Razor Online has an exclusive report, detailing a large-scale operation by County officials to discredit Los Osos wastewater project dissent in never-before-seen detail.
When San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren attended a town hall meeting on June 19, 2007, he was asked by a resident about working with Dana Ripley of Ripley Pacific Company and the STEP/STEG collection system. He calmly told the resident, “Personally, I’m not a fan of that technology. Besides, [Ripley] and his project is more or less absurd. I don’t want to work with him, and… so what’s the point in complaining, right? We just follow the process. I just do what I’m told.
“It’s part of the game.”
At that point, Ogren made the determination not to pursue that system based on petty dislike, not science or economics — so it came as no surprise to many that nearly two years later, that technology was removed from consideration. This effectively nixed initial promises — made by Public Works in several mailers to residents — to bring both STEP and gravity collection to the total cost-comparison stage. Since then, the County Board of Supervisors has tightened restrictions on Los Osos public comment after publicly extolling their own benevolence for allowing an “unprecedented amount of public comment.”
Current board chairman Adam Hill had publicly chided Los Osos residents several times. But in recent communications with top fundraisers and supporters of Adam Hill’s 2012 re-election campaign (Team Adam Hill), Hill had stated his intent to “dismount [Los Osos] from their high horse.”
Supporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reacted to a post I made on the Team Adam Hill Facebook page, which linked to my open letter to Adam Hill. Hill never replied to my letter, and my post was swiftly removed from his page — but not before his supporters personally wrote to me in his defense. “Hill just wants the [Los Osos wastewater project] issue to go away,” wrote one supporter in a Facebook message, “but it’s bothering him that week after week, people keep speaking about an issue that he sees is already dealt with.”
Another supporter, who often has candid conversations with Hill, told me, “Adam says, ‘Get rid of [Los Osos public comment speakers]. They’ve done nothing for my district, my constituents. They’ve done nothing for me, personally. Those assholes should be shot, in my opinion. I can’t stand to look at their faces anymore.’”
Hill explained to his supporter that Hill had summoned sheriff deputies because he was “threatened” by their “constant viciousness,” which, in actuality, does not legally constitute an actual threat. Supporters claimed that Hill vaguely alluded to threats that were allegedly communicated by one of the public comment speakers, but declined to cite the source of the threat(s).
This past Tuesday, two sheriff deputies were in the board chambers when Los Osos residents spoke. Regular speaker Richard Margetson asked the board for an explanation about the increase of deputies present, but received no response, as usual. No response is their response.
The supporter explained that Los Osos speakers are “corralled into a block of speakers” by Hill, which makes it easier for the deputies to supervise at a given time. Though he disagreed with how “heavy-handed” Hill’s actions have been, the supporter emphasized heavily on Hill’s willingness to move forward with the wastewater project “without the vile bickering,” though Hill has not provided any evidence to substantiate what he believes to be “vile bickering.” In fact, it was Hill who, at the October 4 Board of Supervisors, cut the microphone of Los Osos resident Linde Owen because she was allegedly making a “personal attack” toward staff — though she was only referring to an article written by CalCoastNews and made no personal attacks.
Regarding Owen, Hill allegedly told a few of his supporters in e-mails that she “deserved to be smacked” for what he called “obnoxious, repetitive attacks against honest people.”
Supporters referred to e-mails they received, which showed Hill detailing his rationale for pursuing Owen, and others like her. The e-mails outlined a counter-strategy, which Hill said was perfected by his supportive colleague, District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson. Gibson found the methods to be “very effective,” according to Hill.
The strategy involved relaying e-mails to The Tribune’s Bob Cuddy, who allegedly expressed enthusiasm over publishing dismissive columns about the “obstructionists.” The term “obstructionist” was repeatedly used by Hill, according to sources. The e-mails relayed instructions to The Tribune to describe the “obstructionists” as “violent,” a claim which has remained unsubstantiated.
In turn, Cuddy — after meeting with Tribune Vice President & Executive Editor Sandra Duerr — would publish an article with the intent to manifest animus toward project dissidents and diminish their credibility. These articles often omitted the core arguments of the dissidents, or took the arguments out of context. Duerr refused to publish Owen’s rebuttal to Cuddy’s column. Owen would later explain her situation in detail on the KVEC 920′s “Dave Congalton Show.”
Though other news sources covered it, The Tribune declined to write about Owen’s microphone being cut.
In another e-mail, Hill once quipped to a supporter, “Remember the lemon? That worked.”
The “lemon” is a reference to a gimmick once utilized by Los Osos resident Al Barrow, a vocal critic of the County project, who brought a lemon to the podium at Board of Supervisors meetings. The lemon was a symbol of the project, according to Barrow. The lemon was used to describe the project during the protest period for the Rates & Charges ordinance, which was passed with 15% of residents protesting the service charges. Without explaining, in detail, why residents were protesting, the David Sneed-penned article included a large photo of Barrow holding a lemon. The photo was placed prominently in the paper.
Barrow has been a target of The Tribune, who once published an article on June 21, 2006 that claimed he entered then-Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee‘s office, “criticized Blakeslee’s recently announced plan” to his scheduler, Audrey Crescenti, who told The Tribune, “He was so aggressive and agitated that I was frightened by his threat [to "attack the office"],” that she called the California Highway Patrol. The CHP later determined that Barrow posed no threat, but the insinuation that dissidents were “violent” was already cemented into the consciousness of Los Osos residents — and even then, dissidents were not allowed by The Tribune to offer their rebuttal. The results of the investigation were not published by The Tribune.
Thus, the strategy was “very effective.” Mission accomplished.
This begs many questions: If this sewer project is fully justified on the milestones alone, why is there such a massive undertaking to discredit the opposition? If there is a large groundswell of support for a project, why conspire with a newspaper to smear the few for speaking out, and conflate the misconstrued actions of a few to represent the cause as a whole?
If there is a sincere belief that your personnel are innocent of wrongdoing, why cut the microphone of those who are concerned about the allegations? If you’re calling for civility and don’t like the “vile things” being communicated by speakers at the podium, why do you act so uncivilly with violent words and uncivil actions to justify your mission? There has been no answer to these questions, except cowardice.
I understand The New-Times’ Shredder now. The “local parade of familiar characters” who keep coming to the podium week after week are “nuts.” With a thorough narrative that has been constructed — with tremendous precision — since 2006, how could you not think that these people are “nuts”? On paper, these “nuts” seem to be nuisances, or miscreants, who protest with no rational explanation. And when they exhibit anger — with the same kind of nonviolent anger that has been exhibited by those wanting justice and rights throughout the history of our country — they are “violent,” and supposedly “out of touch” with the “amazing” progress that has finally come after 30+ years of torment. How dare they?
With Los Osos politics already being something that could turn friendly neighbors into mortal enemies at the slightest utterance of the word “sewer,” the narrative of the “nut” — and the sewer game our elected officials whimsically play — has pushed people into hiding out of fear of retaliation by the government, the press, and the people that support them. Perhaps that’s what has made the majority “silent.”
Yet, there is no evidence to suggest, in any shape or form, that the “silent majority” tacitly approves what comes before them, and what will come their way. Instead, there is only evidence to show that people do not want to have an opinion for the sake of their livelihoods — and then there are some who have no idea of what’s about to happen to them.
No government should ever be in the business of engineering division. No newspaper should ever be in the business of aiding and abetting in the engineering of division on behalf of elected officials. The prevalence of these tactics only illustrates corruption, and why people need to speak up in order to stop it.
– Aaron Ochs