Planning Commission (5/29) Recap

If you have the video, the hearing starts at 219:34.

The Los Osos wastewater project land-use permit item (Hearing 4) was discussed at great length. The meeting started with the PC stressing to people that a straw vote of collection system preference was conducted at the last meeting and that gravity (albeit reluctantly) prevailed.

A few comments from anonymous in my other article showed that they were not too thrilled with the comments I made on Calhoun’s Cannon about the PC meetings being the wrong forum for discussing the collection system component. I’m glad that people are optimistic about the county having a change of heart and looking at alternatives, but since the straw vote was taken and since the straw vote was based on a prior decision — made by the BOS — to eliminate STEP/STEG from consideration. The PC has closed the door on being receptive to that issue specifically even though members of the commission expressed interested later in the meeting.

A few questions lingered about STEP. It’s apparent to me that while they won’t minimalize the results of their straw vote, they seem to be receptive to having all of STEP’s benefits laid out on the table and doing a loose comparison of STEP and gravity before locking into one set solution. In my opinion, this train of thought isn’t going to progress to a point where they are going to open the floor to the STEP vs. gravity discussion. At this rate, it would be counterproductive to go back to that.

County staff announced that on June 12th, there will be a field trip to Monterey to visit a wastewater facility and talk to farmers in the area about using that system’s treated water for their crops. Ann Calhoun posted more information about the trip if anyone is interested in attending. I think it’s good for people to get some perspective on how ag reuse is done. That may shed some light on points made by the California Coastal Commission in their letter to the County regarding their concerns for the Tonini site and its proposed ag reuse plan.

It was revealed that MWH would be using their previous plan for Los Osos. History repeats itself.

Ann said a lot of what I would say so I’m going to summarize my overall conclusions of the meeting.

The PC has been the first body of public officials in the County to say, “Hey, wait a minute. The County plan has some issues,” juxtaposed with opinions from Public Works, who say that the plan is essentially sound and the analysis of alternatives was just. I like the diversity of opinions that’s being exchanged between the PC and the county. That’s what I’m looking for.

The PC is also receptive to public comment unlike the BOS, but still, I think that in the long run, the PC is going to bite the bullet and side with the County plan because they’ll be coerced into doing so eventually by Public Works. Time is money: more time spent on discussion and adding conditions equals more delay added to the project timeline.

Proposition 8 and the California Supreme Court’s Flaws

On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which was a voter-approved ban of gay marriage, but the unions of 18,000 couples prior to the ban would remain valid. In short, the Supreme Court did not want to set precedent in overturning voter-based initiatives based on judging the “wisdom or relative merit” of the provisions set forth by Proposition 8.

The Supreme Court’s opinion can be found here (PDF). Noteworthy excerpts can be found on the Los Angeles Times web site.

In my opinion, the referendum system in California is dangerous as there are no pre-conditions that would protect a class of citizens under the Equal Protections clause in the California Constitution. Direct democracy referendums — regardless of the principle, case precedent and preexisting law — can recklessly and easily add constitutional amendments that deny fundamental rights to discriminated groups.

I completely agree with Associate Justice Carlos R. Moreno’s dissenting opinion.

The attorney general argued that it was too easy to amend the California Constitution through the initiative process, but the Court simply dismissed the argument by saying that it wasn’t a proper function for the court to curtail that process. The Court recommends that people should basically use the power of the initiative to limit their own power, but the argument can become circular at that point. What happens when a referendum comes and overturns that initiative? If the Court feels that they are constitutionally bound to uphold every voter initiative that becomes a constitutional amendment, then wouldn’t a majority-approved referendum — that undermines the previous initiative — render the Court’s suggestion moot? The Court did not specify what their proper functions would be in the event that such a predicament would occur.

However, the majority opinion indicated that any measure that treats individuals and couples differently based on their sexual orientation will continue to be “constitutionally suspect” under an equal protections clause and the measure should be judged solely based on a stringent strict-scrutiny standard of review, which Proposition 8 failed to include because the construction of the proposition did not involve judicial scrutiny. Maybe people-driven initiatives should be approved by the appropriate Court of law prior to the initiative getting on the ballot if that’s the case.

Before a new initiative supporting gay marriage is constructed, we must focus on amending the problematic referendum system and petition to extend the power of the California Supreme Court to rule pursant to the reform. Currently, it’s way too easy to restrict the fundamental rights of others based on our prejudices. While I appreciate how open our democracy is in California to create constitutional amendments based on the people’s majority vote, the problem is that the power can be abused. In this case, it was.

This great privilege in California has also given people the power to spend time, money and effort to legitimize divisiveness, demoralization and discrimination even though the U.S. Supreme Court has significantly curtailed the power of willing that intent through creating progressive social policy. The courts have stated — and we should adapt this ideology — that we are all equal.

Map the Fallen


That is a screenshot from a project called Map the Fallen, which utilizes Google maps to document more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women who died overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each little icon has a name of a soldier and a story behind that name. On the eve of Memorial Day, we must honor those who gave their lives to protect us, to protect our country. Have a great Memorial Day.

Are Blogs to Blame for Edge Firing?

County Administrator David Edge got his ticket punched Tuesday, his last day of work after 11 years as CAO.

After more than a decade on the job, he found himself thrown under the first County bus to Los Osos after tips surfaced on news Web site CalCoastNews.com that Edge — and Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox — had been placed on indefinite paid administrative leave. The “sexual harassment” allegation, fed to CCN by the same source, was cross-pollinated by the fact that the top two County officials were placed on leave at nearly the same time.

At Tuesday’s public hearing required in his contract for termination without cause, Edge called the leaks from closed session — that may have formed part of the basis of the CCN story — “rather inaccurate,” without being able to specify how. “It’s generated some extreme unpleasantness in the blog world ,” he said, “and that particular unpleasantness will inevitably taint my reputation as I move on…”

Uh, with all due respect, Mr. Edge, CalCoastNews is not a blog, it’s an investigative news site. Each story has a blogger’s comment section at the end, but that’s not what they do. Now, regarding the “quality” of the “news” in reporter Karen Velie’s story, “Who’s Running SLO County?” that’s wide open for discussion.

Single-source news stories? Anonymous sources? Neither “confirmed nor denied” as a confirmation… for anonymous… single-source stories? Did CalCoastNew’s story help push Edge over the edge, or contribute to his firing in some way that his own conduct did not?

Said Board Chairman Bruce Gibson, “This action today is not about the speculation on the blogs. It’s not about the wild accusations, rumors, supposition and innuendo” of sexual harassment allegations involving Edge that were not mentioned or addressed at the hearing because his at-will contract requires no explanation for his firing.

Supervisor Jim Patterson chimed in: “When you (mention bloggers) you’re giving them a power they don’t deserve. Anybody can say anything on a blog, and if that’s your measure of what’s reality, I think it’s a measure that’s inaccurate… That’s not where you get your information.”

If Supervisor Patterson is right and “anybody can say anything” on the blogs, then why is he blaming the blogs for playing a role in Edge’s firing, when CalCoastNews broke the story, not blogger’s comments.
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CCN is usually a well-researched and documented news site, a valuable and necessary resource for investigative news rarely found in the County, covering a County government seriously lacking in transparency. (CCN broke a story in June about Wilcox and Edge and “a cozy mortgage relationship between Wilcox and attorney and a prominent county vendor, attorney Clay Hall, in a deal approved and defended by Edge” – which raised conflict of interest questions then, passionately denied by Edge.)

Did you think the Supervisors are falsely blaming “the blogs” and confusing “the blogs” with “the news”? Did CalCoastNews.com confuse the two when they went with a story based on what appeared to be a tip from a single anonymous source, verified by neither a confirmation nor a denial ?

Did CalCoastNews get Edge fired? No way. In fact, if CalCoastNews hadn’t broken the story, how or when would we ever have found out about it? From the Trib? Cuddy ripped the story from CalCoastNews! The Trib was nowhere to be found on this…and never are because it works for the County and the County wants it quashed.

Did David Edge get David Edge fired? Or was he set up by one or more of the Supervisors, a fall guy for something far bigger than sexual harassment? Edge knows. The blogs don’t.

–Ed

Short Recap of Speech at SLO County BOS Meeting (5/20/09)

I delivered a speech to the BOS. Since my speech was initially timed for three minutes and public comment became two, I had to kill the last paragraph to fit most of the speech in.

Here it is in its entirety:

I would like to address a matter that I brought up at the general LOCSD meeting on Thursday, May 7th.

I asked the CSD to not settle with Montgomery Watson Harza as a means of promoting the contractor over the competition and favorably pushing them to the finish line while being sued by them. It would be inappropriate and detrimental to the County process.

By now, County Counsel Warren Jensen should have known about the pending lawsuit with MWH, but he opted out of discussing the matter entirely last month. That lawsuit threatens the sanctity of – what should have been all along – a fair and balanced design-build process. Some could say the process was never fair and balanced since the County did not analyze alternatives as the CEQA law requires to begin with and never clearly explained why cost-effective projects were excluded entirely.

The newly elected board members of the CSD have supporters who once belonged to “Save the Dream,” a political organization that received $10,000 in campaign contributions from MWH. Together with the knowledge of Paavo Ogren’s involvement with MWH contracts as interim GM of the district, there is a clear, resounding message. MWH must be removed from the short-list.

Without mentioning the other contractors on the short-list, Paavo Ogren, at the May 5th BOS meeting, spoke very highly of MWH’s qualifications. Mr. Ogren’s remarks were unprofessional, given that the other contractors were never presented to the public to the same extent. Promoting MWH, Ogren’s conduct was timely since the public was previously made aware of the allegations involving him. To this point, Los Osos resident Martha Goldin applied the Latin expression, “False in one part, false in all.”

I am not asking any contractor to be “blacklisted,” no one did, but given MWH’s dubious and unresolved involvement with the district, it would be disastrous if they were picked to design the collection and/or treatment system. Let MWH work on other public works projects. They are not welcome in Los Osos.

Please provide comments if you want to seek any clarifications.

Catholics should listen to Barack Obama at Notre Dame

Many conservative Catholics in the country have expressed their concerns over President Barack Obama’s upcoming Commencement address at the University Notre Dame on May 17th. However, a recent poll stated that three-quarters of Catholics approve or have no opinion of Barack Obama’s commencement address at the predominantly Catholic university. 67% of American Catholics in a recent Pew poll gave Obama a positive approval rating. Many of the U.S. bishops have opted out of the debate. Pope Benedict XVI has remained silent over the issue.

Pope Benedict XVI has taught us one thing. It is perfectly normal to approach those with opposing views and it does not threaten the sanctity of our beliefs to listen to them.

In an unprecedented time of frightening, unpredictable violence, Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Jewish and Muslim delegations as a means of encouraging religious tolerance. Knowing of the increasing extremism of fundamentalist Islam, Benedict fearlessly approached those in the heart of the conflict to maintain dialogue in regions where Christians are often being discriminated against or persecuted. The figurehead of the Catholic world stood up to those who vehemently opposed his views. Just as Pope John Paul II did before him, Benedict has sought acceptance and reconciliation.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, stated in their article, “The 100 days that did not shake the world,” that the President did not confirm the worst case scenarios for Catholics. The article said that Obama has used more caution than predicted in most areas, including economic and international relations — not appearing to confirm the “radical innovations” that he previously discussed. The article symbolized the Vatican’s optimism toward the Obama administration, which is unusual, given that they haven’t been as vocally enthusiastic when other administrations were in power.

Ironically, in the United States, there are Catholics who — while they follow the Pope in guidance — reject views that are contrary to their own.

In a recent TIME Magazine article, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, one of the highest-ranking American cardinals at the Vatican, was quoted (from an November 19th, 2008 post on the National Catholic Reporter), saying that Obama was an unfit honoree because his positions on abortion showed “an agenda and vision that are aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic.” If everyone’s positions contrary to his own — including the religious groups that Pope Benedict XVI met with — were “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic,” wouldn’t the world have ended already? What about the Pope’s mission for seeking reconciliation with those of opposing views?

President Dwight Eisenhower delivered Notre Dame’s first presidential Commencement speech on June 5th, 1960 and talked about the U.S. government being on the verge of social and political change. On January 20th, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the country, signaling a time of monumental social and political change in the U.S. government. The first presidential Commencement speech foreshadowed what is happening today. It would be a spectacular feat for Catholics to see the results of the change that Eisenhower foreshadowed.

Then there is simple logic. Barack Obama’s policies on abortion — as well as his other “anti-Catholic” policies — really don’t threaten Catholic ideology. That’s why most Catholics in this country have been quiet regarding the issue surrounding his Commencement speech. The Obama administration has not been hard-pressed to force their policies on the American people. Rather, the administration has been keen on expanding options for all Americans including women who have to make a hard, painful choice. The Bush administration did everything in their power to take that choice away and impose a moral authority that infringed on a woman’s freedom to make that choice.

When I see these protesters on CNN, demonstrating outside of Notre Dame with pictures of bloody baby fetuses, shouting racist chants that echoed the anti-government sentiments at the tea party protests only a month earlier, I can’t help but to see them as Catholics who are going against the grain of the majority of Catholic leaders and the Vatican unnecessarily so. These people are going backwards. Catholics need to be a part of modern times and move forward so that their zeal no longer misrepresents what most Catholics truly feel about Obama and his administration. Let Obama speak, whether or not you agree with him.

Is This Any Way to Lead Los Osos?

“You can’t serve two masters.”

That’s what Leon Goldin, a resident of Los Osos and retired attorney, said last Thursday during public comment at the Los Osos CSD meeting.

Before we knew Mrs. Kelly as one of the directors of the LOCSD, she ran a campaign that was supposed to be geared toward accommodating her Los Osos constituency by resolving the problems in the district. At the last Planning Commission meeting on April 30th, she said that she ran her campaign in support of the process and won, implying that she won based on supporting a process that the LOCSD has no control over.

She said, “I support the process, I ran my campaign on it and I won — and not by an insignificant amount. It is reflective of the 218 as well. So that needs to be kept in mind.”

That statement alone implied a few things:

  • She doesn’t appear to care about those who don’t support the process.
  • She ran her campaign on the process because that was her strongest position. On her campaign web site, which is still available, she provides blatantly ambiguous positions, compared to Barack Obama and his administration, which seems to be very specific. “I’m for solvency! I’m pro-trust! I like safety!”
  • She won based on her support of the process without mentioning her support of the community — and she has yet to make that distinction of which entity she is more loyal to.
  • All the “yes” votes on the bogus 218 assessment were also “yes” votes for Maria. If she’s counting the 218 votes as reflective of her popularity, that shows that she finds herself more aligned to the county than the people she’s supposed to serve.

Out of a five-person race, Maria Kelly got 28.43% of the vote, 3250 votes. Not insignificant? Compared to what?

At the candidate’s forum, the League of Women Voters dismissed questions from the public regarding the Los Osos wastewater project, citing that the district was “no longer in the wastewater business,” even though the Legislative Counsel’s Digest of AB2701 said that the wastewater project was essential to fit the needs of the district. The subject of wastewater was something that couldn’t be discussed, but candidates were allowed to run on that issue: an issue that was no longer a vital part of district affairs.

On May 8th, Maria Kelly sent me an e-mail, taking exception to comments I made about her speech at the Planning Commission. The quote she had an issue with was, “Maria goes on to say that three times as many people as those who go to the lectern week after week come to her about how they could help move the process forward.” Here was her response:

“People ask if they can help with affordability, not ‘move the process forward.’
Interesting interpretation on your part which reminds me that people may be hearing but not really listening so I need to continue to be as clear as possible.”
Maria

Interestingly, she never said that people ask if they can help with affordability. Here was my response to her:

Maria,

“Let’s review when you spoke at the Planning Commission on April 30th. I’m going to also put what you said in context (on the video, you make the statements at 174:20):

“Setting aside the emotional component of this and dealing with the facts is really important to the rest of us in the community, who are not here week after week, disparaging the supervisors, disparaging the process. There are people that support this, three times as many people that come up and speak week after week, ask me what’s happening, asking what they can do to help. ‘When is this project going to move forward? When is it going to be completed?‘”

I thought that was perfectly clear. People come to you asking when the project/process is going to move forward. You did not say that people asked if they can help with affordability. As Tim Russert used to say, “Your words.”

You did said later, “I am looking forward to addressing the affordability issue,” but when the board decided to remove the alternatives to gravity from the design-build process on April 7th and not bring total cost comparisons from all viable solutions to fruition, that is when the affordability issue was addressed and that is when affordability became uncertain, if not unlikely. If you’re talking about access to stimulus fund money, that is a gamble at best. Before scheduling the item to be discussed on May 28th, the Planning Commission has only discussed two of the 10 items of concern. At this rate, we may not be able to even meet the stimulus fund deadline. Trying to be the exception to the criteria of receiving stimulus funds solely as being a disadvantaged community is going to be a hard sell given the likelihood that there are other public works projects out there in California that match the criteria and have moved further along in their process.

In short, affordability is uncertain and the BOS made it even more uncertain when they took collection system alternatives off the table.

Not only do you need to be clearer, you need to remove that chip off your shoulder and keep your ego in check or else someone like me is going to come and do it for you.

Aaron

If she can’t even get her story straight or analyze correctly, how can she be an effective leader in Los Osos? This concerns me.

It’s my belief that her campaign was run on fraudulent terms.

After she lost in the 2006 CSD elections, she applied for TAC and was accepted by the County even though her experiences in the subject she was applying for was non-existent compared to the likes of Dr. John Alexander and Dr. Thomas Ruehr, two reputable scientists. Despite her inexperience, she became an asset to the County because she was a dedicated supporter of the process.

Maria Kelly monopolized the county process to the point that she told the community, “If you support the process, if you support the 218, you must vote for me,” even though her support of the County wastewater process is wholly irrelevant compared to what is normally discussed on the agenda. The problem is that Maria set the support of the County process as a ‘must’ position for candidacy compared to other positions and prior experience in relevant professions that would be more beneficial to repairing the district. In other words, support for the County process superseded everything else that other candidates could possibly bring to the table.

Then she produced campaign fliers and mailers that offer her positions, which were akin to saying, “I’m in support of good things!” When I questioned her about the ambiguity of her positions, she told me that she showcased her positions privately to groups of people as a means of seeking a consensus to see if her positions were truly valid. It appears she never intended to present specific plans to the public — therefore who did she convey her plans to? She never did disclose that information.

On November 4th, Maria Kelly won and nobody else stood a chance. The County chose Maria. The County put her on camera for about 90 total hours as a community leader in support of the process. Being exasperated over the lack of progress over the sewer, the people chose Maria because she supported the County, but unbeknownst to the rest of the people, Maria chose the County over the residents of the district.

You can’t serve two masters. Pick one master. If you can’t, resign.

Montgomery Watson-Harza

It’s been a very eventful week for Los Osos.

After the Planning Commission delayed the hearings regarding the Los Osos wastewater project, some residents of the community were energized and went to the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday and spoke on the project update.

One of my favorite speakers on Tuesday was Retired judge Martha Goldin, who delivered a speech that raised concerns over a particular employee who had prior engagements with Montgomery Watson-Harza, a contractor who has been all too familiar with the ghosts of Los Osos’ past. When Goldin said that the process was “irretrievably damaged,” it sent chills down my back.

Say what you want about the County process, but when someone describes anything as “irretrivably damaged,” you can’t help but to gawk at that somber diagnosis.

Since the meeting, I went on Calhoun’s Cannon and wrote several comments to the crowd of regulars.

To summarize, I was curious about how people were discussing MWH as if they were the only contractor to bid on the wastewater project. None of the users discussed the other contractors on the design-build RFQ shortlist like ARB, Sundst Construction, Auburn and CDM. It made me wonder if those contractors felt — in a sense — betrayed by Paavo Ogren, who gave more camera time to listing MWH’s qualifications and their rankings in certain areas than the competition. On that note, it would have been more professional, in my opinion, if Paavo assured people that MWH wasn’t the only contender. That would have appealed to the sanctity of a balanced design-build process.

Then there’s an article on CalCoastNews regarding Paavo’s involvement in the backdating of CSD contracts with MWH. Whether you personally feel the allegations presented are true or not, when you look at Paavo spending 15-20 minutes defending MWH without personally addressing the accusations and then you see that he, 10 years ago, had a prior engagement with that contractor, his credibility is called into question — unless of course, you support the process regardless. As Goldin said, “There’s a Latin saying, ‘False in one part, false in all.'”

Warren Jensen’s analysis regarding the accusations will be coming out soon. Maybe that will shed some light on a few things, but I doubt that it would put anything to rest, given that we really have not seen all the facts laid out on the table so far so the public doesn’t have the ability yet to judge for themselves. To imply or to say that the County response is where the buck stops is — as I said on Calhoun’s Cannon — inherently naive. If you can’t look at both sides of the coin, then you’re overlooking some potentially informative insight.

On Thursday, I went to the LOCSD closed session and regular meeting, urging the board to not settle with MWH in their pending litigation. I wanted to make a correction, though, since I said that the district was also suing MWH. I meant to say that the district considered, at one point, filing a counter-complaint.

Here is the transcript of the speech:

Greetings members of the board,

Tonight, I wanted to express concern about the district’s pending litigation with Montgomery Watson Harza and the shortlisting of MWH on the current project. If you’ve been paying close attention to the County BOS meetings lately, you’ll notice that MWH has made a comeback of sorts. On April 7th, County Public Works announced that MWH is on the design-build RFQ short-list for both collection and treatment systems. Most in this room know of MWH’s history with the district.

I am asking that this board not settle with MWH as a means of promoting MWH over the other contractors on the project or pushing MWH when they are suing the district and being sued by the district. That would be inappropriate.

Some supporters and financial contributors to Maria Kelly’s and Marshall Ochylski’s campaign once belonged to “Save the Dream” or now belong to its successor, Taxpayers Watch. “Save the Dream” accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from MWH. To settle with MWH would invoke suspicions of preset agendas, predetermined outcomes and deep-seeded prejudices. This CSD by its own admission is no longer in the wastewater business and should let the process play out without interference. Settling with MWH would cause a disarray and lack of trust in the district by the community that we have not seen since the days of the recall.

County Counsel Warren Jensen did not want to go on the record about the pending lawsuit with MWH, but we know the lawsuit exists, and not only does it exist, it clearly illustrates that MWH poses a considerable threat to – what ought to be – a fair and balanced design-build process, and therefore to the community at large.

Jon Seitz may have to recuse himself, as he was the attorney on duty at the LOCSD in 1999, and for some reason, he avoided signing that backdated MWH contract as the “attorney, approved to form” that is on all the rest of the CSD’s public contracts before and after. Since the initial contract was potentially illegal, I think MWH may owe the LOCSD some money – and perhaps some of that money could be used to settle some of the bankruptcy debts. Of course it would all need to go through the Bankruptcy Judge and Creditor’s Committee.

Board, I urge you: Do not settle with Montgomery Watson Harza. Leave it to the courts. Do not appear to be supporting or condoning illegal activity.

When a contractor — posing as independent with no strings attached — plays politics in your town and places a bid for a public works project in your town, that’s when you need to stand up and say, “No.”

To Drive the Riff-Raff Out of Town

Los Osos resident Jack Hunter provided a very unusual anecdote, showing a perspective that is often never discussed in the public: build an expensive sewer to get rid of the riff-raff.

Said Hunter: “I moved to Los Osos in the early ’90s and rented for several years. I had a neighbor there and we became acquaintances and then I bought my own house in another part of the town. I did not see that neighbor again for many years until just a couple of years ago. I don’t believe he understood that I was still living in Los Osos and so I asked him how the rental business was going. He told me that he had sold most of his rentals and I asked him if he had retired. He said, ‘No, no, I’m just preparing for what’s to come.’”

To read the rest of the anecdote, click here to read the article on The ROCK.