Monday, November 20, 2006

Fourth Time's a Charm? The Stupidest Election Ever

"The (Tri-W) wastewater project is truly a community-based project."
-- Roger Briggs, Executive Officer, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, June 24, 2004

Contrary to what Mr. Briggs would have you believe, it's now clear. The community hates the Tri-W wastewater project. Hates it.

For three consecutive elections, since Directors Schicker and Tacker were elected in 2004, the project that Briggs calls "truly community-based" has been rejected by that community -- over and over and over again. During the latest campaign, according to reports, not one CSD Board candidate would even publicly support the location.

The reason the community hates Tri-W, appears to be the same reason none of the candidates would endorse it -- it's highly embarrassing!

Since the daylighting (by some smart-ass reporter) of the dramatic impact of "better, cheaper, faster" on the project, the dramatic impact of "bait and switchy" on the project, the dramatic impact of a little-known document (the SOC) that overrode the entire environmental review process for no reason at all, the dramatic impact of a made-up, nonsensical "strongly held community value," and the dramatic implications of a public opinion survey that shows 71-percent of Los Osos property owners would not support a sewer if it cost over $120 a month, it's no longer a secret that the rationale behind the Tri-W siting was, and is, a colossal embarrassment for not only Los Osos, but all the regulatory agencies involved, including Briggs'.

Yet, apparently, the county hasn't received the memo.

Surprisingly, county planners have recently told me that they will be placing the Tri-W project on the advisory election due to be scheduled for early next year to decide which wastewater project Los Osos really, really, really wants to pursue.

"We are not taking it (Tri-W) off the table," said Paavo Ogren, of the Public Works Department, in a recent e-mail to SewerWatch. He added, "Although many in the community obviously oppose the site, many others still support it."

"We in County Public Works will not recommend its elimination as a project alternative until such point in time that the final project decision is made by the Board of Supervisors and we are provided with a formal notice to carry-out that selection, whatever it might be."

Let me make what he is saying there clear: After three consecutive elections where the majority of Los Osos voters have shown they want the project moved, the county is still, inexplicably, under the impression that Los Osos voters might, somehow, out of the blue, prefer the downtown sewer plant location in a fourth election.

That's flat-out ridiculous. (And it makes no sense at all, which means, unfortunately, that the people that most Los Ososans really wish would take their thumbs off the scale, have their thumbs firmly on the scale. Democracy be damned.)

But, personally, I couldn't be happier, because the fact that Tri-W is going to end up on that advisory ballot, means two things: 1) Sweet, sweet validation for SewerWatch as that unpopular project gets whacked all over the place during the campaign, and 2) Stupidest Election Ever. And that's going to be great to watch.

Los Osos, if you don't think things could get any more embarrassing for your beautiful town, wait until that election rolls around next Spring.

Because a ballot that should look something like this:

    ___ Check here if you want this [downwind, out of town, out of sight] location.

    ___ Check here if you want this [downwind, out of town, out of sight] location.

Is going to look something like this:

    ___ Check here if you want this [downwind, out of town, out of sight] location.

    ___ Check here if you want this [downwind, out of town, out of sight] location.

    ___ Check here if you want this [three blocks upwind of downtown, highly visible] location that also has to include, along with a sewer plant, a bunch of expensive and embarrassing things like a children's play field, and picnic area, and has some serious hurdles in front of it, and is also a location that we already know your town doesn't want, according to the last three elections... dating back almost three years, now.

Stupidest election ever. What an embarrassing waste.

[How's this for a novel idea, Los Osos? Let wastewater engineers select the location for your wastewater plant, not voters that know little about things like percolation rates or liquefaction, and especially not Parks Commissioners -- especially not Parks Commissioners. I think we're ALL in agreement there, Parks Commissioners should not be selecting sewer plant locations.

"One of the fundamental objectives for the project is to provide useable open space accessible to the community."
-- LOCSD, Response to California Coastal Commission, 6/28/04]

And when voters finally discover that Tri-W can't be built unless it also includes, along with a giant sewer plant, other weird, expensive, embarrassing things like an amphitheater, children's play field, and picnic area (that's right, a f-ing picnic area in your sewer plant... can't do Tri-W sewer plant without the picnic area. God forbid, Los Osos builds a sewer plant that doesn't included a picnic area) will it receive any votes other than from former Solution Group members?

And when voters also discover that, if chosen, Tri-W will immediately face three gigantic hurdles, will it receive any votes at all (well, again, other than some former Solution Group members)?

The hurdles?

First, it will never get the State's low-interest SRF loan back the way it was before the recall election in 2005, and that's very important.

The reason the Tri-W project will never get SRF funding back the way it was is because I, and thousands like me, in and out of Los Osos, will make sure that this time State taxpayers are not stuck funding a multi-million dollar park-in-a-sewer-plant for Los Osos, and that means there won't be any funds around to pay for the park, which means there will be no park, which means, of course, there can't be a Tri-W sewer plant, according to the project's development permit. (Confusing, I know, but nails accurate.)

Second, on the long-shot chance that Tri-W is selected by voters (on the fourth attempt), and it won't be, obviously, AND on the long-shot chance that the State of California agrees to use public funds -- funds that are supposed to be used only for water quality purposes -- to loan to the county to pay for a multi-million dollar park-in-a-sewer-plant for Los Osos, then it will immediately run into another massive problem: Why should the entire community benefit from a park that only a portion of the community is paying for? (And, of course, every time I bring up that excellent point, I also have to add this excellent point: That is, if you consider a picnic area in a sewer plant a "benefit.")

A local judge has recently ruled, understandably, that arrangement is unfair.

Third, the Statement of Overriding Considerations -- the only document that allowed the initial CSD Board to override the entire environmental review process so they could build at Tri-W in the first place, is no longer valid. It was recently rescinded by the current LOCSD Board. In short, according to State environmental laws, no SOC, no Tri-W, and there's no SOC.

The county, it seems, will have to draft their own version of that important document IF they decide to pursue Tri-W. Which leads to a very interesting question: Will the county also override the environmental review process -- a process that pointed to downwind, out of town sites -- in order to put a picnic area in their sewer plant?

To date, no one has addressed how Los Osos will get around those three massive hurdles IF, on the extreme long shot, Los Osos voters select the downtown location, which they won't. And there's a very good reason why no one has addressed that, because there are no answers to those hurdles.

This upcoming election season (I know, I know... yes, more yard signs.. for really no reason at all, this time), when the minority, yet vocal, Tri-W supporters realize their little "strategy" to get their project back in the hands of the county has come around to bite them in the ass, and find themselves scrambling to spin the park-in-a-sewer-plant as a good thing -- as they are sure to do-- Los Osos voters need to remember to always ask two questions:

1) "How are we going to fund that ridiculous park?"


2) "Why is there a multi-million dollar park in the Tri-W sewer plant to begin with?"

And when the Solution Groupers (1998)/Initial CSDers (1999-2005)/Save the Dreamers (2005)/Taxpayer Watchers (2005 - 2006) answer that second question by saying, "Because the Coastal Commission demanded it," as they have lied about in the past and are sure to lie about again (remember that whole embarrassing thing?), be sure to ask them, "Then why did Coastal Commission staffer, Steve Monowitz, tell SewerWatch, 'It galls me when they say we added the amenities?' "

I, for one, can't wait. You see, unlike almost everyone in Los Osos that is completely worn out on elections and campaigns (especially now, when the majority of those Los Ososans can definitively say, "How many times do we have to vote on this?!! WE DO NOT WANT A SEWER PLANT DOWNTOWN! That's why we keep electing people that are committed to moving it!"), I'm really looking forward to that election. The campaigns will be great, especially the one for Tri-W... can't wait to see what slogans they'll come up with this time.

"Better, cheaper, faster, II" perhaps?

Talk about an uphill battle...



  • I commend Paavo and the county from, at this point, not making any firm decisions regarding Tri-W, or anything else, BUT everybody in Los Osos had better pay close attention to how the game gets framed early on. Consider the recent wierd Trib story on the planning commission hearing wherein a two-year delay in getting permits for Tri-W was framed as something troubling and difficult, Woooo. In reality, getting anything done in the Coastal Zone in two years is fast-tracking, but the implication of the story is to plant in the public mind that Tri W is "damaged goods," can't possibly be sold or used for anything BUT a sewer plant, that changing zoning is somehow not possible, toss in the word "condemnation" -- oooooooo! thence the segue easily goes into, We Have No Choice, and other false reasons. (Another phony SOC anyone?) It's how the game is framed, with the Tribune's help, a little spin, few weasle words, and ka-Zamn! Done deal while the community's still rubbing their eyes and blinking. As for the choices put before the voters, folks better make sure that the evaluation of options are, indeed, truthful so that the two ? three? options that withstand the winnowing process are, ineed, honestly arrived at. No fudging the numbers, no hide-the-salami switching of O,M & R costs away from capitol costs thereby pretending to end up with a cheaper project & etc. No bait and switchy, no phony SOC's & etc. Honest projects, honest prices, honest vote. Then we can all go home and pay the bill. Please God.

    By Blogger Churadogs, at 7:26 AM, November 21, 2006  

  • Ron, please keep this post on here until the election. When the campaign forms we can just set-up a website and have it point to this article... it will save us a ton of money and time.

    If they ever try and build this thing at Tri-W and add a park, I am going to be at every hearing insisting that they include in the construction costs, a security fence around all the park amenities to keep out all non-sewer customers. All sewer customers need to be issued an access card they can swipe at the gate in order to get into the park. No pass, no access.

    It seems like a rediculous, excessive expense, but no more so than the park itself... and I will make the argument that if the park is a necessary component of the sewer plant, then the security access gates are a necessary component of a park that only a select few pay for.

    Seems fair right??

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 AM, November 21, 2006  

  • Ron,

    You seem to keep ignoring the money aspect of this discussion. Totally. You should be embarrassed by your lack of attention to details.

    Lemmie spin you a story. Everyone (but a few) people were happy with the TriW location and the associated park ... parks on top of wastewater treatment facilities are pretty hip these days ... just look at San Francisco. Those few people who didn't like the location put in a lot of effort to fight the location. While the fight was going on, the costs kept going up due to inflation. Once the costs got high enough, they ran a campaign to take over the CSD that was based on a lie by saying that out of town was less expensive. They won. The costs are continuing to go up.

    The question you should ask in your little vote should be "do you want location A with estimated costs X or location B with estimated costs Y or location C with estimated costs Z?"

    You see, if accurate estimated costs are not included in the vote, people will do something stupid like elect Chuck and Steve or Julie who promise things that they cannot hope to deliver.

    Now a question for you ... if the estimated cost/month for out of town will be higher than for TriW (had we continued construction back a year ago) will you then admit that cost projections are important?

    You see, I think that when the costs go up from about $200/month to much higher people are going to be pissed off and will want to blame the folks who promised them better and cheaper. Will you be willing to say that in your opinion pieces that you've overlooked the one thing that people care most about in Los Osos? That one thing? Our sewer bill.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 10:46 AM, November 21, 2006  

  • Snarky said... "Everyone (but a few) people were happy with the TriW location and the associated park ... Those few people who didn't like the location put in a lot of effort to fight the location."

    You're an idiot!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:18 PM, November 21, 2006  

  • If I'm told I need to be connected to a sewer by 2010, and the county finds the best way to get to this date is through Tri-W, that's where my vote's going. If the county also finds it's the least expensive, that's where my vote's going. Let Crawford and Calhoun fight to the death, their opinion means nothing to me. Time and cost means everything.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:55 PM, November 21, 2006  

  • Anon 1:55pm ...

    It would seem that our anonymous friend of 12:18pm disagrees with you and me.

    It would also seem that he doesn't like my story, but I would suggest he explain why he thinks the excessive sewer costs that aren't related to Pandora can't be traced to Julie.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 2:03 PM, November 21, 2006  

  • Shark,Shark,Shark, Only a few were dissatisfied with Tri-W? Can you tell me how many parking spaces were drawn in for this hip park? You said something about accurate estimates, and then doing something stupid. How does 46 million dollars over estimate sound for your beloved Tri-W? With no vote on on what it had turned into.
    Only a few were dissatisfied with Tri-W, give me a break.
    Sincerely, M

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:37 PM, November 21, 2006  

  • Lemmie ask you both a question ... if people were so darn angry about TriW way back when (think 2001-2002), why did the bond to pursue a project there pass so overwhelmingly and why did Julie loose so badly when she ran for CSD back then?

    Many people have changed their minds since, but some 4-5 years ago very few people were opposed to the site. However, at that time, those who were opposed to the site did adopt tactics to stall and delay the project.

    The effect of these stall and delay tactics was, among other things, to cause the costs to rise.

    The rising costs caused many more to question the site and project. (Lisa herself said that she didn't mind the TriW site so much when it was cheaper.) Folks presume that the problem is the site and forget that running pipes to every single home is a huge cost and that the LOCSD has been charged with denitrification a rather expensive process.

    So, yes, the net impact of a few people stalling the project was to cause the costs to go up and to create more opposition.

    If you don't believe me about the "only a few" (and it sounds as if a few of you don't) I would ask where there is evidence of more than a few people opposed to the site back before 2001.

    About the bids coming in over estimate. This was probably due to at least two or three factors ... fuel and labor costs increasing between the time of the estimates and the bidding ... supply and demand where contractors know that we had a need to start construction soon or fines would occur ... and individuals in Los Osos threatening contractors. In any case, if the bids were really some $46M over the real cost, once the County takes over they can easily re-bid the job and get bids some $20-30M lower.

    Now, how about you do me a favor ... could you please explain how moving the sewer out of town will save us money. The bulk of the opposition to TriW is because of the cost, so the only better site (from the point of view of those horrified by the costs) will be a cheaper one. Where is it? How will it end up costing us less?

    If you or anyone can point out how we'll save money by moving the plant, I would be the first one to grab a sign and ask the County to pursue an alternate site. However, as I've been asking this for over a year and as no one has offered up even a conceptual plan that has a real chance of saving money, I'll stick with supporting the TriW site until offered something other than misguided hope.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 8:16 PM, November 21, 2006  

  • Ann wrote:

    " ...the two ? three? options that withstand the winnowing process are, indeed, honestly arrived at. No fudging the numbers, no hide-the-salami switching of O,M & R costs away from capitol costs thereby pretending to end up with a cheaper project & etc. No bait and switchy, no phony SOC's & etc.

    That's kind of my point. Since that was the winnowing process that led to Tri-Dub, then why will Tri-Dub be an option at all? Especially since we all know your community hates it.

    Swiss cheese winnowing process, community hates it, yet it's still going to be an option. That makes zero sense.

    An Anon wrote:

    "... please keep this post on here until the election. When the campaign forms we can just set-up a website and have it point to this article... it will save us a ton of money and time."

    I'll probably have a few things on top of this post by then, but here's the link directly to this post:

    just copy and paste it. Also, feel free to link directly to anything else on my blog. If you click and hold on the time-stamp at the end of each post you can "copy link to disk" and paste it wherever you want.

    "If they ever try and build this thing at Tri-W and add a park, I am going to be at every hearing insisting that they include in the construction costs, a security fence around all the park amenities to keep out all non-sewer customers. All sewer customers need to be issued an access card they can swipe at the gate in order to get into the park. No pass, no access."

    That's exactly why the "part of the community pays, entire community benefits" logistic will never work with Tri-W. And Judge Hilton agrees with me. The moment Hilton's decision came down, the old Board should have stopped and done some analysis on how that would impact their unpopular project. That would have been a highly prudent thing to do. They didn't.

    Sharky said:

    "Everyone (but a few) people were happy with the TriW location and the associated park"

    That reminds of Rush Limbaugh the day after the November 7 election. I made a point of listening to him that day, because I wanted to hear how he was going to spin it. You know what he called that day? "A victory for conservatism."

    "Lemmie ask you both a question ... if people were so darn angry about TriW way back when (think 2001-2002), why did the bond to pursue a project there pass so overwhelmingly and why did Julie loose so badly when she ran for CSD back then?"

    Oh, allow me... three words and a figure: behavior based marketing, and "maximum monthly payment of $38.75."

    "Now, how about you do me a favor ... could you please explain how moving the sewer out of town will save us money."

    I'm going to type slowly again, because I've answered that question about a million times, and you just can't seem to grasp it:

    W-e a-r-e n-o-t w-a-s-t-e-w-a-t-e-r e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-s!

    That is a question for one Mr. Ogren.

    However I will say this, if you think that unpopular, bloated lemon, with ALL of its ridiculous costs on the table, on a level playing field, is going to be cheaper than a bare bones, reality-based system, well, keep waging your uphill battle. I think there are a few shreds of LO's community fabric that have yet to be ripped into iddy-biddy pieces, and it looks like you guys aren't going to stop until you find them.

    "misguided hope"?

    That's what led to the Tri-Dub mess in the first place.

    By Blogger Ron, at 9:48 AM, November 22, 2006  

  • As someone who spent a large part of my life living in Los Osos and San Luis Obispo county, I feel saddened by what has become of the community known as Los Osos. I no longer live in SLO county but hope to someday be able to move back to this beautiful place. I've been following the whole sewer fiasco and have some questions of my own:

    What's wrong with a sewer in the middle of town? Is it the aesthetics of how it will look? Anything would look better than that pit that is in the middle of town now. I've seen mockups of what it would have looked like. They looked pretty good to me.

    Is it just the odor everyone is worried about? Seems to me there must be sewers out there built in or near central community areas. How does the San Francisco bay area do it?

    How can this project get any cheaper? The project was underway and would have been almost completed by now. We all knew what the costs would be. It was too expensive 15 yrs ago, 10 yrs ago, last year when the project was stopped. And guess what, it will be even more expensive 10 years from now. Regardless, whether deciding to move the sewer out of town or even left in the same location, it has got to cost more in the future than it would have cost in it's now defunct location.

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to build and maintain a sewer that was in a central location as opposed to outside of town? Just the matter of running pipe and pumping the sewage seems like it would make sense to put it in the middle of town.

    How do parks in Los Osos get funded and built? The new skatepark, which I believe was the best thing Los Osos has done for its community to date, was a huge success. Did the community pay for that or did the county?

    Which leads me to my next question. Couldn't the community use taxes to pay for the sewer and get county funding to provide for the parklike setting around the sewer. I for one, think that the TriW site would be a great place for a huge community parklike setting. If there was a non-obtrusive sewer in the middle of the park I for one wouldn't have any objections.

    Does anyone besides myself see Los Osos as stagnant? Property owners can't make the improvements to their properties that they want to because of all of the building restrictions. There has been no growth and no change ever since the moratorium. Los Osos has the potential to be soooooo much more than it is today. Every time I go back it seems more and more run down. I'd rather see community improvements as opposed to a town full of run down shacks.

    Shoulda, coulda, woulda...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:35 PM, November 22, 2006  

  • Ron,

    You are passing the buck.

    Just because you aren't a wastewater engineer is no reason to duck the question. Richard and I have shown pretty clearly that the proposed Ripley project is insufficient and will also cost more than TriW would.

    Even without being a wastewater engineer you can look at our analysis and critique it.

    The fact that you haven't suggests that it might just, in fact, be right. The Ripley plan might just, in fact, be far more expensive than TriW.

    In any case, if you aren't a wastewater engineer, why are you criticizing MWH and pumping Ripley? It would seem that only people with knowledge should comment and you've commented a bunch.

    No matter, I'll just chalk this down as yet another opportunity for Ron to explain why TriW is worse for our community than the alternative where he chose not to respond.

    Should I presume that when Paavo lets us know that TriW is the cheapest option that you'll suck it up and apologize for misleading us over these many years?

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 3:54 PM, November 22, 2006  

  • The mention of the Bond passing overwhelmingly reminded me, wasn't there something peculiar about the way the vote was cast, and where it was delivered to? Considering the way the scoundrels of the past forged us into this position, my cynical mind leaves open the possibility that that vote may not necessarily have been on the up and up.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:21 PM, November 22, 2006  

  • And another thing Shark, your last paragraph, wondering if Ann will step up to the plate and apologize for misleading us all these years. It wasn't that many years ago that Tr-W was far and away the most expensive way to go. Yet they forged ahead anyway. If they hadn't started construction before the recall, when there was still some time to find out for sure if this was what the community wanted to commit to before fines would come, Tri W might very well be underway now. Especially if so many want it is you say. I certainly would have taken the fines over what has ensued.
    I can't give much credence to your'se and Richards cost analysis based on TriW cost. It's pretty plain to see that the bidding process was scewed. 3 bidders and we accepted all three. 46 million over estimate. The total, being the maximum amount for an SRF loan. Approval for obtaining the maximum amount in an SRF loan before the bids were received.
    If you ask for Ann's apology, you're going to have to ask for a lot of other peoples apologies.
    Sincerely, M

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:48 PM, November 24, 2006  

  • Shark, I apologize. Let me insert Ron's name into my previous post. I lost track of which blog I was in.
    Sincerely, M

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:01 PM, November 24, 2006  

  • M,

    The cost comparisons are based on the actual TriW bids versus Ripley's actual estimated costs. Once you adjust for inflation over the time period until construction starts, the Ripley project is actually more expensive than TriW (even if the bids for the Ripley job come in as estimated).

    Speaking of forging ahead no matter what the evidence ... the past board and the current board both chose to do things that may be reasonably considered unwise at face value and neither side has done a very good job of explaining their logic. I am sure that both had their reasons but the explanations (if any) have been pretty unconvincing.

    The bidding process was, indeed, screwed. The problem here is that we were between a rock and a hard place. There were clear risks to the contractors involved and they felt little desire to compete on price. Not much we could do about that ... but certainly Bud didn't help. Let me suggest that if the bids were really some $46M too high, the County could re-bid the TriW job on Jan 2 and they could get bids that are about $28M lower than what the CSD got.

    As for asking for Ann's apology (and Ron's as well), I think that others who should apologize to our community for pushing their own personal opinion on the rest of us includes Julie, Lisa, Chuck, Steve, Gail, Linde and Keith as well as Pandora, Gordon and Stan.

    The problem here in Los Osos is that we seem to keep believing that we can do something "better, faster, cheaper". Both the formation of the CSD and the recall seem to prove that we're far too hopeful and far too unrealistic of a community.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 3:21 PM, November 25, 2006  

  • How ridiculous to ask all of those individuals to apologize! Apologize for what? For speaking up? For participating in community issues? Shark you have gotten my respect in the past but I think you're losing it now. Okay then you should apologize for all of your input! (NOT! Get it?)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:35 PM, November 26, 2006  

  • anon 4:35,

    There is a difference in asking Linde, Ann, Gail and Keith to apologize and our elected officials. Citizens can say what they want and will not be held accountable.

    The elected officials should own up to making some huge mistakes that will cost each one of us plenty. They were supposedly elected to represent the whole community, which is something they clearly have not done. But then that task appears to be impossible.

    The factions of this community, which cannot seem to compromise on anything, should have left the big decisions to the County. ANY CSD board it seems cannot get all sides at the table. It is true, Los Osos Can't Agree On Sh*t.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:47 PM, November 26, 2006  

  • There is a difference between elected officials and "regular" citizens. There is also a difference between folks who have promoted actions via lawsuits and other legal maneuvers and us "regular" citizens. While past boardmembers are to be held to a much higher standard than Joe Random PZer, Al Barrow (for example) should also be held to a higher standard.

    Perhaps the law only sees the first distinction, but I believe there to be a moral obligation to stand behind what you say and what you do. In particular, if you advocate something that causes folks to have to leave town, you are in part to blame for their leaving. As a community, those who voted for the recall are to blame, in part, for the actions of the new board just like those who wrote letters to the RWQCB asking for fines and harsh treatment are to blame for any impact those letters may have had.

    By Blogger Shark Inlet, at 7:06 PM, November 26, 2006  

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