Friday, July 08, 2005

SewerWatch Exclusive

Los Osos CSD Memo Shows
Treatment Facility Relocation
Could Have Saved As Much As
$6.2 Million, and, Likely, More

by Ron Crawford

The Los Osos Community Services District could have saved as much as $6.2 million, and, likely, much more, if a wastewater treatment facility currently proposed to be built near the center of town would have been moved to a site outside of town last June, according to a LOCSD memo recently acquired by SewerWatch.

Furthermore, according to the June 2004 memo, had the CSD board acted on the memo at the time of its writing, the contentious $151-million project could be near completion today without the controversial downtown (Tri-W) location in the plan and at a potential savings of multi-millions of dollars.

However, according to CSD figures and other sources, faced with the decision, at almost the exact date of the memo, to relocate the facility away from the controversial downtown location at a savings of as much as $6.2 million (not adjusted for inflation), or "reincorporate" a set of costly park amenities that are adding millions of dollars to the project, the CSD chose to reincorporate the park -- a decision that locked in the downtown location.

According to the CSD and the California Coastal Commission, other site alternatives to Tri-W were dismissed by the CSD because the "location of the other sites did not provide an opportunity to create a community amenity," and "other alternatives (to the Tri-W site) were rejected on the basis that they did not accomplish project objectives for centrally located community amenities."

The memo, MWH Memo comparing costs of TriW with Andre, details a cost comparison between locating the treatment facility at the Tri-W site and a "hypothetical property equivalent to the Andre site" about two miles east of Los Osos, off Los Osos Valley Road.

The memo concludes, "There does not appear to be any economic incentive to relocate the WWTF from the Tri-W site to the Andre site."

However, that conclusion came when the project's amenities only included a dog park and a play field at an estimated cost of $160,000, according to the memo. Yet, in July 2004, the CSD voted to reincorporate several other park amenities into the plan including a 15-space public parking lot and drop off area, an amphitheater, community gardens, restroom, tot-lot, and picnic areas. The cost of those amenities, recently estimated by a CSD engineer at $2.1 million, was not included in the memo's cost comparison.

Moreover, according to local park maintenance professionals contacted by SewerWatch, the operation and maintenance (O & M) of the park facilities could add another $3 million (again, not adjusted for inflation) to the project over the next 20 years -- the time frame for O & M costs in the memo. [Note: SewerWatch relied on sources outside of the LOCSD for an annual O & M cost estimate for the amenities because the CSD has yet to declare its own estimate.]

According to the memo, "The cost comparison shows that under the best case scenario, the relocation of the WWTF to the Andre site may save approximately $1,100,000, but under the worst case scenario may add approximately $4,300,000."

But when that cost comparison is updated to reflect the $2.1 million cost of the additional public amenities, and the estimated $150,000 annual cost for 20 years ($3 million) for the operation and maintenance of those amenities (not adjusted for inflation), the best case scenario for relocating the facility is at least $6.2 million in savings, and the worse case scenario of relocating the facility adjusts to a savings of at least $800,000, according to CSD figures and other sources. Additionally, the development permit for the project says the amenities must be maintained "in perpetuity."

More questions about the reasons for siting the wastewater treatment facility at Tri-W arise in the memo. For example, according to the memo, the combined total annual energy cost added to the project to pump effluent two miles out of town is about $20,000 or $400,000 over 20 years. But, according to a project proponent's web site (, the number one "primary benefit of the Tri-W (downtown) site" is, "It is centrally located and therefore minimizes pumping requirements and thus minimizes energy cost." The cost of the amenities is estimated at $2.1 million, according to the LOCSD.

Interestingly, the memo also shows that if the decision were made today to move the facility, potentially multi-millions of dollars could still be saved, despite cost escalation associated with the delays, and the delay added to the completion of the project would be "2-3 years." However, that time frame is reduced when unresolved issues of the current project are considered, like a September recall vote and lack of permits for heavy equipment staging areas, just two of many examples.

According to sources close to the project, delays associated with the unresolved issues could add several months, if not more, to the current project's completion date. Therefore any added construction delays due to the relocation of the treatment facility could be reduced further, to potentially under two years, according to CSD figures and other sources.

Community Value?

To complicate matters for the Los Osos Community Services Distrcit, information on why there is a park in the project to begin with is not forthcoming. When asked in a recent e-mail from SewerWatch what the rationale was for keeping the park in the sewer project following several costly design changes, CSD Vice-President, and project supporter, Gordon Hensley replied, "Frankly I do not have an answer - but I think you are correct, that IS the core issue."

Although information on the rationale for including a park in the project is seemingly non-existent, strong and ample evidence exists that Los Osos taxpayers, during the design stage of the sewer project, did not desire a park anywhere in Los Osos, let alone at a wastewater treatment site.

For example, in 1997, Los Osos voters defeated two ballot measures that would have added public recreation programs and facilities in Los Osos. One of those failed measures, E-97, would have added $10 a year to a single-family's yearly property tax for "recreational services." The other, D-97, would have added $40 a year for a public swimming pool. News reports at the time say the measures failed because of voter fear over the high cost of the sewer project.

More evidence of the lack of community support for a park at the treatment facility comes from a LOCSD public opinion study commissioned in 2001 to gage support for the project. The $28,000 study titled, Los Osos Community Services District Wastewater Survey, asked a sample of Los Osos property owners several questions about the project. The first question in the study was:

What is the most important issue that you would like to see local governments in the Los Osos area do something about?

From a list of answers, respondents answered:
Open space/park protections -- 1%
Wastewater treatment/septic tanks -- 64%

Another question from that same study asks:

No matter which way you might be leaning on the wastewater treatment vote, of the statements I just read which one stands out as the best reason why someone should vote FOR this measure?

From a list of answers, respondents answered:
Will create park -- 7%

However, despite extremely weak community support for the park in the project, the initial CSD Board, seemingly inexplicably, identified a "strongly held community value" that the wastewater treatment facility also be a "recreational asset," and made the decision that "centrally located community amenities" be a "project objective."

Quotes from the project's report regarding alternative treatment facility sites include:

  • “The size and location of the other sites did not provide an opportunity to create a community amenity. The sites on the outskirts of town, could not deliver a community use area that was readily accessible to the majority of residents..."

  • “(The Andre site) is 1.5 miles from the edge of the community and would not be able to provide the community with a readily accessible recreational area..."

One year after the publication of the CSD opinion survey that showed little support for the inclusion of a park in the plan, a July 24, 2002 California Coastal Commission staff report says, "The Los Osos CSD has evaluated numerous project alternatives and determined that construction of a treatment facility and public park on the Tri-W site would best meet the project's and the community's needs." (pg. 1)

Another California Coastal Commission staff report dated, July 29, 2004, says, "... other alternatives (to the Tri-W site) were rejected on the basis that they did not accomplish project objectives for centrally located community amenities." (pg. 89)

On June 21, SewerWatch sent CSD General Manager, Bruce Buel an e-mail containing the following two questions:

1) What would be the rationale for siting the facility at Tri-W if the "project objective" of "centrally located amenities" was not in the project?

2) Why are "centrally located amenities" a "project objective?"

Buel has yet to reply.

MWH Memo comparing costs of TriW with Andre was drafted in response to a California Coastal Commission request to the CSD to "provide a more detailed analysis of the feasibility of locating the treatment plant at the Andre site." According to a May 27, 2004, letter to the CSD, the Coastal Commission requested the analysis because the project's Environmental Impact Report identified the Andre site as "the environmentally preferred site" and the Commission was seeking more information on "why it wasn't selected."

A ground breaking "ceremony" was held at the Tri-W site yesterday.


[10/2/09: Quick note: Now that I'm linking back to these stories, I want to clarify something... On some of the posts here at SewerWatch, especially back in the 2005 days, you'll see (below) how it says "0 comments" in the comments section.

That's not because no one was readingSewerWatch back then. In fact, it's just the opposite.

The reason some of these posts have "0 comments," is because, on rare occasions, I would intentionally turn off the ability to leave comments, and this story is one of them.

You see, a HUGE part of SewerWatch is showing that Los Osos AND regulators were tricked by something called "behavior based marketing," and part of that marketing strategy involves USING the media as "tools."

So, back in 2005, during the run-up to the LOCSD recall election, SewerWatch was so widely read that the people that practice "behavior based marketing" were USING me as one of their "tools," and would leave blatantly misleading, and deliberately confusing comments, and it was awful. I was giving the "behavior based marketers" a venue to operate.

Put yourself in my shoes... here I was exposing the fact that the reason there's such a gigantic train wreck in Los Osos is because the town, AND state regulators, are all victims of a "behavior based marketing" campaign, yet, here I was allowing that exact "behavior based marketing" to occur on my own blog. Me, being used as a "tool," and I just couldn't allow that.

So, when it got down to crunch time, like the lead-up to an election, I'd shut down the comments section entirely. No one could leave a comment.

Can you blame me?]


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