Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Does the FPPC consider a Los Osos CSD "newsletter" to be "campaign material?"

Hello Communications Office of the Fair Political Practices Commission,

I'm a blogger in San Luis Obispo County, and I'm researching a story involving the Los Osos Community Services District, and I read on your web site, at this link:


... "What types of things constitute a violation of the (Political Reform Act)," and one of the "violations" listed is, "campaign mass mailing at public expense."

For my on-going story, I have a very fact-specific question involving that exact point: "campaign mass mailing at public expense."

First, some back-story.

Three years ago, on my blog, at this link:


... I exposed how the Los Osos Community Services District, in "Summer 2000," mailed a "newsletter" to every property owner in Los Osos, and, in that newsletter, the LOCSD absolutely raves about a huge public works project that the District was proposing at the time, and how "on schedule" and "affordable" the project is.

However, according to the newsletter, to fund the so-called "on schedule" project, the town's property owners needed to vote to pass a property tax assessment, and, as you'll read in the newsletter (that I have attached to this email as a pdf file), all 7-pages of the newsletter are dedicated exclusively, to 1) hyping the District's proposed project, 2) sell voters on passing the assessment, and 3) describing the dire consequences that would result if the assessment election were to fail.

Quotes in the newsletter include:

"When it comes time to vote and create the new assessment district, Los Osos residents should seize the opportunity to determine their own destiny with a positive vote."

and;

"Continued community support will be important throughout the implementation process. Please support this project. It will in fact be "cheaper, better, faster."

Here's the screenshot:
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Other glowing quotes in the newsletter include:

"The benefits (of passing the assessment) are not limited to just wastewater treatment. When completed, the project will... lift the building moratorium... (and) eliminate the need for expensive imported drinking water."

and;

"Many retirees living in Los Osos, as well as other residents living on fixed incomes, can not afford additional large monthly fees. The Los Osos Community Services District is committed to building an effective, affordable wastewater project."

and;

"(If the wastewater project assessment is passed)... homeowners will be able to remodel and expand their existing homes to provide for older parents, growing families, and other needs. Vacant property owners will finally be able to build on their land."

... and many, many others.

The newsletter also goes on to explain the importance of the assessment election, and even lists an assessment election "timeline."

The newsletter reads:

"Yes. For the assessment district to be formed (to fund the "cheaper, better, faster," "affordable" project), 50% of the votes must approve the project," and then the newsletter lists the schedule for the assessment election.

It also describes the dire consequences that would occur to Los Osos property owners if they did not vote to approve the assessment.

Quotes include:

"What happens if the assessment vote fails?

The regulatory agencies could levy fines up to $10,000 per day per property. Los Osos could lose control of the project to the County. If we don't vote for our own project, we will get someone else's, at a much higher cost.

Here's the screenshot:

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Now, over the past few years, I've exposed three huge bombshells involving the LOCSD's "Summer 2000" newsletter.

1) As I first exposed at this link:


... according to the LOCSD's own documents, at the time the District produced, and then mailed their "Summer 2000" newsletter, the so-called "project" that they rave about as "affordable" and "on schedule," had already completely failed some six months earlier, and District officials were fully aware that the fake "project" described in their newsletter had already failed at the time they produced their "Summer 2000" newsletter -- a newsletter that states that their fake, already-failed, non-project was "on schedule."

I asked an attorney if the newsletter described in the above scenario -- where a government agency, in an effort to sway an election, produces, and then mails a newsletter, where the agency is fully aware that the information contained in the newsletter is false -- constitutes fraud. He told me, "Yes, that is fraud."

2) The second bombshell is that the fraud-based newsletter accomplished its sole purpose: It worked. It (along with other campaign tactics employed by the LOCSD) went on to successfully trick Los Osos property owners into passing the assessment (in early 2001) for the District's fake project, a fake project that the District was fully aware had already failed (and, in fact, never even existed in the first place. Documents now show that the District's fake project proved to be nothing more than fabricated numbers, and made-up documents. It was all just a ruse for a small handful of people to make money, including some Los Osos CSD Board members at the time, and that's why it was so important for the 2000 LOCSD Board to get the assessment passed for their fake project, so they could make a lot of money off of it, which is exactly what happened.)

3) The third bombshell that I've exposed, is that the now-passed, fraud-based assessment for the Los Osos CSD's fake, made-up, non-"project" described in their fraud-based "Summer 2000" newsletter, and that Los Osos property owners were tricked into approving, is (present tense) a 30-year bond assessment that has "more than 4,000" Los Osos property owners funding the fraud on their property tax bills until the year 2033/34, at about $230/year, per property, with many of the "more than 4,000" being "retirees... as well as other residents living on fixed incomes, (that) can not afford additional large monthly fees." (That was actually the one truth found in the District's fraud-based newsletter.)

The following is a screenshot from a Los Osos property owner's 2013 property tax bill. The line "LOCSD WASTE TREATMNT 225.52" is the exact fraud-based assessment described in the District's fraudulent newsletter, and that will appear on "more than 4,000" Los Osos property tax bills for the next 17-18 years.

In the context of 2016, it's just stunning: The assessment that the Los Osos CSD lied about in their "Summer 2000" newsletter, is the exact fraud-based assessment -- "LOCSD WASTE TREATMNT" -- that "more than 4,000" Los Osos property owners are now stuck funding for the next 17 years, for a fake, non-project, that will never exist.

And that's why it is so important for my overall story today that I get this question answered by the staff of the FPPC:

In the opinion of the staff of the FPPC, is the Los Osos CSD's fraudulent "Summer 2000" newsletter -- that was produced and mailed (presumably with Los Osos taxpayer funds) -- also "campaign mass mailing at public expense?"

In other words, I'm hoping that your staff will just simply read the attached newsletter, and render a quick decision -- a quick, "yes," or, "no" answer on whether the staff of the FPPC considers the Los Osos CSD's "Summer 2000" newsletter to be campaign material?

The entire process, including a reply email, should take about a half-hour on your end.

For my story, I can already show that the newsletter, according to an attorney I contacted, is fraud (obviously), which, in turn, means that the 30-year assessment described in the newsletter is fraud-based, but what I don't know is if the FPPC staff considers the newsletter to also be "campaign material," which, according to the FPPC's web site, would also "constitute a violation of the (Political Reform Act)," which would be another excellent scoop for my blog.

Then I could report that the LOCSD's "Summer 2000" newsletter was not only fraud, but also a violation of California's Political Reform Act, according to the FPPC.

[Although, if you think about it, what else would it be? Clearly, the only reason the District produced the newsletter was to trick voters, which must make the newsletter pure campaign material, right? So, what else could it be other than "campaign material?"]

Again, all I'm looking for with this email is for the staff of the FPPC to render a quick decision on whether they think the Los Osos CSD's "Summer 2000" newsletter is "campaign material," or whether you consider it to be purely "informational?"

It's very important for my overall story that I get that question answered.

If you have any questions, please just ask.

Thank you,
Ron

P.S: This email posted to my blog, SewerWatch, at this link:


Thanks again.

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sewerwatch.blogspot.com

Monday, April 25, 2016

Los Osos sewer/"Photos From the Vault" idea

TO: David Middlecamp, Photographer, The Tribune

Hello David,

I just wanted to quickly tell you that I enjoy your blog, Photos From the Vault, on the Tribune's web site, where you take old photographs of local, SLO County significance, and (re)shine a spotlight on them.

Well, have I got a Photos From the Vault idea for you!

It involves one of your pictures, from January, 1998. I've embedded the photo here, hopefully you can see it:


As you can see, it shows then-County Supervisor, Bud Laurent, sitting next to "the Solution Group's Pandora Nash-Karner and Gary Karner."

The back story to that photo, in the context of 2016, is stunning, and, now that the Los Osos sewer is finally on-line, I think that story would, now, make for a GREAT Photos From the Vault.

If it'll help, I can give a little context:

What the photo shows is then-2nd District County Supervisor, Bud Laurent, sitting next to Los Osos residents, Pandora Nash-Karner, and, her husband, Gary Karner, at a California Coastal Commission meeting, at the Embassy Suites conference room, on January, 16, 1998.

Interestingly, that meeting's agenda is still archived, at this link:


The reason Laurent and the Karners were at that meeting, was because of this agenda item:

- - -
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 1998
3. COASTAL PERMIT APPLICATION.
a.  (Los Osos Wastewater Treatment Project, San Luis Obispo Co.) Application of San Luis Obispo County Engineering Dept. for wastewater treatment system to serve limited areas of the Los Osos and Baywood communities, including collection & pumping system, treatment plant at southeast corner of South Bay Boulevard & Pismo Street, and effluent disposal system 500 ft. south of Highland Drive between extensions of Broderson & Doris Drives, in South Bay Urban area of Estero Planning Area, San Luis Obispo County. (SM-SC) [TO CONTINUE]
- - -

So, the Coastal Commission was going to rule on a "Application of San Luis Obispo County Engineering Dept. for wastewater treatment system to serve limited areas of the Los Osos and Baywood communities..." in 1998, but the Karners' -- he, a landscaper and she, a marketer -- so-called "Solution Group" whipped up their "better, cheaper, faster," "alternative" sewer project, that was known-to-the-Karners to be DOA, but they heavily hyped it anyway throughout 1998 (in fact, that's what all of those "YES! YES! YES!" signs are in the photo, part of Nash-Karner's so-called "behavior based marketing" "strategy" for "YES!" on their fake "project") and the Karners' fake "project" went on to 1) form the Los Osos CSD in November 1998, 2) get Pandora Nash-Karner elected to the initial LOCSD Board, where that Board then immediately killed the county's "ready to go" project in early 1999, where Nash-Karner then, as a now-elected official, hired her husband's firm, The SWA Group, to help "develop" their fake project.

[Note: The reason it reads "[TO CONTINUE]" in the Item above was solely because of the Karners' fake "project." The Coastal Commission did NOT issue the county its permit at that meeting solely to allow more time to compare the county's "ready to go" project, with the Karners' known-to-the-Karners-to-be-DOA fake-"project."]

Then, of course, my New Times cover story, Problems With the Solution, in 2000, chronicled the spectacular (and predicted by numerous water quality experts) failure of the Karners' fake project. That spectacular story is archived at this link:


And, at this link:


... from 2009, I exposed (what I term), "The SWA Group Scam," where I show how the Karners knew that their fake project was never going to work, but they over-the-top-hyped it anyway, and then used it so they could make a lot of money, at a massive expense to SLO County taxpayers, Los Osos taxpayers, and the environment.

In other words, had the Karners simply NOT run their "SWA Group Scam" (starting in late 1997) -- just so they, and a small handful of their friends, could make a lot of money -- the county's "ready to go" project would have likely been up and running sometime in the year 2000, and the past 16 years (at "one million gallons (of water pollution) per day") of (very expensive) Los Osos sewer disaster would have never happened.

A spectacular story, and your excellent photo from 1998 captures its stunning beginning perfectly!

Anyway, thought you would find that photo interesting in the context of 2016, and how it would, today, make for a GREAT Photos From the Vault.

If you have any questions about the spectacular significance involved with your great photo, please just ask.

Thanks,
Ron

P.S: This email automatically posted to my blog, SewerWatch, at this link:


Thanks again.
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sewerwatch.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mail fraud question for story, please

TO: Virginia Chavez Romano, Executive Director, Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, United States Department of Justice

Hello Ms. Romano,

I'm researching a story, and I was reading the FFETF's web site, at this link:


... where it states: "Mail fraud is an offense under US law, which refers to any scheme which attempts to unlawfully obtain money or valuables in which the postal system is used at any point in the commission of a criminal offense."

Now, as part of my reporting on this story, I have already asked an attorney if the newsletter described in the following scenario constitutes fraud. He told me, "Yes, that is fraud."

Here's the scenario:

A local government agency produces (using public funds) an official newsletter, then mails that newsletter to "every property owner" in their District.

In that newsletter, the agency raves about how (relatively) inexpensive a public works project is that the agency is proposing, and that its development is "on schedule."

However, several years later, subsequent investigation reveals that at the time the government agency produced that newsletter, the "on schedule" project that they rave about in that newsletter had already failed, and the agency's own documents show the agency knew their proposed project had already failed... a full six months before they produced the newsletter.

Additionally -- and here's the kicker --  in order for the "on schedule" project to be funded, a property tax assessment had to be approved by the town's property owners, and included in the newsletter, is this wording, "Yes. For the assessment district to be formed, 50% of the votes must approve the project," and then the newsletter lists the schedule for the assessment election.

Of course, the newsletter accomplishes its sole purpose: It tricked the town's voters into passing the assessment -- an assessment for a fake-project that had already failed, and, frankly, never even existed in the first place.

So, to recap, the town's elected officials used the property owners' public money to produce a newsletter that clearly lied to "every property owner" about the status of a huge public works project, and those lies tricked the property owners into passing a property tax assessment to fund the already-failed, fake-"project" (a fake-"project" that some of the elected officials had a financial stake in, which, it turns out, was the REAL motive to get the assessment passed.)

Additionally -- and here's kicker #2 -- the fraud-based assessment is a 30-year assessment, that will appear on the town's property tax bills ("more than 4,000")... until the year 2033 -- 17 years from now, for a fake project, that will never exist.

A knowingly false newsletter, produced by a government agency, solely to dupe property owners into passing a tax assessment, leads to the passing of the assessment, but the public works project that the assessment was to fund, had already failed at the time of that newsletter, and the government agency that produced the newsletter was fully aware that it had already failed when they produced the newsletter, which means they, 1) deliberately covered up the fact that their non-project had already failed, and, 2) were deliberately lying to their constituents in that newsletter about the true status of their failed non-project.

Again, I asked an attorney if the above-described newsletter constitutes fraud. He told me, "Yes, that is fraud."

So, with all of that in mind, here is my question, today (in 2016), for the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Considering that the above-described newsletter, produced by a local government agency, constitutes fraud (according to an attorney) -- a "criminal offense" --  and that newsletter was mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, and, according to your agency's web site, "Mail fraud is an offense under US law, which refers to any scheme which attempts to unlawfully obtain money or valuables in which the postal system is used at any point in the commission of a criminal offense," would the above-described newsletter also constitute "mail fraud?"

In other words, is mailing fraud, also mail fraud?

Just a quick "Yes," or "No," answer is all I'm really looking for here, however, if you would like to elaborate, I'd be very interested in reading your response.

If you have any questions, or need any more details, please just ask.

Thank you,
Ron

P.S: This email automatically posted to my blog, SewerWatch, at this link:


Thanks again.

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sewerwatch.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What happens to the Los Osos property owners that don't hook-up to the sewer?

[Note: I originally sent the following email to, John Waddell, SLO County government project manager for the Los Osos sewer project, on 2/25/16, and cc'd it to several local media-types. Waddell never replied (again), and the media never asked one question or typed one keystroke involving this extremely important question.]

Hello John,

I'm researching a story, and I was just reading Peter Johnson's interesting article in New Times, at this link:


... where he writes:

"Property owners have a cushion of six months to complete the work (of hooking up to the sewer) after receiving the notice."

That gets back to a question that I've been trying to get answered for a few years now, yet, I still don't have an answer, and the question is getting more and more pressing.

Again, my question involves this:

Property owners have a cushion of six months to complete the work (of hooking up to the sewer) after receiving the notice, or else... what?

What happens to the property owners (plural [and there are probably going to be many]) that -- for whatever reason (but, mainly, they can't afford it) -- simply refuse to hook up?

What ultimately happens to those people? Is that "forced out of their homes at gun-point by SLO County Sheriffs" time?

I mean, is there another option?

Again, I've been trying to get this questioned answered for about the past four or five years now, so, please, someone from the county, please answer:

What ultimately happens to the LOPZ property owners that refuse to hook up to the sewer?

As always, much thanks,
Ron

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sewerwatch.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"Unpaid" Trib political columnist question, please

Hello Matthew,

I'm researching a story, and I was recently reading your (interesting, and well-done) blog, at this link:

... where you write:

"The local newspaper, the San Luis Obispo Tribune, has 'hired' me as their conservative columnist in an expansion of the Hoystory media empire. Hired in the 'you're doing this for free' sense of the word. I'm normally opposed to working for free because that devalues my work product."

Then, tagged at the end of your Trib columns, at this link, for example:


... it reads:

"Conservative writer Matthew Hoy is a former reporter, editor and page designer. His column appears in The Tribune every other Sunday, in rotation with liberal columnist Tom Fulks."

Now, about a year and a half ago, I published a story on my blog, at this link:


... where I show, using primary sources, of course, how local politicians, like County Supervisor, Bruce Gibson, pay Tom Fulks tens of thousands of dollars to be their little "evil genius in the back room" (Gibson's phrase), where Fulks then sneaks around on the Internet (and elsewhere [i.e. The Trib]) and character-assassinates (or at least attempts to character-assassinate) anyone (especially media-types) that is/are critical of Tom's clients.

Now, the editors at the Trib also call Tom an "unpaid freelancer," however, as I show in my piece, he's actually highly paid to do things like write his Trib column -- it is simply part of his "evil genius in the back room" duties. The twist, of course, is that his pay comes from his clients (i.e. local politicians, like Gibson), and not from the Trib, so, in Tom's case, when the Trib's editors refer to him as "unpaid," I always have to point out that that is more accurately described as "'unpaid' [HUGE finger quotes]."

Additionally, if you read through Tom's columns, you'll see that in nearly every column, Tom attempts to character-assassinate his clients' critics... you know, because that's exactly what Tom's clients pay him BIG bucks to do.

However, in your columns, I notice how you do not attempt to character-assassinate everyone/anyone that's critical of the conservative politicians in SLO County, so, I'm assuming that you are NOT being paid by local politicians to do their... uh, "back room" dirty work.

So, that's my question: Are you, like the Trib's other "unpaid" [HUGE finger quotes] local-politics columnist, Tom Fulks, also paid by local politicians to do their "back room" dirty work?

I have a feeling that the answer to that question is, "no," and, if so, then I have another question: Considering that you are "normally opposed to working for free because that devalues (your) work product," do you think it's fair that Fulks actually gets paid BIG bucks for his "unpaid" column, and you don't?

Here's a (cropped) screenshot of one of Gibson's 2014 campaign finance disclosure forms, that shows a "$10,000" payment to "Tom Fulks," for "consulting" [wink, wink], with thousands of dollars of more payments in several other of Gibson's campaign finance disclosure forms:


Thank you,
Ron

P.S: This email automatically posted to my blog, SewerWatch, at this link:


Thanks again.

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sewerwatch.blogspot.com