Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Bait and Switchy" Pays Off for the Los Osos CSD

(Note: For this installment of SewerWatch, I'll be using one of my favorite SewerWatch characters: Me as the Los Osos CSD Public Information Officer, where I finally get excellent answers to my own questions.)

ME: Why did California Coastal Commissioner Dave Potter call the Los Osos CSD "bait and switchy" last year?

ME AS LOCSD PIO: Excellent question, as usual.

Well, sure it's a bit awkward to be called "bait and switchy" by a member of a powerful State agency, but you're right, that's exactly what he said.

And there's a good reason why he said it, because that is exactly what we did... and we did it to the California Coastal Commission! Can you believe that? Yep, we done bait-and-switched 'em somethin' good.

Here's how we did it (and you other communities might want to pay attention here because our "bait and switchy"-ness paid off big-time in the end... more on that later):

We "baited" the Coastal Commission by telling them that our sewer plant had to be downtown to meet the "project objective" of "centrally located community amenities" -- you know, that multi-million dollar park you always talk about here on SewerWatch -- so, we showed them -- ohhhh, I'd say around 2001 -- this pretty drawing of our sewer plant and it had all kinds of pretty, expensive, things all over it. Things like, tot lot, amphitheater, community gardens, bike paths, public restrooms, and a lot more very expensive park items.

But the Commission was skeptical. They practically begged us to move the facility.

They were kind of like, "Are you sure that's what you want to do? A park in your sewer plant? Do you realize that park is going to lock in the downtown location, and there's all kinds of environmentally sensitive stuff at that site? Are you sure that's what you want to do?"

And we told 'em, "Damn straight that's what we want to do! Listen up Coastal Commission, how many times do we have to tell you? There's a "strongly held community value" in Los Osos that our sewer plant also contain really expensive "centrally located community amenities." So, you better sign-off on the "centrally located" Tri-W site, or our community that holds that "value" is going to be really pissed off at you.

So, we talked 'em into signing off on the Tri-W site, but not before we made them jump through about a million hoops because of the complex and expensive logistics of siting a sewer plant downtown, on land that contains all kinds of environmentally sensitive stuff.

We thanked 'em, and went about our sneaky little business.

I say "sneaky" because, after we "baited" the Commission to sign off on the Tri-W site due to the park, we "switched" them by ripping the park out of the plan almost entirely as soon as we got back to Los Osos.

You see, our problem was, and this is very important, although we had all those pretty items all over the pretty drawing of our sewer plant, we didn't account for one damn dime to actually pay for any of those expensive park items. Also, and this is kind of important, that "strongly held community value," of course, never existed in the first place. We just made it up to keep the Tri-W site around, because that was the site where we promised our "better, cheaper, faster" ponding plan that flamed out in spectacular fashion just a few months earlier. We figured, if we could keep the new plan at the Tri-W site, we could just call everything else a "design change" and no one in Los Osos, or at least the media, would notice that we were forced to abandon the "better, cheaper, faster" plan that got us elected. By the way, that almost worked until SewerWatch came along. Nice job. None of the other local media caught on to our little sewer plant sleight-of-hand.

Now that I think about it, thank God a Commissioner didn't ask these two questions in 2001:

1) How are you going to pay for all of that pretty park stuff because I ain't seeing it in your "cost estimates?"


2) What's the source of this "strongly held community value" to include a park in you sewer plant? (And if you point to the Vision Statement, I am going to slap you.)

Oh boy, if they would have asked those questions we would have been s-c-r-e-w-e-d. Dodged a bullet there.

So, there we were, two years later, in 2004, sweatin' it out. Would our "bait and switchy" park-in-park-out-so-we-could-get-Tri-W-at-whatever-cost scam work?

Boldly, we went back to the Coastal Commission to get our Development Permit, but this time all of those pretty park items were no longer in the drawing of our sewer plant, because we had no money to pay for them. Our fingers were firmly crossed.

Well, as you know, they caught on to our little scam fast. We couldn't slip it by ol' Commissioner Potter. Bright guy, that Potter, and that's when he called us "bait and switchy." Ouch.

Boy, I'll tell ya, we couldn't sweep that line under the rug fast enough.

You still with me SewerWatch?

ME: Yea, but this is getting kind of long, can you wrap it up?

Me AS LOCSD PIO: Yea, but here's the good part.

When the Coastal Commission caught us in our "bait-and-switchy" scam, we were in a BIIIIIG pickle. Think about it. What the hell were we going to do?

On one hand, the only reason the Coastal Commission allowed us to build on Tri-W was because of the "strongly held community value" to include all of those pretty park items that we showed them two years earlier, but then ripped out of the plan entirely.

But on the other hand, we didn't have any money to pay for that multi-million dollar park.

The Commission told us to figure something out, and figure it out fast, and they gave us one stinkin' month to do it. As you can understand, they were not happy with our act.

What were we going to do? Move the sewer plant out of town because there's no longer the "project objective" of "centrally located community amenities" in the plan? Do you have any idea how embarrassing that would have been? First, we waste two years chasing the deeply flawed Community Plan, then, we have to pull the plug on our second plan because we were "bait and switchy?" I DON'T THINK SO!

We were stuck in a tight spot. So, we panicked and did the only thing we could do -- the entire LOCSD Board, that included current recall targets Stan Gustafson and Gordon Hensley, voted to "reincorporate" the amenities, now estimated at $2.3 million plus the estimated $150,000-and-counting a year it will take to maintain those amenities.

But you're not going to believe what happened next -- our "bait-and-switchy"-ness paid off big-time in the end! You see, because the Coastal Commission wouldn't allow us to move forward with the project at the Tri-W site without the "project objective" of "centrally located community amenities" in the plan, when the CSD Board did vote to "reincorporate" the park, it somehow ended up as part of our development permit, and so everyone's calling it "mitigation." Can you believe that? An amphitheater as "mitigation." A tot-lot as "mitigation."

Why, we just about danced a jig when we heard that.

Because, by calling our amphitheater and all of that other crap "mitigation," well, that means we can get all that stuff paid for by taxpayers everywhere, not just in Los Osos. California taxpayers. United States taxpayers. Why, right now, ol' Congresswoman Lois Capps is trying to get $35 million from the Federal government that can be used to pay for our multi-million dollar park... errrr... "mitigation." Same with the State. Our gigantic and bloated loan from them is fair game for the park/mitigation funding as well, along with all of the other expensive things needed to accommodate the park like the "wave wall" and the buried facilities... you know, big, expensive stuff like that.

And that is a really good thing, because, like I said, we had no money to pay for it.

So think about it. If we had properly accounted for the park in our project when we first went before the Coastal Commission, the park would have never been considered "mitigation." But since we decided to play "bait and switchy" with the park, it ended up in our development permit as a "condition of approval," and so it's considered "mitigation," eligible for State and Federal tax money.

"Bait and switchy" paid off in the end. Other communities might want to keep that in mind.

We lucked out on that one, huh?

ME: I guess "luck" is one word for it, but I do appreciate your excellent answer to my question.

ME AS LOCSD PIO: You're welcome. Anytime.



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