SLO County Fishermen on Proposed Chumash National Marine Sanctuary: ‘We’re Unanimously Against It’

‘Once we take on these additional layers of bureaucracy and find out in the future about the problems it causes, we will not be able to turn back.’

By JEREMIAH O’BRIEN
Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization

Well, the sanctuary question is back on the table. This issue seems to arise every few years since Monterey got their sanctuary. This one is in the form of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. The commercial fishermen in our county are unanimously against it, and we have spoken to various sport fishing groups and have yet to find any one of these groups in support of a sanctuary in our area.

The sanctuary issue is a very big concern, not only for the fishing industry, but the entire county. This is an issue that should not be taken lightly. When we invite the federal government to take over control of our resources, we, meaning our communities, will lose the ability to manage our beaches, our ocean, our ports and our harbors.

The cost to communities for additional federal regulations governing areas such as runoff and discharges, currently administered by local and state government, will increase dramatically. These costs will severely impact our harbors and ports, increasing the difficulty for projects necessary for their operations, such as, dredging, soil samples, construction of docks and slips, as well as maintaining structures that are currently in place. Once we take on these additional layers of bureaucracy and find out in the future about the problems it causes, we will not be able to turn back.

Proponents of the National Marine Sanctuary issue have proclaimed there will be no loss of local control. Unfortunately, this is not true as “National Marine Sanctuary” clearly implies management will not be local but rather at the Federal level.

California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference, or C-MANC, is a group of all of California’s harbors and the cities affiliated with those harbors. This group encompasses the area from San Diego to Crescent City, the entire length of our state, and deals directly in many of these areas with National Marine Sanctuaries, such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and the Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary.

C-MANC has issued a legislative policy statement concerning marine sanctuaries, which consists of a list of five problems. Some of those problems include disposal of dredge materials, and requirements to the already burdensome federal and state processes, vessel traffic, fishing regulations, either direct or indirect, and general maintenance issues. And finally, C-MANC’s legislative policy reads: “C-MANC recommends suspending the expansion of existing sanctuaries until the problems identified above are resolved.” We should remember these are the representatives of their respective areas, many who are living under the umbrella of the National Marine Sanctuaries.

Our county, cities, towns, and commercial and sport fishermen have long been very outstanding stewards of our ocean. We work with many state, federal and environmental groups, as well as universities and colleges. The Central Coast has been the “poster child” of how to do things right in many discussions and meetings held in California, on the East Coast as well as our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. And finally, it is important to remember the amount of fishing grounds closed to some form of fishing, those include Marine Protected Areas, Essential Fish Habitat Areas, and Rock Cod Conservation Areas. I think we can be very proud of our stewardship of the Central Coast.

I guess I just love the Central Coast, and when my wife and I step outside and look around, we remind ourselves every single day of what we have here. We do not think additional layers of bureaucracy would be in the best interest or add to the beauty of this area.

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Chumash Question 'Chumash Sanctuary'

There is no consensus among the Chumash to use the name ‘Chumash Sanctuary’.

By MOKE SISHA

The following Viewpoint is presented in response to The ROCK article, “Chumash Sanctuary Sailing for NOAA Nomination — Without the Fishermen on Board.”

There are more than seven bands, clans, and several individuals that still populate the traditional Chumash territory which consists of the area from about Ragged Point down to about the bay of Santa Monica including the Channel Islands, and goes as far inland as the Tejon Mountains. Within each of these bands and clans are systems of recognized Chiefs, Medicine Peoples, Spiritual Leaders, Tribal Leaders and Elders that have gone through methods of trainings and teachings that have been passed from one generation to the next.

Some of the bands also have business councils which have elected Chair peoples. These positions are not self-appointed. This can be a misconception with literature printed with statements such as “the Chumash once lived” or when a government does not recognize a tribe. This is the case when only one tribe in Chumash Country is recognized by the federal government and owns a casino. Not many people realize or respect that they walk the same ground as our ancestors or have their homes, stores, streets, and parks over our dead.

Though these tribes are not recognized by the federal government they are still sovereign. These tribes have rights and responsibility to steward their ancestral lands and waters that comes from creator and pre-dates state, federal, and international laws. This practice has been done for many generations which are one of the reasons why the people of today can live on such a beautiful coast. The perfect example is the occupation of Point Conception. Where the diligence of some of our strongest-willed people lived for about a year and a half on Point Conception to prevent LNG, Liquefied Natural Gas, from desecrating a sacred place.

In the height of public awareness of Climate Change (and the retreat of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) including Well Stimulation also called Fracking creeping across Turtle Island, that is now known as the United States, has many tribes and Indigenous Nations armed to the teeth with state, federal, and international laws to protect our beloved land and waters.

During this time of threat a few people of the Chumash Nation that call themselves Northern Chumash Tribal Council had made arrangements to use the name of “Chumash Heritage National Sanctuary” without including the rest of the bands, clans, and individuals. There was finally a meeting amongst tribal leaders where NOAA had clearly stated that a sanctuary would not stop threats such as Fracking and oil drilling but can make exceptions. This raises a flag for some of the Chumash leaders for the true motivation of a Sanctuary.

Seeing a meeting called SLO Coast National Marine Sanctuary Panel hosted by certain environmental groups where it was plainly stated that the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary did not stop oil drilling, but the rock formation prevented the drilling, and the lack of the tribes being included in the Central California Marine Protected Areas process in the beginning, it has become apparent there is no reason for us to participate in creating a Sanctuary, and it has not come to consensus to use the Chumash name.

We suggest to the ones that are participating in creating a “Chumash Sanctuary” to go back to farming and let the Chumash Fisherman that still hold the traditions keep their eyes on the water. We are patiently awaiting the next Chumash meeting pertaining to the purposed Sanctuary.

No way is anything in this response to the article, “Chumash Marine Sanctuary Sailing for NOAA Nomination – without Fisherman on Board,” intended to disrespect any environmentalist or commercial fisherman, but to clear the air of some misinformation and much gratitude to THE ROCK for letting our side of the story be told.

“The Chumash Peoples have fished, hunted, and gathered upon the ocean for thousands of years. Our interest is purely to take care of the waters that take care of us.” –Chief Wan Sak, Owl Clan.

Time to Deliver State Water to North County

The water shortage in Northern San Luis Obispo County requires both short- and long-term strategic thinking and an understanding that there are no simple solutions.

mguerreroBy MATTHEW GUERRERO, Oceano Community Services District Board President

The water shortage in Northern San Luis Obispo County requires both short- and long-term strategic thinking and an understanding that there are no simple solutions. There is no single answer that can be the sole solution for the problem. Careful consideration of this situation must include the following three-part analysis.

In 1963 the Board of Supervisors procured 25,000 acre feet of water annually from the California State Water Project for San Luis Obispo County. Since that time, many communities in San Luis Obispo County have chosen to take State Water. The largest participants include Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach and Avila Valley, Morro Bay, San Miguelito and Oceano. This was an expensive and lengthy process and was a politically charged issue at the time. Many communities declined State Water; some of those communities even voting against taking state water. Those declining delivery of State Water include the communities of Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Cambria, San Simeon, Los Osos, Atascadero and Paso Robles. The communities that purchased the water were responsible for funding the infrastructure for water delivery. This is mainly accomplished via pipeline that runs from the North County through the South County. Currently, of the 25,000 acre feet allocated annually, 9,727 acre feet is reserved by the participating communities. This means that there is a little over 15,000 acre feet that is not yet reserved and presumably available to service the North County.

By way of background, an acre foot of water is a rule of thumb to provide for three homes for a period of one year and is about 326,000 gallons. The contract with the State of California for State Water is a “take or pay” contract. This means that the county pays for the water regardless of whether or not it is used. There are difficulties in bringing State Water to any of the communities not currently participating in the State Water Project, the most notable being delivery. The good news is that the State Water Project already runs through the North County and is located near Highway 46. The bad news is that the pipelines, already engineered and in place, reportedly do not have the capacity to carry as much additional water as is needed for the North County.

The North County would have to pay for the development and infrastructure to deliver the water to where it could be distributed to the citizens and businesses. Engineering and construction of water lines are estimated to range upward of $2 million per mile. For example, currently the City of Paso Robles is working on a water treatment plant for the water they draw from Lake Nacimiento. Paso Robles also draws from Basin wells and Salinas River wells. Paso Robles’ current entitlements from Lake Nacimiento are 4,000 acre feet. This does not include the water pumped by private or commercial property owners who are using well water.

Even bringing State Water to Paso Robles does little short-term good for those who do not have the city infrastructure to deliver it to their property and are still dependent upon wells. It will take years of responsible water management to restore the Basin’s water levels and reducing the threat to private wells. Further, 15,000 acre feet is not enough water, even assuming full delivery, to meet the current needs of the North County. Estimates of the need for water are in the neighborhood of 30,000 acre feet per year. Procuring State Water for the North County only solves about half the problem.

Additionally, State Water is also subject to State Government regulation, and the amount of water actually available for delivery varies from year to year. For example, State Water contractors will often get a percentage of their entitlement, though it can sometimes be supplemented with “drought buffer”. Even with a reduced percentage being delivered, the California State Water Project is considered a reliable source of water. The State Water Project provides supplemental water to approximately 25 million Californians and approximately 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland. Approximately 70% of State Water goes to urban users, with agriculture using the difference.

Since San Luis Obispo County already has procured and paid for these entitlements, State Water should be made available for the residents and businesses in northern San Luis Obispo County.

Paso Robles Sewage Treatment Plant Should Contribute to the Water Basin

The current Paso Robles Sewage Treatment Plant is not compliant with state or federal standards and is being replaced with a new $50 million plant. This plant upgrade is incomplete without the ability to produce recycled water. Currently, the State Water Board exercises general oversight over recycled water projects, including review of Regional Water Board permitting practices, and leads the effort to meet the recycled water use goals. These goals include increasing the use of recycled water in California by 200,000 acre feet per year by 2020 and by an additional 300,000 acre feet per year by 2030. This is to be achieved through the cooperation and collaboration of the State Water Board, the Regional Water Boards, the environmental community, water purveyors, and the operators of publicly owned treatment works. In the future, recycled water will be a critical resource for the state based on a number of factors, including providing a local sustainable supply, a means to reduce energy and carbon footprints, a means of dealing with climate change, the increased pressure due to population growth and drought, and the cost of developing new potable water supplies.

Currently, the Paso Robles plant is permitted to discharge approximately three million gallons of treated effluent into the Salinas River every day. It is a short distance from the discharge plant to the ocean, where the three million gallons of effluent are lost. The new Paso Robles Sanitation Plant should research discharging their three million gallons up the Salinas River so that the discharged effluent can be absorbed into the ground and recharge the water basin. Another viable option, though more expensive, is to treat the effluent to a tertiary level. Tertiary treatment is additional treatment beyond secondary treatment, to which the effluent is already treated. Tertiary treatment can remove more than 99 percent of all the impurities from sewage, producing an effluent that is almost drinking-water quality. If treated to tertiary level, though expensive, this water could be used for crops and irrigation and lessen the demand on the Basin, thus preserving the Basin and protecting the water supply for current and future generations.

According to the California Department of Public Health, regulations are being developed that address groundwater replenishment for aquifers designated as sources of drinking water using recycled water from domestic wastewater sources. In 2011, revised draft regulations were released and workshops were held throughout the state. Once these regulations are adopted, they would replace the existing regulations, which were adopted in 1978. The state is currently developing the remainder of the regulation package. The existing Water Code requires the Department of Public Health to adopt revised groundwater replenishment regulations by December 31, 2013, and regulations for surface water augmentation by December 31, 2016. Nevertheless, proposed projects for groundwater replenishment (and surface water augmentation) continue to move forward. Paso Robles has the opportunity and obligation to protect their valuable water resources.

In fairness, the San Miguel, Shandon and Templeton should join the Paso Robles treatment plant in treating waste water to a level at which it can be reintroduced to the groundwater supply.

Whether recycling water, going to tertiary treatment, or discharging farther up the Salinas River, the possible solutions are expensive, but necessary. The water leaving the North County treatment plants is a resource and should not be literally flushed down the drain.

It Has Proven Necessary to Adjudicate the Basin

Unfortunately the business interests and the urban water users are lining up against each other for access to water. This tension should be avoided as the economic wellbeing of each is inextricably tied to water and to each other. A healthy basin is essential to the continued prosperity and growth of each group. Economic insults to one group will adversely affect the other. This should be addressed through the courts. This will be helpful to the North County to protect and monitor the Basin and the end-users.

Adjudication will mean that the amount of water that can be extracted is defined by court order or stipulation. In basins where each landowner’s right has been defined, groundwater may be managed by agencies that obtain their authority from the Water Code. Depending upon the situation, there may be significant, little or no management.

Not surprisingly, adjudication is an expensive and lengthy process. For example, in South San Luis Obispo County, the Northern Cities Management entered into a stipulated agreement in 2002, after years of litigation. This group continues to issue annual monitoring reports and local elected officials participate in its management and operation. This group provides valuable information to the public and member agencies regarding land and water uses in the basin, the sources of supply to meet those uses and the ground water conditions. Given the large number urban and agricultural users, as well as the basin’s inability to meet the current and foreseeable demand, self-regulation by the users is not proving to be a viable option. The expense to the Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Oceano, and Santa Maria has reached $20 Million in14 years.

Without court supervision, there may be no remedy for those who wells run dry.

Conclusion

There are no easy answers. Solutions are costly. Economic vitality is at stake. Even if we sustain above-average rainfall for several years in a row, the Paso Robles Basin will not be restored to full health; the problems being experienced right now will be repeated, over and over. Rather than just viewing the condition of the water basin as a tension between commercial and urban interests, we must learn to see it as a problem of supply and demand. There is a deficit. When the Federal Government has a deficit, the Treasury can print more money. We do not have the ability to make more water fall from the sky. This means that we, as a regional community, have to use our resources more wisely and utilize resources that we already have for new purposes. It will be expensive. Funding these projects will cost money and political capital. Failure to do so will cost much more.

Matthew Guerrero is an Attorney at Law and is also the Board Chair of South San Luis Obispo Sanitation District

 

An Open Letter to Karen Velie

Smearing your enemies (without substantiation) amid this personal debacle serves only your historic agenda, and tells the world that you have priority issues while these three children go dirty and disheveled to school.

childBy PAUL EMBRY, Atascadero

I ask you to remember the story of Solomon and the two women who claimed to be the mother of one baby. Solomon suggested that they cut the baby in half, so that the women could split the benefit the baby brought. Only one of the women was satisfied with this arrangement and she, of course, was plainly not the actual mother because she thought of her own well-being before that of the child.

You must look to the children here, and only to the children.

It is they who are being harmed by the separation from their family, whether the removal was justified or not. The usurpation of the situation for leverage in your County /CAPSLO mud-feud is just another slimy stone on the sickening road you and your enemies have built. You are all responsible for the condition of the children at the moment, and instead of thinking of them you and your selfish, self-absorbed group have elected to take your troubles to the streets. Those of us who are not committed to either side ache only for these kids. Those of us who are familiar with CWS are astounded with your hubris, and wonder why, when the CWS nosed into OUR lives – justly or otherwise – it wasn’t news. No amount of bully pulpit invective, whether published on a blog masquerading as a newspaper or broadcast countywide on the local Winchell’s AM Radio segment, is going to help the kids. Claims of conspiracy or collusion will keep your name on people’s lips even as depression and lactose ruin the kids. Smearing your enemies (without substantiation) amid this personal debacle serves only your historic agenda, and tells the world that you have priority issues while these three children go dirty and disheveled to school and reap derision and bullying from their classmates.

Bringing this mess before the general public creates sympathy for you and the kids, yes, but the least amount of forethought from the viewpoint of the children would’ve made you consider that you’ve just given motivation and ammunition to those schoolmates who are teasing and bullying them. Your self-serving nature has outed you and you should be ashamed.

For the sake of your grandchildren I will offer you some advice, but first I will tell you why I think I’m qualified to do so.

The existence of my daughter was announced to me by a CWS social worker, who also informed me that they had taken the child from her mother at birth. For the better part of a year I lived the action plans, classes, unwarranted drug testing, surprise inspections of my home, and all manner of inconvenience and indignity – all because I had committed, in the legalese of the machine, a “failure to protect” the child from the abuses of the mother. Never mind that Roe v. Wade says that what someone does with the baby inside them is nobody’s business; never mind that I had no documented drug or alcohol problem; never mind the lies lawyers and social workers told me. Never mind anything.

They had my child and they had all the power in the world.

I had no news outlet from which to raise the hue and cry; Dave Congalton did not postpone his gallstone surgery to lend me an hour and a half of his soapbox time. Additionally, I worked nights in a bar and lived in a rented room. My life was not adapted to the addition of a baby, and it was all common knowledge to the people at Social Services.

Eight months later, I was given a knowing nod from the judge who had just ordered my child into my custody and CWS out of my life. That nod said to me that she respected my handling of a terrible, terrible situation. I made sure that everyone in the courtroom heard me tell my one-year-old daughter that I don’t intend to buy her another “courtroom dress” until after she has passed the bar. I’m also certain that I’m a better father because of the things I learned complying with my action plan than I would’ve been without having done so.

I’m not saying this to aggrandize myself. I’m telling you why you should listen to me. Further, I have no love of CWS, CAPSLO, lawyers in general, or politicians in totality. If I have a bias in this whatsoever, it is the disdain I have for the blank spot where your blog’s ethics should be, and the fact that I think you must have been sick the day they taught journalism at journalism school.

To begin: I am personally acquainted with a grandmother who just last year was deemed unfit for placement on the grounds of a DUI conviction that had been adjudicated over a decade ago. So it is something that is done. It may or may not be a matter of policy, but it is certainly a matter which enjoys precedent, and thereby cannot be something “cooked-up” to be used solely against you. To claim otherwise is to convolute the process and harm the children.

You may truly believe that they are holding your job against you, but I suggest it is the way in which you do your job that rankles. Perhaps not the crusade itself, precisely, but possibly the fact that you’ve gone crazy, shining the light of the free press on all of the few detractors and left in darkness any who honestly praise and thank CAPSLO. It makes you look self-serving and – if not dishonest – ignorant of the tenets of your profession.

You may truly believe that the mention of the word “attorney” to your grandchild is the reason that your personal contact with them has been suspended, but I suggest it is the introduction of complex concepts and mature matters to young minds that are already distressed.

Confusion is not going to calm anyone, nor is confrontationalism. You should have been explaining to the kids that everything was going to be okay; that they should make the best of a bad situation in the knowledge that the situation won’t last forever. I’m betting that keeping your children up to speed on the hiring or firing of legal staff is not a policy invented just for you. Perhaps it promotes an adversarial feeling between the children and the temporary caregivers. Fool.

When you take to the airwaves and say “I just want to know how they can do this,” you’re not serving anyone’s needs. The switchboard will light up, and the craziness begins. Anyone at social services who might have been moved by sympathy for your kids will be too busy manning the siege engines to do anything else. A real reporter who had a similar question might check the Welfare and Institutions laws that regulate such bodies, as well as the civil, criminal and family codes which pertain to the removal of children and the processes thereafter. Such research, done in time, would’ve enabled your daughter to get her story before the judge in counterpoint to the claims against her; clued you all in to the subtleties of language used by social workers and lawyers and entitled you to any advantage such understanding may provide; removed the mystery surrounding the machinations and protocols of the CWS/Court experience; and provided insight into the rules and guidelines which apply to CWS caseworkers and foster-parents.

This way you could’ve fought wisely. Crowing willy-nilly about perfectly legal “injustices” you’ve suffered doesn’t help you reunite with the children; it merely illustrates that you neglected to fact check before speaking publicly.

You must realize that the Social Worker assigned to your case has great leeway in what she may permit or deny, and that it is his or her recommendations that carry the most weight with the judge. That is because the caseworker is employed to see beyond lie and performance in order to require (by way of the action plan) those things that are genuinely needed by the family – not only for reunification, but also for permanent resolution. It is their job to detect and ignore nonsense; they are the judge’s eyes and ears in your world. Everything they permit or deny must be justifiable and defensible, and if they have a reason to dislike you it’s because you gave them one.

Remember that this agency exists to deal primarily with the worst kind of people, people who will go to great lengths to conceal truths about themselves and their living situations. The caseworker who is not skeptical of everything is either new or not a very good one. If you’re going to allow your cronies to spill her name to the public and make all kinds of specious and scurrilous accusations against her, don’t be surprised when she tells the judge that you seem to be more willing to fight the process than to take the necessary steps for reunification. Don’t be surprised when the judge believes her, especially if she heard it with her own ears along with the rest of us.

You may also believe that your daughter failed her action plan because she couldn’t leave work for a doctor’s appointment, and that could indeed bear some part in it. It’s entirely more likely that some conversation surrounding the missed appointment reflected a continuing oppositional attitude toward the process. Nobody at CWS is going to tell the judge that the circumstances, which led the children into state custody, are changing (or are likely to change) when the principals are participating only grudgingly and seem still inclined to resistance.

These people have already determined that change is necessary in the home. The best thing you can do is maintain an earnest demeanor and ardently comply with their requirements. The caseworker is required to help in any number of ways once you turn the corner and embrace the reunification plan, but most people never figure that out. They, like you, would rather fight the system, inflate themselves, and leave the kids twisting in the wind.

Get a clue, lady, and help your daughter get her kids back. Foster care that is good is very good, and foster care that is bad is often incurable. I encourage you to forget all the craziness you’ve filled your life with and dedicate your time and intentions to your daughter and her re-unification plan. If you’ve a shred of humanity, you should already loathe yourself for the ways you’ve both marginalized and exacerbated the plight of your grandkids and hijacked sympathies intended for them to feed your own demons. Atone.

And the guy on the radio who offered the gift cards who you blew off? He was trying to eliminate any excuse a foster may have for forcing cow’s milk on the child. If the alternative to milk were free, what objection could be raised? He could drop those gift cards off at any social services office with the name of the child and a bit of written explanation and the issue of lactose intolerance would be solved. That this escaped you is representative of the situation as a whole.

Selfish, selfish woman.

Get off your high-horse and urge your daughter to comply. Gleefully. While she’s at it, she could try to get something out of the classes and counseling and therapy. It wouldn’t be such a crime to bring the kids back into a better home than the one they left, would it?

EDITORIAL: Morro Bay Must Show Civil Restraint

The Morro Bay mayoral recall is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial topics to hit the North Coast since the Los Osos Community Services District recall in 2005.

Andrea Lueker and Rob Schultz
Morro Bay City Manager Andrea Lueker (left) and City Attorney Rob Schultz

The Morro Bay mayoral recall is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial topics to hit the North Coast since the Los Osos Community Services District recall in 2005. Unfortunately, there are a lot of similarities between the two recall movements that we prefer not to see.

Let’s face it: recalls result in community division. After the recall was successful in Los Osos, stopping the midtown sewer project, there was sharp division between community members and leaders over three LOCSD board members being replaced with a fresh new majority. Similarly, at the June 2012 primary election in Morro Bay a new majority was brought in to, essentially, move the new wastewater project out of town. In Los Osos, the County government ultimately assumed authority over the wastewater project after legislation was passed to facilitate that transition. In Morro Bay, the new majority initiated the public process on their project that Los Osos struggled to pursue without County intervention.

In Los Osos, district meetings at the South Bay Community Center were rife with gossip, rumor and innuendo. Sides were chosen. Opinionated citizens were judged as liars, thugs and criminals by other opinionated citizens. Menacing eyes were cast around the room, waiting for someone to approach the podium for public comment. The eyes sent a clear message: Unless you’re one of us, you’re nothing. Even though residents knew each other for decades, growing hatred overwhelmed years of cordiality and courtesy. Between salacious smearing in hushed tones, citizens with diametrically opposing viewpoints smiled and waved at each other. It was fake when it wasn’t forced, superficial when it wasn’t sarcastic.

Their leaders recalled, the new minority in Los Osos shouted, screamed and cursed at the newly elected majority board members. Residents — both for and against the recall — were harassed and threatened by neighbors-turned-adversaries. It was all very troubling. There seemed to be no end to the discord, no solution to the torn fabric. The lack of respect and decorum viciously tore the town in half. Many County residents outside of Los Osos, including Morro Bay residents, shook their heads and asked: What was Los Osos thinking?

Some Morro Bay residents have said over the years, “We’re not like Los Osos. There’s no comparison. What happened in Los Osos will never happen here.”

Look again.

In Morro Bay, the recall controversy is really no different than Los Osos. There are two warring factions, clustered in a city bustling with tourists and residents who recognize that life is best spent on less-than-stressful endeavors. Residents are left to sift through speculation, accusations, personal attacks and inconsequential bursts of hubris that yield little substance. Then there’s blame. Then there are the letters to the editor, the scathing viewpoints that portray the Morro Bay politics as black and white, sore losers and tyrannical winners. It’s us versus them. No exceptions.

We find that ridiculous and harmful.

Maybe residents have a right to be angry: two top city employees were suddenly on the chopping block without much warning or discussion. Mayor Jamie Irons was the primary force behind the move, a move to change the way business is done in Morro Bay. Some residents decided that firing the long-serving city attorney was unacceptable and initiated the recall. It’s their right to pursue one. Similarly, residents have a right to oppose the recall.

So we pose the twin questions: What are the reasons for supporting the mayor? What are the reasons for not supporting the mayor? Either way, before answering, abandon the invectives disguised as reasons. The reasons to recall Mayor Irons are subject to debate. There’s the linchpin issue of confidentiality versus transparency. Acknowledge the delicate balance and the overriding legalities involved that have shaped events thus far.

More importantly, let’s learn from past mistakes. Many of the critics involved in the debate in Morro Bay have made the same mistakes that tore apart Los Osos, gleefully, hypocritically resorting to threats and taunting as ways to embarrass and ostracize their detractors. But the debate should not dwell on the overreactions of both sides. To avoid what happened in Los Osos, Morro Bay residents must be vigilant in elevating civil discourse above the negative din. They must stand up for mutual respect as common ground to move forward as one. They must reject and denounce hostility as offering any kind of unifying solution, and argue for and against the recall with objective and legal rationale, working toward solutions that the majority of the town can agree on.

It’s time for Morro Bay residents to ask, “What are we thinking?” before Morro Bay becomes another Los Osos. That’s something no one in Morro Bay, no matter how upset, should ever want to see.

VIEWPOINT: Paso Robles Water Depletion Needs a 'Time Out'

Jan Seals
Jan Seals

By JAN SEALS, PRO Water Equity, Inc.

PRO Water Equity is extremely disappointed that the Interim Urgency Ordinance was not extended on October 1st. This ordinance is a needed “time out” to stop further depletion of the groundwater basin. It has been a rallying point for stakeholders of varying perspectives to come together and find we agree on many areas concerning our water crisis. But 45 days is just a beginning. Extending the ordinance for the full two years will allow time for parties with wide ranging perspectives to reach a consensus and establish a governance structure that can manage and stabilize the basin.

We are happy that Governor Brown has made an appointment for the 4th District Supervisor. The whole county will benefit from having the full Board of Supervisors seated. We are hopeful that the Urgency Ordinance will not be allowed to expire on October 11th.

Supervisor Mecham has facilitated meetings with PRO Water Equity and PRAAGS. While we don’t agree on all elements of the exact governance, we do agree on the basic powers and authorities of a district. Progress is being made in bringing our perspectives together. We will continue to meet with the goal of reaching a consensus on a type of governance structure. Everyone realizes that PRO Water Equity and PRAAGS do not represent all overliers. However, members of these two organizations have participated on many County organized water committees and been the most outspoken, so this seems a good place to start discussions. At some point all overliers will need to weigh in on what kind of management structure should be adopted. We are hopeful that a structure can be devised that will satisfy the various points of view. We are committed to finding a solution that is fair to all overliers, benefits the community, and most importantly stabilizes the basin.

The water belongs to all of us. For the common good, we must seek to get along and learn to live within our means.

Jan Seals
Treasurer, PRO Water Equity, Inc.

VIEWPOINT: Avert the Crisis in Morro Bay

George Leage (left) and Nancy Johnson
George Leage (left) and Nancy Johnson

By GEORGE LEAGE & NANCY JOHNSON

Just over a week ago Mayor Jamie Irons attempted to call a special closed meeting of the city council on barely 24 hours notice. The extraordinary meeting was to be held behind closed doors midday in the City Hall conference room for the purpose of firing both the City Administrator and the City Attorney in one fell swoop. Rest assured that the mayor would not have attempted such bold action if he did not believe that he already had two additional votes for the firings.

Unfortunately for the mayor, even closed session meetings require the opportunity for citizens to speak before the session is closed. Well, in less than 24 hours over three hundred folks showed up at city hall for the meeting. This forced the meeting to be moved to the Vet’s Hall. At the Vet’s Hall, dozens of speakers were given one minute to speak. Over 95 percent of those present were against the firings. What was particularly noteworthy was the amazing broad range of speakers in support of Andrea Lueker and Rob Schultz. Voters of all local and national political persuasions (including many local political enemies), many city board members, former council members, former mayors and even city workers who took vacation time to be there showed their heartfelt support. Even the union representatives voiced support for both Rob & Andrea. Think about that one: unions in vocal support of management!

Over and over, each in their own way, made the following points:

  1. Rob and Andrea have always worked for the best interests of the city regardless of the subject at hand.
  2. Rob and Andrea have had an open door policy where citizen input was welcomed.
  3. Even when a person was coming from a different direction than the city policy they were treated with respect by both Rob and Andrea.
  4. That they were doing a very good job.

There was a handful of folks whose basic message was that they supported the mayor with whatever he wished to do.

In the council discussion which followed public comment the following occured:

  1. Mayor Irons stated that he didn’t need additional time to make up his mind. He already knew what he wanted to do.
  2. Mayor Irons stated for the record that the action he wanted to take had nothing to do with any complaints or charges against either Rob Schultz or Andrea Lueker.

The mayor then dismissed the public and took the meeting behind closed doors where a long discussion ensued.

After the closed session, the mayor announced that no action had been taken. Many of the public took this to mean that sanity had ruled and that Rob Schultz and Andrea Lueker would remain in their positions.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Instead of taking the citizen input to heart, the mayor has agendized the hiring of outside legal counsel to advise the city on how to fire of the city attorney and city administrator. That motion is agendized to be heard right after public comment at the city council meeting today, Tuesday, September 24 at 6pm.

The mayor and his supporters will undoubtedly want to make their support of his planned actions during the public comment period. We need your help to keep the community record clear on this matter.

Please think about the following:

It is clear that both the city administrator and city attorney are behaving ethically and doing their jobs well. Between them they have approximately FORTY YEARS of experience serving Morro Bay. Despite those FACTS, the mayor has already decided that wants them BOTH gone as soon as he can arrange it.

What do you think the mayor has planned once admittedly experienced, competent and ethical people have been removed from those positions? Where is our community headed?

Show up! Bring friends! Even if you don’t speak your presence in support of speakers is important. We’re counting on you being present at the council meeting!

George Leage and Nancy Johnson are members of the Morro Bay City Council. Reply to this viewpoint by commenting below or e-mailing us at opinions@rockofthecoast.com.

PG&E TEST FALLOUT: Sea Otters at Risk … and No Answers From USFWS

[slideshow id=17]

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/SueArnold.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sue Arnold is the CEO of California Gray Whale Coalition. She is a former Fairfax investigative journalist who regularly lobbies the US government in Washington DC, as well as the European Parliament and Commission on whale issues.[/author_info] [/author]

The PG&E nightmare is not over. Out there in the marine environment at least 42 sea otters are paying a heavy price. These are animals which have been trapped, caged, anesthetized then subjected to surgery that implanted a time-depth recorder and VHF radio transmitter into each animal’s abdominal cavity.

The incision had to be sutured closed without shaving the area around it so the animals don’t suffer from hypothermia. Sea otters were then dumped back at sea.

Details of the experiment demonstrate the callousness of the organizations involved. There’s no consolation in learning that the procedure has been utilized on dozens of projects.

“Captures will occur during September 2012 using scuba-based techniques from small boats, identical to the procedure used by our group on dozens of previous projects (e.g. Tinker et al. 2006). Captured sea otters will be transported to a mobile veterinary lab stationed at the Morro Bay Coast Guard office or other suitable facility (depending on the location of the targeted sea otter group). At the mobile lab they will be anesthetized by a qualified veterinarian for the placement of flipper tags, VHF transmitter, and TDRs. Health parameters, including weight, body condition, tooth wear, will be assessed at the same time, and a pre-molar tooth will be collected for cementum-based age estimation. Blood and tissue samples will be taken from each sea otter to evaluate overall health and nutritional state, immune function, pathogen exposure and presence, and exposure to petrochemicals and other contaminants.    

“In addition to venous blood samples, we will collect skin punches (obtained during flipper tag application), vibrissae (for characterizing diets via stable isotope analysis; Newsome et al. 2009), nasal swabs, and fat and liver biopsies.”

All without any formal consent to the PG&E HESS (high-energy seismic survey) by the California Coastal Commission. A brief look at the background of this experiment is useful.

As described in the USFWS September 26, 2012 proposed IHA for the project, in response to concerns about potential adverse impacts to southern sea otters:

“[PG&E] would be required to conduct monitoring of southern sea otters during the seismic surveys in order to implement the mitigation measures that require real-time monitoring and to satisfy monitoring required under the MMPA [Marine Mammal Protection Act]. Project personnel would be required to record information regarding location and behavior of all sea otters observed during operations. When conditions permitted, information regarding age (pup, independent) and tag color and position (for flipper-tagged animals) would also be required to be recorded.”

In addition, USFWS (US Fish & Wildlife Service) notes in the proposed IHA that due to the lack of scientific understanding and research regarding the response of southern sea otters to high levels of underwater sound:

“[USFWS] has recommended that PG&E and LDEO (Laurent-Doherty Earth Observatory) use the survey as an opportunity to investigate the potential effects of air guns on sea otters. PG&E and LDEO have agreed to address this request by arranging, with input from the Service, for the design and implementation of an ancillary scientific study during and after the survey and subsequent analysis. The study would be conducted by researchers with the appropriate scientific expertise and permits (USGS, Biological Resources Division, in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Game and other research partners).”

Neither PG&E nor US Fish & Wildlife Service waited for Coastal Commission consent to the permit. Divers were sent out in October to begin capturing otters for this obscene experiment. Clearly, the USFWS and other organizations/research partners involved in this exercise need to explain to the Commission and the public why the experiment went ahead without consent.

An appalling precedent has been set, allowing highly endangered animals listed under the Endangered Species Act to be used without proper consent as living experiments on underwater noise by the USFWS whose job it is to protect the species.

In one of the most highly invasive, unnecessary and downright diabolic experiments ever conceived by scientists, up to 60 sea otters were to be used as experimental models for the PG&E HESS. The purpose of the experiment? To determine whether sea otters were impacted by 250dB source level from an l8-gun array over a period of November and December. November falls in the sea otter breeding season and there’s no indication from researchers how many of the captured, anesthetized animals were pregnant or had young from which they were separated. Nor do we know how many animals may have miscarried as a result of the surgery and stress.

If ever there was a clear indication of how far the Administration and resource industry is prepared to go in its efforts to mine the west coast at the expense of marine creatures, this experiment is a prime example.

Many folk are deeply concerned over the plight of the captured and released otters. Who is monitoring the animals and what steps are being taken to remove the devices?

Under the study guidelines the following is stated:

“Beginning approximately 1 year after initial captures, attempts will be made to re-capture all study animals. Methods for recaptures are essentially identical to those of the initial captures. Sea otters will be anesthetized and archival TDR instruments retrieved for data collection. Health parameters will be re-assessed, tissue samples taken, and any missing flipper tags will be replaced.”

Given that PG&E claimed that the study would only involve a “small take” of 352 animals under Level B Harassment, the following statement in the published guidelines raise more concern:

“Any study animals (as well as non-tagged animals within the study area) that die during the course of the study will be immediately retrieved by field personnel. Data on primary and contributing causes of morality in wild sea otters, as well as information on environmental risk factors, can be obtained from thorough necropsies of dead animals (e.g., Miller et al. 2010). Any animals that disappear from the study areas will be located by airplane and, if a mortality signal is detected, personnel will be dispatched (by car, boat, or on foot) to retrieve the carcass. Carcasses will be subjected to detailed necropsies by a veterinary pathologist at MWVCRC following established protocols. In addition to determining the primary and contributing cause(s) of death, the pathologist will supervise collection of tissue samples for a variety of otter and ecosystem health studies.”

Yet the Federal Register Notice of the HESS states:

(3) Monitoring requirements and mitigation measures are expected to limit the number of incidental takes. Level A harassment (harassment that has the potential to injure southern sea otters) is not authorized.

Not only is the Fish & Wildlife Service culpable, but so too are the organizations involved in this Dr. Strangelove exercise which include collaborators from California Department of Fish & Game, Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center (MWVCRC), the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Research and Conservation Department (SORAC), and the University of California at Santa Cruz and Davis (UCSC and UCD).

What kind of Ethics Committee at the Universities and other institutions allowed this experiment? What was the purpose of the experiment, which would have blasted sound levels in excess of 160dB for two months day and night at these animals?

Again, let’s look at the study guidelines according to the Federal Register Notice of September 26, 2012:

“In a study with a much larger sample size, Tinker et al. (2008) reported that central California sea otters spent approximately 40 percent of their time foraging. Because underwater behaviors constitute less than half of the total activity budget of southern sea otters along the central California coast, their exposure to underwater sounds is limited. Nevertheless, the disruption of underwater behaviors may result in the disruption of the entire activity budget of an exposed individual and, potentially, in the disturbance of associated individuals”

So according to Dr. Tinker, in fact sea otters spend 60% of their time underwater. Does this fact ensure that the animals would not be impacted by underwater noise?

The study guidelines make clear the damage that can be caused:

“Observed sea otter responses to disturbance are highly variable, probably reflecting the level of noise and activity to which they have been exposed and become acclimated over time and the particular location and social or behavioral state of that individual (G. Bentall, Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program, pers. comm.). Reactions to anthropogenic noise can be manifested as visible startle responses, flight responses (flushing into water from haulouts or “splash-down” alarm behavior in surface-resting rafts), changes in moving direction and/or speed, changes in or cessation of certain behaviors (such as grooming, socializing, or feeding), or avoidance of areas where noise sources are located.

“The biological significance of these behavioral disturbances is difficult to predict, especially if the detected disturbances appear minor. However, the consequences of behavioral modification would be expected to be biologically significant if the change affected growth, survival, or reproduction. Potentially significant behavioral modifications include:

  • Disturbance of resting sea otters
  • Marked disruption of foraging behaviors
  • Separation of mothers from pups
  • Disruption of spatial and social patterns (sexual segregation and male territoriality)

“Exposure to very strong sounds could affect southern sea otters physically in a number of ways. These include temporary threshold shift (TTS), which is short-term hearing impairment, and permanent threshold shift (PTS), which is permanent hearing loss. Non-auditory physical effects may also occur in southern sea otters exposed to strong underwater pulsed sound. Non-auditory physiological effects or injuries that may theoretically occur in mammals close to a strong sound source include stress, neurological effects, and other types of organ or tissue damage.”

Clearly, the fact that sea otters spend 60% of their time underwater in no way protects the animals from the impacts of acoustic trauma.

What about impacts on their diet? Otters eat all kinds of slimy marine life such as clams, worms, fish, mullusks, octopus, mussels, sea urchins, crabs and even snails. Each individual otter develops two-three preferences. One otter may like crabs and mullusks and another may like abalone and snails. Otters develop preferences to prevent competition for food between other otters.

Sea otters can dive up to 180 feet in search of food. Otters use their nose and whiskers to find food and to detect vibrations under the water.

Had the HESS gone ahead, would the seismic noise levels disturbed the vibrations underwater? We know there’s an abundant body of evidence demonstrating the impact of underwater noise on invertebrates. A workshop held by the BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) in San Diego in March was focused on Effects of Noise on Fish, Fisheries, and Invertebrates in the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic from Energy Industry Sound-Generating Activities: Literature Synthesis.

A careful investigation of documents associated with the study on sea otters reveals no organization addressed the potential impact on prey.

It is also of concern to realize that comments from some sea otter conservation organizations largely failed to condemn the highly invasive experiment and the potential impacts on prey. Jim Curland, Advocacy Program Director of Friends of the Sea Otters, wrote to the California Gray Whale Coalition in response to our concern over the plight of the animals saying:

“We are very familiar and aware of the team of great researchers that are part of the proposal to monitor sea otter populations and believe this to be a very extensive monitoring project. I simply do have respect for the research team. We are also in a bit of a different position than organizations that work on cetaceans and pinnipeds because at least for cetaceans there is more concrete evidence of how noise negatively impacts them. With sea otters we don’t have that baseline. There are virtually no studies analyzing sea otter hearing ability and there are two women currently at U.C. Santa Cruz that have analyzed less than a handful of animals and their preliminary conclusions are that sea otters don’t have hearing abilities in the range of low frequency sounds that the seismic test proposes.”

The Coalition obtained scanty information on the experiment which is being conducted by two women at UC Santa Cruz who apparently have several sea otters in a tank with various levels of sound being directed at the unfortunate animals. Hardly baseline data and, again, an obscene way to treat animals who are used to diving 180 feet for their prey, not to mention basking in kelp beds.

While the Otter Project sent in strong objections to the experiment, in its 12-page comment to USFWS, the only comment relating to the cruelty involved in the experiment is found on page 10:

“Many many thousands of rate payer dollars are being spent to have high-tech rebreather equipped divers scoop dozens of sleeping otters up with Wilson traps, transported to a surgery suite to be anesthetized and surgically implanted with transmitter and data recorder, poked prodded and tissue samples taken, and then released dazed, confused, and undoubtedly stressed. Months later the otter will be tracked, trapped, anesthetized and cut open again.”

Steve Shimek, Chief Executive and Founder, summed up this project well:

“For all these rate payer dollars, and effort, what will we gain? A paper. The paper possibly published in an obscure scientific journal, many months maybe years, after the conclusion of the project.”

Some key questions need to be asked of the USFWS and the organizations involved in this experiment:

  • What will now happen to the 42 otters that have devices implanted in their bodies?
  • Who is currently monitoring these animals? How often? By what means?
  • When will the devices be removed? How? Who will supervise?
  • Why were so many animals subjected to such an invasive experiment without a permit being  consented to by the Coastal Commission? Have any animals died?
  • What purpose would be served by ascertaining the received sound levels which may or may not cause TTS or PTS?
  • How many of the 42 animals captured were pregnant?

The California Gray Whale Coalition has sought legal advice on the sea otter experiment from the Center for Biological Diversity. It would appear that the USFWS has acted ultra vires (beyond its powers) and violated its mandatory responsibility to protect a listed endangered species, but no legal challenge will reverse the damage, pain and suffering that 42 sea otters have suffered.

And just to put more dark icing on the obscene cake, rumor has it that the Navy is planning on moving the entire southern sea otter population further north. There can be no rest for the concerned public. Sea otters deserve the highest protection available and their best allies are the Central Coast communities that so valiantly fought and won the battle to protect this precious marine environment.

The community must demand answers from USFWS.

EDITORIAL: Supervisor Gibson Must Go

The ROCK believes that District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson should resign as soon as possible.

According to local news reports, Gibson admitted to having an extramarital affair with his legislative assistant, Cherie Aispuro. This news motivated us to look at his record — given that he’s lobbied for his positions as a “moral obligation.” When a politician supports their arguments on a personal, moral plane and they do something that is widely considered to be immoral, that should give their constituents some pause. The ROCK researched Gibson’s positions, words and decisions extensively — and we believe that Gibson no longer deserves the title “Supervisor.”

Bruce Gibson supports PG&E’s high-energy seismic survey (HESS), which was unanimously rejected by the California Coastal Commission. At the October 4 Morro Bay Business Forum, Gibson opposed the proposed project — emphasis on the proposed — because the project did not adequately satisfy the conditions set by the Board of Supervisors. As stated in the Board’s August 7, 2012 letter, the conditions were “(1) all environmental impacts are fully understood and mitigated to the maximum degree possible, (2) all unavoidable economic impacts are fully and fairly compensated; and (3) the technical details of the survey have been subjected to independent third-party review by industry-qualified experts to confirm that the best available technology is applied to this crucial investigation.”

However, the conditions he pushed for are undermined by his support for the HESS. He’s gone on public record with his unequivocal endorsement of a survey that, by its very nature and process, makes any mitigation efforts ineffective and ultimately futile. He’s repeatedly pushed for the use of  what he calls a “state-of-the-art” oil-industry vessel that, he claims, would spend less time in the water, tow a larger array of sensors than the smaller R/V Marcus Langseth vessel (PG&E’s vessel of choice), which would theoretically shorten the survey time in the water and therefore incur less damage to the environment — yet the impacts would still ultimately yield the same lethal result for a few less days, given the continuous, devastating air gun blasts being utilized.

Secondly, sources close to the commercial fishing organizations negotiating with PG&E told The ROCK that Gibson, himself, was not wholly committed to reinforcing Condition No. 2 because he feels that the benefits of using HESS — to “ensure public health and safety” — outweigh the economic and environmental impacts that would likely occur as a result of the test. Compensation was not a high priority for Gibson, who has met with commercial fishermen organizations several times to discuss HESS. Gibson did not push for any guarantees that the fishermen would be compensated “fully and fairly” nor did he specifically define what would constitute “full and fair.” The ambiguity of that condition offers no guarantees that the fishermen would be compensated fully, fairly or in a timely manner — or that he would halt the test until that cornerstone condition was met.

For Condition No. 3, Gibson volunteered for the independent third-party review since he’s versed in exploration seismology. However, we don’t see his involvement as having any additional benefit to the County communities he’s supposed to be representing, other than sharpening his resume for a future campaign, and forcing the County to rely solely on his expertise; for he is anything but independent, and this misguided leadership very nearly cost Morro Bay its very existence.

Gibson has a serious problem with who he believes he’s working for. The Coastal Commission unanimously believed that HESS was not feasible; the very nature of the test was deemed environmentally and economically destructive whether or not conditions were attached. At that meeting, hundreds of people — concerned citizens, commercial and recreational fishermen associations, environmental groups, city representatives and coalitions — joined the Commission in opposing the project. Several thousand people were being represented by those who drove to Santa Monica on Wednesday, November 14, to say no to acoustic seismic testing. Moments after the meeting adjourned, against a background of celebration, Gibson chose to stand beside PG&E and their spokesman Blair Jones, instead of the people who fought tirelessly to protect their way of life against them.

Gibson maintained that he was concerned for public safety and that there was a “moral obligation” to perform HESS.

Before HESS — and up to this day — Gibson has found no moral obligation to critically assess the seismic impacts of the Los Osos wastewater project, only nearby Diablo Canyon. The gravity collection sewer system is located in a County-documented high-risk liquefaction zone, and there are currently no hard mitigation measures in place or built into the design of the system should a large-scale earthquake strike the seaside community of 15,000 residents. According to the project’s 2008 environmental impact report, liquefaction impacts would be “considerable and therefore significant” if a gravity system was used. It was Gibson who aggressively and unilaterally pushed for the removal of all feasible project alternatives and fought to eliminate open bidding, thus focusing exclusively on a seismically hazardous solution that he repeatedly and emphatically refused to assess. Ironically, Gibson wanted to pursue high-energy seismic surveys because he wanted more data about the fault lines surrounding the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, yet he pushed for a sewer solution — which costs more than twice the seismic survey itself — that had empirical evidence of nearby fault lines eventually causing “considerable and significant impacts.”

Since early 2006, The ROCK has rigorously tracked progress with the Los Osos wastewater project. We’ve criticized Gibson’s approach and his decisions, which he said were often based on his “morals.” We’ve transcribed hours of Gibson cruelly mocking and verbally abusing Los Osos residents from the dais. We’ve witnessed his contempt for those who contested his policies, his morals and his integrity. When his character was questioned, he scoffed at the naysayers and resorted to insults and pious grandstanding instead of arguing the merits of his positions. He’s refused to answer questions on the record, respond to calls and e-mails from Los Osos residents. He’s refused to comply with public records requests. He’s given deference to residents who tout his ideology. He courts the naive with his superficial charm, confidence and stoical assertiveness. He resoundingly dismisses his dissidents, especially those who maintained their civility and courtesy. Regardless, Gibson touts the process as being “transparent” — perhaps as transparent as the secrets he’s kept from his loved ones and constituents who deserve to know he’s kept a double life.

Gibson knows how extramarital affairs damage the County government’s reputation. In May 2009, former County Administrator David Edge and his second-in-command, Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox, were accused of  having an inappropriate relationship, which stemmed from Edge reportedly sexually harassing Wilcox. By July 29 that year, it was revealed that Wilcox and Tony Perry of the Deputy Sheriffs Association had a sexual relationship while the two were involved in collective bargaining. At the time, Gibson — who was Chairman of the Board of Supervisors at the time — steered clear of giving a personal opinion of the improprieties taking place. He tried to expedite the investigation, hoping it would go away and not define his term as Chair. The scandal made local headlines in 2009, and it continues to be cited every time a sexual faux pas involving government employees is mentioned.

But on November 16, 2012, he became synonymous with the Gail-Wilcox brand and helped cement the County government’s reputation as an anything-goes fraternity of flawed, self-righteous egoists — though we know that there are County employees who don’t pledge these same values. They are also victims because earning public trust on County initiatives is now arguably harder to achieve, if not less credible in their entirety for the unnatural weight Gibson carries on the Board.

Gibson violated the public trust in very significant ways. His affair is emblematic of that deception. The violation of public trust is no longer debatable. Asserting that Gibson violated the public trust can no longer be considered a vindictive exaggeration or a flippant dismissal of his record — though his record is contradictory and, in hindsight, anything but exemplary. He has become a polarizing force and sacrificed the well-being of many he calls his constituents to further his deeply flawed moral agenda. He’s hurt the people he claims to represent, not to mention his family — in other words, his most loyal constituents. By remaining in office, he will show the County that power is more important than policy and morality, that ambition trumps reason and respect, that supreme arrogance is rewarded. Resigning his seat immediately would help restore the County’s core integrity and usher in a new, long-overdue era of self-accountability.

We urge Bruce Gibson to resign for the greater good.

THE BIG NOISE

Marine life, underwater acoustic trauma, and PG&E’s high-energy seismic survey

[slideshow id=15]

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]wp-content/uploads/SueArnold.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sue Arnold is the CEO of California Gray Whale Coalition. She is a former Fairfax investigative journalist who regularly lobbies the US government in Washington DC, as well as the European Parliament and Commission on whale issues.[/author_info] [/author]

One of the most important outcomes of the PG&E HESS – whichever way it goes – is the raising of awareness on the issue of underwater noise and acoustic trauma. Considering the precedent which would be set by allowing 260dB to be blasted into the seabed, impacting a vital environmental and economically important marine ecosystem, noise issues have become front and center.

Commercial and recreational fishers, the tourist industry, whale-watching organizations, surfers, divers, and other operations which rely on the central coast’s marine life are under threat.

Thousands of animals will be impacted including whales, dolphins, harbor porpoises, sea otters, elephant seals, and many commercial fish species.

Any precedent set by the California Coastal Commission in approving a permit for PG&E would give the go-ahead for other highly destructive seismic operations at a time when noise in the marine environment has become the main focus for many scientists and researchers.

Noise has a devastating impact on the marine environment. Given recent research on the devastating impacts of underwater noise on fish, coral, larvae, eggs, and aquatic life, noise is up there with climate change and ocean acidification. As the oil and gas industry seek deposits to allow the continuing mad race to consumption – the main driver of the US economy – the west coast has been identified as holding more oil deposits than Saudi Arabia, according to Richard Charter, a Senior Fellow with the Ocean Foundation.

Indeed, when the California Gray Whale Coalition consulted some of its deep throat informants in the oil industry, the first response to the information that the source blast was 260dB was:

“Ah, they’re looking for oil deposits.”

The most important measurement in assessing potential damage is the received level of decibels. The received level changes as the geoacoustic parameters change (tides, wind, sea surface temperatures, salinity, ducting, thermoclines).

Acoustic signals can travel long distances depending on the state of the tides, wind, seabed and other parameters. Christopher Clark, Director of Bioacoustic Research Program, Cornell University, says one of the best examples of the distance underwater noise can travel is the recent Shell seismic survey on the west coast of Ireland.

“We could hear that noise 1500 miles away. The noise could be heard in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.”

Clark says the cumulative impact of noise in the urbanized ocean environment seriously compromises whales. He uses this example:

“Imagine a space ship is over your village and it’s sending explosions down to every 10 seconds, driving everybody crazy. The choice is you either leave or die.  

“The acoustic world is 10% of what it should be. The whales social network is destroyed, their world seriously compromised, their immune and reproductive systems impacted by stress created by noise. Animals which rely on sound lose the opportunity to engage in basic life functions and social networks.

“When you tear at those networks constantly, what does it mean if 50% or more of their acoustic world is compromised?”

The use of sound for communication and detection in the marine environment is important for survival for marine animals. Marine animals depend on their hearing sensitivity to retain cohesion in groups, for echolocation to locate and capture food, for detection of predators, for sensing their physical and biological environment and for avoiding dangerous situations (including anthropogenic threats).

Impacts of acoustic trauma include:

  • Organ damage; physiological damage which may lead to death
  • Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS): a permanent shift in hearing sensitivity
  • Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS): a temporary effect upon hearing ( recoverable)
  • Behavioral responses which may span short-term startle responses to long-term avoidance of areas by animals or a change to movement pathways or migration routes.
  • Masking signals.

Some of the impacts are well summed up by Canadian bioacoustician Dr. Lindy Weilgart (1). Her list of potential impacts include:

  • Detectable Effects
  • Respiration rate
  • Swim speed
  • Vocalizations
  • Dive times
  • Depth times
  • Dive depth
  • Residence time
  • Distribution
  • Movement relative to sound source
  • Non-detectable Effects
  • Birth rate
  • Miscarriage rate
  • Pregnancy rate
  • Birth defects
  • Mating rate
  • Rate of finding mates
  • Lactation rate
  • Changes in mating dynamics
  • Death rate
  • Injury, disease, morbidity
  • Vulnerability to hazards, shipping, fishing nets
  • Vulnerability to predation
  • Growth rate
  • Feeding rate and changes in appetite
  • Change in echolocation ability

Great variation in hearing sensitivity among animals, due to evolutionary diversification of anatomical structures involved in hearing and selection pressures, govern the way different animals utilize sound. Every animal is unique.
____________________
1 Potential impacts of noise pollution on cetaceans as listed by Dr. Lindy Weilgart, Bioacoustician, and Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia.

It’s important to consider the effects of cumulative exposures on mortality, physiology and behavior. Consideration of the effects of exposure to multiple impacts and the time between signals (one every few seconds, for example) need to be made. Investigation of a larger temporal length of exposure to repeated signals (repeated exposures several hours, days, weeks, months later) needs to be undertaken.

Man-made underwater noise covers a large range of frequencies, and the way in which a species is impacted by the sound will depend on the frequency range it can hear, the level of sound (or energy) and its frequency spectrum (Nedwell et al. 2004).

It is clear from the smorgasbord of current research on noise impacts in the ocean that the PG&E HESS presents an unacceptable risk to the marine environment.

The PG&E HESS is remarkable for its lack of adequate mitigation measures. With no real-time sensors there’s no way of determining the received levels which marine animals are exposed to. At least three days could pass before this information is available under the proposed system. As received levels of noise can change on an hourly basis depending on the tides, wind, seawater temperature and so many factors, the damage caused by received levels could be very difficult to determine with a three-day waiting period.

Worse still is the problem of who would carry out necropsies, when and where and how long would it take for the results to be made available? As there are only audiograms for 11 species of cetaceans, the probability of a decision-indicating acoustic trauma is the cause of death is remote. Most cetaceans sink to the seafloor when they die and it may be days and weeks or never before any corpse comes ashore.

Audiograms for other marine life are not yet available. Given the delays involved in determining the cause of death, the seismic operation is unlikely to be stopped as powering down seismic arrays is an expensive operation.

Listed below are some of the basic information which has been ignored by the PG&E HESS. National Marine & Fisheries have also failed to take into account these essential parameters.

 ESSENTIAL NOISE CHARACTERISTIC INFORMATION

Impacts of noise sources need to take into account noise characteristics including sound level, noise duration, frequency, sound propagation characteristics of the area; the sensitivity of species of concern; physical robustness; size and age of species; life history and relative population sensitivity; timing of different stages of life history; animal distribution and abundance; migration patterns and whether the species can or are likely to move away from the noise if distressed by it (2). And whether a new area is capable of supporting their survival needs given competition and disease risks.

IMPACTS OF UNDERWATER NOISE – MODELING FLAWS

In order to assess the impacts of underwater noise the following information is essential:

  • key marine species likely to be present in the region and their sensitive periods be identified.
  • the noise signature of the construction technologies described.
  • ambient sea noise measured
  • sound propagation models run to predict transmission of key underwater noise sources (3)
  • cumulative impact of combined noise and impacts of continuing noise over many years
  • shipping noise

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2 Environment Impacts of Underwater Noise Associated With Harbor Works Port Hedland. C P Kent, R. McCauley, A Duncan for SKM/BHP Billiton August 2009
3 Ibid

Susanna Blackwell is a bioacoustics expert who has worked on noise data in the Arctic environment.
She says that there currently is no modelling which can demonstrate the cumulative impacts of a seismic study:

“Modeling enables scientists and acousticians to look at the worse case scenario in terms of the sound speed profile. Modeling does not assess the effects on animals. Models are purely to determine sound level and sound source verification. Models do not take into account the levels of noise which observer planes, ships, multibeam scanners or sidescanners involved in any seismic project create. Modeling can be inaccurate and 0.5 dB can make a 20 km difference.” 

“Sound source verification can take up to three days. In some cases it can take four hours but unless the verification of received levels is done in real time, it’s almost pointless to ask for the levels.”

Brandon Southall is also a recognized expert on acoustic trauma in the marine environment. He has expressed concern at the lack of real-time sensors and the lack of triggers which would indicate damage is occurring.

John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research in Washington has indicated his concern over the project.

“I do not think that looking for strandings is a very effective way to examine mortality since we have shown in some previous work that only a small proportion of cetaceans that die show up as strandings. I do think there is greater potential for displacement and disruption of feeding than acknowledged and certainly our understanding of the impact of these types of surveys is very poor.

“I think they have not made any attempt to even advance to knowledge of the impact of these types of surveys by conducting a more thorough study related to this survey.

“They have made no attempt to even attempt to photo-ID or document the individual whales exposed to the airgun survey so we can at least attempt to examine the long-term consequences of exposure to this sound (something that has not been done previously and is clearly needed). We have large long-term catalogs of the individual IDs for the majority of the humpback and blue whales that feed off California and a portion of the fin whales.”

PG&E HESS – A VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW?

The Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific Technical and Technological Advice, Sixteenth Meeting, April 30-May 5, 2012, considered a paper on impacts of underwater noise entitled: “Scientific Synthesis of Underwater Noise on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity and Habitats.”

The United States is a signatory to this Convention and obliged under international law to abide by the provisions of the treaty. Any permission by the Federal and State governments or relevant agencies to the PG&E HESS would arguably be a violation by the US of the Convention.


“The Impacts of Underwater Noise on Marine Biodiversity”

5.  A variety of marine animals are known to be affected by anthropogenic noise. Negative impacts for at least 55 marine species (cetaceans, teleost fish, marine turtles and invertebrates) have been reported in scientific studies to date. (Please note sentences in bold are bolded by the Secretariat)

6. A wide range of effects of increased levels of sound on marine fauna have been documented both in laboratory and field conditions. The effects can range from mild behavioral responses to complete avoidance of the affected area, masking of important acoustic signals or cues , and in some cases serious physical injury or death. Low levels of sound can be inconsequential for many animals. However, as sound levels increase the elevated background noise can disrupt normal behavior patterns leading to less efficient feeding for example. Masking of important acoustic signals or cues can reduce communication between con-specifics and may interfere with larval orientation which could have implications for recruitment. Some marine mammals have tried to compensate for the elevated background noise levels by making changes in their vocalizations.

Intense levels of sound exposure have caused physical damage to tissues and organs of marine animals, and can lead to mortality, with lethal injuries of cetaceans documented in stranded individuals caught up in atypical stranding events. Lower sound levels have been shown to cause permanent or temporary loss of hearing in marine mammals and fish. Behavioral responses such a strong avoidance of the sound source can lead to habitat displacement.

7. There are increasing concerns about the long-term and cumulative effects of noise on marine biodiversity. The long-term consequences of chronic noise pollution for individuals and populations are still mainly unknown. Potential long-term impacts of reduced fitness and increased stress leading to health issues have been suggested. There is also growing concern of the cumulative effects of anthropogenic sound and other stressors and how this can affect populations and communities. The additional threat of living in a noisy environment may push already highly stressed animals into population decline with subsequent effects on marine communities and biodiversity.

8. Research is required to better understand the impacts of anthropogenic sound on marine biodiversity. The lack of scientific knowledge regarding the issue is also one of the most important limitations for effective management at the present time. There are high levels of uncertainty for noise effects on all marine taxa. Detailed research programs of noise effects on species, populations, habitats and ecosystems, plus also cumulative effects with others stressors, need to be put in place or consolidated where they exist. However, the extensive knowledge gaps also mean that prioritization will be required. Recommended priorities for research include species that are already highly threatened, endangered or particularly vulnerable through a combination of multiple stressors and intrinsic characteristics, but also representative groups of understudied taxa. Current knowledge for some faunal groups such as teleost fish, elasmobranch fish, marine turtles, seabirds and invertebrates is particularly lacking. Other priorities for acoustic related research are the identification and protection of critical habitats that endangered or threatened marine species depend on for important activities such as foraging or spawning.

9. There is a need to scale up the level of research and management efforts, to significantly promote greater awareness of the issue and to take measures minimize our noise impacts on marine biodiversity.

10. Effective management of anthropogenic noise in the marine environment should be regarded as a high priority for action at the national and regional level through the use of up-to-date mitigation measures based on the latest scientific understanding of the issue for marine species and habitats. Mitigation and management of anthropogenic noise through the use of spatio-temporal restrictions (STR) of activities has been recommended as the most practical and straightforward approach to reduce effects on marine animals.

It is very clear from the information and research available that the PG&E HESS is scientifically unacceptable and the potential damage so significant that any proper assessment could take years to ascertain.

Finally, when two Coalition representatives decided to doorstop the President of PG&E in downtown San Francisco, we were told to sit patiently and wait for a decision.

Two security people rolled up to ensure we were sent on our way.

That sums up the attitude of this influential company.

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The California Gray Whale Coalition was set up five years ago with one sole purpose: to re-instate the Gray Whales under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The Coalition represents economic and environmental organizations as it recognizes the importance of the whales to the economies of Washington, Oregon and California. With more than 140 member organizations ranging from Mexico to Alaska, the Coalition is now the largest whale conservation coalition on the west coast of North America. Coalition members are active at the political level lobbying in the California Assembly and Senate and also the House and Senate in Washington, DC. For more information on the California Gray Whale and underwater noise issues in particular, please contact info@californiagraywhalecoalition.org.

All photos courtesy of the California Gray Whale Coalition