicated that the current revision of the Zoning Ordinance is not intended to modify the provisions of our current code, merely to consolidate and clarify existing policies. It is clear that Chapter 17.06 will make several significant changes to residential zoning throughout the City. The most important of these include: A significant reduction in front yard setbacks in the proposed RS-A zone, A notable increase in the allowable scale and bulk of development and decrease in required separation of residences in the proposed RS-C area which lies south of Morro Bay Boulevard, A significant increase in allowable density of development and maximum building height in areas which are currently zoned R-3. A reduction in the amount of land available for visitor-serving commercial and general office development, and A complete reversal of City policy with regard to the R3/S.3 zone.”

If You Don’t Like the Law, Find Someone to Help You Get Around it – Permit Facilitators and Developers Running Amok

The ability of some local permit facilitators to get their projects approved has left many locals scratching their heads and asking questions: Why is it that a few influential individuals can get projects approved when aspects of those projects fly in the face of local zoning regulations? How do they get permits approved when nobody else can?  Could it be that they have connections in local government?

With a building moratorium staring him in the face, one prominent local permit facilitator/developer was able to gain approval for a number of building projects in Los Osos. The same individual also gained approval for a notorious Morro Bay project known as “Quintana and Main” or “Sundancer Village.” The property was initially described as three “unbuildable” lots. Somehow, that designation was changed, and construction was permitted. The plans were for 10 homes with six homes having attached second unit affordable housing residences. By taking advantage of the law that allows greater building density when a project includes affordable housing, approval was obtained for more homes than would ordinarily have been allowed. Then, after the increased density was approved, the facilitator/developer announced that since he had accumulated “mitigated credits” there would be no affordable housing.

The “driveway,” which many residents say is, in fact, a street extension, was allowed by the City. Under a “driveway permit” Quintana Road was extended and a stoplight was placed at the “driveway entrance” on Main Street. Citizens complained to City staff that this construction violated National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) regulations for road extensions, but the construction was allowed to proceed.

Initial citizen complaints regarding fire safety initially went unheeded. The local fire department said that they could use the fire hydrant in front of Lemo’s Feed Supply and service the project with trucks on Main Street, and hoses taken up to the project. Major pressure from citizens finally forced the installation of a Fire Hydrant beside the “driveway.”

The building permit called for re-routing of a sewer lateral from an existing building on a nearby corner. Under a “re-route of a lateral permit” the developers extended the Main Street sewer line to service 16 homes. As one local expert put it, “Wow, that’s some lateral extension!” A City Engineer referred to it as a ‘cluster lateral.’ The Rock consulted with a local sewer line expert, who stated that “cluster lateral” is not a term or practice contained in the Sewage Guidelines building codes, and that the work was done by a construction firm owned by Enns Construction, a firm owned by Robert Enns, President of the Cayucos Sanitary District Board.

The removal of soil during grading was another major issue. Developers’ original estimates indicated that about 3,500 cubic yards of soil would be removed from the site. It has been alleged that site elevations in the project documentation are actually post-, not pre-excavation, and that stated slopes deviated significantly from reality. When concerned citizens complained to a City Engineer about the actual amount of soil being removed from the site, he stated that no City permit for soil removal was needed. The citizens were referred to the County. Research revealed that soil removal of 5,000 cubic yards.or more requires a County permit. No such permit for the project was found on file. The soil was taken to the Morro Bay Golf Course, which had no permit to receive the amount of soil that was deposited there.

The concerned citizens monitored soil removal and took photos, estimating the total amount removed at between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic yards. Golf Course management said that the soil from the Quintana and Main project was just part of the Golf Course “dirt pile” that has always been maintained to fix dig holes created by golfers. The need for 15,000-20,000 cubic yards of soil to fill divots raised, in some minds, some interesting images of the golfers who use the course. Despite evidence of violations of the law, there have been no reported punitive actions taken, by the City or by the County, against those responsible for the removal of the soil, or the Golf Course management that allowed the soil to be deposited at their facility.

Five units were constructed on the Quintana and Main site. They did not sell, and the remaining planned units were not built. The undeveloped portion of the property is now surrounded by a chain link fence, and is for sale.

Signs of Improvement?

The examples given in this article are the tip of the iceberg. Business interests still appear to hold our communities in a tight grip, and evidence is abundant. The situation in Los Osos remains the same, as of this writing. Most believe that without a miracle, thousands of residents will be driven from their homes by an over-priced and inappropriate wastewater treatment “solution.” The Cayucos Sanitary District appears to remain solidly under the control of local developers, and building in that community continues at a rapid pace despite the fact that the sewer infrastructure needed to support it is still in a serious state of disrepair. Recent publicity, generated by local activists, does seem to have prompted plans to make some major upgrades to the system, and residents were recently informed of plans for a major rate hike.

In Morro Bay, although the roundabout project continues in the face of major citizen opposition, there have been a few encouraging signs. Bowing to the demands of hundreds of neighborhood compatibility workshop attendees, the Morro Bay Planning Commission and Council have recently approved temporary measures that control the sizes of some homes in the town, and ordered a neighborhood compatibility ordinance to be developed. Yet, at the same time, the roundabout project continues on. The dilapidated sewer system continues to pollute local waters, and no one in an official capacity is known to have admitted this to be true, although, prompted by the work of local activists, plans for major repairs are in the works. Developers still seem to find ways to get what they want, although they are being told “no” more frequently.

Complaints that Morro Bay City staff grant favors to some builders and developers are still being made, but locals cite encouraging signs that the Planning Commission and Council now seem to be taking the side of the residents on occasion. Some suggest this is because citizens have been organizing, and are making their feelings clear to their elected and appointed officials by attending public meetings in large numbers, and by launching letter- and email-writing campaigns. One recent example is City staff support of a builder whose projects, neighbors assert, have created major parking problems in their neighborhood. The builder was consistently supported by the staff, yet the same staff took a hard line with the owner of a property across the street, where half of a two-car garage had long ago been converted to living space by a previous owner. At meetings heavily attended by neighbors, the Planning Commission and Council did not accept staff recommendations, and took the side of the property owner, refusing to order that the living space be converted back to a garage.

There seems to be a message here. Powerful business forces will, if left unchecked, continue to run our communities for their own financial gain. Many of their actions have created and will create major problems that will be life-changing, in a negative way, for thousands. Inattention and apathy, and leaving activism for “the other guy” have to stop if control of local communities is to be regained by the people who live in them.

Regional Water Board Meets to Outlaw ‘Smart’ and Affordable Onsite Systems

The CCRWQCB wants to make sure it carves out new territory to stay afloat in the filthy business of issuing outrageous fines and mandates that fuel government/industry corruption and insider development… long after innovative onsite systems wipe out pollution.

With smart onsite technologies threatening the need for big public works projects and, ultimately, the agency’s very existence, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is on a mission to prove that it is far more interested in “water control” than “water quality.”
Rewriting existing onsite regulations as if its survival depended on it, the CCRWQCB is moving in its May 9 hearing in San Luis Obispo to control the widening field of alternative systems, aiming to regulate them through revisions to the Central Coast Basin Plan. Strengthening their weakened grip on their authority has become the central focus of recent Regional Water Board legal activities, and onsite systems that meet compliance, improve water quality, even reclaim “new water” from sewage, have become the target.
The Water Board’s expanded authority will give them the power to use the same collective enforcement tactics in other communities in the region and throughout the County to eliminate superior point-source onsite solutions that pose an immediate threat to large, unnecessary, fee-lined public works projects such as big sewers, storm runoff, and man-made non-source-point projects.
Locally, having coerced the Proposition 218 funding vote, the CCRWQCB’s twin resolutions to control onsite system criteria and waivers of waste discharge requirements are but another brazen attempt to force the most expensive sewer system on Los Osos, whether it’s legal or not, necessary or not, and force every homeowner living today in the gerry-mandered “Prohibition Zone” to pay the costs of government failure that continues unabated up to the minute.
It is no coincidence that this power grab is timed to the emergence of the Reclamator home water-reclamation system in Los Osos. The timing of the update to supersede 83-12 appears to be nothing more than thin cover for illegal enforcement actions past, present and future, because without the ability to regulate emerging onsite technologies, the water board would eventually run out of pollution to prosecute and fine—and become the Maytag repairmen of the new millennium. That is why the CCRWQCB is shifting its sphere of influence to controlling the water itself, with or without pollution, light years apart from monitoring water quality of the state’s waters.
Since only certain types of technology—which include collection systems—will meet with Water Board and County approval, the CCRQWCB must exceed its authority and ignore the legal requirements that define its role as a government agency. “They seek to take control of the water, no matter the cost or environmental and human impact, something which is not in the best interest of the public they serve,” said Mark Low, a partner in AES DES, parent company of the Reclamator.
The CCRWQCB has consistently failed to comply with due process throughout the recent Los Osos “hearings,” and despite Chairman Young’s own demand for a higher standard of equal and consistent enforcement, i.e. a level playing field, by its own staff, the board once again has defaulted to resetting its sights on further abuse of its regulatory powers, by dictating when, where and what solution is implemented in Los Osos to comply.
Property owners with existing, legally permitted septics—those most affected by proposed regulations—were not been notified by mail or public notice of the CCRWQB’s May 9 meeting, and the Tribune continues its blackout of news and information vital to Los Osos and other County communities. Therefore, only the most informed knew that deadline for public comment for the May 9 meeting was April 7 in writing, and even those who knew the deadline had practically no time to prepare a full comment.
Perhaps “no comment” was all the board left room for. The draft resolutions offer no supporting cost/benefit analysis, no science or economics, according to the board, because all that has been done before and impacts will be minimal.
Wrote Los Osos resident Keith Wimer to the CCRWQB on April 1: “The proposed revisions to the Basin Plan should not be approved. As recommended, the revisions are vague and confusing, impose unknown and unfunded costs on individuals and agencies, and they’re inconsistent with applicable standards, policies, laws, and ordinances, including the draft state-wide AB 885 ordinance.
“The changes, if approved, will discourage onsite system use, water recycling, decentralized (cluster) systems, and possibly STEP/STEG systems in the Region, at a time when local, state, and federal agencies are looking to these options to help communities protect water quality and deal with looming water and energy shortages in cost-effective ways. In other words, the changes may do more harm than good to the Region’s waters, people, and economy.”
Wimer called on the board to “postpone implementation of any new regulations relative to onsite systems and discharge until you have thoroughly reviewed related laws and policies, industry standards, current research on new onsite technology, additional stakeholder input from the Region, and the progress achieved at the state level on AB 885.”
While Basin Plan revisions are long overdue and should have been implemented prior to the Proposition 218 vote to support the 218’s legitimacy, the update is again politically motivated to support only the County’s plan for the most expensive gravity collection system Los Osos’ money can buy, rather than supporting even more effective, lower-cost alternatives that would eliminate the discharge of pollutants at the source, along with any credible legal reason for issuing CDOs or CAOs to homeowners—or to hook up to a $300-a-month County sewer bill for that matter.
The Water Board simply cannot allow onsite systems a toehold in Los Osos, and they believe homeowners should pay the cost of their latest unfunded mandate to expand their powers. Their version of the Basin Plan “update” gives them—and Executive Director Roger Briggs—sole authority to permit or waive, and change their mind virtually overnight on a dime—or much more. Such absolute power in the hands of non-elected appointees—without independent oversight—is an open invitation to corruption. The CCRWQCB only wants to revise the Basin Plan to anoint itself with the final authority to dictate systems for every home in the County—to permit and waive certain septics, and later create “prohibition zones” if they so decide. Homeowners can be legal one day and a major polluter the next, and liable for the difference in the board’s decision.
By reneging and regressing on its pledge to offer Los Osos homeowners a compliant alternative technology, instead of fining them out of their homes for failure to connect to an community-wide wastewater collection system, the CCWQCB is determined to deny homeowners any legal alternative to hooking up to the megasewer.
To the CCRWQCB onsite is not an option for Los Osos because already-available onsite solutions make a $250 million sewer system instantly obsolete—there would be no government/industry gravy train, no payoffs, and the people most impacted get to keep their homes. Without onsite systems, the price of compliance to most homeowners is, in a word, unaffordable, and that’s just fine with the Water Board and County.