Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The County is Jeopardizing a Successful Sewer Assessment Vote by Keeping the Illegal and "Divisive" Tri-W project on the Table, Documents Show

"Community outreach is vitally important to our process."
-- Bruce Gibson, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor, August, 2007

On my Mac, if I hold down the "shift" and "command" keys at the same time and then press the "3" key, it will take a snapshot of whatever I have on the screen. For example, if I open the pdf file of the county's Rough Screening Report for potential sewer projects in Los Osos, and go to page 90, and then hold down the "shift" and "command" keys at the same time and press the "3" key, I'll hear the sound of a camera lens clicking (gotta love Macs), and then it will store that image on my hard drive, where I can go and crop it down with Photoshop, just like I did here:

And that particular screen shot has been going through my mind a lot lately. It has me thinking: If county officials can "eliminate" the Andre1 site "from further consideration" due to PG&E easements, as they easily and legally did in the Rough Screening Report a few months back, as the screen shot above clearly shows, then why can't they also "eliminate" the Tri-W site "from further consideration" due to the fact that, according to official documents, it's illegal to build a sewer plant at the environmentally sensitive mid-town location?

Illegal to build a sewer plant at Tri-W? According to official sources, you bet. Here's how...

This screen shot is from the expired Tri-W Coastal Development Permit:

... and this screen shot is from the county's recently released pro/con report regarding potential sewer system alternatives in Los Osos. It's a shot of Tri-W's "cons:"

What that shows, among many other things, is that the Tri-W site is ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area) -- "sensitive dune habitat." So, according to official documents, it seems that the only thing needed now to put Tri-W in gross violation of Coastal Zone Land Use Ordinance Section 23.08.288d, as mentioned in the CDP, is an official finding that there are, indeed, other "feasible locations" that don't contain ESHA?

According to the county's Fine Screening Report, there are at least three other feasible sites... all downwind, out of town, and don't contain a spec of "sensitive dune habitat."

Six weeks ago, well before the assessment ballots were mailed out to Los Osos property owners, I e-mailed Paavo Ogren, the county's point man on the sewer project, these questions:

    - Are you familiar with the following out of the Tri-W CDP: "CZLUO Section 23.08.288d allows public facilities within ESHA only where there is no other feasible location."


    - If Tri-W is ESHA, and there are other feasible non-ESHA sites, how is that not a "fatal flaw" for the Tri-W project, just like the PG&E easement restrictions were a fatal flaw for the Andre1 site? And, if it is a fatal flaw, shouldn't the Tri-W site go the way of the Andre1 site?

And now I want to quote how Ogren answered those excellent questions that I sent him... six weeks ago... before the assessment ballots were mailed out:

" ."

I want to repeat that, because I think it's an interesting quote:

" ."

See that "con" in the screen shot above, where it says, "Source of community divisiveness"?

The county knows. They openly admit that a heck of a lot of voters in Los Osos hate the Tri-W project (for God's sake, it's a project to build a sewer plant in the middle of a beautiful coastal town). It's right there, in their own documentation... it's "divisive." Their word.

So, if the county already knows that the Tri-W project is "divisive," and a host of official documents show that it's illegal to build a sewer plant at that location, and they have already set a precedence of "eliminating" sites "from further consideration" with the Andre1 site, then why in the world are they keeping Tri-W around as a potential "viable alternative" despite the fact it is illegal, and that more than half of the community hates it, and said "divisiveness" could potentially cost them hundreds, if not thousands, of "yes" votes in the crucial assessment vote needed to fund the sewer system?

I recently sent Mark Hutchinson, an environmental specialist with the county, this e-mail:

"So, then, here's how I'm seeing the bottom line:

The county is jeopardizing a successful 218 vote, and gambling with $2 million of county taxpayer money, by keeping the "divisive" -- that's the county's word -- Tri-W project on the table during the 218 vote process, thereby, potentially costing hundreds, if not thousands, of "yes" votes due to that "divisiveness," when you have a perfectly legitimate way (Andre1 precedence/CZLUO Section 23.08.288d) to eliminate the "divisive" Tri-W project from consideration during the 218 vote process."

[Note: California law, Proposition 218, requires a vote by property owners to see if they are willing to assess themselves a tax for a public works project, like a sewer system. Good law. The deadline for voting in Los Osos for the sewer assessment is October 23. Additionally, county supervisors, last year, budgeted $2 million towards the LO sewer development process. If the Prop 218 vote fails, that money will be wasted.]

"We disagree with your bottom line," Hutchinson replied.

He added, "The decision to find a particular alternative feasible or not feasible is part of the Coastal Development Permit process, which like the CEQA process, is a structured public process that affords a great deal of public participation opportunities."

To which, I replied, "Then how was Andre1 'eliminated from further consideration' by the county?"

He replied, "Andre 1 was eliminated from further consideration in the Rough Screening Report because it did not provide any obvious substantial regulatory or environmental advantage over other sites on the short list of viable project alternatives."

Fair enough, but Tri-W is illegal because of environmental reasons, according to a bunch of official documents, and therefore can't "provide any obvious substantial regulatory or environmental advantage," so why can't that "divisive" project also be "eliminated from further consideration" by county officials, just like Andre1?

The county's official answer to that excellent question?

" ."

I've got a bad feeling about this: If it's revealed (well, I guess I've already revealed it, huh?) that county officials had a perfectly legitimate and legal way (Andre1 precedence/CZLUO Section 23.08.288d) to eliminate the "divisive" and illegal Tri-W project "from further consideration" before the assessment ballots were mailed out, thereby increasing the likelihood of a successful Proposition 218 vote, but chose not to due to behind-the-scenes pressure from various pro-Tri-W groups like Taxpayers Watch -- led by the same people responsible for Tri-W's development -- and the vote fails, I will understand, perfectly, why some vacant property owners in Los Osos, that have been waiting decades to build on their property but can't because there's no sewer to hook up to, will be a tad pissed, perhaps to the point of a lawsuit because the county didn't do all it could to ensure a successful 218 vote. In addition, every SLO County resident will watch as another $2 million of their money goes straight down the Los Osos sewer drain.

Two more quick notes:

1) The reason why the Tri-W site was not in violation of CZLUO Section 23.08.288d when it was selected by the early Los Osos CSD Board for their second project, after their first, "better, cheaper, faster" project at the site failed, is because there truly were no other feasible locations... that could meet the "project objective of centrally located community amenities." (That's so embarra$$ing for you, Los Osos. No wonder no one wants to talk about it. I reported on that here, and here, and here.) However, since county officials wisely decided not to develop a "project objective of centrally located community amenities" for their sewer project, several other, much less expensive and much more environmentally friendly, sites are all of a sudden very feasible.

See how that works? If you create a "project objective of centrally located community amenities" for your sewer plant, then all out-of-town sites instantly become infeasible, because it's impossible for them to meet that project objective. That's why, in the Tri-W project report, it says this:

"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 in the manner that a central location such as the Resource Park (Tri-W) could."

Uhg. (Can you believe that the Tribune never reported on that extremely important quote? Not once. Wow... talk about an embarrassment.)

2) Hutchinson added, "It is important to note that the Los Osos CSD rejected the Andre site alternative after evaluating it in the EIR, not before."

When the early Los Osos CSD was feigning their study of alternative sites after their first project at Tri-W failed, you'd think they would have noticed those huge power lines on the Andre1 property before they spent all that time and money studying that site back in 2000 - 01, huh? But, maybe that's just me... that takes one look at a series of gigantic towers full of huge, high-voltage power lines and immediately says, "Nah. Let's not build a massive public works project here."

Maybe that's just me.


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