Thursday, August 03, 2006

As the Revolving Door Spins

The revolving door spins again at The Tribune.

Short-lived Trib reporter, Abraham Hyatt, has called it quits. Hyatt marks, oh, I don't know, maybe the fiftieth reporter that has gone through the Trib's revolving door on the Los Osos beat over the last decade.

In a recent e-mail to "sources, contacts, and friends," Hyatt writes:

    "August 18 will be my last day at The Tribune." He adds, "While brief, this has been a wild ride of a job. And I want to thank all of the people who helped me cover Los Osos over the last 10 months.

    The reason for my departure is simple: My wife and I had been planning to move to Portland Ore. near the end of this year. However, because of several personal factors, we're going to leave early. Nothing exciting, no conspiracy, just a couple of newly weds looking for a more affordable place to settle."

Fair enough, and SewerWatch wishes him, and his family, all the best.

But tagged on to his "I'm outta here" e-mail is this:

    "... this has also been the most fascinating, interesting work I have ever done -- work I could not have done without your willingness to share your knowledge, and be patience with my

Abe... I hate to say this, because I think you were one of the better fifty (it's your editors that need a flogging), but you made one more tiny mistake on your way out the revolving door.

In his story: Los Osos officials sue regional water board (8/03/06), Hyatt writes:

    "In 2000, the regional water board told Los Osos it would impose fines if the district did not adhere to a set schedule as it built a sewer mandated by the board.

    The district stopped construction on that sewer following last September’s recall election that replaced a majority of board members with opponents of the project."

That's a mistake I see a lot in the local press, and it's a critical one.

Memo to all local media: We need to get something straight here. The project in 2000 -- the ponding system -- was a completely different project, that used completely different technology, than "that project" that the district stopped in 2005. They were two different projects. The district stopped the second Tri-W project, and that project had nothing to do with the initially proposed "better, cheaper, faster" ponds, other than the treatment facility location.

But Hyatt is right about one thing. The RWQCB did threaten fines in 2000.

For me, the episode of the RWQCB threatening fines in 2000 is one of my favorite parts of the entire sewer story. That's when Briggs and Co. were gettin' really fed up with the LOCSD monkeying around with "Pandoraland" -- the widely criticized ponding project, also proposed at Tri-W, that the initial CSD Board futilely chased from 1999 to late 2000. That Board was finally forced to dump that ill-conceived project due to the pressure of potential fines from the RWQCB in 2000... because it simply wasn't going to work in Los Osos, as a bunch of water quality professionals, including the RWQCB, accurately predicted two years earlier.

Beautiful part of the story. Beautiful.

And, for whatever reason, the Trib just can't grasp it. They can't grasp the simple, yet crucial, notion that the latest Tri-W project wasn't even close to the first Tri-W project that formed the CSD in the first place. After all these years... can't grasp it. Hmmm.

Here's my take on that: These days, the Trib can't cover the fact that the project that got three Solution Group members elected to the initial Board, and the CSD established in the first place, in 1998, flamed out in spectacular fashion in late 2000. They can't mention that unbelievably critical time in this story, because if they did, the first thing everyone would say is, "Where in the hell where you on all of that!!?"

They never wrote a word on it, even though I wrote a New Times cover story at the time that showed exactly why it was going down the toilet.

On a related topic, I've noticed that Tri-W proponents still get a lot of mileage out of the, "The new board stopped a project that was fully funded and fully permitted" argument.

That argument is as dead as a ground squirrel on Pozo Road.

According to state law, it should have been neither. It was a huge mistake by two state agencies to permit and fund that nonsensical project.

According to the Coastal Act, the set of laws that governs the California Coastal Commission, the second Tri-W project should have not been permitted, because the Coastal Act prohibits the destruction of Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area for no reason whatsoever (well, to be fair, no reason other than a non-existent "community value" that was fabricated in a successful attempt to keep the second project at Tri-W).

And according to the State Revolving Fund Policy, it should have not been financed because that policy so wisely states that "decorative items" are not eligible for SRF funding, yet the State Water Resources Control Board's Division of Financial Assistance had approved funding for, among other things, an amphitheater, community gardens, dog park, play fields and a huge "decorative Wave Wall." And (and this is very important) if those park amenities had not been slated for SRF funding -- and it's a slap to the face of every taxpayer in the state that they were -- the entire funding plan of the Tri-W project would have collapsed, because the LOCSD did not have any money to pay for that expensive and elaborate park, and, according to the project's development permit, the park was the only reason why Tri-W was selected for the second project. (page 89)

According to numerous official documents, Tri-W was permitted and funded because both the California Coastal Commission, and the SWRCB Division of Financial Assistance were "duped" into permitting and funding that unnecessarily sited, unnecessarily expensive, environmental lemon by the actions of the initial CSD Board and staff, including several after they had left office, as I have been reporting since my second New Times cover story, Three Blocks Upwind of Downtown, in September, 2004. (Note: I can no longer link directly to the New Times on-line version of that story because the archived stories on their web site were recently changed. They now stop at the issue that was published one week after Three Blocks. Now, I have to link to my personal version of that story.)

Memo to those that still cling to the, "The Tri-W project was fully funded and permitted," argument: That argument is dead.

That "project" was about an hour's worth of official argumentation away from being unfunded and un-permitted. In short, un-duped.

Los Osos and California taxpayers lucked out last September when the recall was successful. Dodged a bullet.

This blog site's arguments were not going away. If the recall had not been successful last fall, all of what I have been reporting on over the past two years, would have eventually come out. And the Tri-Dub development permit would have been revoked -- state law would have demanded it -- and the SRF funds would have stopped until the "decorative items" mess was straightened out, and that would have led to a funding nightmare, and the ill-conceived and nonsensically sited (and I'll even argue illegally sited) Tri-W project would have wasted tens of millions more of California taxpayer dollars, and Los Osos would have had a half-built, fleece-job in the middle of their town, and the public outcry outside of Los Osos, when the rest of California finally discovered they were funding millions upon millions of dollars worth of public park crap for a "sewer-park" for Los Osos, while communities like Mariposa, and a lot of other cash-strapped California communities, couldn't get a penny of SRF funding for their bare bones, reality-based wastewater treatment facilities, would have been deafening.

- - -

Cleaning Out the SewerWatch Notebook

Speaking of "duped"... here's a short opinion piece I wrote to New Times following staff writer, Patrick Klemz's, Eight square miles, surrounded by reality a couple weeks back... they didn't print it. I will:

What New Times Calls "Duped," I Call Fraud

In Patrick Klemz's clever commentary, Eight square miles, surrounded by reality, he writes:

"CSD vice chair Pandora Nash-Karner duped Coastal Commission staff into believing the town demanded recreational facilities onsite with any proposed treatment facility..."

What Mr. Klemz calls "duped," I call fraud... on a massive scale.

Lying to the Coastal Commission about very important things, like the only reason to unnecessarily force a large and very expensive sewer plant in the middle of a beautiful coastal town, is serious stuff.

According to a law-related web site, "Fraud has a specific legal meaning." The following essential elements must be present before an actual finding of fraud will occur:

- Misrepresentation of a material fact consisting of a false representation, concealment or non-disclosure. (Nash-Karner, beginning in late 2000, as the Los Osos CSD vice chair and SLO County Parks Commissioner, told Coastal Commission staff that residents demanded park facilities in any sewer plant in Los Osos. Astonishingly, one Coastal Commission document reads, "These facilities, which include a 15 space public parking lot and drop off area, an amphitheater, community gardens, restroom, tot-lot, and picnic areas, factored into the previous decision to allow the treatment facility to be located on this site (Tri-W), since other alternatives were rejected on the basis that they did not accomplish project objectives for centrally located community amenities." [bolding mine])

- Knowledge of the falsity. (Nash-Karner spearheaded two 1997 ballot measures in Los Osos that would have added a tiny tax for public recreation stuff in Los Osos. Both of those measures failed. Just three years later, Nash-Karner, as an elected official, was telling the Coastal Commission that there was a "strongly held community value" in Los Osos that any sewer plant must also double as a centrally located "recreational asset." Furthermore, and most importantly, there is absolutely no documentation whatsoever to support that extraordinary claim. Commission staffer, Steve Monowitz, recently told me, "It was inappropriate of me to rely on members of the Solution Group to determine community values." Nash-Karner founded the Solution Group.)

- Intent to deceive and induce reliance. (The Solution Group promised Los Osos voters a "better, cheaper, faster" project in 1998. That promise led to the formation of the Los Osos Community Services District (two previous attempts failed) and got Nash-Karner, and two other Solution Group members, recalled Directors, Stan Gustafson and Gordon Hensley, elected to the first CSD Board. That project was planned for Tri-W. That project failed two years later. If the location of the treatment facility in the project that followed their first failed project had changed to an out-of-town site, it would have revealed that the project that got them elected, and the CSD formed in the first place, had failed, and that would have been highly embarrassing for the Solution Group. Nash-Karner needed something to justify Tri-W for the vastly redesigned second project, and the fabricated "strongly held community value" was it... and it worked.)

- Justifiable and actual reliance on the misrepresentation. (See above evidence)

Mr. Klemz concludes, "if the CSD falls to rack and ruin now, and the sewer situation goes supernova once more, this columnist wants a Grand Jury investigation. And so should you."

This columnist formally requested a Grand Jury Investigation into this matter earlier this year. The Grand Jury responded that they didn't have time to investigate the issue.

- - -

A final note: My last couple of posts dealt with the Los Osos Community swimming pool fiasco. Quick update: I have a lot of new stuff on that, and it's excellent. Stay tuned and see how fast that story slams right into the sewer story... in dramatic fashion.)



  • It's all about you, isn't it?

    Perhaps the title of your blog shouldn't be sewerwatch but "Ron Blames Pandora ... Yet Again".

    As I've said elsewhere before, even if the TriW plan wasn't the best at the time it was proposed doesn't mean that it isn't the best choice we have now.

    Had you ever tackled that issue I would have some respect for you, Ron. As it is, you are pretty clearly a self-centered hack who think he knows what is best for our community even though he doesn't take the time to read and think through many of the key issues involved. Hell, had you even addressed any of the financial issues we would have some respect for you.

    As it is, zero.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 3:58 PM, August 06, 2006  

  • Ron, the project is going to the County. That is relevant. Why don't you write them a really long letter explaining all of this, and then JUST LET IT GO! How many times can you keep rehashing this? Do you want YOUR sewer solution to be heard? TELL THE COUNTY.

    By Blogger Sewertoons, at 4:47 PM, August 06, 2006  

  • Think I'm goin' down to the well tonite
    and I'm gonna drink 'til I get my fill....
    I hope when I get older I don't sit around and talk of an old article I wrote 4 years ago (or Pandora, or the Solutions Group, etc etc etc),
    But I probably will...
    Just sittin' back, trying to recapture
    A little of the glory of...
    But time slips away and leaves me with nothing but
    Boring stories of......
    Glory days.....well they pass you by
    Glory days, in the wink of Pandora's eyes,
    Glory days........glory days.......

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:56 PM, August 06, 2006  

  • Shark said:

    "you are pretty clearly a self-centered hack"

    Ah, Sharky, after all these months, I thought we reached a point in our relationship where you could tell me how you really feel.

    "Perhaps the title of your blog shouldn't be sewerwatch but "Ron Blames Pandora ... Yet Again"."

    Well, if the shoe fits...

    'toons said:

    "Do you want YOUR sewer solution to be heard? TELL THE COUNTY."

    Oh, they know. And I hear a lot of them are SewerWatch fans. Can't say I blame 'em.

    Anon said:

    "Think I'm goin' down to the well tonite
    and I'm gonna drink 'til I get my fill....
    I hope when I get older I don't sit around and talk of an old article I wrote 4 years ago (or Pandora, or the Solutions Group, etc etc etc),
    But I probably will...
    Just sittin' back, trying to recapture
    A little of the glory of...
    But time slips away and leaves me with nothing but
    Boring stories of......
    Glory days.....well they pass you by
    Glory days, in the wink of Pandora's eyes,
    Glory days........glory days......."

    I just read that with the melody of that Springsteen song in my head. That's funny. Well done. But, to be accurate, one of my old articles was two years ago, the other was six, but if you average them out, it is four years (see, Shark, another example of my math prowess.)


    By Blogger Ron, at 10:43 AM, August 07, 2006  

  • Ron I want to thank you for all the attention you have given to this issue over the years. It has been great to have another perspective even if Mr. Shark doesn't like it. I suggest he get his own column going...he certainly has lots of information to share. I don't blame you for your continueing interest...isn't that why these blogs are so popular? You know a good topic when you see it!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:04 PM, August 07, 2006  

  • Isn't Gail Smith-Deegan, she of the community minded E-mails to the water board just recently seated in our county's Grand Jury??

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:21 PM, August 07, 2006  

  • An Anon said:

    You know a good topic when you see it!

    I've said it before -- the best story in the history of the county, and none of the local media touches it. I quickly wrote about that here. Thanks for the kind words.

    Another Anon said:

    "Isn't Gail Smith-Deegan, she of the community minded E-mails to the water board just recently seated in our county's Grand Jury??"

    If that's accurate, that may be unfortunate. I'm adding some more great evidence to my Grand Jury complaint, and I'm about to re-submit it. I don't know Mrs. Smith-Deegan, but I think it's safe to assume that since she's one of the community minded e-mailers, she would be a definite "no" vote on whether the GJ should pursue my complaint.

    By Blogger Ron, at 10:31 AM, August 08, 2006  

  • To our anonymous friend a while back...

    Yes, the story is interesting. Interesting enough that one should want to look at all the details before reaching a conclusion of what is the next best step. Sad that Ron is so hung up on the past that he can't see the future clearly.

    A driver going some 60 miles per hour shouldn't stare into the rear view mirror wondering about what he hit 100 yards back ... if he is driving along highway 1 in Big Sur. Focusing on the past to the exclusion of careful analysis of the current is simply unwise at any speed.

    Recall that Ron doesn't live in Los Osos and he's not going to have to pay any of the bills. He's interested in the topic for sport and because he's amused with the turn of events. He likes a good story and we've got one.

    Turning to Ron for information about what to do now is just plain stupid. I've asked Ron to look over some spreadsheets outlining what folks will likely pay as a result of the current CSD's choices. He declined because I'm anonymous. Essentially he doesn't care. He's had a few days now with Richard LeGros' numbers on what Ripley has proposed. He's not argued with Richard's conclusions. One would reasonably conclude that he agrees with Richard or that he isn't prepared to discuss financial issues in the slightest or that he doesn't care.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 11:39 AM, August 08, 2006  

  • I don't turn to Ron for information on what to do now. I attend meetings, read reports, talk to people with information, and basically draw my own conclusions. I read what you have to say, Shark,and others, and find it interesting as well. In fact I am on a CSD committee and consider myself fairly well-informed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:26 PM, August 08, 2006  

  • Anon said:

    "I don't turn to Ron for information on what to do now."

    Thank God. I wouldn't either. As I've told Shark about 100 times, I'm not a wastewater engineer. However, I do like the sound of Rip's plan. Downwind, out-of-town, at an environmentally preferred location, with much less energy consumption, and on a straight, side-by-side comparison, MUCH cheaper. Just get that water exchange thing worked out, and that project sounds lean and mean. In other words, the project that should have been selected in the first place.

    As for Richard numbers, Shark, the one that kills me is this:

    "1. The costs to the property owners for abandoning the Tri-W project (+$47,000,000)."

    Not exactly Einstein-esque, eh?

    Hey Richard, did you ever stop to think that if your board didn't decide to play "bait and switchy" with the California Coastal Commission, that maybe, just maybe, that $47 mil would have never been sunk into the project to begin with?

    Allow me to re-write #1 for ya:

    1. The costs to the property owners for my board playing "bait and switchy" with the California Coastal Commission on the Tri-W project (+$47,000,000).

    And then I also love how blows that $47 mil up by saying:

    ...:that means $47,000,000 @ 10% over 30 years results in total interest paid of $101,000,000."

    Wow. $101 mil. That was one damn expensive bait-and-switch job, Rich.

    Shark, I already know you're not going to comprehend what I am about to say, and I also know you're going to freak out and spin it for months after I say it, but, as usual, I'm 100-percent right:

    Math became irrelevant in this discussion the moment the words "bait-and-switchy" came flying out of Commissioner Potter's mouth.

    It all comes back to the following poem that I've already printed a couple times on my blog and I'll reprint it here:

    by John Brantingham

    Carpentry has a rhythm that should never
    be violated. You need to move slowly,
    methodically, never trying to finish early,
    never even hoping that you'd be done sooner.
    It's best if you work without thought of the
    end. If hurried, you end up with crooked
    door joints and drafty rooms. Do not work
    after you are annoyed just so the job
    will be done more quickly. Stop when you
    begin to curse at the wood. Putting in
    a window should be a joy. You should love
    the new header and the sound of
    your electric screwdriver as it secures
    the new beams. The only good carpenter
    is the one who knows that's he's not good.
    He's afraid that he'll ruin the whole house,
    and he works slowly. It's the same as
    cooking or driving. The good cook
    knows humility, and his souffle never falls
    because he is terrified that it will fall
    the whole time he's cooking. The good driver
    knows that he might plow into a mother
    walking her three year old, and so watches
    for them carefully. The good carpenter
    knows that his beams might be weak, and a misstep
    might ruin the place he loves. In the end,
    you find your own pace, and you lose time.
    When you started, the sun was high and now
    that you're finished, it's dark. Tomorrow, you
    might put in a door. The next day,
    you'll start on your new deck.

    - - -

    "If hurried, you end up with crooked
    door joints and drafty rooms. Do not work
    after you are annoyed just so the job
    will be done more quickly."

    "... a misstep might ruin the place he loves."

    Math is irrelevant in this discussion.


    By Blogger Ron, at 11:13 AM, August 09, 2006  

  • Wait a sec... I just re-read this:

    "...:that means $47,000,000 @ 10% over 30 years results in total interest paid of $101,000,000."

    He's saying the interest is $101 mil. That means it was, according to Richard's numbers, a $148 million bait-and-switch job. Sorry I didn't catch that in my above comment. My bad.

    By Blogger Ron, at 11:43 AM, August 09, 2006  

  • Ron,

    I think you ought to go into comedy. Statements about the Ripley report like "a straight, side-by-side comparison" are simply laughable.

    Let's look at a few of the differences. The TriW plan did tertiary treatment and removal of nitrates (as required by the RWQCB) but the Ripley plan did only secondary treatment of the water and there was no nitrate removal. If they are asked to accomplish both of those two additional goals that the RWQCB required of the LOCSD the costs would be pretty much about the same, according the Ripley folks.

    So ... are the costs even about the same? Not even. They compared 2005 construction bids (unreasonable) for the TriW project, adjusted upwards for inflation (reasonable) and other things they considered missing from the TriW project (possibly reasonable) to 2006 estimates of the cost to construct their system that would work assuming that Los Osos residents use water at a rate of 50g/day per person (unreasonable) and that ag-exchange will be acceptable (depends on the RWQCB).

    The Ripley folks didn't incorporate ANY time for design, permitting and legal issues. As LeGros points out, the time issue pretty much makes even the "less expensive" project more expensive. (I presume that because you don't argue with his financial calculations that you agree they are reasonable.) This is exactly what I've been saying for months even though you kept ignoring the topic.

    Furthermore, it is quite unreasonable to compare bids for one job (that some argue were 40% higher than they should have been) to engineering estimates of another job. Compare bids to bids or engineering estimates to engineering estimates. If the TriW job really was overbid by that much, if the County takes over, they will be able to save 20% on the total job cost rather quickly by simply putting the job out for re-bid.

    Your attempt to avoid the issue by again blaming the previous board is pretty sad.

    You claimed that the Ripley project was less expensive and that Ripley gave a fair comparison. You are wrong on both counts. I've pointed out to you again and again and you just don't seem to get it. Maybe it is not I but you who has a reading comprehension problem.

    Whether you are right about the CCC and their position or not, you are simply dead wrong on the financial issues.

    This is all to say, you are rather quick to focus on some parts of the story and rather quick to ignore other, much more important parts of the story. I suspect that it is because you aren't going to have to pay any of the bills associated with the screw ups of the LOCSD.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 12:24 PM, August 09, 2006  

  • Shark,
    I didn't hear Ripley folks say adding nitrate removal would bring the price yup $79 million? did you? Please tell me when to tune in to hear that, that must be verified...because that sounds like BS if I hever heard it.
    Denitrifying is not expensive, it is unnecessary, so why do it? Why add nitrates through comercial fertilizers when it's already in the wastewater? RWQCB needs to issue a zero discharge order, Ripley's project is a reuse project, far superior to anything Tri-W could do.
    Full of obstacles, of course, politics what they are, but superior none the less and even if it cost the same as Tri-W, the I'd like tochose, which Beasure B would allow me to do...remember when the CCC asked for a comparison of Andre vs. Tri-W for cost, $5 million up od down, we never got to chose, if we had, I bet back then the community would have chose Andre (that's the "hypatheticalAndre" because the LOCSD didn't do due diligence when the researched Andre for the EIR, that's how they got caught in this mess that statred Rons rants, there was no sincerity in that anyalysis, they never enve contacted Mr. Andre to walk the site! Ron is right, we can go back and make the right choces, the question is will the County "do do it right"?
    Hey, who's running for CSD, Friday's the deadline, Shark, you should sign up, let the great debate begin.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:33 PM, August 09, 2006  

  • The key reason the Ripley plan is more expensive is inflation. Even if the numbers they gave us are correct (and I've already listed several reasons that one should view their comparisons as apple-to-orange), the delay to get the site designed and approved causes inflation. The inflation pushes the project costs upwards.

    If you think that denitrification is cheap you are mistaken. Ripley (or was it Sheikh, I forget) said that requirement would double the cost of the WWTF. Tertiary treatment (which is necessary for some crops like veggies that are eaten raw) instead of secondary is another huge increase in the bill.

    I do like the idea of using the wastewater for crops. I do like the idea of letting the farmers benefit from our nitrates. If the RWQCB still requires us to remove our nitrates (and interestingly enough, the CSD strategy of doing everything possible to irritate the RWQCB won't be very helpful here) the farmers won't have as much desire to buy. Certainly we won't be able to sell it for much.

    In any case, the Ripley cost estimates are crap. We all know they were doing their best to make their system look inexpensive. It is like the Bush administration telling us the War in Iraq will be quick and cheap. Don't believe it without reading critically first.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 9:46 PM, August 09, 2006  

  • Shark please run for a CSD BOD seat! We need you. Deadline is tomorrow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:33 PM, August 10, 2006  

  • Yeah, Sharky, put your teeth where your 2-cents is!

    Gotta give Ron the medal for most dedicated writer on any complicated subject of community impact.

    For those with a close-up lens on this stuff, Ron can be repetitive. But he must be, to make it clear to the casual readers just what the actual players have done and when they did it.

    Good investigative reporting goes after a story, and frequently, the public good is achieved when corrective laws get passed. Or when lawbreakers are tried, convicted and sentenced.

    But remember, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Let the chips fall where they may. --G

    By Blogger NewsstandGreg, at 10:38 PM, August 19, 2006  

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