On Tuesday, SLO County Board of Supervisors voted to expand the total Los Osos wastewater project to $173,398,416 in order to accommodate the “Waterwater Enterprise Fund.” The board also voted to increase the designation for future road projects in the Road Fund by $2,200,000.
There have been several budget adjustments over the past year after Supervisor Bruce Gibson
insisted at board meetings that the costs would be capped at $165 million and would not go higher than that. However, Gibson has failed to remind Los Osos constituents of the continuously rising contingency costs, including costs pertaining to the issuance of the USDA and SRF loans and grants.
Out of that $174 million currently allocated for the project, $87.2 million is being financed by the USDA and $86.2 million by the State Water Board, but homeowners will incur the interest of said funding for an amortization period of 30-40 years. Additionally, homeowners are expected to pay $35.1 million in sewer service charges. Public Works staff says in their May 17 staff report that $12 million in grants is possible, but they decline to state where that grant is coming from. Again, more carrot-dangling.
The application of the Roads Fund money for the rocky, pitted, crumbling streets of Los Osos is unclear. Despite the fact that the increase of designation for future road projects in the Roads Fund is attached to the Los Osos Wastewater Project agenda item, the appropriation would be for future road projects in general.
Public Works staff says they “anticipate that future recommendations on the appropriations will be based on the resurfacing needs in Los Osos in connection with the construction of the sewer collection system.” In other words, maybe. The roads in Los Osos are in dire need of repair, and resurfacing would only resolve some of the issues. Right now, some of the roads in Los Osos are dirt roads that are completely unfit for driving on.
Given these circumstances, Public Works staff has failed to specifically state when funds will be utilized for Los Osos, and how much money would be going into improving the roads. None of the $2.2 million from the Roads Fund is actually guaranteed for Los Osos since $200,000 of that is likely going toward the Oceano drainage project in conjunction with CalTrans. Having this issue itemized under the LOWWP item is misleading at best given that the money allocated for road improvements is merely deferred to future consideration. In other words, mañana.
Public comment speakers noted some discrepancies in the staff report, including the water conservation line item that magically morphed from $5 million — as mentioned in one of the conditions for the coastal development permit (CDP) — to $3.5 million. The $1.5 million left remains unaccounted for. Others have noticed that staff failed to specify the difference between the interim financing from US Bank at $23 million and the $8.2 million County loan that the interim financing would pay back. $14.8 million remains unaccounted for. Where is the money going? Only County Public Works knows, and they’re not saying. Maybe mañana.
Finally, the liquefaction issue was raised by Dana Ripley of Ripley Pacific and several speakers, but John Waddell of Public Works stated that liquefaction concerns with “considered extensively” in the County Environmental Impact Report absent of a thorough, geotechnical analysis. But the County deferred to CDM’s sub-consultant, Fugro West, who is set to work on a liquefaction analysis and seismic data report several years after the gravity collection system — a component choice that is heavily impacted by liquefaction — was preselected for the Los Osos Wastewater Project. The County decided it would be best to take the “pay millions first, ask questions later” route while sidestepping concerns about how Los Osos would be affected. Perhaps they’ll address these issues mañana — or perhaps not.
Once again, the budgetary and logistical loose ends were not addressed by the board or by the staff. It has been — and it’s likely that it will always be mañana, mañana, mañana while the clock keeps ticking and the wallets keep emptying. The tiny financial details are not easy to navigate through, and it’s more convoluted than comprehensive. But the County believes, “If residents don’t understand the wool that’s being pulled over their eyes, that’s their problem — not ours.”
The County is very stubborn in their belief that Los Osos residents are not entitled to having the costs spelled out more plainly, more holistically, with the same degree of care that would be shown by engineers who oversaw projects that cost as much as three Hoover Dams (according to 1931 cost estimates).
It’s a travesty of justice.
There is much too much financial uncertainty and antithetical verbiage that should have been resolved after the board adopted their due diligence resolution to approve the project. There is too much disorder in the County’s disjointed efforts to honestly dismiss as being merely the fringe concerns of Gibson’s targeted “eight” public comment speakers.
After nearly 30 years of hand-wrangling, anxiety, pain and mistakes, both residents and the County government agree that a sewer is necessary for Los Osos, but residents have strongly drawn their line in the sand and said, “Not at any cost!” If the County cannot set aside their overblown egos and shameful indifference to contain the costs, then residents must be vigilant, leave the podium, and take the government to court.
– Aaron Ochs