The 2nd District Supervisor had stumped up state and down lobbying the all 12 Coastal Commissioners in their offices, via email and on voice mail to approve the Los Osos Wastewater Project, and when the commissioners voted 7-5 last week to extend the process and hold a de novo hearing in April for a limited review of project loose ends, Bruce Gibson bowed his head, his ears red.
He was joined in defeat by brother San Luis Obispo County Supervisor “Katcho” Kachadjian, who had lobbied from within as both a Coastal Commissioner and County Supervisor, to follow staff’s recommendations and find ‘no substantial issue’ with any of the almost 30 appeals of the project brought before the Commission in Huntington Beach on January 14.
But at the end of that long day, after waging what the Tribune called a “week-long lobbying blitz,” Gibson and Kachadjian stood there with the long faces of losers, looking more like the blitzed. It was a most reassuring sight and worth the long trek for several Los Osos appellants who had driven five hours to Huntington Beach to speak to the Commission for five minutes each. It was also a reprieve, no matter how brief, for homeowners and residents back in Los Osos.
Gathered in chambers to offer testimony if called were County and Central Coast officials including: Paavo Ogren, Director of County Public Works; Mark Hutchinson, Divisional Manager of Environmental for Public Works; Fred Collins of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council; Marshall Ochylski, President of the LOCSD; and Roger Briggs, Executive Officer of the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. They hadn’t come this far for a team photo; they had come for the CDP, the last piece in the arduous permitting process for the County’s proposed project. Now Gibson and Kachadjian, Briggs and Ogren, Hutchinson, Collins and Ochylski would have to wait awhile to celebrate. There would be one more costly step.
With all its local tail-wind, how could the wastewater project come so far only to be rebuffed, even temporarily, by a supportive Coastal Commission? Perhaps Gibson was weary with all the mileage he had logged trying to build momentum to ram the project by the Commission. Perhaps it was the pressure of having to operate in the open, outside his geographically isolated, protective bubble of San Luis Obispo County, where legitimate challenges brought to the Board of Supervisors there are often either ignored or met by edicts.
Or perhaps it was the holes left in the County’s EIR, the ones that were always there from the very beginning and ignored for years, the holes never filled, the mistakes never corrected, despite ample warnings from the public that Gibson labeled “assertions” to dismiss them. What substantial issues were significant enough to a majority of commissioners to weather the pressures of the moment, of concentrated power and money, and order a de novo hearing, delaying the project for several months — risking, according to Gibson, $80 million in Department of Agriculture stimulus dollars ($64 million of that in the form of a loan)?
Whatever the reason why, armed to the teeth with almost every cliché he has ever used stacked one on top of another, Gibson’s presentation fell cold and flat on a majority of Commissioners’ ears. In fact, he found his only success in doing his best to un-sell his project to wary Commissioners already facing 30 appeals and no clear, conclusive answers to several vital questions about the project.
Following is the core of Supervisor Gibson’s remarks to the Coastal Commission and some of the lies that he told the Commission for the sole purpose of deceiving them into accepting the flawed EIR and dubious impacts of the project to secure County approval to build their proposed $165 million gravity collection system in Los Osos.
Gibson: “In brief we obviously endorse your staff’s recommendation to find ‘no substantial issue.’ Now it might well be politic of me to stop there, but I wanted you to know that we are prepared to discuss each assertion that’s been raised by the appellants this afternoon as we have many times before at our hearings within the County…”
First use of his favorite word “assertion.” An assertion makes it sound like it’s not true. That is, an assertion is a false claim with no foundation in fact and therefore not to be considered. A simple way of dismissing just about anything anyone has said and might say that is unwanted, and Gibson uses it over and over again.
“I would like to talk just briefly about how this big and this significant a project comes before you with the recommendation of ‘no substantial issue.’ As you’ve heard, we stand in the shadow of 30 years of institutional failure. We stand in the shadow of 30 years of pollution and 30 years of controversy…”
This is the first lie and THE biggest. To this day, after 30 years, there still exists no clear, conclusive proof or documentation of pollution by septic tanks in Los Osos, even though it is the responsibility of government, by law, to prove that individual pollution exists, and not the responsibility of the homeowner to prove it does not exist. Without testing it’s anybody’s guess – and anybody’s game to play.
For example, according to a December 14, 1984 RWQCB internal memo from Executive Director Briggs to his then-superiors B. Leonard and K. Jones (BRIGGS 1984 MEMO), proof of pollution was easy to manufacture.
Wrote Briggs: “Although County staff agrees there is evidence of human fecal bacteria in the surface waters, they feel we’ve overstated the significance of this. If there are problems, the County contends that the proposed project will do nothing to curtail them.
“Ground water analyses in Tables 2 and 3,” he continued, “do not indicate human bacterial contamination, except in poorly constructed monitoring wells, according (then-County Lab Analyst) Percy Garcia. The County had these wells installed. Frank (DeMarco from the RWQCB) inspected these wells last week with Percy and agrees there is a potential from surface runoff. City staff maintains the data indicates nitrate concentrations aren’t going up much. Our wording in the staff report is “continued degradation.”
And, even if the Bay is polluted, and it is, Gibson does not reveal who among the dozens of heavy polluters to Morro Bay does he conveniently leave out of the equation? Why is the entire blame for any and all suspected pollution in the bay heaped on only Los Osos?
“…but in 2006 San Luis Obispo County stepped up to address these issues as a volunteer.”
First use EVER in three years of the word “volunteer.” This confirms that the County has not legally accepted the project, yet they have spent over $7 million studying the project and held a Proposition 218 assessment to tax homeowners, and made all the decisions on what system goes where – as a “volunteer”? In fact, the County worked hand in hand with Assemblyman Blakeslee on his backroom legislation, which was based on the LIE that all 4,500 septic systems in Los Osos were polluting, again, without documentation. That is no “volunteer.” As soon as the recall of 2005 was successful, the plans were already in the works for the County takeover. This is not the good will of volunteerism, as Gibson made it sound. Quite the opposite. It was a way for the County to take over the project and build exactly what they wanted to build.
“State legislation, Assembly Bill 2701, gave us the authority to address the wastewater system for the community of Los Osos in the aftermath of the failure of the Los Osos CSD…”
It was not a Los Osos CSD failure of the Schicker CSD board, but rather a failure of the recalled CSD board to conduct a Proposition 218 vote according to
California Constitutional law. The State Water Board, for the first time in their history, was caught loaning out unsecured SRF money, which is against State and Federal law. They could no longer legally fund the old project until a vote was held.
“..It does not force us to take this project and indeed today we still stand before you as a volunteer. We are deeply committed to this happening because we think it is, we know it is the right thing to do.”
LIE. Is it the right thing to do, only looking at the most expensive choice of project possible and refusing to consider any other less expensive, sustainable, alternative collection such vacuum, which was never studied, and treatment, such as sludge-control ponding systems? Gibson never allowed Los Osos to build a project that it could afford – and there was so much to choose from.
“In 2007 we embarked on an extraordinary public process that has gone on nearly continuously over the last three years and to which we have committed over $7 million of our precious general fund dollars, and it’s the quality of this process, I believe, that has produced the project that’s before you with the recommendation of ‘no substantial issue.’ We were charged with and have reviewed all feasible project alternatives.”
LIE. The County has refused to honestly review all feasible project alternatives. As soon as the County took over the project, then-Public Works Director Noel King and then-Deputy Public Works Director Paavo Ogren – now Public Works Director Ogren – both stated publically and in writing that they would only build a gravity collection system in Los Osos. That never changed.
“We’ve conducted unprecedented outreach to staff, both state and federal, and again especially your own commission staff. We’ve also conducted unprecedented outreach to the public, and since January of 2007, which coincidentally was the month that I took office for the first time, we have agendized the Los Osos Wastewater Project over 50 times on our Board of Supervisors agenda. We have listened to over 45 hours of public testimony in that time. We have also had 36 public meetings of a Technical Advisory Committee working on project details. They have had numerous hours of public testimony as well. We’ve conducted town hall meetings. We have direct mailed to the community. I have engaged the community in office hours and in many other venues to talk about all the issues that are significant.”
Only section that is not a LIE. Although he breached widely accepted free speech standards, limited public comment, harassed and intimidated speakers from Los Osos, dismissed every comment as an “assertion,” and even cut the microphone on a retired Superior Court judge, Gibson didn’t technically lie here by adding up the number of hours they never listened to.
“Most significantly, however, this project has been vetted in 10 meetings of our County Planning Commission – eight of them in chambers and two of them as field trips. And it is during those meetings, and I thank our Planning Commission from the bottom of my heart, because it is in those meetings that significant changes were made to the project that ensure its consistency with our LCP, that responded to both public agency and public-at-large comments.”
LIE. Gibson thanked former Planning Commission Chair Sarah Christie from the bottom of his artificial heart by helping to boot her off the Commission – because of her neutrality and fairness – by stabbing her in the back.
“So when this project was inevitably appealed to our Board of Supervisors, we acted on it twice, we passed the Planning Commission-approved project with minor modifications, and I’ll emphasize that both at the Planning Commission and at our board we passed it unanimously. So every aspect of this project’s been studied against technical requirements, regulatory requirements and its feasibility to arrive at where we are today.”
LIE: Sprayfields on Tonini with over 600 acres, which was roundly rejected by the Planning Commission, is not a “minor modification” – it’s major. It demonstrates not only the necessity of closer scrutiny of County plans, but additional scrutiny for not listening to much if any of their 45 hours of Los Osos public comment – another LIE. The community warned him repeatedly, but he and the BOS failed to listen. So what good are 45 hours of testimony if it’s a board with 10 closed ears and each supervisor have their own agenda?
“And the project has also been tested against every assertion that you’ve heard today. The project as you see it meets all water quality regulations, it is consistent with our LCP. There is no feasible project more protective of the environment, and I conclude from that result that the public process has worked. We have developed huge community support, the 80% approval of a very significant assessment is relevant to that, and we have listened, we have changed the project, we have arrived at the best possible project.”
Second use of favorite word “assertions,” deployed to denigrate any point of view that doesn’t agree with his. It’s clear why. The project hasn’t been tested at all and is obviously not well thought out with any common sense and professionalism, as both the Planning Commission found issue, changing the project’s planned location, and the Coast Commission found issue with a flawed and incomplete EIR. A ridiculous LIE: Of course there are more feasible projects far more protective – not destructive – of the environment than the County’s project. There are viable systems far less disruptive to Chumash remains and the environment but they were shut out of project strategically and purposefully.
Said Sierra Club’s Andrew Christie in his comments to the Commission: “The Los Osos Wastewater Project… is marked by unnecessary components from previous incarnations, avoidable impacts to coastal resources and inadequate mitigation. There are feasible, less environmentally damaging alternatives that avoid the impacts this project would impose as permitted. To get to those alternatives you first must find that our appeals raise substantial issue. We think there could be no more substantial issue than the question of whether the project will succeed or fail and whether it will allow the aquifer to be destroyed by seawater intrusion.
“This means that the programs for water conservation and agricultural reuse of effluent must succeed and both programs be implemented in a timely fashion,” He said. “As currently permitted it is likely that they will not…:
“There’s always been controversy but now is the time to act. We’ve had 30 years of institutional failure on this matter. We’ve had 30 years of groundwater pollution to the Los Osos groundwater basin and that has got to stop. We’ve had over 30 years of pollution to the Morro Bay National Estuary; that has got to stop, and I think most commissioners sitting today are familiar with that estuary. In 2007 we took a field trip out of Morro Bay and you saw firsthand the abundant and dramatic wildlife that exists both in and adjacent to that remarkable body of water.”
LIES. Los Osos is not the arch polluter of Morro Bay, nor the sole polluter, but just a small percentage of the more than two dozen polluters of Morro Bay, none of which Gibson bothers to mention in order to make it look like it all comes from Los Osos septic tanks and not the birds, agribusiness, surface runoff and decaying natural vegetation, as studies have shown. Take a look at the polluting gravity sewer systems of Morro Bay (also in Gibson’s district) and Pismo Beach, which leak, break and spill to this day and are much greater ocean and groundwater polluters than the Los O
“We have a project here that not only stops the pollution that I referenced but it goes several steps beyond in correcting the consequences of that pollution, which is the seawater intrusion that’s been referenced.”
LIE. It is well known that the County’s proposed sewer system will do nothing to correct the nitrate problem for at least 30 to 40 years, if ever. Meanwhile, the gravity system is polluting groundwater and ocean every day, more and more, year by year as it shifts and ages. The County’s project does nothing to address saltwater intrusion, other than pour good water into salt water rendering it all undrinkable.
“So we now respectfully ask for your commission’s concurrence… so that we can act to correct an environmental disaster, so we can act to protect the health of the community of Los Osos, both its social health and its environmental health, and we urge you to agree with your staff’s findings of ‘no substantial issue.’”
LIE. The only real “environmental disaster” in Los Osos is the County’s proposed gravity sewer project. Not only will it pollute the groundwater through exfiltration and breakage, but it will turn Los Osos into a barren landscape by taking away water from trees and shrubs formerly fed by leach fields. Gibson’s “disaster” will disrupt Chumash Indian remains and, because of the great number of remains that will be unearthed by the deep trenching, the project will most likely be the largest, most expensive and most sensitive archeological dig in California history. Gibson’s act to “protect the social health of the community” is nothing than a charade to build a sewer so expensive that more than half the community – especially the disabled and seniors – cannot afford to pay almost one-third of their monthly income towards this one utility service – without going under and losing their homes to a delinquent property tax bill.
In conclusion, everything Gibson said was a lie, except for the subject of community outreach and time spent on agenda and public comment. But in the final analysis, the quantity of outreach and time spent is no measure of the quality of process. If this project was as good as Gibson says it is, he wouldn’t have to lie in the first place and at every turn, which only confirms that everything he says is all just one huge lie.
That is why all the lies in his 25-minute presentation to the Coastal Commission cannot all be exposed here in one article. There are simply too many.
— Ed Ochs