Morro Bay Recall Fails

The Morro Bay mayoral recall, which aimed to unseat mayor Jamie Irons immediately after the June elections, failed to collect enough signatures to make it to the ballot.

The Morro Bay mayoral recall, which aimed to unseat mayor Jamie Irons immediately after the June elections, failed to collect enough signatures to make it to the ballot.

“We were very close,” wrote Morro Bay Forward secretary Bill Peirce, who stated that the group collected about 1,600 signatures. They needed only 154 signatures to qualify for the June ballot. However, in a prepared statement that was published on the Morro Bay Forward website, Peirce claimed that more than 3,500 Morro Bay residents were “universally upset” at the mayor for never disclosing any reasons for terminating former City Attorney Robert Schultz and former City Manager Andrea Lueker. Peirce barely touched on the city’s efforts to build a new water reclamation family except to write that voters had “no interest in paying a premium to reclaim sewer water, to be provided to farmers, with residents picking up the tab.”

Instead of conceding defeat to The Tribune editorial board or efforts by recall opponents, Peirce blamed the short signature count on the inability to knock on doors of residents for the 90-day signature collection period.

“The shorter daylight hours this time of the year and holiday travel made it difficult to find enough registered voters at home,” wrote Peirce. “We are confident that if we had attempted the recall in the spring we would have been successful.”

Sources involved in collecting signatures for the recall were displeased with Peirce’s reasoning, saying that residents were unable to find any petitions to sign. About a month into the recall, The ROCK learned that some of the petitions were improperly filled out by the petitioners. This caused friction within Morro Bay Forward, and the group scrambled to collect signatures from residents who signed the flawed petition forms. Sources explained that the group lost its cohesiveness about two months into the signature collection after experiencing a gradual drop of optimism.

Mayor Irons has defended the council’s decision to terminate the city’s two top employees, stating that the initiative to do so came from consensus of the council majority. Councilmembers Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson have consistently supported the mayor. Councilmembers George Leage and Nancy Johnson have strongly opposed the council majority. Both have been outspoken in their opposition to the terminations and the council majority’s efforts to move the sewer from its current location on Atascadero Road.

The California Coastal Commission has long opposed the current project for its failure to comply with the Coastal Act and Morro Bay’s Local Coastal Program. The commission lauded the council for their decision to deny the permit for the project and pursue alternative locations. In addition to the council receiving support from commission staff, former commission chair Mary Shallenberger penned a letter to The Tribune on Dec. 16, stating her words were mischaracterized and misconstrued by recall supporters. In their flyer, Morro Bay Forward accurately quoted Shallenberger as criticizing Irons — appearing before the commission on Jan. 10, 2013 as the city’s representative — for forcing the commission to deny their own project. However, Shallenberger clarified that her criticism was not directed at Irons personally. Rather, the criticism was based on decisions made by the previous council majority.

“That hurt us,” admitted one volunteer who helped circulate the recall petitions. “It really was a misunderstanding.”

Irons has dismissed additional claims made by recall supporters, including the claim that he edited staff reports after presentation to the council. Instead of aggressively defending his record, Irons expressed his desire to continue his focus on city business. The mayor plans to run for re-election in June.

Morro Bay Forward has remained mum on plans to challenge Irons in the upcoming election.

Eco Solutions Defeats CalCoastNews’ Anti-SLAPP Motion

Judge rules there’s sufficient evidence to support a “favorable judgment” against CCN

Judge rules there’s sufficient evidence to support a “favorable judgment” against CCN

San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman cleared the way on December 11 for Charles Tenborg, a respected member of California’s waste management community, to pursue his libel case against CalCoastNews and reporters, Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn, according to a press release from Mr. Tenborg’s San Luis Obispo-based attorneys, Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP.

Judge Tangeman rejected in full the defendants’ motion to strike the complaint, determining that Mr. Tenborg had shown a “probability of prevailing” on his libel claims.

Mr. Tenborg, an environmental scientist, is the president and CEO of Eco Solutions, which provides waste management services for private and public sector clients, including the City of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA). In November 2012, Mr. Tenborg’s attorneys stated that that the defendants published false and highly damaging statements about him and his company.

Although Mr. Tenborg and William Worrell, Manager of the IWMA and author of a college textbook on solid waste management, had spoken with CalCoastNews reporter Ms. Velie at length about the complex state and federal regulatory schemes governing the transport and disposal of hazardous waste, she nonetheless got numerous facts “flat-out wrong,” Mr. Tenborg said, and simply fabricated other statements, publishing them as if they were proven truths.

When Mr. Tenborg pointed out these errors in a December 2012 letter, Ms. Velie and her colleagues refused to publish a retraction. Making matters worse, according to Mr. Tenborg’s attorneys, after its publication, the CalCoastNews story was broadcast in full in a list-serv run by California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. This republication, the attorneys contend, made the false and defamatory content available to all state and local government employees who deal with hazardous waste, unfairly tarnishing Mr. Tenborg’s reputation before a substantial number of his colleagues and clients.

Mr. Tenborg felt forced to sue. “I could not sit idly by and watch my hard-earned reputation be destroyed by these falsehoods,” he said.

In response, CalCoastNews, Ms. Velie and Mr. Blackburn attempted to use California’s anti-SLAPP law to have the case thrown out of court. On December 11, 2013, the San Luis Obispo Superior Court squarely rejected this effort, ruling that Mr. Tenborg ”establish[ed] that his libel claim [was] legally sufficient and supported by sufficient admissible evidence to support judgment in his favor.”

In court filings, the defendants argued that even if the statements in their article were false, CalCoastNews was nevertheless allowed to report them because they “accurately” reflected statements government officials made at a public meeting more than three years earlier. In making this argument, defendants revealed for the first time that the source for some of the most damaging statements was former City employee Douglas Dowden, who claimed he overheard some of these alleged “facts” from others at a January 2010 meeting.

But sworn testimony provided to the court demonstrated that Mr. Dowden’s (and the defendants’) version of the facts was simply wrong. Others who attended the same meeting declared under oath in court filings that “no one remembered” these statements being made at the meeting and “nobody knew what to make of it.” The person to whom Mr. Dowden specifically attributed the allegations, testified: “I did not make these statements at the January … meeting, or anywhere else, ever.”

In a decisive seven-page ruling, Judge Tangeman wrote the “purpose of the fair reporting privilege is to protect free … expression related to the reporting of public proceedings.” Rejecting the defendants’ claims to the contrary, he noted the privilege only applies when the media fulfills its responsibility to ensure that what happened at a public meeting—“its very substance—is accurately conveyed.”

A licensed hazardous waste hauler, Eco Solutions has operated lawfully within California for many years. The IWMA, which contracts with Eco Solutions to provide related services, has received numerous awards for innovation in hazardous waste management, including Program Excellence Awards in 2011 from both the California EPA and the North American Hazardous Materials Management Association.

Local Gossip Site Blames Homeless Services for Domestic Dispute

Local gossip site CalCoastNews attempted to make the case that their publisher Karen Velie was once again the victim of a conspiracy spearheaded by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo.

ccnLocal gossip site CalCoastNews attempted to make the case that their publisher Karen Velie was once again the victim of a conspiracy spearheaded by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo. Like most of their “Uncovered SLO” reporting, CalCoastNews offered no evidence to substantiate their claims, but the details they did provide were sordid. According to authors Josh Friedman and co-publisher Dan Blackburn, Velie’s grandchildren were forced to spend Thanksgiving in foster homes after they were removed by child protective services.

The mother of those children, Velie’s daughter Cristen Powers, claimed that the children were taken into custody after police arrived at her residence on July 18. Powers claimed she returned home to find her roommates having an argument. Even though the police were called and no report was filed, the article states that police were called. Though no report was filed because no crime was committed, San Luis Obispo County Child Welfare Services removed the three grandchildren from the residence because the house was allegedly “dirty.” According to CalCoastNews, Powers was unable to get her children returned to her because CAPSLO allegedly diagnosed her as “bipolar” and expressed concerns that she was “depressed.” Velie was unable to gain custody of the children allegedly because of her August 31 arrest and her occupation as a journalist. Velie was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. At the time, CalCoastNews blamed County officials for orchestrating her arrest.

In observing confidentiality, San Luis Obispo County Child Welfare Services has declined to comment.

CalCoastNews spoke to former CAPSLO employee Estella Bonds, who stated that the agency’s homeless services director, Dee Torres, “often contacted Child Welfare to report child abuse, sometimes doing so in a retaliatory manner. Some of those contacts resulted in permanent separations of families and eventual adoptions.”However, CalCoastNews has not offered any evidence to indicate that Torres was involved in Velie’s grandchildren being taken into custody. CalCoastNews stated that they were investigating alleged misconduct by Child Welfare workers who worked on behalf of CAPSLO; they strongly implied that Velie’s grandchildren were victims of a retaliatory effort by CAPSLO for their investigation. Then they mentioned District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill, strongly insinuating that he was complicit in the domestic case involving Velie’s grandchildren. However, none of the assertions could be independently verified and CalCoastNews has repeatedly refused to provide evidence for independent review.

CalCoastNews has repeatedly glorified their troubles involving CAPSLO as part of their “Keeping Them Homeless” series and sought donations for their reporting. The website has struggled for credibility and readership after The ROCK and New Times uncovered irregularities, exaggerations and falsehoods in their reporting. CalCoastNews has been the subject of a handful of defamation lawsuits by subjects of their investigations. Despite growing criticism from the community, KVEC 92.0 radio host and former CalCoastNews Contributing Editor Dave Congalton has promoted the site extensively. Callers, who are critical of CalCoastNews’ reporting, have been screened and disconnected from his show. Likewise, CalCoastNews has repeatedly eliminated sharply worded and thorough dissent from their website. Despite their repeated claim that the media has refused to cover their exclusives, CalCoastNews’ reporters have consistently refused to cooperate with local media sources and offer more details into their bombshell claims. CalCoastNews was supplied corrections and demands for retractions, but they refused to update and modify their stories for accuracy and clarity.

CalCoastNews is no stranger to using children as a conduit for their reporting. Earlier this year, CalCoastNews and Velie revealed the names of Torres’ children as it pertained to their reporting of a domestic violence dispute between Torres and her ex-partner Ralph Almirol. At the time initial reports of the domestic despite between Torres and Almirol were published, CalCoastNews’ Editor Bill Loving told Congalton that he would depose Torres’ children to testify should there be a criminal investigation into Torres allegedly stealing gift cards that were donated to homeless services. The ROCK learned that Almirol, who was previously arrested for assaulting Torres, was using CalCoastNews as a way to regain custody of the daughter he had with her, and that CalCoastNews was aware of that tactic. CalCoastNews initially refused to disclose Almirol’s criminal background.

CalCoastNews was also involved in dispute between former Los Osos Community Services Director Maria Kelly and her ex-husband Shaun Kelly. Mr. Kelly approached CalCoastNews with allegations involving his children’s alleged drug use in hopes that he would gain full custody of his children. CalCoastNews published the accusations that portrayed the children as drug users; that their drug usage was enabled by Kelly’s boyfriend, SLO County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren. Though they vowed to continue their investigation into the accusations, CalCoastNews never revisited them.

Throughout their investigations, CalCoastNews has been largely unsuccessful in verifying their accusations, even though they claim independent investigations by state and federal agencies were launched because of their reporting. Despite their shortfalls, CalCoastNews continues to rally their anonymous, bombastic fanbase and launch repeated attempts to elevate themselves in the minds of socially and politically minded residents.

CalCoastNews e-mails their articles to thousands of local readers. Readers regularly comment on CalCoastNews, issuing anonymously penned threats against the targets. As a result of their reporting, CalCoastNews has incited threats of violence and intimidation against critics and targets alike. The site has created a factional environment in San Luis Obispo County, dividing residents between the libertarian-minded, anti-corruption crusaders and weary local officials whose lives and reputations are turned upside down.

Morro Bay City Council Fires City Attorney, City Manager

Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz is praised by supporters as being a dedicated civil servant who served the city for 16 years. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved his separation agreement, and prompted his resignation.

Outgoing Morro Bay City Manager Andrea Lueker

Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz is praised by supporters as being a dedicated civil servant who served the city for 16 years. On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved his separation agreement, and prompted his resignation. He is expected to leave his post on Friday. During the same closed session period that voted on Schultz’s agreement, the City Council voted 3-2 to work with City Manager Andrea Lueker to negotiate her separation agreement, but she will continue to serve until the terms are fully negotiated.

Shortly after the vote was announced out of closed session, The ROCK received the resignation letter by Rob Schultz:

Following 16 years of service, I have resigned as City Attorney for the City of Morro Bay pursuant to a Separation Agreement approved by the City Council tonight.

It has been a privilege and an honor to have served the City of Morro Bay these past 16 years. I believe public service is the highest and most noble calling, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Morro Bay community. Serving as City Attorney for Morro Bay has allowed me to be part of many historic achievements for the City.

As I reflect on the past 16 years, I am grateful for having earned the respect and appreciation of my colleagues and community. I am confident my record and many contributions to the City of Morro Bay will be the prevailing memory of my many years of service.

As I say goodbye I wish to thank the staff of the City of Morro Bay; it has been an incredible experience to work side-by-side with you for so many years. You are great public servants, doing an often thankless job, serving with dignity and professionalism. I am fortunate to have worked with such an outstanding group of individuals. I will miss you all.

Thank you,
Rob Schultz

But the resignation does not come without costs. Schultz earned $151,589 annually for serving as City Attorney, chief negotiator on harbor leases and head of city human resources. Though the terms of his agreement remain unclear, Schultz is expected to collect $114,000 in nine months worth of severance pay.

The expense is more reasonable than the legal services the City utilized in the past, says former City Mayor Janice Peters.

“A newcomer does not realize that Morro Bay used to contract out for attorney services and it ended up costing us more, which is why the council put someone on salary. Because of our harbor, waterfront, coastal issues and others, Morro Bay has a lot of legal work,” wrote Peters on November 10. “The [previous] council[s] felt it was better to have all the legal advice we needed when we needed it without having to worry about what it would cost to ask that question or get this information.”

Similarly, Lueker earns $152,244 annually, and she’s expected to collect $114,000 in severance pay.

Irons hired San Luis Obispo attorney Steven Simas of Simas & Associates to negotiate the separation agreement with Schultz, which was finalized on Tuesday. Irons announced that Simas, who was originally contracted for $12,500, will begin negotiations with Lueker on her separation agreement. Because additional work is required for Lueker, Irons requested the Council to approve an additional 20 hours, or $5,000, for Simas. The move drew criticism from recall proponents and dissenting councilmembers, who criticized Irons, Smukler and Johnson for approving additional interim attorneys before a permanent successor to Schultz was named.

“Our City Attorney has been protecting us a long time. There is no need to bring in interim people,” said councilmember George Leage on October 22.

San Luis Obispo-based interim attorney Anne Russell is serving as interim city attorney on a short-term basis. The Council sent out a request for proposals for an interim attorney that would serve a longer term, but have yet to initiate the same process for a new city manager. The long-term interim attorney will serve until a permanent replacement is selected. The process for finding a permanent replacement for Schultz will likely take several months.

Since proceedings began to terminate Lueker and Schultz on September 12, Council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson voted in support of Mayor Jamie Irons. Council members Nancy Johnson and Leage have consistently opposed any action taken against Lueker and Schultz.

Tensions on the council evolved into a contentious recall campaign against Irons by citizens who sharply criticized the mayor for alleged incompetence, abuse of power and a lack of transparency. Supporters of Irons characterized the recall as a politically opportunistic and vengeful move by former city officials who were voted out in prior elections.

Despite criticism, which included yelling, shouting and occasional boos from the raucous crowd of Schultz and Lueker supporters, Irons has refused to provide reasoning for why the Council decided to fire the city’s two top employees.

No reason is required because the two city employees are at-will. Supporters of the Council majority openly speculated about reasons for firing Schultz and Lueker, but the Council neither confirmed or denied the rumors and speculation that was brought to the lectern. Instead, they’ve stated the importance of observing employee confidentiality.

Sources close to Irons, Johnson and Smukler told The ROCK that the council majority has received threats. The council is allegedly considering additional law enforcement at future meetings.

Schultz and Lueker have declined to comment about recent developments, but they previously denied wrongdoing.

Dozens of Oysters Swallowed Whole at Harbor Fest Contest

mbhf-oyster
2013 Giovanni’s Fish Market Oyster Eating Contest

The October 5-6 weekend of the Morro Bay Harbor Festival opened Saturday morning to the funky hip-hop grooves of The Monroe and closed Sunday at sunset to the rock anthems of Queen Nation. The music was loud enough to rock the town from the ocean to the highlands.

In between, thousands of visitors to Morro Bay flocked to its popular waterfront on a classic sun-drenched, late-summer weekend to enjoy two days of good music, seafood, beverage and ocean air at one of the Central Coast’s biggest annual attractions.

One of the highlights of Saturday afternoon’s action was the “Down-the-Hatch Oyster-Eating Contest” sponsored by Giovanni’s Fish Market. Twelve contestants paid $10 each to eat as many raw Grassy Bar oysters as they could in 90 seconds. For oyster lovers cheered on by family and friends it was a win-win no matter who won.

The competition was colorfully MC’d by event sponsor Giovanni DeGarimore, owner of Giovanni’s Fish Market and STAX Wine Bar & Bistro, who counted the empty shells to determine the winner. This year’s winner was five-time champ Mark Russo, who downed 37 slippery critters to claim the $100 first-place gift certificate and a flurry of other free treats.

Seismic Testing to Continue in Central Coast Waters

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

The California State Lands Commission (CSLC) adopted a long-overdue revision of its Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) as part of its “Offshore Low Energy Geophysical Permit Program Update” (OGPP), and adopted a general survey permit in a meeting in Sacramento on Sept. 20.

The update, anchored by a 443-page staff report, replaces the expiring MND and paves the way for a potential increase in seismic testing off the coast of San Luis Obispo County in the years to come.

Jennifer DeLeon, CSLC Project Manager, who gave the staff presentation at the meeting, cited advantages of the general permit as improved time and cost efficiencies and the timely running of surveys.

“There are about 10 to 12 surveys per year based on our history,” DeLeon told the Commission, “and to have each and every one of those go through an individual CEQA development process would not be timely and would be very redundant.”

The MND, last updated in 1998, allows applicants to declare that their projects have no significant impacts on the environment or marine life, and so there’s no loss to mitigate, and therefore no reason for the applicant to meet additional environmental requirements or seek additional permitting that more strictly regulates the “taking” of marine life.

The Commission first adopted a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the geophysical program in 1984, and that same MND has been in use since then, according to Miss DeLeon. In 1987 the Commission prohibited the use of air guns or survey techniques with more than 2 kilojoules of energy input, and in 1998 instituted a requirement for a Marine Wildlife Contingency Plan.

“Obviously, 1984 was a long time ago,” Miss De Leon told the Commission. “We understand the need to update the program based on the current understanding of acoustics and the ocean and its interaction with marine life.”

Commission staff worked closely with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the update. NRDC’s Karen Garrison told the Commission, “Because the State’s landmark new network of marine protected areas was just completed at the end of last year we want to keep that network in full view as you consider the updates to this permit. Surveys that could harm marine life or habitat in marine protected areas, especially marine reserves, should be avoided to the extent possible unless they advance the purposes of the Marine Life Protection Act. … We don’t want to unintentionally let harmful projects through.”

Sound Modeling

“Both the current program and proposed program prohibit the use of air guns,” Miss DeLeon said, “However, we’re proposing to change the way that that is measured by the eliminating the 2 kilojoules energy input threshold because it is not useful. Our current understanding of the science is that what is the most useful is to determine the sound propagation through the water and how far harmful decibel levels would propagate to reach marine life within that area, so we are moving towards a sound-modeling criteria and away from kilojoules energy input threshold.”

Miss DeLeon addressed a concern that the general permit would be a blanket permit that harmful projects could use to slip in to coastal waters.

“In the proposal that we have now,” she said, “we are looking to have surveys be screened every time so that it’s not a blanket permit, it’s not a free-for-all once you get your general permit, that there are certain requirements that each and every survey has to follow, and staff would be looking at every one of those individually for compliance.

“Another major revision we’re proposing,” said Miss DeLeon, “is vastly increased oversight and accountability, tracking and effectiveness monitoring… This goes back to why we changed from kilojoules to model-sound output. What’s become evident is that the effects on marine life are dependent on the sound level that they experience in the water. The primary factors contributing to how far that harmful sound level travels are the frequency of the sound waves and the decibel level output. There are other variables such as water depth, salinity, etc. but these are the two primary factors that we looked at.

“In this case, unlike last year’s (PG&E) high-energy survey, we’re looking at equipment that generally speaking is highly directional. The beams are directed down toward the sea floor rather than in all directions. This greatly changes the amount of radial sound propagation that takes place, and was a very important part of our analysis.”

Public Comment

Public commenters questioned the Commission’s lack of specificity and clarity on key issues, particularly on the lethal overlap between low- and high-energy seismic surveys, as well as on worrisome holes in the monitoring regimen and critical enforcement of the permit.

“Low-energy seismic testing is not low energy,” commented Brad Snook, Chair of the San Luis Obispo County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which since the beginning of the year has queried Commission staff in writing on whether seismic testing should be halted until all the wrinkles in the process are ironed out and all outstanding concerns addressed.

“The overall changes to the OGPP policy are largely insignificant without a planned measurable reduction to ocean noise pollution,” Mr. Snook said. “The OGPP update does not quantify risks to sustainability or to public health.” In order to bring the OGPP “in phase with other agencies in California, you will have to surpass staff’s limited recommendations and you will have to ask yourself, ‘How can this OGPP update help protect our marine resources and ocean users in a measurable sustainable way?’”

Mr. Snook expressed hope that “the Commission’s new policy will be part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem.”

Jeff Carothers, Manager, Offshore Survey Division for contractor Fugro Consultants Inc., expressed his skepticism about enforcement.

“When people come in from out of state they don’t even know they need a permit, they just hop in the water and go to work,” Mr. Carothers told the Commission. “We play by the rules… I don’t see, and self-admittedly by staff, there’s no way to police this thing. Anybody can come out here and do a survey. So my question is: Can I do a survey without a permit? Seems to be a lot of people that do.”

As an example, Mr. Carothers recounted how a company that needed a permit to do a geophysical survey – ironically, a survey Mr. Carothers had bid for and lost and informed the company they’d need a permit — asked him whether they could borrow his. “I said, ‘I’m not prostituting my permit to anybody.’ So I just see no way to enforce this, and it hurts me. It hurts companies that do get permits. We’re going to follow the rules. (But) there’s a lot of permits that are going to come in, and again staff self-admittedly – we’ve asked this question – they cannot police this at all. It’s unfair.

“I care about the environment, too,” he added, “and we do operate environmentally, but I don’t want to see people come in from the outside that don’t follow the rules who could do some damage.”

“Enforcement is a challenge for us,” Commission Executive Director Jennifer Lucchesi said. “Industry who wants to conduct these types of surveys does not need a permit from the Commission if they’re conducting activities that are in federal waters or in lands that have been granted to a local jurisdiction. …There are significant areas outside state waters and federal waters where industry that has not obtained a permit from the State Lands Commission conducts these surveys, and also in state waters and granted lands.

“With that said, there’s still a large area in California that we have jurisdiction over where enforcement is a challenge,” she said. “We are exploring internally ways that we can use existing law, existing regulations to help beef up our ability to enforce, but the real problem is having boots out in the field and knowing whether these activities are actually taking place.”

Miss Lucchesi said the Commission staff has been talking with Lt. Gov. Newsom’s office “about working with the Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies, other academic institutions that employ or require these types of surveys, to require that they are conducted by State Lands Commission-permitted entities.”

Responded Lt. Gov. Newsom, who heads the Commission, “The race should be to the top, not the bottom. (But) I don’t want to move away from the permitting regime just because it’s difficult or near impossible to enforce. That said, we’ll see what we can do to raise the bar. We heed the comments and certainly respect the good players in this, and we’ll encourage more (good) examples and we’ll discourage those that are here inappropriately.”

Ongoing Concerns

Respected San Luis Obispo County activist Eric Greening spoke briefly about the State Lands meeting at the Sept. 24 SLO County Board of Supervisors session in San Luis Obispo. He called the MND a “blanket permit” and said the CLSC acted “irresponsibly” by certifying it.

“With a Negative Declaration you don’t even need to make findings that it’s a needed or important project,” Mr. Greening said. “They don’t have overriding considerations with a Negative Declaration. With a Negative Declaration they have to be able to assert that ‘no fair argument’ can be made that there may be a significant impact on the environment, and in fact such a ‘fair argument’ is in the record in correspondence and testimony relative to the Negative Declaration and the certification.”

Anyone who thought that the Coastal Commission’s historic rejection of PG&E’s 3D high-energy seismic survey last November would stop or even slow down the assault on the ocean may face a new wave, and PG&E isn’t the only fish in the sea when it comes to suitors seeking to conduct seismic testing off the Central Coast.

“Even though this is a state-wide plan it’s not an individual project like the PG&E one that the Coastal Commission shot down… It’s a statewide blanket permit, but the estimate is that 55.8% of the use of it would be in the Central Coast, and we don’t know who or for what because there’s ‘including but not limited to’ weasel wording,” Mr. Greening said, adding that about 30% of the survey activity would be oil or gas related, although not necessarily surveys for oil or gas deposits,  some focusing on pipelines and infrastructure.

“It’s to be a blanket permit for seismic ocean blasting that’s so-called ‘low energy,’ but the decibel count can get over 200, and the mitigations are laughable—having an observer in the boat when the sound waves are being propagated straight down is not a mitigation of any sort.

“A Negative Declaration can only hold up if there is no significant impact on the environment, and there’s just no way they can make that claim,” he said.

“Low energy doesn’t necessarily mean low impact or low decibels, and I would very strongly question whether a Negative Declaration is appropriate on this,” Mr. Greening previously said before the Board of Supervisors. “We’re not talking miniature decibels here. The output of the different boats that would be used is anywhere from 198 to 230. Granted, that’s within a meter of the actual sound source, but it can’t always be counted on to attenuate, especially when it is a focused beam and they tend for this type of survey to be focused downward, meaning monitors aren’t necessarily going to see what’s being affected.”

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UPDATE: Citizens Launch Morro Bay Mayor Recall

irons2
Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons

09/27: Mayor Irons issued a statement to The ROCK regarding the recall. “My actions through this are driven by my responsibility and duty. I have requested outside legal counsel to ensure that City Council has legal representation through this personnel matter to protect the City and employees. I will not let the threat of recall sway my decision to move forward or distract me from my duties as Mayor.”

Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons is the subject of a recall petition that is being circulated around the community.

Residents initiated the recall after the mayor hastily arranged a closed session meeting on Sept. 12 to discuss the termination of City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Robert Schultz. Two weeks after the very contentious meeting took place, former City Council member William Peirce delivered a “Notice of Intention to Circulate Recall Petition” to Irons at Tuesday’s meeting. The notice wasn’t officially certified until Thursday by the city clerk’s office, when the notice reached the 30 signature threshold that is required.

The recall takes aim at Irons for what recall supporters say is a lack of transparency from Irons. They also sharply criticized Irons for reportedly failing to take into the account the financial and ethical repercussions. The Tribune calculated that the move to terminate Lueker and Schultz would cost the City approximately $300,000 while recall supporters claim the cost would be higher. At the Sept. 24 meeting, the Council voted to take $12,500 from excess in the risk management fund to hire independent legal counsel and help facilitate the termination. Irons stated that the $12,500 would be the maximum cost for the contract.

Irons defended his actions by stating that the move was legally necessary. Because Lueker and Schultz are at-will employees, they can be terminated without complaint or stated cause. Stating an opinion about personnel matters would result in potential litigation, said Irons, at the Sept. 24 meeting. Irons declined to speculate or entertain speculation about his intent to terminate the city’s top employees, who received above-average performance evaluations since he was sworn into office. Councilmembers Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson have not made any statements to the media about reasons to terminate Lueker and Schultz. Councilmembers George Leage and Nancy Johnson, who are staunchly opposed to terminating Lueker and Schultz, claim that Irons has not yet elaborated to them about his decision. However, Irons invited the two dissenting councilmembers to participate in discussions with a law firm that he will choose to work with. 

Calling the circumstances “unusual” for the City of Morro Bay, Councilmember Christine Johnson said the move to hire independent counsel was necessary. Smukler agreed, noting that his vote was completely apolitical and not indicative of any future political ambitions. Both Smukler and Johnson have declined to comment to the media about the recall effort.

Supporters of the recall movement have also backed renovations for current wastewater project and keeping it at the same location. Irons and the majority of the Council voted to move the project due to clear and consistent objections made by the California Coastal Commission, which included — but not included to — flooding and tsunami concerns. The recall petition criticizes Irons for wasting eight years of staff time and labor by seeking a denial of the permit to rebuild the wastewater project at its current location. The Coastal Commission unanimously turned down the proposal.

The recall petition mentions that Irons supposedly edited staff reports after presentations to the Council and has raised taxes.

Irons will have a week to formulate a response to the recall notice.

Residents are already going door-to-door, soliciting signatures for the recall petition, which need support from 25% of the city’s registered voters. The Tribune notes that about 1,700 signatures would be needed to put a recall vote on the ballot. If the recall is successful, this would be the first recall of an elected official in Morro Bay since the city was incorporated in July 1964.

The recall effort is reminiscent of the contentious 2005 Los Osos recall. At that time, the recall was successful, but only by a hairline-slim margin.

Recall supporters will face an uphill battle to get the necessary signatures. For the June 5, 2012 election, 59.9% of registered voters elected Irons by 53.17% (2,089 votes). Former City Council member Carla Wixom received 20.90% (821 votes) and former Mayor William Yates received 20.21% (794 votes). Both Wixom and Yates are supportive of the recall and have spoken publicly in opposition to Irons’ intent to fire the city’s two top employees.

Morro Bay City Council Votes for Independent Legal Counsel

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Mayor Jamie Irons. Councilman Nancy Johnson (right), who argued against Irons’ and his intent to terminate the City’s two top employees, was absent from the Sept. 24 meeting

The Morro Bay City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 24 remained contentious, but tensions at the podium simmered down as they voted 3-1 to hire an independent attorney. The attorney, who would be contracted for $12,500 — funds taken from from the city’s risk management budget — would advise the council on how to proceed with the termination of City Manager Andrea Lueker and and City Attorney Robert Schultz.

According to Mayor Jamie Irons, the request to seek independent legal counsel was meant to prevent conflict of interest, which would have Schultz providing counsel on his own personnel issue.

The vote allows Irons to seek an independent attorney with advice and recommendations from the rest of the Council. Irons voted with Councilmembers Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson. Councilwoman Nancy Johnson was absent from the meeting. Unsatisfied with the explanations from Mayor Irons regarding the questions he asked, Councilman George Leage cast the lone dissenting vote.

More than 200 people arrived at the meeting with a recall petition for Mayor Irons and yellow-colored protest signs that demanded the Council opt out of seeking outside legal advice, which Council dissidents say would cost up to $500,000 in additional post-termination expenses including — but not limited to — severance pay and paid administrative leave. On Sept. 20, The Tribune calculated that the terminations could cost the City at least $305,000.

The turnout was similar to the meeting that two place two weeks earlier on Sept. 12, except there was applause instead of cheering and jeering. At this meeting, half of residents who spoke were supportive of the council’s decisions while others expressed strong disapproval over Irons alleged lack of transparency. Unlike the meeting that took place on Sept. 12, the Council decided to take action on the controversial agenda item.

The Council declined to offer any explanation for attempting to terminate Lueker and Schultz. Some supporters of the Council levied accusations about Schultz with the intent to substantiate Irons’ efforts, but none of the accusations were revisited by the Council.

The article will be updated if or when City officials comment on the story.

Carrie Burton and The Curse of Chorro Valley

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The California Coastal Commission is currently investigating the City of Morro Bay’s plans to cut their municipal water supply to Chorro Valley residents, thereby forcing them to draw from contaminated water. Out on the outskirts of Morro Bay off of Highway 1, Chorro Valley — which is, by definition, a protected coastal zone — has an unsustainable water supply because the water is utilized by other sources and local irrigation wells are contaminated. On January 24, Chorro Valley resident Carrie Burton submitted a complaint to the Coastal Commission, which stated that the City of Morro Bay has refused to resolve the ongoing issues, despite admissions from the city’s mayor and City Council that they were completely responsible for the trouble caused.

Mrs. Burton is one of several residents in Chorro Valley who are affected by the dispute with the City. Like others who live in the area, Mrs. Burton — who lives with her husband and her two young sons — was unaware of any problems until 2008 when residents discovered that they were potentially receiving insufficiently-treated, contaminated water from their basin instead of safe drinking water.

When the Ashurst wells were in use, the Chorro Valley water customers were receiving well water instead of the blended water from City tanks.  That was because there is only one water line between the tanks and the wells. Concerned residents contacted the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). CDPH responded by ordering the City of Morro Bay to immediately stop using the Ashurst wells.  The CDPH order stated that in order to begin using the Ashurst wells again, the City must provide nitrate treatment and chlorination for the Ashurst well water before it reached any customer connections.

The City subsequently threatened to cut its municipal water supply to Chorro Valley residents, citing a few reasons.  Morro Bay City Attorney Robert Schultz stated in e-mails obtained by The ROCK that the city had “no contractual obligation” to provide water because Chorro Valley was “outside City limits.”

Unaware of the conflicts surrounding Chorro Valley, Mrs. Burton purchased her home since the property was permitted, valued and established based on the City of Morro Bay’s written authorization to provide utility water.

The Burton home was was legally permitted in 1995 and by both the City and the County of San Luis Obispo, based solely on the County-required utility water for a nonconforming lot. The City then provided to the Burton property written authorization of clean state-aqueduct utility water, guaranteed by the City of Morro Bay, and water to be billed according to the “installation of the [water] meter and monthly usage costs per the Master Fee Schedule.” For Chorro Valley residents who live under an acre, having access to the state-aqueduct water is a necessary and valuable asset. Alternatively, residents could use well water from their basin, but there are health concerns.

Studies analyzing the Chorro Basin have shown that the water was polluted as a result of leaking septic tanks from the Roandoak of God property and sewage found in domestic ag wells. The on-site domestic wells, which the city plans to leave untreated, are close to the nonconforming septic tanks and an illegal leach field on Roandoak’s property. The septics there are heavily contaminated with nitrates and coliform, and the contaminants have infiltrated the groundwater. The potential of these on-site domestic wells pulling sewage from those illegal septic tanks is high because Chorro Valley is located in a flood zone of high groundwater. The end result? Chorro Valley residents will be exposed to serious health risks by being forced to use untreated, contaminated water.

In an e-mail to Mrs. Burton, Mr. Schultz has said that the documents — showing that the City was, indeed, responsible for providing safe drinking water to Chorro Valley residents — could not be found by the City and that they “must have burned in a fire.” The ROCK reviewed several documents over the past 20 years that clearly state Chorro Valley being part of Morro Bay’s service area. As far as why the City has not decided to continue discussions with Chorro Valley residents is unclear.

To Mrs. Burton, the City’s threat to cut her municipal water supply — based on their assertion that they were “not contractually obligated” to provide it — was nonsensical. Mrs. Burton provided The ROCK numerous documents, including the City’s water authorization, old title documents from the property’s previous owner, and a special encroachment permit for utility water use and a receipt for the water meter. Though it was unrecorded by the City, a signed and notarized lease agreement from August 10, 1982 shows that the City promised to issue 500,000 gallons per month to Mrs. Burton’s property. Mrs. Burton’s property is part of the original Roandoak property from 1972. The lease — which was never recorded by the City, though they did honor their allocation of water to the Roandoak of God facility — was not disclosed to Mrs. Burton upon purchase of the property. Roandoak’s lease was canceled last year.

On November 17, 2009, the City of Morro Bay issued a petition for temporary urgency change to pump Well 11A on Canay Road and supplement the City water supply. The City sought to change the permit, which was originally issued on November 22, 1972. The City did not seek to change the permit’s place of use, which designated the Chorro Creek area as “within the boundaries of the City of Morro Bay’s Service Area.”

The Burtons purchased their Chorro Valley home in 2004. In a real estate listing, the property was listed as having water service from Morro Bay. Records show that in 1995, the County permitted the home based on the City’s written authorization to provide water. Additionally, the Coastal Commission issued a Coastal Development Permit (CDP). The CDP was contingent on the County’s building permit and the City’s water authorization. Yet the City firmly maintains that that they are under no obligation to provide municipal water service.

Instead, the city has proposed that residents — who own property that are less than an acre — draw water from on-site domestic wells while they continue tapping water from their already-strained aquifer and uniquely sensitive Coastal Zone ecosystem. In Mrs. Burton’s case, the City proposed to install a new well for her property. However, according to County Code, residents living on a property less than an acre cannot have a domestic well. Those residents would be forced to rely on groundwater that tested positive for nitrates, bacteria and other contaminants.

The City also proposed to purchase the Burton property at fair market value, and conjoin the property with adjacent City-owned property to produce a lot that’s over an acre. This would effectively allow the City to construct a new well and resell the property without disclosing water and other issues that have prevented the house from being sold . These offers were part of negotiations between the Burtons and the City. According to Mrs. Burton, she responded reluctantly to that option. Mrs. Burton, and several other Chorro Valley residents, have consistently asked to have uninterrupted supply of municipal water. To Mrs. Burton, that is the only viable option that exists.

The City quickly nixed their own offer to purchase her property. Mr. Schultz told Mrs. Burton that he was going to “wait [the family] out.” Since then, Mrs. Burton has requested a viable offer or continuance of the clean utility water and has attempted to contact Morro Bay Mayor William Yates. But after shelling thousands of dollars in attorney fees for stalled negotiations, Mrs. Burton has received no response.

“[The City of Morro Bay] is hurting my children,” said Mrs. Burton. Since they moved into their home in Chorro Valley, the Burtons have improved and personalized their living space by constructing a basketball court for the kids. She provided an area for her children to ride around in their quadrunners and has constructed batting cages. “Where else in Morro Bay can I ever find that?”

Mr. Schultz has expressed interest in restarting negotiations, but stopped short of offering a timetable.

The City stated that they plan to continue using the water from Chorro Valley to supplement their municipal water supply and blend it with state aqueduct water. However, Chorro Valley customers would not be beneficiaries of that treated water because the Chorro Valley pipeline supplying it would not be returned to residents. Beneficiaries of treated Chorro Valley basin water include include the City of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County, California State Parks, California State Polytechnic University, California National Guard, California Men’s Colony, and residential and agricultural overlying areas.

An additional pipeline would be required to bring back treated water from the City’s central treatment facility. The City has declined to pay for an additional pipeline. Another option is to install a water treatment system for Chorro Valley residents, but city officials told The ROCK that it would be “too expensive” for the City, despite assurances from former mayor Janice Peters and City Council that they would “make [Chorro Valley] residents whole” at their September 28, 2009 meeting (click on the link to download the audio).The City has reportedly entertained the idea of “annexing” the Chorro Valley area after residents’ connection to the water was cut. According to Mr. Schultz, the annexation would resolve health and safety concerns for residents within the City. Mrs. Burton believes annexation would help advance plans for residential and commercial development.

Despite aggressively pursuing enforcement action in neighboring Los Osos, the Central Coast Regional Water Board (CCRWQCB) has remained uncommitted to resolving water quality issues in Chorro Valley. The water board has allowed the Roandoak of God family to continue operating their illegal septic tanks even though the water board has enacted policies to phase out that type of wastewater treatment.

The situations in Los Osos and Chorro Valley couldn’t be any different, but comparing these locations side-by-side clearly shows that the water board’s application of their policies is inconsistent. On December 9, 2011, RWQCB’s David LaCaro published an update on Los Osos Interlocutory Stipulated Judgment (ISJ) activities. “The Los Osos groundwater basin has been damaged by 1) wastewater from septic tanks causing nitrate degradation and contamination, and 2) excess pumping of the lower aquifer with resultant seawater intrusion,” wrote Mr. LaCaro.

In Chorro Valley, studies show that the illegal septics in the area are causing nitrate degradation and contamination of groundwater. The City of Morro Bay was also found in violation of State Water Board Decision #1633 in regard to excess pumping of Chorro Valley’s municipal wells. The decision states that the city cannot use its Chorro Valley wells when the surface flow downstream is under 1.4 cfs. They are supposed to  have monitoring devices downstream from 11A, and from the Ashurst wells. Decision #1633 explains that the City’s over-pumping has also threatened the creek and steelhead habitat. Sources working closely with the CCRWQCB state that the City has not been in compliance with Decision #1633 since 1997.

In an e-mail sent to SWRQCB Enforcement Investigator Jim Fischer, Mrs. Burton wrote, “I worry it’s more a diversionary tactic and cover up than anything.

“I believe the RWQCB dropped the ball. It’s pretty clear.” She explained, “The well test prove ammonia, bacteria hits in dry months, and the Cleath Hydrology report which identified the contaminator of the City well which is next to my house, as septics from the documented ‘inadequate septics’ and leach fields on a neighboring property.”

Mrs. Burton told The ROCK that she believes the water board violated their own “fair, firm and consistent” enforcement policies.

On December 2, 2010, Richard J. Lichtenfels of the SLO County Health Agency wrote a letter to the Burtons, agreeing with the family that there were concerns with Morro Bay’s proposal to have water provided to their residence from their on-site irrigation well.”Based on the information provided, the land use and well history of your area, the County is concerned that the local groundwater supply where your irrigation well draws from is significantly degraded from a water quality standpoint. Water quality testing has historically shown high nitrate levels exist in both the surrounding City and private wells in the area,” wrote Mr. Lichtenfels. He concluded that the City’s proposal “appears to be less than a satisfactory resolution to safe long-term water service.” However, Mr. Lichtenfels stated that only the City could resolve the ongoing issues.

“[SLO County Health Agency] would hope the City would find a way to keep you and the other affected residents on municipal water so as to eliminate the risk of area residents consuming water from a compromised water supply,” he wrote to Mrs. Burton.

Frustrated with the lack of resolutions, Mrs. Burton has filed a complaint with the California Coastal Commission. The Chorro Valley aquifer is located in a coastal zone, which is under the jurisdiction of the CCC. Mrs. Burton’s property was also issued a Coastal Development Permit. Mrs. Burton has specifically requested the commission to “investigate, issue a formal opinion, and if they deem it appropriate, take enforcement actions as necessary.” So far, the commission staff have responded favorably to the complaint and stated that they will conduct an investigation. The complaint is being handled by Nancy Cave and Madeline Cavalieri of the CCC. A hearing date has not been set.

With support from other residents and friends Mrs. Burton told The ROCK that she is committed to Chorro Valley. She expects the Coastal Commission to step up to resolve an issue that’s been on the hearts and minds of local residents for several years. At last, there is hope for Mrs. Burton and Chorro Valley water customers. For now, Mrs. Burton continues to wait anxiously every day. The City once assured residents that they would continue to discuss the issues with them, but they have been met with deafening silence.

The City of Morro Bay is clearly responsible for what has happened in Chorro Valley. Their unwillingness to resolve the water quality issues has not been thoroughly explained. It is clear that the City has underestimated the dogged perseverance of Carrie Burton. As a mother, Mrs. Burton has tried to make the best out of a bad situation for her family. As a fighter, she has become the face of vigilance. Her unwavering goal — to have access to safe drinking water — has also illuminated California’s ongoing water crisis. Chorro Valley cannot survive or thrive without having access to safe drinking water. Because of Mrs. Burton’s determination and the California Coastal Commission’s eagerness to resolve the curse of Chorro Valley, now there is hope.

—  Aaron Ochs

Los Osos Sewer ‘Train Wreck’ on Track for Late July

Proof of pollution or not, the Los Osos sewer is coming to the embattled little Central Coast town by the bay this summer.

The announcement by 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson in the Tribune on March 20th overshadowed that afternoon’s update of the Los Osos Wastewater Project for the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and public. At the update the supervisors approved a contract with Carollo Engineers of Walnut Creek for about $943,000 to design the project’s wastewater treatment plant, and another contract for $898,000 with Far Western Anthropological Research Group of Davis for archaeological services.

Supervisor Gibson, sewer project whip on the board, whose district includes Los Osos, told the Tribune he is “confident” construction will begin on time despite a petition by the Los Osos Sustainability Group, comprised of knowledgeable Los Osos residents, asking the California Coastal Commission to revoke the County’s permit for the project based on the use or false or misleading false information to obtain the permit.

Gibson, known for his supreme confidence and less than supreme predicting skills, believes his confidence is well founded this time. Dan Carl, Central Coast Supervisor for the Coastal Commission, told the Tribune, in the Tribune’s words, that “the request (to revoke the permit) could cause delays in the project because it will take staff time away from verifying that the county has met its permit conditions.” Carl is satisfied that the County has met its permit conditions. The Tribune has worked closely with government agencies to promote the project, and Carl’s public message can be taken as a strong signal of the Commission’s predisposition against the LOSG’s revocation request.

As a result, the likelihood of the revocation is viewed as a “moon shot” by most observers, with little chance of succeeding since the petitioners must prove intent to deceive, or willful negligence by the County, and a majority of the Coastal Commission, a ‘sister’ state agency to the County, must agree. Based on the information on hand, Gibson feels secure speaking publicly that the revocation request will not disrupt the County’s timetable.

Barring a surprise 11th-hour reprieve that halts the start of construction, only one question remains for the 5,000 homeowners saddled with paying the cost of the $189 million project: Will the long, drawn-out Los Osos sewer debate finally come to an end when the tractors roll and digging starts in earnest at the end of July, if in fact it does?

Based on the reaction of sticker-shocked Los Osos homeowners speaking at public comment during the project update, the answer is clearly no. Most of the speakers were disappointed at the brevity of the County’s presentation, and dismayed at the failure of Public Works staff to address the many outstanding issues related to the costly project. Not the least of these inadequately addressed issues is the fate of a select group of 5,000 homeowners in an officially-declared “disadvantaged community” faced with having to pay an average sewer bill of $250 a month for 30 to 40 years.

The meeting was tightly controlled by Chairman Jim Patterson who interrupted each speaker who ventured even a second over the allotted three minutes of public comment. His over-bearing response to speakers exceeding the three-minute limit, which resulted in him erroneously cutting off two Los Osos speakers in the board’s morning session, did not prevent speakers from lambasting the County over the project for a wide variety of reasons. (See REACTION CAPSULES below.)

Several Los Osos residents were sharply critical of the quality of the update and the County’s performance in general in shaping the project, the largest in County history, and explaining its murky benefits to ratepayers. Linde Owen called Carollo Engineers and associates “crooks,” and Ben DiFatta said the Carollo contract had “the smell of suspicion of a lot of corruption.”

Responding to those comments Gibson said: “Miss Owen’s characterization of our staff as ‘crooks’ and Mr. DiFatta’s reference to the ‘smell of corruption’ are both outrageous and deeply offensive. I believe they skirt the edge of being libelous. and I believe they are worthy of an apology to the individuals involved.”

After Patterson threatened to remove two stunned elderly Los Osos residents he accused of calling out in chambers, Gibson added, “That again continues a pattern of behavior that’s unfortunate.”

Asked if they had an apology to offer, DiFatta told The ROCK: “Gibson should apologize to Los Osos for proposing the most expensive sewer in the country per capita. Gibson should apologize to the several thousand property owners and 7,000-9,000 people that will have to move out of their homes because of his insistence to build an antiquated, over-priced, unaffordable gravity collection system. Gibson should apologize to the businesses that have and or will go out of business due to people not having discretionary funds to spend on food, entertainment, furniture, medicine, gasoline, auto purchases, sports activities for their children, etc. throughout this County. Many things he and his sewer staff have done throughout this ordeal are suspicious, especially when his gravity proposal is $50 to $100 million more than other alternatives.”

“I have no reason to apologize,” Owen told The ROCK. “If anything, Public Works Director Ogren and Supervisor Gibson should apologize to Los Osos for putting the community through six years of hell and giving us the most expensive project per capita in state and U.S. history – which they promised they would remedy.”

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Los Osos BOS Public Comment Capsules
Excerpts from public comment by Los Osos residents at the March 20th Board of Supervisors meeting update on the wastewater project:

Elaine Watson, speaking on behalf of the Los Osos Sustainability Group, explaining why they filed for revocation of the Coastal permit for the sewer: “Having exhausted all recourse available to us we were left with no other options. There’s hardly any issue in this revocation that we didn’t bring to you first and many times. And gentleman, I want to remind you that we’re citizens trying to remedy a train wreck… Has anyone here (the Board of Supervisors and staff) read the revocation request yet…? Judging by no response I’m assuming that you haven’t…”

Julie Tacker: “What I wanted to see in an update (and didn’t) was some progress on a second 218, an explanation for our Habitat Conservation Plan, the firing of one consultant, and the new RFP that’s out, and we are hiring another. I wanted an update on the grant that’s proposed for our LCP [Local Coastal Permit], a groundwater management plan. I wanted Coastal conditions laid out in front of me. I want you to know not one of the 180-some conditions that the project must meet has been approved by the Coastal Commission. Regional Water Control Board has their conditions, USDA has conditions, State Revolving Fund has conditions, the purchase of the Giacomazzi site – you have to record a public lot on top of the purchase. You do have to go through an eminent domain process. The roads-and-drainage “show” that came to Los Osos has damage outside the approved footprint for the Coastal Development Permit. A recycled water management plan, a Habitat Management Plan, progress with the ISJ, the Tri-W restoration – what does that mean? The pump house was moved to the library. It’s above ground, Mr. Gibson. You told LOCAC it was a below-ground facility. I want to hear about your trip to Washington and the bags of money you brought back. There’s monitoring programs, there’s decommissioning of septic tanks, there’s sign plans, lighting plans, ag easements, protection of the ag land, conservation. At the beginning of your due diligence it started a one-year clock, that clock was met a week ago.”

Bo Cooper: “At the last project update it was said, “Nobody should have to leave their home to pay for a sewer.” Later on a TAC draft report said, “The Prohibition Zone residents who will be paying for the project are predominantly middle and lower-income people. For some, any increase in their monthly cash outflow will be disastrous.” But then that last part was taken out for political reasons because they wanted to have the sewer… Paavo’s letter to the State Water Board in November 2011 (read): “According to the Wastewater User Chart Survey Report published by the State Water Board, the monthly cost to Los Osos property owners would be the highest in the state for similar population served and nearly five times the state average.” It’s just out of control. That same letter talked about affordability benchmarks – the EPA is 2% (of annual median household income), the USDA and Dept. of Public Health benchmark is 1.5%. So if it’s $217 (a month average sewer bill) — but it will really be about $250 – 2% is $130,000 (median household income), at 2% of $250, which is more likely, a household has to have a median household income of $150,000. At 1.5% which is USDA, which half our money comes from, 1.5% of $217, you have to have an income of $174,000, and last but not least, 1.5% of $250, you have to have a median household income of $200,000 – almost nobody has that. It’s completely unaffordable.”

Jeff Edwards: “I object to sole-souring the contract before you to Carollo Engineers. They don’t need the $25 million design/build contract – they have every other contract is this County for engineering services. You may remember your master water plan, I mean study, that you recently considered – I think you changed the name to a study because it was of such poor quality – they did that. They’re actually the go-to engineering firm for your public works director. In fact, their total (on the Los Osos sewer project) with this contract is up to about $3 million. That goes with their other building partners, and they all come from the same community of Walnut Creek up north. We know HDR got a contract for $7.6 million, CDM $5 million, so the numbers for engineering just keep going up. The reasons given to you (the Board) for sole-sourcing this to them by your Public Works department are disingenuous. The only reason they gave it to them was because they wanted to, not because of familiarity or timing… Last Thursday, the Regional Water Quality Board met in San Luis Obispo, and apparently it’s (the treatment plant) a recycled water facility. What you neglected to give the Regional Board staff is the Recycled Water Management Plan. Their staff was quite surprised. It’s been out since late last year – they don’t have a copy, or at least didn’t until we gave them one. The Regional Board wants to hear from you. In fact, Mr. Gibson, they want to hear from him on May 3rd what’s going on… I’d like to close by asking, why did we take $18 million of grant money and reduce our low-interest rate Clean Water/State Revolving Fund loan? Instead of taking it out of the more expensive USDA loan, we’ve taken it out of the cheaper money. It defies logic.”

Linde Owen: “The presentation is definitely lacking. I could have brought the other 24 items that are still not being addressed in a project update. This (update) was basically to tell us about the new sole-sourcing (to Carollo)… Your Recommendation No. 3 (on the staff report) is to waive board approval of expenditures so that this group of crooks, I’m going to call them right now, will not have to get your permission to spend over $25,000 on any item, so here we go. We’re just opening up the doors to take our money, take all the money you want and have a good time with this project. Let’s see if we can’t make it even more expensive…  Carollo Engineering, the “Love Boat” I call them, want $942, 669 to design a sewer plant that was “shovel ready,” Mr. Gibson. Were you misinformed? Did Mr. Ogren not tell you that it wasn’t shovel ready – or did you just go along with him and go to Washington to see if you could get some of that money? It isn’t shovel ready and we all knew that, but now we’re going to pay another million to keep upgrading something that’s basically copy-paste.”

Ben DiFatta: “This project lacks common sense. It’s way over your heads, and you’re now going to spend another $2 million for studies that have already been done. Didn’t we already pay for this once or twice? Why do these things have to be done again? Can’t you modify the old studies?… The same old cronies, the sole-source, no-bid contract (to Carollo) has the smell of suspicion of a lot of corruption here going on. Why didn’t you have the bidders choose their teams and then bid all the costs, instead of always going to the board for more money?”

Gewynn Taylor: “…Now again you are going outside to get Carollo Engineering involved in a project. When they were doing the Basin Plan for the County they got the water distribution from the Los Osos water basin coming from Morro Bay! How in the world can you trust an engineering firm that can’t even get it straight where Los Osos gets its water? This is ridiculous. Not only that but the nitrate well-testing has been requested by the Regional Water Board again, and not just requested, they are advising this board to approve the nitrate testing and do it now, not at the time that this sewer plant has been installed and is producing water. (Regional Board staff) was directed on Match 15th to get to you and let you know what they are asking. This board has not put out the information that is required or is necessary for the development of this project. If you take the word of your Public Works staff alone, you are setting yourself up for a lot of disruption and a lot of problems…”

For her public comment, Dr. C. Hite presented a three-minute film tribute to Los Osos citizens who have spoken out against the County’s project for six years, and been the object of scorn, verbal abuse, and Brown Act violations by the Board of Supervisors. Dr. Hite’s short film depicted the citizens as heroes.

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