2:04 PM PST: David “Waterguy” Venhuizen has issued a response to the blog entry:
Just read your blog re Garfinkel. I was contacted by Gail McPherson in late 2005, and was engaged in a discussion with her, two or board members and the then general manager about the sort of planning process they “should” be carrying on. It was intimated that they would get me involved in a couple projects, but that never happened. I did stay involved, from the catbird’s seat–as that was the only seat available, hoping that some work would eventually ensue, was contacted by Ed (a relation?) and eventually interviewed for a piece in “The Rock”, kept on making “suggestions” that a decentralized concept system “should” be considered on a co-equal basis, and watched with dismay as it did not appear that ever happened, Lombardo’s efforts notwithstanding. For whatever interest it may hold for you, the sort of wastewater “vision” I would have suggested Los Osos entertain is reviewed in the attached proposal, which I submitted to plan and design a water resources management system for a development near Austin. Sorry I was never able to get this sort of strategy to the point of real, meaningful consideration, as I KNOW it would cost FAR, FAR less than $400/house/month.
On Tuesday, February 17th, former Los Osos TAC chairman Bill Garfinkel issued a viewpoint in the Tribune regarding the Los Osos wastewater project. You can read his viewpoint here.
Garfinkel wrote, “As the Los Osos Wastewater Project nears a decision, those individuals and groups who have successfully delayed the project these past 20 years are once again challenging the project with claims that there are better solutions, the project is not green enough, it costs too much, the engineering is flawed or we don’t need it [...] These are the same arguments that we have heard time and again.”
People have been saying exactly what he said time and time again without ever attempting to explore those claims or ask the question, “Are there better solutions? Are there projects that are more green? Are there projects that are cheaper? Are there projects that have better engineering?” The answer that people like Garfinkel often provide — for all those questions — is, “We’ve heard it all before.” Where? Is there some sort of FAQ somewhere that has a comprehensive screening of all the wastewater treatment projects that could be tested in our environment? The TAC focused mostly on gravity collection and STEP/STEG with STEP being the least desired project according to the majority of the TAC.
Garfinkel wrote, “Those who claim it is not ‘green’ enough are ignoring the large additional costs associated with developing alternate energy to drive the plant or treat solid wastes to higher levels.”
Garfinkel fails to mention the kind of alternate energy that would yield large additional costs. He makes a hasty generalization without thoroughly vetting all of the available alternate-energy systems. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Obama signed on Tuesday, paved the way for green, sustainable infastructure development with alternate energy. If Los Osos were to carry that torch and develop an energy-effecient system that was akin to the spirit of the stimulus package, we could possibly get some of that stimulus money to pay for the WWTF’s development.
He also wrote, “Yes, the project will cost a lot, and we need to find ways to help those who will be severely impacted, but remember that back in the beginning of this process, if a project had been allowed to proceed, it would have been practically free.”
The people of Los Osos must come first. Affordability should not ever be an afterthought when designing — or even considering — a wastewater project that has the high probability of taxing thousands of Los Osos residents out of their homes via “Eminent Domain by Taxation.”
Costs for the wastewater project have increased dramatically from the Solutions Group monthly cost at $38.75/month to the $250/month proposed by the recalled board and now (including interest), the project could cost as much as $400/month if not more. Most homeowners in the “Prohibition Zone” will likely be severely impacted especially due to the fiscal meltdown happening in California and the rest of America.
The state of California is going to have a difficult time handing out grants given that the state is in a very, very deep budget deficit. Even though the California state senate and assembly have now finally passed a budget plan, the fiscal bleeding will not stop any time soon and California homeowners will now be facing additional burdens such as the one percent increase of sales tax and a surcharge on state income taxes during a time of a nationwide economic recession and record-breaking unemployment rates. At this time, we cannot afford to consider affordability as a non-factor. We cannot afford to improvise, shoot and ask questions later.
I completely understand the frustration of the 82 Los Osos residents who signed the letter with Bill Garfinkel. I can understand that this process has been agonizingly slow and I can understand that individuals and groups have been nitpicking the process for several years (while some had the specific intent to delay the process for their own agenda), but nitpicking is part of the process — whether you like it or not. Community oversight with and without those with wastewater experience should be honored and addressed with full disclosure to the public. Community oversight should never be undermined by the premise that the county engineers are the primary source of unquestionable expertise and infallible information — when it is obviously not true.
Without thoroughly researching the extensive dissent in the process, Garfinkel then poses the question, “Who amongst those critics are engineers or have wastewater experience?”
Here is a partial list of critics who are recognized professionals or engineers in the field who have disagreed or still disagree with the county process and have gone on the record:
- Wade Brim
- Jim Kreissel
- Dr. Terry Bounds
- Dr. John Alexander
- Dr. Tom Ruehr
- Dr. Dan Wickman
- Dr. Mary Gayman
- Dr. Robert Gearhart
- David Venhuizen
- Bahman Sheikh
- Pio Lombardo
- Patricia Johanson
Despite his implication that there are no critics of the process that have wastewater experience, Garfinkel himself has no wastewater experience. In his TAC application, he writes, “My entire work career has been in industrial automation designing and manufacturing machine controls. The second half of my career was as a business manager establishing operations throughout the US and one in Asia.”
To Garfinkel, those who support the process don’t need wastewater experience to understand it, but those who are critics of the process are unqualified because, to him, they don’t have wastewater experience.
I do not have any experience in wastewater nor do I want to, however, I am entitled to the observation that Garfinkel’s dig at the critics with no wastewater experience is exceedingly hypocritical. Seriously, Bill, what gives you the right to represent people on the Los Osos wastewater project? The community didn’t vote you into TAC. You were appointed by the County. You are the extension of the County, not of the community. Who is speaking for the community of Los Osos?
You mentioned “we.” Who are the “we”? I am not part of that “we.” I know many people who are likely not part of that “we.”
Garfinkel gave a shortened comparison between gravity and STEP. Without mentioning — in any of the categories of comparison — which system was better or more convenient for the community as a whole, he goes onto say that gravity collection is the “best solution” for Los Osos. I am disappointed. I was looking for a better explanation than, “It’s already been engineered, approved once by state agencies, and some pipe is in the ground. Only minimal engineering need be done to complete that work. Thus the gravity system could be ready to begin construction much sooner.” Just because work has already been done on it does not mean that the project is right for Los Osos. His explanation sounds merely like an extension of the recalled board’s flawed reasoning that cost them their seats. Shovel-ready projects may be efficient in the construction process, but they may also be inefficient in every other aspect and that insufficiency is never addressed in that letter.
When Garfinkel talked about the costs between the two projects, he writes, “Actual costs for the collection system are unknown until the county receives bids,” yet he mentions at the end of the same paragraph, “Property owner costs (which are paid up front) need to be added to project costs and thus could make STEP the more expensive option.” So are there no property owner costs incurred from gravity collection treatment? There are things left unexplained, but gravity collection appears to be the more preferable wastewater treatment system to him and others. Bill, how can you say that STEP would likely be more expensive than gravity when you admitted in your own letter that you don’t know how much gravity will cost? The letter mentioned no estimates nor a source to verify those estimates.
It’s understandable that one can only say so much within a newspaper editorial. The word count cap prevents further elaboration, however, judging the letter on the surface, it sounds to me that the letter was more of a biased pro-gravity call to arms instead of a neutral assessment of two options. While conveniently leaving out the fact that he was the head of TAC, Garfinkel projects his personal opinion, which he is completely entitled to. Unfortunately, without facts, cited sources and an acknowledgment of reasonable, educated dissent, his viewpoint is limited to an uneducated opinion.
Committed to a $75 billion plan to save millions of Americans from foreclosure, Barack Obama stated that his plan would pay lenders like the banks to reduce mortgage rates for families who are facing foreclosure. In comparison, the County has not actively negotiated affordability for thousands of homeowners who will be “severely impacted” by the construction of the Los Osos wastewater project, to say the least. People will lose their homes. People will be uprooted from their homes by taxation. We will not let this happen.
I invite Bill Garfinkel to respond to my article. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments are appreciated.