Public thought being molded with tax dollars

May 14, 2008


If you don’t love the Nacimiento Pipeline now, you soon might.

County residents are about to be inundated by the byproduct of a multi-media public relations and marketing campaign designed to make people “change their way of thinking” and embrace the controversial water conveyance project.

For that privilege, Paso Robles residents are paying about $10,000 a month through October to a Los Osos marketing and public relations firm retained to do the changing. The Paso Robles City Council last week authorized spending the public’s money to shape public concepts regarding the project in a “positive” way.

Part of the campaign will involve “interviewing unbiased project advocates” for use in media advertising.

City officials call the $57,400 campaign, which will go into high gear in July, “educational.” The move comes as Paso Robles officials plot their containment of a gradually-emerging body of public opposition to the Nacimiento Pipeline. The $202 million project would eventually cost Paso Robles taxpayers at least $72.3 million as its “fair share” and is designed to bring additional water supplies to the area.

The marketing firm, 2PointMedia, will take the rest of this year to make Paso Robles residents feel good about absorbing a three-fold water rate increase; underwriting a big, new, chronically expensive water conveyance project; and subsidizing a dependable future water supply allowing huge winery operations, now dramatically over-drafting the area’s water supply, to prosper. Some prominent, longtime local farmers and ranchers allege that their wells are being compromised by winery ground water pumping, and adequate city supplies are in jeopardy.

2PointMedia will help city officials “gain control of the current mixed messaging throughout the community regarding the project” and explain “the rationale behind a substantial rate increase.”

Placing 2PointMedia under contract is a wise economic move, City Manager Jim App suggested to his council bosses.

“A number of residents have voiced concerns regarding the proposed water rate adjustments,” he wrote in a memo to the council on May 6. The facts, he said, are “complicated” and require the city “to conduct a comprehensive water resources education program.” The marketing company will help city officials to accomplish this, he predicted.

Describing itself as “a full service brand communications firm,” 2PointMedia is planning its ambitious campaign over the next few weeks, preparing specific strategies, according to one of the firm’s principals, Starr Hall. 2PointMedia asserts that it “[specializes] in public relations, licensing, co-branding and word-of-mouth marketing.”

“Our goal is to educate those who have not been informed, or who have been misinformed” about the pipeline project, said Hall.

Perhaps coincidentally, the new propaganda campaign also will be at its most active point throughout the three-month summer stretch during which many North County vintners are in their “grape-crushing” period. During this time, wineries will be using tens of thousands gallons hourly from the deepest places of the area’s underground water aquifer, placing a serious but entirely predictable strain on the water table. This in turn imperils the city’s ability to provide water of sufficient quality for continuing residential use.

Residential consumers are being called upon to shoulder much of the pipeline’s capital costs and to remain submissive in the face of the rapidly-escalating water charges.

Homeowners also will be restricted in the amount of water they can use during peak consumption periods this summer, and the city plans to enforce those limitations.

The marketing firm’s proposal to the council stressed that “campaigns must project a clear message to be effective in changing the way people think. The following strategy-overview highlights the proactive and powerful campaign for the city of Paso Robles that will assist in gaining control of the current mixed messaging throughout the community regarding this project.”

2PointMedia faces one particularly daunting obstacle: Despite the claim by city officials that public input on the project’s eventual authorization has been lengthy and significant, such is not the common public perception. Sometime between the silent night of Christmas and the revelry of Cinco de Mayo, Paso Robles’ romance with the multi-million-dollar Nacimiento Pipeline project was officially consummated; the exact moment of conception, though, remains murky.

City officials maintain that over the past four years all necessary public hearings have been held, proper notices sent to residents, and other requirements properly met as the project moved toward local authorization.

The city’s new marketing team members have given a few ideas to the city council. For example, if an official should want to answer a citizen’s query about why the proposed project will triple water rates, this would be the suggested wording:

“We completely understand this concern. No one wants to pay more for a resource bill, especially without a valid set of reasons and factual support. We have researched this project in depth and looked at all our options, and we are presenting what we feel is in the best interest of the community. This project was intentionally designed to alleviate our immediate underground water source issues, and to develop a long-term water resource plan for the benefit of the community, with the lowest possible financial burden. The advantage to this plan is simple – a new source for much needed quality water to meet the current and future needs of our community.”

Some residents beg to differ.

John Borst, a resident of Paso Robles, said city officials “violated the state constitution” and a variety of other laws “by adopting an ordinance to raise water rates,” and failed to hold required public hearings.

“We just want some accountability,” he said this week.

Borst, spokesman for a group called Concerned Citizens for Paso Robles, calls the city’s actions “an abuse of power” and has called upon officials to place the issue of the pipeline project “on a ballot for us, the voters, to decide.” If that does not happen, Borst said the group plans to take the matter to court.

Quality of the water destined for delivery to local consumers through the pipeline has frequently been questioned. Sport anglers at Lake Nacimiento are routinely warned by game wardens that eating the lake’s fish can be hazardous to human health because of elevated mercury content due to long-discontinued mining operations.

Tags:, Los Osos, Nacimiento Pipeline, Paso Robles

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By: Anonymous on 5/20/08

You really have to respect for the bloggers here. Why don't you get a life and get some help for ever is bio-chemically wrong with you. Honestly.

By: Anonymous on 5/19/08

News flash the housing crisis, water shortage, high pollen count, hemroids, accorns dropping on your roof, alcoholisma, insomnia, as well as anything else that bothers you can now be attributed to Wal-Mart as reported by Oppose Wal-Mart and all Tom Comar union lackeys.

By: Anonymous on 5/18/08

There was too much residential building in Atascadero and it has had an effect on the water that can be supplied. The previous majority CC never cared about commercial development because their friends could make more money building and selling in the residential sector. I guess the big plan to bail us all out of their Good Old Boy tactics was to fly in a Wal-Mart under the radar. Its a good thing we have a new majority council.They are working on finding some real commercial development for its difficult with all the Wal-Mart lovers attacking them. It gives the impression that we are a very unstable community.

By: Anonymous on 5/18/08

Below is how the Nacimiento pipeline project was sold to the citizen's of PR in 2004. Will be interesting to see how 2pointmedia spins Mr. Compton's statement. In a City staff document entitled, "Public Hearing — Sewer and Water Development Impact Fees" (Aug. 3,2004), Mr. Compton (then Paso Robles Director of Administrative or Financial Services I believe) states how costs have been allocated for NWP water:

Of the cost for Nacimiento Water 50% [then

estimated at $25,030,000 in 2004] is being

allocated to new development. Given the

water quality issue as it relates to existing

wastewater discharges, current and future

sewer users are being required to pick up

the remaining 50% cost. [emphasis added].

By: Anonymous on 5/17/08

Waste of public funds. 2Pointmedia has a dark window office in Los Osos. No one home. Ten years ago, re: wineries in Paso, co-worker in Paso said: "Hey, the Salinas aquifer has unlimited capacity".

Guess they were wrong.

By: Anonymous on 5/17/08

to taxpayer advocate

I'm sure you can protest but it will be to no avail. The water company put it out in the press at the time that the majority of the costs were going to be paid by new hookups and only minor fee changes were anticipated. They did a masterful job pulling the wool over everyones eyes including the Grand Jury. The fact is the new hook ups will not meet thier projections. Then what. Thier contractually obligated for thier fair share. There is only one source left to pay and that is the water rates. I'm sure they already relize it and are just holding off to tell us so as not to have a big blow up while they are in construction. Atascadero rate payers are in for a huge awakening just you wait and see. Hopefully somebody like Dan & Karen will eventually confront the Atascadero Mutual Water Company and ask them if thier plan to pay for the water line with new hookups is working out? As to them justifying it they seem to be pretty good at justifying anything they want. Talk about the good old boys running the show.

By: Anonymous on 5/17/08

The water issue in Paso is very complicated and deserves great study. The city draws from two major aquifers, the salinas river and the east side deep wells. The fact is paso needs more water now and in to the future. The pipeline has been discussed ad nauseum over the last few years, giving everyone a chance to speak their mind. This project is in construction now and must be paid for some how. The city needs to figure out the fairest way to go about it. Starting with a flat fee may have been a mistake, but some combination of flat fee and use fee needs to be decided upon.

By: Anonymous on 5/17/08

The water issue in Paso is very complicated and deserves great study. The city draws from two major aquifers, the salinas river and the east side deep wells. The fact is paso needs more water now and in to the future. The pipeline has been discussed ad nauseum over the last few years, giving everyone a chance to speak their mind. This project is in construction now and must be paid for some how. The city needs to figure out the fairest way to go about it. Starting with a flat fee may have been a mistake, but some combination of flat fee and use fee needs to be decided upon.

By: Anonymous on 5/16/08

Sorry to inform "We're safe", according to the map in the flyer supplied with Paso's March 2008 water bills, Atascadero also draws from the same Groundwater Basin. You're screwed. As far as charging you "for what", they will be charging you for the contract they signed committing you to pay and pay and pay! Contact to get involved before it is too late!

By: Anonymous on 5/16/08

This subject — government agencies using public funds to influence opinion — touches a nerve with me. I'm very uncomfortable with it, and I've witnessed, first-hand, the colossal amount of damage, both financially and socially, that these publicly funded marketing campaigns can create.

I hope Dan and Karen don't mind, but I posted a companion piece to Dan's excellent story at SewerWatch.

Here's the link:

Here's the title: Paso Robles is Paying $57,400 for Marketing Services? What a Bargain!

By: Anonymous on 5/16/08

Insider, as Atascadero Mutual Water Company is privately operated I believe you should be entitled to a public hearing on the matter and/or in the event you find any future water rate increase excessive you can always turn to the Public Utilities Commission for redress.

Regarding the authorization for the contract to 2pointmedia, Jim App saw fit to bypass the purchasing code of the City. The contract was awarded without bid or RFQ statements from any firm. I understand he says he does not need to abide by the City's purchasing code on this matter. The City's purchasing manual says nothing about this right for the City Manager. Anyone have any insight about whether he is correct or not?

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

The economy is in horrible shape–isn't there a better way to spend $57,000? I cringe when I receive these glitzy ad pieces from the city of SLO, but the "Les and Low Flow" guys in toilet suits going around to the local elementary schools were classic, in spite of being a total waste of hard-earned taxpayer money.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

At least in Paso Robles the people have a chance to have a say in it. In Atascadero the Water Co. did it as sneaky as sneaky could be. They increased thier meters by an outragous amount and told us the developers would pay for it. Of course the development stopped and the developers are gone. Who do you think will be picking up the bill for this one? I suspect huge increases for water in Atascadero in the near future. Waiting for the other shoe to drop in Atascadero.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

Dan Blackburn styles his prose just fine, as far as I'm concerned.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

(Oh yeah, I'm a shill for the pipeline proponents. :) Got me!)

I wouldn't compare this to Los Osos. The arrogance of Los Osos sewer proponents is only exceeded by (and partly borne of) the idiocy of the anti-sewer crowd, who clearly want no sewage system, driven by pure petty financial self-interest. And this by property owners during the biggest run-up in property values in the history of the universe. They could take a tiny fraction of those gains to pay for the sewer, but some folks in Los Osos need that money for lottery tickets and beer. Sh*t on the environment, literally — they want to keep their money.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

Looks like Samuel Johnson is using the old bait-and-switch: if enough people concentrate on the ****bird writer, then there'e less chance the actual message will stick. Methinks I smell a vested interest in S.J. Eh?

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

Sure, it's nitpicking, but good editing tells you something about a paper, as evidenced by the daily howlers in the Tribune. (Is there anyone left at that paper who can write well?) And it's a little funny since Dan Blackburn fancied himself a prose stylist at the New Times, to a degree that often motivated one to skip his stuff.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

Oh, have to chime in here (and I hope I don't get scolded for writing, "have to chime in here.")…

S. John wrote:

"But one imagines PR campaigns like this are not very effective and may actually backfire."

Uh, Sam, you see, there's this town called "Los Osos"…

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

Hey, Samuel Johnson: The only thing worse than stylistic and spelling errors are people who attempt to demonstrate their rare and lofty intelligence by pointing them out. Why not concentrate on the substance of the article, instead of nitpicking every flaw?

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

UncoveredSLO could improve its writing style a bit (not to mention the appearance of the site):

— The phrase "Paso Robles officials plot their containment of a gradually-emerging body of public opposition" sounds like poorly-translated Serbo-Croation (though admittedly I did some containment plotting just this morning).

— What does "chronically expensive" mean?

— Could "the deepest places of the area’s underground water aquifer" be improved by any fifth grade english-as-a-second-language student?

— "This in turn perils the city’s ability to provide water" in turn perils my ability to keep my breakfast down.

But this is good reporting. This kind of thing shows how local governments have clear conflicts of interest over development questions. But one imagines PR campaigns like this are not very effective and may actually backfire.

By: Anonymous on 5/15/08

"Interviewing unbiased project advocates” for use in media advertising….sign me up….what a great oxymoron…

By: Anonymous on 5/14/08

Luckily us Atascaderans will not have to worry about any increase in our water rates. With a strong commitment from the majority of the City Council there will be NO growth in Atascadero. With that said, why do we need more water? Atascadero has no vineyards to take our water. In fact most of our businesses are closing and going to Paso Robles. That should be a water credit for us homeowners. Our acqufer is separate from those in the Paso Robles area. We're safe.

You bet, just wait until the Atascadero Mutual Water Company jumps on the band wagon to get more of our money, for what?