Ignoring several, previously unaddressed concerns from residents during the May 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Jim Patterson spoke for a minute about his views on the Los Osos wastewater project. Here is the complete transcript of his speech:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to just remind everyone [that] on a weekly basis, we receive a tremendous amount of criticism about our handling of this project, and I just want to remind everyone that this project, the Los Osos wastewater project, has been in the works for about 30 years, and the County had a project at one point in time, and the community wanted to take it on themselves, which they did, and they worked on it for 15 or 20 years, and then it came back to the County.
And I just want to remind everyone that the project went through extensive community review [Linde Owen says "manipulation" in the background]. County Planning Commission held a number of hearings. They approved the project that’s before us as did the Coastal Commission — so it’s been through a rather vigorous process of scrutiny and public input and professional input, and [Hill slams his gavel to quiet the audience] I think it’s time to build it, personally.
I think this process has gotten us a better project than what was originally proposed [Linde Owen shouts, "No, no, no!"] and I’m pleased to support it and get it underway for the people of Los Osos.
It appeared that Patterson was wincing at times during his speech as if he didn’t believe in his own words. Patterson’s overly simplistic, child-like and revisionist understanding of the project drew ire from the audience because many finite, extensive details about the project’s history were noticeably omitted.
Last Tuesday, May 24, a group of Los Osos residents responded to Patterson’s comments, and educated the District 5 Supervisor of the history he conveniently left out.
As Patterson looked on, Los Osos resident Elaine Watson told the board, “It seems every discussion about this project is prefaced with a statement of a 30-year history of failed projects followed by ‘just get it done now.’ Mr. Patterson repeated that history last week just as Mr. Gibson often does. You gentlemen should at least try to get the history right.
“Of that 30 years, the County had the project for 23 and the community for only seven – from 1998 to 2005 and, in a nutshell, that was because an individual presented a design the community liked because it was promised to be ‘better, cheaper, faster.’ That design and technology was ‘bait and switched’ to a site in the middle of town – and the community objected because it was a disastrous idea. You rejected it too. Then it came back to you with [AB]2701. We wouldn’t be here on the brink of this enormous debt if you had implemented the conservation and septic management programs recommended during the time you were in charge.”
As Watson pointed out, the history behind the project is much more complex than what Patterson made it out to be. The history has been well-documented by several knowledgeable, local sources. It takes a politician — one who’s out of touch with his constituents — to issue overtly generalized talking points about a project that is inherently flawed, and ignore criticism in its entirety as part of the justification to “build it already.”
Los Osos resident Gewynn Taylor spoke at the same meeting, and discussed some of the omitted history. “Unless you live in a community and participate to gather, and get glimpses of politics, and the movers and shakers that try to shape the community, you don’t know what is going on,” said Taylor.
Speakers like Taylor discussed the early history of the Los Osos wastewater project, which shed some light on the County’s past inability to responsibly present a wastewater solution to Los Osos that also addressed concerns regarding saltwater intrusion. Previously, and to this day, the County permitted the use of septic tanks within the high-density area of Los Osos called the “Prohibition Zone.” The turning point, says opponents to the current project, was when Pandora Nash-Karner spearheaded efforts to establish a community services district in 1998 as a means of jettisoning the County’s questionable $70/month plan in favor of a “better, faster, cheaper” project for $38.75/month, which did not come to fruition. Instead, the now-proclaimed “socially infeasible” project ballooned in costs to at least $154 million in 2005. The project was the subject of a vigorous recall effort that unseated three CSD directors, and replaced them with three new majority members that ultimately could not deliver a $100/month project as promised.
When discussing the history behind the Los Osos wastewater project, it’s dishonest to reduce to its pith and substance to an idiot’s guide to the sewer. It’s very telling when Supervisor Gibson’s squeamish shadow speaks about the “tremendous amount of criticism” yet fails to comprehend the history of unreconciled County irresponsibility that serves as the underlying root of that criticism. Justifying the project on an overtly generalized 30-year time line without full context is reckless, mindless governance. It is like advertising a pill without disclosing its potentially dangerous side effects, and
asking, no, telling thousands of people to swallow that pill.
The philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and given the trajectory of progress observed from each of the project’s many incarnations, the County is very likely to repeat the same mistakes from the past — right down to the powers that be repeatedly and harshly condemning those who point that out.
And point that out they did, rightfully so, because bad history is a bitter pill to swallow for those who have to pay the price.
– Aaron Ochs