Friday, January 23, 2009

The Tribune is Suffering From Memory Loss

If SewerWatch was a bookie, I'd put the odds at about 10-1 that the Trib doesn't run my "Viewpoint" (that I submitted to them yesterday). Get your bets in:

    - - -

    For nearly five years, from 2000 to 2005, Los Osos residents were told by their local elected officials that a treatment plant for a proposed sewer system had to be built in the middle of town, at the so-called "Tri-W site," directly across the street from the town's only park, its community center, and a residential neighborhood.

    During those five years, Los Osos Community Services District officials, in charge of the sewer's development, repeatedly told residents (and, even worse, the California Coastal Commission) that there were no other locations available that would accommodate the sewer plant, other than smack-dab in the middle of Los Osos -- three blocks upwind of downtown.

    Out of town? Nope. Can't cross Los Osos Creek with a sewer pipe, residents were told by Los Osos CSD officials.

    Out of town? Nope. PG&E power lines make that infeasible, residents were told by Los Osos CSD officials.

    Out of town? Nope. It would cost too much, residents were told by Los Osos CSD officials.

    So, for five years, despite a noisy call to "move the sewer," those same CSD officials spent (read: wasted) over $20 million of those same residents' money designing an intensely controversial "sewer-park" in the middle of town.

    However, these days, now that SLO County officials have control of the project, and have carefully studied all of the options available for locating a treatment facility for Los Osos, the mid-town Tri-W site doesn't even come close to making their short list of viable project alternatives.

    A recent mailer from the County's Public Works Department reads: "Where is the County Proposing to put the Project? Four project alternatives are proposed for the (Los Osos wastewater plant)..."

    And Tri-W isn't one of them.

    According to county documents, all four of the now-proposed sites are downwind, outside of town, environmentally preferred, and much, much cheaper than the Tri-W site.

    For example, in their "Pro/Con Analysis" of the various alternatives, county officials write, "It (the Tri-W sewer plant) has high construction costs..." ($55 million. The next highest treatment facility option is estimated at $19 million.)

    Furthermore, according to that same report, when compared to other feasible project alternatives, the Tri-W site also poses a "higher risk" for spills into the Morro Bay National Estuary, it has "limited flexibility for future expansion, upgrades, or alternative energy," it's energy requirements are the "highest," and, oh yea, the site is also officially classified as "Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area," if you need it.

    Here's the interesting(er) part -- the County of SLO just spent three years and nearly $6 million proving that the LOCSD wasted nearly $20 million of Los Osos property owners' money (and five long years) developing a technological embarrassment -- a technological embarrassment that ripped the town's community fabric into tiny, little shreds -- and the local media doesn't seem to care.

    In 2005, during the (successful) campaign to recall three CSD Directors that were largely responsible for the Tri-W embarrassment, the Tribune published three editorials, including one on the day of the recall election, in support of those officials, and their "project."

    In one of those editorials, it reads: "... there's been no solidly identified area outside of town that would be an acceptable and less expensive site for such a plant."

    No solidly identified area outside of town, according to 2000-2005 LOCSD officials.

    However, now that honest and competent County officials have shown that, indeed, there are several locations outside of town that can accommodate a sewer plant -- all downwind, all much cheaper, and all "environmentally preferred" when compared to the Tri-W site -- the Tribune doesn't seem to have the slightest interest in answering the following excellent, and highly newsworthy, question:

    Why did the Los Osos Community Services District spend (read: waste) over $20 million and five years (and tear the town apart in the process, both literally and figuratively) in a futile attempt to build a "sewer-park" in the middle of town, when objective officials (translated: everyone NOT associated with the 2000 - 2005 LOCSD) have recently shown that not only is an out-of-town sewer plant possible, but there are, in reality, several viable out-of-town locations for the facility, that are downwind, much cheaper, much less controversial, and don't contain a speck of ESHA?

    Sewer pipe across a creek? No problem.

    PG&E power lines? Not an issue.

    Cost? Much cheaper to build outside of town.

    Apparently, the Tribune, after publishing three editorials in 2005 that supported the Tri-W embarrassment (including one on election day), isn't interested in answering that highly newsworthy question in 2009.

    I can understand why.

    - - -

That's the end of the Viewpoint but, thanks to the magic of blog technology (gotta love blog technology), here's the answer to that excellent, highly newsworthy question:

As readers of this blog know, the reason the 2000 - 2005 LOCSD wasted over $20 million and five years trying to build a "sewer-park" in the middle of town is... a long and twisted tale, but the story is great, so, stick with me:

Beginning in 1997, a small group of Los Osos residents designed a sewer system that they claimed would be "better, cheaper, faster" than the sewer project that SLO County engineers had already spent nearly five years, and over $6 million of county taxpayer money developing -- a project that was "ready to go" in 1998.

I'm not making that up. In 1997, a small group of friends, led by current, and long-time SLO County Parks Commissioner, Pandora Nash-Karner, got together and designed a freaking sewer system! It's one of... no, not one of... it's THE MOST bizarre thing I've ever seen, let alone reported on, extensively.

Imagine, Joe Citizen, doing something like that -- where you get together with some friends, suck down a few cocktails, and knock out a freaking sewer system. What the f--k?

So, throughout 1998, Nash-Karner, who is also a marketing professional, saturated Los Osos with her brand of "behavior based marketing," and convinced voters that if they formed a "Community Services District" for Los Osos in November of that year, and elected her and her sewer-designin' buddies to the initial Board of Directors, they would pursue Nash-Karner's "better, cheaper, faster" project.

Los Osos voters bit, and did just that.

But, here's one of those excellent twists I mentioned above:

Concurrent with Nash-Karner's "behavior based marketing" saturation campaign, throughout 1998, a virtual army of wastewater professionals and environmental regulators were telling her that her project was simply not going to work. It wasn't going to be cheaper, is wasn't going to be better, and it sure as the town's summer overcast wasn't going to be faster. It couldn't have been any of those, because it wasn't going to work.

However, she "just sat on" all of that quality information, and continued her over-the-top marketing campaign for her "better, cheaper, faster" sewer project all the way up to the November election. (Why she did that, is the $100 million question. I have no idea why she did that [I mean, who does something like that?], but I do know that what she did in 1997 and throughout 1998 -- with the sewer-designing, and the saturation "behavior-based marketing" -- was very, very weird... and disastrous, the effects of which can still be painfully felt today by many Los Osos residents, especially those now facing enforcement actions by the local water board brought on by the massive delays in building a sewer system in Los Osos.)

So, it worked. Nash-Karner was able to trick voters into forming the Los Osos CSD (two other attempts in the 90s failed) by marketing the hell out of her "better, cheaper, faster" sewer project throughout 1998.

Those same voters also elected her as the #1 vote-getter to the initial Board of Directors, which meant she was free and clear to pursue her project, which she did for two years, until it finally crashed and burned, just like all of those wastewater professionals and environmental regulators said it would... back in 1998... before the election.

Here's another one of those excellent twists:

Nash-Karner's "better, cheaper, faster" project was slated to be built at the mid-town Tri-W site.

During 1998, she saturated voters with campaign material that said her project would only cost a "maximum monthly payment of $38.75," and the treatment facility was going to be a series of odorless "drop dead gorgeous" ponds, landscaped on 60-acres at the Tri-W site, in a "park-like setting," with "future recreational opportunities."

We are now getting very close to answering this question:

Why did the 2000 - 2005 LOCSD waste over $20 million and five years trying to build a "sewer-park" in the middle of town?

The best way to understand the answer to that question, is to put yourself in the shoes of Pandora Nash-Karner in the Fall of 2000. It'll blow your mind.

Picture it: You, as the LOCSD vice-president, just spent the past two years chasing a project that you aggressively marketed to voters, in your hometown, that it would have a "maximum monthly payment of $38.75," and be a series of odorless "drop dead gorgeous" ponds, landscaped on 60-acres at the Tri-W site, in a "park-like setting."

You also used that project to trick voters into fundamentally changing the way Los Osos is governed -- to a CSD, after those voters twice shot down the idea in the 90s.

You also, shortly after taking office, made the decision to dump, entirely, the County's "ready to go" project that they had spent nearly five years and some $6 million developing, so you could chase your "project."

And now, in the Fall of 2000, it finally sinks in: All of those professionals and regulators were right in 1998... before the election. Your "better, cheaper, faster" project simply isn't going to work, after all.

What would you do at that moment?

Take a sec, and think about it. It's so intense. Talk about pressure.

I'll tell you what Pandora Nash-Karner did at that moment -- she went nuts(ier).

Instead of swallowing a bitter, bitter pill, and going back to the town's voters and saying something like:

"Whoa, were those wastewater professionals right back in 1998. That 'project' [finger quotes], that I over-the-top marketed to all-ya-all, and used to get you to vote for this expensive CSD in the first place, isn't going to work. What should we do now?"

... she hatched a scam... errrrr... "strategy" to cover-up the fact her dead-on-arrival sewer project that she designed with some friends in 1997, and then used to get her elected and the LOCSD formed in 1998, had failed.

Her "strategy" was this, and this is great:

Beginning in 2000 (and continuing to today), she fired back up her "behavior based marketing" machine that she used so effectively in 1998, and controlled, 100-percent, through her extensive contacts in the media, the Los Osos sewer message. (Controlling the message, apparently, is an important part of "behavior based marketing." That's why Nash-Karner is on a long-time, first-name basis with people like local radio talk show host, Dave Congalton, and Tribune editor/reporter, Bill Morem, and every other influential member of the local media, now that I think about it. Same with local politicians. Fascinating.)

Then, also beginning in 2000, in her effort to cover-up the fact that her sewer project had failed, she started doing something very, very bad (translated: illegal). She, as an elected official, started lying to the California Coastal Commission.

Very, very bad.

She, as vice-president of the LOCSD, told the Coastal Commission that there was a "strongly held community value" in Los Osos that any sewer plant for the town must also double as a "centrally located recreational asset."

Of course, that "strongly held community value" never existed, obviously, and she knew it, as documents clearly show, but that didn't stop her from telling it to the Coastal Commission.

Coastal Commission staffer, Steve Monowitz would later tell me over the phone, "It was inappropriate of me to rely on Solution Group members (translated: Pandora Nash-Karner) to determine community values for Los Osos."

The "Solution Group" was the name Nash-Karner came up with for her and her friends that designed, and then over-the-top marketed, their (but, really, her) "better, cheaper, faster" project throughout 1998. (So weird... can't get over it. It's so bizarre, every time I think about it.)

Then, as part of her "strategy," LOCSD vice-president, and long-time SLO County Parks Commissioner (yes, she was both at the same time), Nash-Karner, for her second sewer project, concocted a "project objective for centrally located community amenities," and that led to this amazing quote (that I first uncovered) in the report for her second project:

“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 (Tri-W) could.”

Oh, the girl is good.

Look how f-ing sneaky that is: By developing a completely unsubstantiated "project objective for centrally located community amenities" for her second project -- a project that was an industrial sewer plant (remember the "drop dead gorgeous" ponds? Gonzo.) -- Nash-Karner was able to instantly eliminate every out-of-town site, and keep the vastly redesigned sewer plant for her second project at the exact same location as her first project, because the only -- only -- site that could meet her made-up criteria for her second project was, you guessed it, the "centrally located" Tri-W site.

For perspective, had the County also developed a "project objective for centrally located community amenities," all four of the sites that they are considering today would be "unviable," because they wouldn't be able to accomplish "project objectives."


See what that does -- keeping the second project at the same location as the first?

It confuses everything. (Deliberate confusion, apparently, is another key component of an effective "behavior based marketing" campaign.)

Now, she was able to tell Los Osos voters, and all of her friends with the local media, that the project that got her elected and the LOCSD formed in the first place was still around. That it had not failed. It had simply "morphed" over time. That there actually was a reason to form the Los Osos CSD. (Remember Belushi, while Otter was concocting the story on how Dorfman's brother's Lincoln got trashed? Yea, think that as you read this paragraph.)

And her strategy worked!


(Well, actually, upon further review, her strategy worked for about four years, until I re-began reporting on this subject in 2004, with my second, and, sadly, still entirely relevant New Times cover story -- the ground-breaking, Three Blocks Upwind of Downtown)

For years, she had everyone (save, moi) confused.

The Tribune, to this day, still buys Nash-Karner's "morphed" lie.

They still don't understand how there were actually two completely different projects, and how there was absolutely no rationale whatsoever to site Nash-Karner's second sewer plant in the middle of town, other than to cover-up the fact that her first project had failed.

Think about it, it makes perfect sense (actually, to be more accurate, it's the only thing that makes sense): If Nash-Karner's LOCSD had all of a sudden started doing the right thing in 2000, and began designing an out-of-town sewer plant (pretty much what the County is doing today), it would have immediately signaled to everyone that her "better, cheaper, faster" project -- the only reason to form the LOCSD in the first place, and that caused the demise of the County's "ready to go" project two years earlier -- had failed. And she couldn't let that happen (can't blame her, in a way). So, she spent the next nine-years-and-counting confusing Los Osos, and tearing the town apart in the process. That process also cost SLO County and California taxpayers a fortune.

The Tribune is entirely unaware that Nash-Karner hatched an elaborate, and publicly expensive, scam to cover-up the fact that her first project had failed in late 2000, just like I reported it was on the verge of doing, one month before it finally failed, with my first New Times cover story on this subject, in August of 2000. (Yep... time-stamped, baby! Boo-yea.)

So, that's the amazing, and intensely interesting answer to this question:

"Why did the Los Osos Community Services District spend (read: waste) over $20 million and five years (and tear the town apart in the process, both literally and figuratively) in a futile attempt to build a "sewer-park" in the middle of town, when objective officials (translated: everyone NOT associated with the 2000 - 2005 LOCSD) have recently shown that not only is an out-of-town sewer plant possible, but there are, in reality, several viable out-of-town locations for the facility, that are downwind, much cheaper, much less controversial, and don't contain a speck of ESHA?"

Why did they do that? To cover-up the fact that Nash-Karner's first project failed in 2000.

All... dots... connected.

Motive? Check. (Big ol' check.)

Opportunity? Check. (Ginormous checkage.)

Lied to regulators? Checkity-check-check-check... just ask Steve Monowitz, like I did, years ago. (And it is completely unacceptable that no one from some type of official investigatory agency has).

Cost California taxpayers a friggin' fortune over the past ten-years-and-counting because of those lies? CHEHHHHHHHHH... [breath]... ECK!

Too bad, too. Because, had the 2000 - 2005 LOCSD NOT wasted all of that time and money covering up the fact that Nash-Karner's "better, cheaper, faster" project had failed, it would have become instantly clear to all involved that it was a huge mistake to form the Los Osos CSD in the first place, and the process could have easily turned back to the county's "ready to go" project... in 2000.

See how that all works? Lie to regulators in an effort to keep your second sewer plant at the same place as your first, and it makes it look like there actually was a reason to form the LOCSD, when there wasn't.

Yes, it costs taxpayers a bundle, but it sure does save a lot of face.

Brilliant, and it almost worked.



  • Gotta continue a years-old (sadly ; -) SewerWatch tradition...

    Arizona 20

    Pittsburgh 17

    Last year, after correctly picking the winner the previous two years, I came this close to going with the upset (still beat the spread, however), and I kick myself for not, so, this year... another gut feeling (stemming, primarily, from Kurt Warner's virtuoso-like ability to read defenses) ... I'm calling the upset!

    By Blogger Ron, at 9:04 AM, January 31, 2009  

  • Oh, so close... had they just pushed the guy out of bounds to end the first half, uhg... and, yeah, what's up with those refs?

    Still beat the spread ; - )

    By Blogger Ron, at 10:47 AM, February 02, 2009  

  • Watching the game with my Grandson's yesterday, I told them "don't get too high with the highs, don't get too low with the lows."
    I gotta tell ya though, I was pretty high when Arizona went ahead. Then I mentioned to them "alot of time left."
    Oh well, always next year.
    Sincerely, M

    By Blogger M, at 5:52 PM, February 02, 2009  

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