EDITORIAL: Fear Stifles the Voices of Los Osos
What’s missing here?
If things went according to our production schedule, an eye-opening interview with an elderly Los Osos couple would be featured here — not this editorial.
You are now leaving the Prohibition Zone. Next time, bring more money!
What we were going to do was show readers how this couple — like so many others who live in the Prohibition Zone — were coping with the controversial sewer project. With their enthusiastic consent to be interviewed, we planned on publishing an article about their lives, their views, and how the sewer will affect them. After volunteering to be interviewed, we arrived at their home and had a very congenial conversation with them. The wife is from the Midwest. He was from Europe. Twenty years ago, they sailed around the world only to come home to a deceptively quiet seaside town with a problem that spanned decades. At every step of the article-writing process, they were ready — and at times quite eager — to have their story told.
But then everything changed.
Within hours of the article being published, they said that they simply “changed their mind.” According to them, the article — which was already completed and they received an advanced copy of, as requested — portrayed them in a “bad light.”
They wrote that they feared unsaid repercussions and demanded that the article not be published. Despite receiving their unequivocal consent throughout the entire process (from interview to transcript to submitting them a draft), they attacked us for supposedly “using them.” They never specifically explained how we were “using them” or what we were getting out of writing an article about them. We were shocked and slack-jawed when they threatened to hire an attorney and sue us for elderly abuse if we printed the interview, which included only our questions, their words, and context necessary to tell their story to the outside world. Nothing more.
“It would be in your best interest to drop [the article],” they warned with a strangely harsh and insidious tone.
It was the first time in over four decades of journalism that the publisher of The ROCK was at the receiving end of such a catastrophic dissolution to an article that was consistently paved with the best intentions. It was as if someone told them that having their story published would result in something very unsavory happening to them. Given that there was no transition from enthusiastic acceptance of an article being published to ravaging fear and anger over an article they believed would result in personal repercussions, we have reason to believe that there was external coercion.
We’ve taken more than our share of shots from Los Ososans, but, to date, the dishonesty of this couple is one of the worst we’ve ever faced in Los Osos.
While this interview is unique in the way it dissolved, the tensions in Los Osos are not new to us. Since we launched initially in March 2006, The ROCK has frequently and repeatedly reached out to those who criticized the sewer project. We reached out to vocal residents who both supported and criticized the project. When we sought the opinions of residents who criticized the project, we often received no response. On the other hand, for the six years we’ve committed to doing this publication, we have been met with staunch resistance from both Los Osos sewer supporters and critics alike — after years of listening to circular arguments and unsubstantiated bravado from the podium at Board of Supervisors meetings.
Over the years, we’ve seen the media criticize these very same critics as the same group that spoke, and still speaks, at SLO County Board of Supervisors meetings week after week. Traditionally, we disagreed with the repeated castigation of those individuals because we always held onto the benefit of the doubt — that maybe, just maybe, there was legitimacy to their arguments. They complained bitterly every step of the process — and as democracy would have it, rightfully so — but offered only solutions that County Public Works resoundingly dismissed. Instead, we sought the opinion of wastewater experts and engineers in The ROCK, to bring the weight of science, engineering and professionals in their fields into Los Osos. But even their scientific and academic expertise was sullied by the arguments that echoed around the chamber walls, however understandable considering the acute frustration suffered by Los Osos residents at the County’s resolute silence towards their predicament.
While all of this was happening, the sewer critics fought among themselves. They cannibalized each other. They fought for power and position in the community, and they fought with a vengeance. They argued childishly among themselves over the worthiness of legal initiatives, relationships and associations.
“Nobody should donate to the lawsuit! The person orchestrating it is a liar and a thief.”
That is an actual quote from one sewer critic to another. There are many, many lines that were exchanged between critics whose supposed focus was to advocate for an environmentally and economically sustainable sewer project. The public never saw that. They only saw the speakers who came to public comment with their issues, armed with corrections, research, revelations, threats and misguided angst: an embarrassing sideshow that completely misrepresents the social dynamics of Los Osos.
As a result, Los Osos, apart from the public comment histronics, has been relatively easy territory for the County to conquer, primarily because Los Osos’ post-recall leadership of 2006 supported the Proposition 218 vote of 2007 to tax residents for the sewer. This still-active old guard coterie of leaders promoted to the community that the County offered the best chance for the best project to rise to the top. These linchpin decisions by Los Osos’ dysfunctional leadership proved to be an unmitigated disaster with ominous near-term and long-term consequences for thousands of Los Osos homeowners. The fact that some of the most independent minds in Los Osos’ couldn’t organize to vote no on the Prop 218 vote and couldn’t mobilize broad public support for any serious counter measure to the County’s sewer plan explains why the community was rather easily led astray to back the County’s $200 million sewer with limited opposition.
Once the majority vote approved the assessment, the die was cast against an affordable, sustainable sewer project the community could live with, and critics began to lose their general influence, if not their control, except for pockets of the community.
The fragmentation of the community has aided and abetted the sewer. And who can say for sure that it wasn’t planned that way? Failure of leadership requires a failure of “followship” in order to be a successful failure, and Los Osos has more than enough followers who won’t or can’t think for themselves or act independently, or who are too weak, frail and timid to say otherwise in a small town where intimidation, innuendo and false information are how people are controlled.
This brings us full circle to why you will not see that interview with the elderly couple from Los Osos. They are too unwise, too manipulated and too frightened not to do what they’re told by their trusted town centurions who consistently prioritize power over people. That’s the gambit in Los Osos. And where has it gotten them?
So we apologize for what’s not here — an interview that clearly reveals the impact of the County’s sewer project on fixed-income seniors, an interview that Los Osos’ old guard leadership, County supporters and lazy “activists” don’t want you to see because it’s too real. Fear and failed leadership have a strong grip on Los Osos as the sewer comes to town, and nothing can stand in its way, not even an interview with two seniors eager to talk to The ROCK. That’s why we believe they suddenly, without any credible explanation, pulled the plug on the story everyone in and out of Los Osos needs to know.
Nothing must stop the sewer, certainly not a bucket of hot rivets from The ROCK. Silly, isn’t it?
Divided they stand, divided they fall, all for one, one for all: It’s just a shame that this cynical philosophy of self-aggrandizement, division and greed has taken a lot of innocent homeowners to the end of the line in Los Osos who didn’t take that oath.