Los Osos sewer project tainted by ’expired’ crime

April 22, 2009
Supervisor Frank Mecham said he wants to hear County Counsel opinion on contract legality.

Supervisor Frank Mecham said he wants to hear County Counsel opinion on contract legality.


County planning commissioners Thursday will consider a proposal for construction of Los Osos’ contentious wastewater project, a mission now shadowed by a documented crime.

Despite the existence of substantial evidence of unlawful backdating of key contract agreements, executed by now departed officials of the Los Osos Community Services District (LOCSD), county planners are moving toward a decision that could ratify what critics are calling “a fatally flawed procurement process.” Several formal complaints by district officials to San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Gerald T. Shea, starting in 2005 and detailing allegations of potential conflicts of interest and other unlawful activities, were eventually brushed aside.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Brown, in a response to citizen complaints, acknowledged in 2006 that “falsification of a public record by a public employee is a felony,” and that a criminal act relating to the backdating apparently had occurred. But Brown declined further investigation by determining that a three-year statute of limitation had expired.

The backdating of the contract in question happened in 1999. Bruce Buell, who at the time was just coming into his job as general manager of LOCSD, has admitted to backdating the contract at the request of Paavo Ogren, then district interim manager and now San Luis Obispo County’s director of public works.

Ogren was temporarily running Los Osos district when contractor Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH) of Broomfield, Colorado, was retained by the district for wastewater project management in early September 1999. Ogren did not sign the pact, nor did any board member. Instead, Ogren waited several weeks for Buell to begin his stint as the new district manager, and then told Buell to backdate the MWH contract.

Buell, in an explanatory memorandum he wrote in 2006, said the request was part of “unfinished business” and that Ogren “advised me that I should pre-date the agreement to accommodate the work actually done by MWH at the board’s request.” Buell’s action was witnessed at his request by LOCSD employee Karen Vega, he said in the memo to another incoming LOCSD chief, Dan Blesky.

“Buell was not an agent for the district and had no authority to execute the contract and he had no authority to backdate the contract,” Blesky wrote to his directors in 2005.

Buell has since left LOCSD and currently manages Nipomo’s community services.

Ogren, now lead county plotter for Los Osos’ wastewater treatment future, also has become somewhat of a cheerleader for MWH, helping elevate it in recent days to the county’s “short list” of preferred designer-builders of any eventual facility.

Former chairman of the LOCSD’s board of directors Lisa Schicker believes that MHW’s current participation may eventually jeopardize the entire sewer project. Schicker and other residents question the role of MWH in the Los Osos project, suggesting that numerous conflicts cloud any future project plans’ legal status.

Schicker wrote in a recent memorandum to county supervisors that “it is a big mistake to consider any continued relationship with MWH, considering the illegal contract… pending investigations and lawsuits, and a potential conflict on interest with [Ogren].”

Gail McPherson, executive director of Citizens for Clean Water, said her group espouses “third party oversight” for the Los Osos project.

“We should back up, disallow MHW’s participation, and pick from the [county-designated] top four engineering firms,” said McPherson. “It’s important that [supervisors] take action quickly and avoid problems.”

MHW, despite its controversial role in the equally-mercurial LOCSD wastewater development process, was boosted recently to the top grouping of the county’s list of preferred contractors to complete the Los Osos project. This has occurred even though MHW and LOCSD are themselves entangled in myriad disputes and litigation — which could now involve the county.

The Los Osos district tried to cancel its contract with MHW in August 2006, asserting breach of contract and violations of state law, specifically the “California False Claims Act, Government Code 12650.

Alleging a list of conflicts of interest, the LOCSD letter of termination to MWH said the engineering firm “has knowingly and with malice actively worked with… third parties contractors… regulatory agencies… and other third parties in a manner not in the best interests of [LOCSD].” District officials then filed a claim against MWH, seeking repayment of more than $6 million. MWH has sued in response and all litigation is pending.

County supervisors were called upon April 7 to approve a $558,000 contract with Carollo Engineers for engineering consulting services for the county’s new master water plan.

Lou Carella of Carollo Engineers once was employed by MWH, now has become a Los Osos project engineer, and helped recommend MWH be placed on the county’s design-build short list.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve the Carollo contract and a staff recommendation to arbitrarily move MWH up on the list of preferred engineering companies bidding for participation.

First District Supervisor Frank Mecham cast the lone dissenting vote, saying that “if there are allegations in there that reference any kind of an illegal act, then I don’t want to vote for it until county counsel has had a chance to look at it.”

Mecham said Wednesday he didn’t feel right about ignoring issues raised by Schicker and others regarding legitimacy of contracts and the type of wastewater collection method that will eventually be employed.

He also said he was not familiar with the matter of Buell’s contract backdating activities but that “it’s certainly something I want to know more about.”



  1. ccn_debate says:

    By: Jan on 5/6/09
    Gail, I heard the Board of Sups yesterday. You and Lisa were debunked, shown to be self-serving con artists. I can't wait until the County Counsel releases his report. What then? Is he on the MWH payroll too? Is he a Gibson puppet? You need to apologize and then go away. I doubt even Mr. Mecham, who some of you now hero-worship over one vote, wants any part of your blame game/stall tactics.

    By: GMcPherson on 5/6/09
    MWH was provided with a contract for the design of the mid-town project that tripled in cost from the original Oswald pond-system which the community formed the LOCSD to deliver.
    The RFP was between MWH, Carollo & RMC. Note-Gibson's park commissioner Pandora Karner listed herself as a sub consultant along with her husband Gary on all three proposals–MWH won out because they were already being paid to Manage the pond firm. (with the falisified contract)
    Interestingly, the project today has the same cast of players hired by Paavo Ogren. Supported by Supervisor Gibson. Paavo's main advisor is Lou Carella now w/Carollo Eng. Paavo hired him on a sole source contact. He is also the one who prequalified MWH, and assured them a top score as "Most Qualified" for the short list. Oh BTW-he used to work for MWH. The "C" in RMC is Lou Carella. No law against that, but he is just another of the cronies who keeps showing up selected by Paavo for his project cast, who is pocketing $$$ on big over budget public works contracts.

    Ten teams formed and responded with over 60 contractors putting SOQ's together– hopeful for a fair shot. An affordable project requires competiton. Hey, I even heard Paavo say so.

    By: wolfhound on 5/3/09

    I find it sad to realize how many people cannot debate a topic without attacking the messenger.

    Seemingly, it's a very sad statement of ones inability to accept other views, or not wanting to hear the message in the first place.

    The undisputed fact remains that Bruce Buell and Paavo Ogren unlawfully back-dated an important document.

    It would be interesting to know how many others knew and how they acted.

    By: plumtree on 5/3/09
    wasn't mhg the only company left in the running when other reputable contractors pulled out of the bidding process since a recall was imminent and the sewer site at the tri-w was on the ballot? ( the BOS had against the will of the majority made a General Plan Amendment changing this small retail/ ESHA into to a public facility zone as long as we in the PZ paid millions extra for sewer parks/maintenance! as mitigation) Didn't mhg agree to start construction right before the recall at a bid $50 million over estimate? Didn't Buell advise against accepting this bid? didn't the recalled board accept this bid in their hurry to begin construction before election results? if my memory serves me correctly, it is reprehensible that we're still dealing with this company.

    By: judith on 5/3/09
    Good point Actualtruth. When I Googled Murphy's name, it gave me AKA's. And while Murphy claims to be 'president' of AES, the Nevada State website on corporations shows that Tom Murphy is nowhere to be seen as an officer of the company – Just his ex-wife Jean, president,secretary, etc. I suspect that past criminal history has made it difficult for Tom to do anything in the public realm, beside bitch and moan, of course

    By: ActualTruth on 5/2/09
    The Reclamator is presented by a guy who has an impressive criminal record himself. Murphy is very dishonorable man, I mean, scum. He can't handle the truth because he was born without ever knowing it.

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  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: ActualTruth on 4/29/09
    The Reclamator is dead. In fact, it never was. Anyone who is promoting the Reclamator is in danger of being busted for fraud.

    I know who Booty_Juice is. Booty is a known failure in Los Osos.

    By: Booty_Juice on 4/28/09
    The entire community is felony stupid, a fact too obvious to conceal or cover up.

    By: Insight on 4/28/09
    Precedence has been set that a conspiracy to cover up a crime is a continuation of the crime. There is no statutes of limitation on a crime that is covered up.

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  3. ccn_debate says:

    By: judith on 4/23/09
    "So a convicted criminal from Riverside (McPherson) and a failed CSD director (Schicker) are accusing Ogren of being unethical and corrupt? I see something of a credibilty problem here"
    Judy, Judy, Judy….I see you still carry your banner to discredit two ladies of high morals and fairness. Don't you think your use of the word "criminal" is mis-placed. There are so many other folks to hang that label on, don't you think? "Criminals" who have caused more havoc and problems…..I can thnk of several…friends of yours perhaps. As for Ms. Schicker, you and so many of your narrow minded cronies fail to see the good she did for you by stopping an ill planned (not to mention ILLEGAL) project. The "Fab 5" as you and your pals sarcastically refer to them, is more correct than you will ever know. They recognized a flawed, WRONG and ,oh yes I repeate ILLEGAL plan, being ram-rodded by 3 more thancorrupt individuals and had the gonads to step forward and try to do something about it. Now that is very FABULOUS, indeed. Unfortunately, your three pals screwed up so bad, they were left with little funds to complete their plan…you know, the one everyone says they "didn't have."
    What have you done for your community other than mock and insult those who at least try….but stand behind what your corrupt county officials are doing to y'all. Yes, Judy, there really are "criminals" abound….you are just naming the WRONG ones.

    By: Booty_Juice on 4/24/09
    The moonbats, head jobs, and palm readers in L.O. have hade 26 YEARS to build themselves a lousy sewer treatment plant.

    26 YEARS.

    Since the 1983 mandate did they bring their community into the 20th Century, add value to their community and create jobs and wealth for future generations? No. For 26 years running the acid rain kooks, aroma therapy mommas, hairy lesbians and smelly hippies have done nothing but engage in a continuous piss parade of self-absorbed rantings, conspiracy delusions, and victimhood whining.

    Finally, rational adults have stepped in and will sort matters out for a community with a decades-long record of continuous and unbroken utter failure.

    BootyJuice: Trying figuring out your offending word yourself, since you seem to have such an intellectual vocabulary (and imaginative also)! I am under the assumption that people are just sick of the name calling tirades. We are trying for some answers here and being blatantly obnoxious pretty much dumps you into the middle of the pile of excrement you spout so well.

    By: Ron_SewerWatch on 4/24/09
    Let the record reflect, despite what Dave Congalton thinks, "Vagabond" is not me.

    Although I will say that Vagabond 1) has EXCELLENT taste in journalism, and 2) has EXCELLENT reading comprehension skills.

    If you want to see what I mean by my, "despite what Dave Congalton thinks," crack, here's the link… errrr… URL:


    (scroll down to the comments)

    Wolfhound wrote: "I poured myself a double Grey Goose dirty martini with two olives…"


    By: franc4 on 4/24/09
    Jan…what more can she do? Her "offense" is public record. I assume you know how to read? The problem being, like all public records, it doesn't make clear all the circumstances of the charges. Like in most cases, lawyers say, "just answer yes or no", because any explanation would defeat their asking the question. You have obviously judged her on hearsay and gossip mongers. There is just one charge that MAY BE true, but it is no different that what is happening. Plain and simple, she "blew the whistle" on upper management and they wanted revenge….just like you seem to want. Would be that you are so concerned about what your County is doing to you, if in fact you are a resident of Los Osos….which seems unlikely or else you would be voicing your opinion on IT (the County)rather than on a past ELECTED OFFICAL and others with honorable, honest and righteous intentions.

    By: Jan on 4/24/09
    No, no, it's Gail's responsibility to clarify this issue. No one forced her to become a public figure on this issue, to go on Congalton, to speak to the news media all the time, etc. So now that's she's holding herself out, and making serious charges against others, it's her duty to let all of us know about her past, as it relates to her character and her ability to be taken seriously as she levels charges at others. If you want to be out there like she is, pointing fingers at others, it's time she was honest about herself,

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  4. ccn_debate says:

    By: Booty_Juice on 4/24/09
    Los Osos citizens were given DECADES to build themselves a sewer system and managed only to become the worst failure in all of California history. Quite a feat. Rational adults have now quite rightly stepped in and taken matters into their own hands and will accomplish in a couple of years what the local moonbeam kooks couldn’t manage in decades.

    The nut jobs will continue to carp, wail, whine and threaten but thankfully nobody in charge is listening. They have long since forfeited their right to be heard. Next Odd-Lotter move – put out the collection jars at crystal therapy sessions and do a whip-round at the animal right meetings to raise a few bucks to toss into the bonfire of billable attorney hours.

    The acid rain, 9-11 was an inside job, one square of toilet paper per wipe head jobs in L.O. are still shoveling shit in Petaluma.

    By: mccdave on 4/23/09
    Having not followed all the ins and outs of the Great Sewer Drama, is it wrong to conclude that all the grievances that have held up the project are just childish pretexts to avoid having to pay for a sewer system? And given the environmental pretensions of some Los Osans, is this a hypocritical triumph of pocketbook politics over concern for water quality? Until the crash, did this coincide with the biggest run-up in property values in history, and could homeowners have financed the cost with the tiniest of home equity loans, reverse mortgages, etc.? Does the fog out there cause permanent melancholic temperament?

    (Re naughty words in comments: there's this thing called the web that runs on computers, and with a sufficiently powerful supercomputing cluster you can block/filter out bad words from text.)

    By: Vagabond on 4/23/09
    Booty, normally I enjoy your over the top butt scratching scab picking comments, but in this case you have revealed yourself as quite possibly the leading asshole in the state.
    The citizens in Los Osos were LIED to on official voter pamphlets. produced by the County Clerk Recorder of San Luis Obispo County.
    Just when, tell me should the citizens of Los Osos have risen up and stormed the hall of county government?
    You are a moron if you think that "rational" people are in control now.
    They are like guilty cats scratching around the hole they dug to bury a very smelly pile of what they produced.

    By: wolfhound on 4/23/09
    Jan & Judith

    Don't impel the messenger.

    The bearer of bad news should not be held accountable for bad news.

    By: Booty_Juice on 4/23/09
    Well Dan, how about you learn to read for comprehension. Or better yet, just REMOVE the "offending" word, or at least give us hint as to what has traumatized your tender sensibilities.

    I did not repost the same wording. I first removed "carpet muncher" and reposted, then I removed "assclown" and reposted again.

    Here is my last post:

    "Same old horsepucky that’s been going on for, what, 30 years? Completely incapable of managing their own affairs, so outside adult supervision is imposed on them and rightfully so. They are little more than a collection of grimy, drooling, drug damaged, moonbats, nut jobs, intellectual pigmys, stroppy old lesbians, smelly hippies, harmonic convergence wackos, aroma therapy mommas, nuclear free zone whiners, snake oil salesmen, odd-lotters, and America haters.

    Let’s face it, some folks were put on this planet to produce wealthy families and communities, others to shovel shit in Petaluma.

    It’s very surprising matters aren’t working out for them, but I hear the weather is nice in Havana."

    So if you wouldn't mind IDENTIFYING the naughty word, perhaps during your smoke break at the Tasty Freeze, I would be happy to remove it.

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