Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Step Back and Blur Your Eyes -- Memos Reveal What Really Happened at the Blakeslee Summit

Just a couple of quick thoughts on the internal memos that the Trib recently wrestled away from the State Water Board (nice job, Trib, 'bout friggin' time).

Although there are a lot of excellent individual quotes in the memos, what strikes me is the picture they paint when you step back and blur your eyes.

From that vantage point, the memos show a cocky State Water Board, assured they were simply going to roll into Blakeslee's office last October, slap some sense into the new CSD kids, and then head back to Sacramento, with the Tri-W project intact. But, it seems, something unexpected happened to Water Board representative, Darrin Polhemus, before he boarded his flight back to Sacramento. He got blind-sided.

I would have loved to have been in Blakeslee's office the moment Polhemus internalized, "Oh my God, they're right."

At that meeting, Polhemus, apparently, learned:

  • Relocating the facility out of town will save multi-millions of dollars.
  • Relocating the facility out of town will be "environmentally preferable."
  • And, relocating the facility out of town will, according to a CSD study, only add "2-3 years" to the completion date.

As the memos reveal, Polhemus, his fellow staffers, and State Water Board members never saw any of that coming. They never saw it coming because they were relying on faulty information from the outset. The Water Board was sure their case was a slam dunk, but what they didn't take into consideration was that their case relied on information supplied by the pre-recall Los Osos CSD.

Bad move.

As we all know now, much of that information was either spun, fudged, missing and/or, quite frankly, false.

So, think about it... here's Polhemus, armed with arguments that you could run 14-inch pipe through, confidently strutting into Blakeslee's San Luis Obispo office, ready to bring the CSD "closer to reality," and then proceeds to get blown out of the water with tight and accurate arguments that previous CSD Boards -- surprise, surprise -- never tossed out on to the table for folks like Polhemus to see.

"It appears that moving the site out of town may indeed be cheaper."

That quote, found in the internal memos, is from the State Water Board's Chief of Financial Assistance, Barbara Evoy. She wrote it on October 24, 2005, after being briefed by Polhemus.

"The (out of town) Andre site was the environmentally preferred site in the project EIR."

That quote is from California Coastal Commission staff member, Steve Monowitz, from a May 27, 2004, letter to the CSD.

I have a question. If a site out of town "may indeed be cheaper," according to Evoy, and if a site out of town is "environmentally preferred," according to the project's Environmental Impact Report, and if sites out of town are not only viable, but relatively plentiful, according to everyone not associated with the recalled Board, then why wasn't a "cheaper," "environmentally preferred," viable site out of town selected in the first place?

Shockingly, that question has never been officially answered.

Monowitz specifically asked that question once, when he wrote to the CSD in 2004:

  • "... the Commission requested the (CSD) to provide a more detailed analysis of the feasibility of locating the treatment plant at the Andre site. In this context, we noted that the Andre site was the environmentally preferred site in the project EIR and asked for more information why it was not selected." Monowitz added, "Additionally, please evaluate whether parcels adjacent to the Andre site provide a feasible opportunity to reduce potential project impacts."

The Coastal Commission never got their excellent question answered.

They asked why a site out of town wasn't selected in the first place, and the CSD, through a wildly inaccurate Montgomery, Watson, Harza study, concluded, "There does not appear to be any economic incentive to relocate the (wastewater treatment facility)."

That did not answer the Coastal Commission's question.

The Commission also never got their "parcels adjacent to the Andre site" evaluation that they so wisely requested. That one hurts.

In their haste, the Coastal Commission, in 2004, accepted the CSD's terrible (and I mean terrible) responses to the Commission's excellent questions. That one really hurts.

Why wasn't a "cheaper," "environmentally preferred," viable site out of town selected in the first place?

The Los Osos CSD never answered that question... but SewerWatch has.

As this blog has exposed over and over and over again, the State Water Board was about to fund, with taxpayer money, a $150-million park project in Los Osos, and that project included a sewer system, and Polhemus discovered that critical twist, for the first time, about a month ago.

I'm not sure why the Blakeslee Summit lasted a week. All the Los Osos CSD had to do was e-mail Water Board staff a link to SewerWatch, and they would have come to the exact same conclusion in about two hours, without making the trip to SLO: Take the multi-million dollar park out of the project, along with all the expensive logistics and material needed to accommodate its downtown location, thus removing the ridiculous and baseless "project objective of centrally located community amenities," and leaving no rationale whatsoever to site the facility at Tri-W, then multi-millions of dollars could be saved, the facility relocated off "centrally located" ESHA, and result in a "2-3" year delay.

Now that's a slam dunk, and all SewerWatch exclusives. Tasty.

As the internal memos reveal, when the Water Board finally realized they were actually lobbying for a $150 million park project in Los Osos that included a sewer system, they quickly began back-pedaling away from one critical word they carelessly used just before the Blakeslee Summit: "Negotiations."

The moment Water Board staff wrapped their minds around the real story, they immediately launched into panic/damage control mode, and couldn't distance themselves from the word "negotiations" fast enough.

"Let's make it clear that Darrin was not part of a negotiating team," wrote Celeste Cantu, Executive Director of the State Water Resources Control Board, shortly after the "negotiations."

Too late, Cantu.

Water Board staff, on October 21, 2005, sent a letter to the Los Osos CSD with a screaming headline that read, "AGREEMENT FOR STRUCTURED NEGOTIATIONS," as CSD General Manager, Dan Bleskey, accurately points out. [Correction, 1/06/08: I just re-read that letter, and it was addressed to Assemblyman Blakeslee, and not the Los Osos Community Services District, as I first reported. The LOCSD received a copy of the letter. However. my point is that the letter contained the screaming headline: "AGREEMENT FOR STRUCTURED NEGOTIATIONS"]

Step back from those memos and blur your eyes... the picture comes into view.

The Water Board staff was cocky and confident going in to those "NEGOTIATIONS," because they were sure their arguments were dead-on. They didn't care what the "NEGOTIATIONS" were termed. "Negotiations, Shmegotiations." Whatever. To them, it didn't matter. "Let's just wrap this up." They were resolute that they were just going to roll in to SLO, bring the CSD back to "reality," Tri-W project full-steam ahead, pat the dust off the hands, and call it a day.

But, unbeknownst to Water Board staff, their arguments were not dead-on... not even close. They were flimsy, Swiss cheese arguments, because they were based on the notoriously awful information supplied by the pre-recall CSD.

Understandably (and embarrassingly), Polhemus got stuck with nowhere to go, jaw, I'm sure, firmly on table.

Panic. Retreat. Back-pedal from the word "NEGOTIATIONS." Disrespect Assemblyman Blakeslee. Waste a week of everyone's time. Stomp out the agreed-upon proposal before a Water Board member even gets a sniff of it. Then demand Tri-W or nothing.

Ann smells rats. I smell fish. Lots and lots of big, stinky fish.


Please support independent journalism:

Checks to:
Ron Crawford
P.O. Box 120
Santa Margarita, CA


  • Ron,

    Your misreading the facts again.

    I spoke to Darrin Polhemus; his final analysis of moving the treatment plant outside of town was that it was more expensive that the Tri-w plan due to time delays caused by redesign, permitting and probalble lawsuits from neighbors, coupled with higher interst payments due to the loss of the SRF loan.

    Additionally, past LOCSD boards were required to make a decision of site location based on what they felt best fitted community values; a choice which need not be the cheapest or most environmentally superior option. The fact that you do not like the park option of the Tri-w site does not make past LOCSD board decisions flawed.

    Also, you might as well start arguing with the County as they will be taking over the project (and building the Tri-w plan) after the LOCSD collaspes or is dissolved.

    An Avid Reader

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:25 AM, December 14, 2005  

  • Please Los Osos do not forget the sustainability factor. The plant in the center of town is a sludge factory that does not address the lowering of nitrates for 30 years and by that time obselecense will require constant replacing and rebuilding more mega money for the mega plant. Also the operation and management costs for this park/plant are outrageous compared to a more sustainable out of town sewer treatment system. Also the reality of spilling in the bay would be more pollution then all septics combined.And more money in fines. I was at Pismo pier on an early northeast wind morning five days ago and it smelled like sewage . How horrible for all those many tourists and dwellers of Pismo. Does anyone want this??

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:14 AM, December 14, 2005  

  • Dear avid reader,
    The CSD dissolved? By who?
    Higher interset rates? A new loan has not even been persued, what if we can get a new State loan? You have no idea.
    You are guessing
    About the previous CSD choosing the site
    according to what they felt was a community need. A little time spent in reality might be in order, they lost a recall election because of their choices.
    Flawed?Mike Green

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:22 PM, December 14, 2005  

  • Obviously what the old board thought were "community values" was dead wrong. It's deception like that that gets you RECALLED.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:43 PM, December 14, 2005  

  • OK Ron, I just saw the local news and Tony C. said you were wrangling those GRAND JURRERS!
    WAY TO GO!!!
    How bout an update here?

    Respectfully your's
    Mike Green

    By Blogger Mike Green, at 6:43 PM, January 19, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home