Buyer beware: If the County of San Luis Obispo tries to sell you their “Rates & Charges Ordinance” by incorporating a photo of critics that have vehemently oppose the wastewater project in their glossy brochure, they do not likely have the best intentions in mind. While it’s true that many in the photo support the County’s efforts to bring a sewer to Los Osos, there are quite a few people in it who are protesting the ordinance, and the County is fully aware of that. How could they not be? Residents like Gewynn Taylor, Al Barrow and Linde Owen have appeared at numerous meetings, appearing before the podium to oppose the project — but, of course, the County doesn’t want you to know that. They want you to know that everyone is on board.
In order to advance the narrative that the “Rates & Charges Ordinance” is almost unanimously approved by residents, the County of San Luis Obispo resorts to underhanded tactics that are — unsurprisingly — not uncommon to homeowners in the economically disadvantaged community facing at least $200/month in sewer costs.
Sources tell Razor Online that the County has distributed several leaflets of information about the sewer to local non-profit organizations like Surfrider, the Santa Lucia Sierra Club and even the Los Osos Community Services District over the past two years. In the leaflets — which are not publicly available like all the other mailers sent to residents — County Public Works made bold claims about the project. In one leaflet, the County claimed the project would cost only $92/month with stimulus funding (the $87 million USDA loan and grant , which has kept the monthly cost at $200/month), which is approximately $54 more than the Solutions Group’s “better, faster, cheaper” project of 1998 ($38.75/month) — and many vividly remember how well that turned out.
But wait, there’s more!
Apparently, according to one leaflet provided by County Public Works, the wastewater project will “resolve” MTBE contamination from the groundwater. This claim was reiterated by Congresswoman Lois Capps as a means of obtaining federal funding for the LOWWP. For those who don’t know, MTBE or methyl tertiary butyl ether is a gasoline additive that is flammable and makes water undrinkable because of its odor and poor taste. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that MTBE is not at all good for you.
According to court documents filed in October 2002, the Los Osos Chevron station was noted to have two documented spills — which were reported as early as June 1990 — exposing some of the groundwater to MTBE contamination. At one point, the MTBE plume — created by the spills — was dangerously close to Los Olivos Well #3, which is one of several sources of municipal water. At the time, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (CCRWQCB) stated that MTBE concentrations near the gas station were up to 1,400 milligrams per liter, more than 100 times higher than state drinking water standards.
Interestingly, County Public Works has no documentation explaining the extent of MTBE contamination in the groundwater. There is nothing in their Environmental Impact Report that states how the wastewater project would help remove MTBE from the groundwater. According to several wastewater engineers, wastewater treatment systems do not have the ability to remove MTBE, as evidenced in testimony provided by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in March 1999. Feinstein refers to an article written by the Sacramento Bee, detailing how MTBE went “all the way through [Lake Tahoe's] sewer system, through the treatment system, through the export pipeline, across the stream, and now it’s in the reservoir.” Lake Tahoe’s sewer system has a similar treatment system configuration to the proposed LOWWP.
The verdict on the MTBE claim: the LOWWP shows no signs of remedying the issue.
County Public Works has also mentioned something called “sewer welfare” for low-income households, but not on public record. Bruce Gibson has allegedly mentioned this during his office hours as a means of placating anger and concerns from residents who are concerned about project affordability.
Welfare isn’t something to be taken lightly. Whether or not you agree with what welfare does, most of us can agree that welfare is a significant undertaking by the government to promote the well-being of individuals in society. However, in light of recent political trends, such as the insurgence of the Tea Party movement — which advocates for smaller government and significant federal spending cuts – there will likely be controversy if local taxpayers were informed of this so-called “sewer welfare” program. People in the County of San Luis Obispo tend to vote conservative. It’s unfortunate the County and Gibson would stoop so low as to tote something that not only has not been publicly vetted and supported by taxpayers, but is a necessity for so many people.
Our nation’s welfare system considers eligibility using several key factors, such as gross and net income and situations of crises — such as medical issues, homelessness and unemployment — which are now more prevalent in our lives. Out of 34% of the “assessed” Los Osos community that responded, the now-infamous Community Survey by Opinion Studies shows that 45% of survey respondents earn less than $49,000 a year. According to the 2003 U.S. Census Bureau, the average median annual income in the United States fits within the ballpark of $46,326. That’s 45% of residents at the bare minimum of income earnings not including taxes, utility bills and additional living expenses. 42% of residents surveyed in the Community Survey stated that they would definitely or probably apply for financial assistance if a financial aid program can be developed to assist low- or fixed-income households. To date, there are none. There has only been vague assurances that affordability would be taken into consideration, but there has been no application of that consideration.
As time passes, those assurances sound more like platitudes and gratuitous promises.
The County of San Luis Obispo has had numerous opportunities to gain the trust of the community. We could revisit some of those opportunities, but I don’t believe it’s going to be something we haven’t heard before. Sadly, the County has also given ample reason to not trust them. The County hopes that their efforts will be fully appreciated once the project goes live in 2014, but many people will remember how the County misinformed the public to get to that point: by producing a stream of propaganda never before dispatched to justify a wastewater treatement project that still hasn’t been justified, and most likely never will.
Fool me once, shame you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times? Lose a home.
– Aaron Ochs
If you find any false information or “misinformation” from the County and the State Water Board, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.