Something smells in Los Osos

January 21, 2010
Los Osos, California, population 14,500, is about to lose it’s drinking water source due to local government mis-management and agency irresponsibility.

Current well tests show the average nitrate levels are one half milligram over drinking water standards (minimal) but sea water has intruded into, and filled the pyramid shaped water basin, from it’s base to at least half way to the top. Nitrates can be easily filtered at the well heads but chloride, from the sea water intrusion (SWI), is a far more problematic pollutant.

Up until about 10 years ago, San Luis Obispo County was the water purveyor for Los Osos. They, as well as the Regional Water Board, were fully aware of the SWI but ignored it, despite officially designating the basin as Level III Water Resource Severity as late as 2007.

These government agencies, whose purpose includes protection of resources, targeted Los Osos, a low income, coastal town for nitrate pollution and directed the construction of a conventional Gravity collection style industrial sewer system. The unincorporated town, under the threat of severe potential fines, voted to assess themselves $25,000 per household plus “fees and charges” for an undefined project.

What was promised, in the Engineer’s Report for the 218 special tax assessment Election, was that alternative low pressure STEP technology would be compared with the conventional Gravity system. As the EIR process progressed, it was acknowledged that STEP technology had the potential for less impacts to the environment and was likely less expensive than the conventional system. Just prior to final project comparison, the county government, the lead agency for the project, dropped the STEP option and stated they would be building a conventional system despite being much more expensive and substantially more environmentally detrimental.

Local residents, citizen’s groups, environmental groups and agencies have protested the county’s decisions, but San Luis Obispo County, who stands to collect 15-20 percent administration on the total Project cost from this working class community, insists on building an outdated and costly conventional project.

Our local county government has a history for sole-sourcing, eliminating competition and innovation, and creating a climate where the good ol’ boys get the contracts. Los Osos’ predicament is not isolated, as several other towns within the county have compromised their water basins due to pressure and neglect by the government.

Most disturbing is the continued use of obsolete technology for the purpose of keeping associates in business. There is a great deal of conflict of interest that is being brushed under the rug. Not only does this cost the taxpayers, these unsustainable projects jeopardize the water supply and harm the sensitive ecosystem which borders a National Estuary/State Marine Reserve, and supports rare and endangered plants and animals.

Legal representation is badly needed to protect what remains of the Los Osos water supply, as well as  the environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHA), and the people who, because of astronomical and unnecessary costs, stand to lose their homes.

Los Osos is a precedent-setting case because of its designation as a Prohibition (No-discharge) Zone by the Central Coast Regional Water Board, and could determine the fate for more than a dozen other small communities on septic systems. Because of the strong political climate, sustainable solutions are not being attained and the region needs assistance.

The State Attorney General would be the correct agency to go to for relief but they represent the Water Board, leaving the people at a catastrophic loss. Los Osos could be a shining example of how to do things right, but instead it continues to perpetuate what is wrong.  Unless we have legal representation at the upcoming Coastal Commission hearings, due to severe budget cuts, the Coastal Commission may approve the flawed project just  because they are too under staffed to refute it.  We are hoping that someone will rise to the occasion and help our community out of this big mess.

Piper Reilly is a member of the Los Osos Sustainability Group.

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I’ve been reading these postings for a while and continue to see reference to the staging area used by the prior project. I can’t help but notice that someone has an ax to grind with Julie Tacker’s appeal that raises the issue of stagging on the site at Pismo and South Bay. We neighbors only recently learned, from Julie, not the County, that the County proposes to use it again. Having been a neighbor of that property for some time we have endured enough! In the 1970’s with horseback riding lessons and boarding, tthe 1980’s motocross track covering it, the 1990’s pea and pumpkin farming and accociated pesticides, farm noise and dust, and the dysfunctuional family that lived there until the 2005 use as a staging area. More recently, the unpermitted church use and currently pre-staging of construction trailers under the guise of “farming”. We’ve had enough!

It is public record that Fred Collins intends to get the Chumash Monitoring contract for the project, he has wiggled his way onto the property for the lucritive contract to come, not for the “farming” that is going on today.

As for Julie Tacker’s challenge, she remembers it correctly, the 2005 use was never analyzed under the 2000 EIR and later was the subject of litigation. Furthermore, the analysis of that site for this project is briefly covered in the 2009 EIR basically saying “the LOCSD used it, so we can too.” I hadn’t read it until Julie called me to say “hey, guess what?” Julie’s appeal correctly identifies inconsistencies within the Board of Supervisor’s permit, inlcuding the air pollution control district’s requirement that stagging be done away from sensitive reseptors and construction around schools be done after or before school hours.

The previous project scraped the land prior to the permit being issued there was an enforcement action brought against the property owner back then, what happened with that? What’s happening with removal of sensitive vegetation now? Where’s the County’s oversight on the land owner this time?

I want a sewer, always have, I just don’t want the stagging area in my front yard for 3-5 years, however long the project takes. We were NEVER notified that this would be the use of the property for either project. No County official has invited us in to talk about it; the 2005 experience was aweful. The contractors would come in a 5:00am and not leave until after 9:00pm, they would tool around on their ATV’s during the weekends to change oil and do repairs on the equipment. Desil engine’s idleing all night long from delivery trucks waiting for the gates to open at 7:00am. Radio’s blaring, with beer drinking around the bonfire. The men would whistle at the little girls on their way to school, it was gross. They would block my driveway with their baracades and get huffy with me if I moved it. I called that Michael Drake guy one time to talk about it, he was no help at all. On the contrary, I saw him over there laughing with the guys after my call.

Julie’s appeal has validity, it won’t stop the project, it will make it better. So, what’s wrong with that? Leave her alone, she’s the only one who seems to care about us neighbors, ironically, Maria Kelly lives right around the corner.

reseptors-receptors; tthe-the; staggin-staging; reseptors-receptors; aweful – awful; ideling – idling; Desil – diesel.

After deciphering the spelling errors I get the concept and am curious as to why this neighbor didn’t participate in the county process? Why wouldn’t have Mrs.Tacker bothered to call them in 2006 and said, “hey, guess what! I helped stop the project and now instead of 3-5 years* of construction, you can pay between $3000-$15,000 for the bankruptcy I just voted for!” Why wouldn’t these property owners come to any of the county meetings that were noticed by US Mail regarding the sewer and ensuing project?

If you support Mrs.Tacker, please ask her to run for county supervisor – it would be fun to watch the county’s citizenry have an opportunity to comment on her decision making. Why would anyone leave anyone alone who keeps throwing herself out into the public eye and promoting Class A


Final question: where do you think the staging area should be? Oh wait, “out of town” even though it would be cheaper to site construction equipment and supplies close to where they will be installed. I guess it’s a good thing for you that it won’t be STEP – could you imagine 4700,1500 gallon tanks being stored there! Wow, dodged that one.

Is Fred Collins the DBA on that site? Just curious.

*3-5 years – really? Facts please, nothing but the facts.

Bustermove: Where did you come from, I don’t see your comments here before. BTW, thanks for the spelling correction’s. Writing is not my strong suit, as you can probly tell. I wish there was spell check on these blog things, more people would use it.

Nowhere in the County process that I saw, the postcards to my house, the newspaper, meetings on TV or even the LOWWP website, was the staging area discussed. Julie, who is busy with her own life, called us last month just before she and many others went to the Coastal Commission. I also know nothing of a bid for Supervisor, she’d have my vote, I watched her grow up, even playing across the street with the Walker kids, but I really don’t think she’d run, she has a baby you know.

Why would I care if it’s STEP or Gravity, what makes you bring that up? I had stacks and stacks of large pipe across the street, what’s the difference? I really just don’t want rude contractors across the street at all hours of the night and day. Can you blame me? As I stated before, that property has been a source of trouble for a very long time.

As for Fred Collins = Chumash Farms doing “work” on the site, Mr. Collins has asked for a break from county code enforcement for the activity, expressly because he is expecting the monitoring contract. I have had personal contact with code enforcement over both the Farm and the Church.

My husband has some experience with large construction projects, the timelines are never what they appear. I think Northridge had some successful completion dates met, but most are long over due. Case in point, maybe you know what’s going on with the Palisades signal? How come it’s not up and running? I believe the sewer project will take every bit of 3 years if not longer to complete. What timeline do you expect, and will you stand behind a completion date?

You ask where I think the staging are should be? Where do you live? You seem so happy to have the project come to town, I think it whould be next to your house.

I have no idea what you are talking about when you say “Class A conspiracy”, what’s that about? Maybe Cal Coast News should do a story? Send in the evidence.

From your tone, it sounds like you are lumping me in with “No Sewer” people. I want a sewer. i wanted it before most. I would have liked to have been asked how I felt about a staging area. I would have liked to have had a chance to see environmental work done on the site so I could comment, since there was none, I wasn’t given that opportunity — again!

Walker Ranch Watcher, were you in favor of Tri-W?

I have always supported a sewer. The details didn’t matter much to me. Again, I was NEVER noticed that a stagging area would be in my front yard, in continuos opperation for the whole project, longer than each section of the collection system or the plant. A stagging area has the longest duration of any component of a construction project. This is where my concerns lie.

I’m surprised that with a different sewer now coming to LO, which SURELY you must have heard about, as you got a 218 ballot in the mail to vote on paying for it, you didn’t even make a phone call to the County to ask where the staging area was going to be? Mustn’t have been that bad or you would have acted a lot sooner and a lot differently than posting very late about your concerns on an obscure thread on an outdated online article.

Looks to me these “staging concerns” arose rather suddenly — like right now — when Julie has been slammed on blogs and in the press for her part in blocking our access to money to help pay for this project and and has been attempting to justify her own personal culpability in the delay via press and blogs.

The rather absurd ESHA “concerns” on a trampled and well-used piece of property have now morphed into neighbors’ dislike of a staging area. If this is a trial run to see how this new reason for delay works as justification, I give it an “F.”

How about putting the “stagging” at the Oceano airport?

Watcher writes.” A stagging area has the longest duration of any component of a construction project. This is where my concerns lie.” and your house, oh poor thing, I hear your whine and I think it’s fine, because the SEWER would of been infront of my house lowering it’s depreciating value, did they steal your $3,200 also, like they did me, probably not , because you were smart enough not to trust them as I was not.

cheseburger, those of us who did not pay up front but are paying on our tax bills are upset about paying that money AND paying for yet another sewer AND the Water Board fines AND the bankruptcy of the CSD. If you are rich enough to hang on, good for you, but some of us are not so sure we can pay for all of this, especially as we’ve probably lost the grants and cheap money that were to attempt to knock the bill for this second sewer down. The obstructionists didn’t like the County’s plan so lobbied the Coastal Commission go back to look some more.

Wow, you folks have more axes to grind than I can count. I’ll stick with the staging area in my front yard. As for it being “ESHA”, it is surrounded by ESHA, willow trees constitute ESHA (on two sides of the property), they have been whacked by the current tenant with no regard to the laws. The Coastal Scrub to the north is in pretty good condition and should be protected from spill over impacts. Again, if it wasn’t anaylized and commentd on in the EIR then how would you even know to protect it.

I took the 15% discount and paid my 2001 assessment, the rest of neighbors will pay full pop over the 20 year term. I fail to see what does that have to do with staging?

I can see from Mythbustermove and Cheseburger that I don’t have your sympathy and don’t really care.

With that, I’ll be signing off. See you in cyberspace. Tahtah!

Replying to Mythbuster’s post at 1:03 AM:

I can tell you with great certainty that the County had no intention of looking STEP/STEG or any alternative — and that’s the misunderstanding here. Frank Mecham said on the Dave Congalton Show that the County had a clear preference for gravity collection for the past five years. Here’s the podcast:

I can understand your frustration. We have a lot of laws and regulations that are annoying. Let’s face it. For instance, people don’t like the concept of ESHA. Who cares about snails, right? These things have to be considered. As people who are not bound to bylaws and fiduciary duties, we can easily ask, “Why should we care about these issues when they’re going to hold us up?” but if you look at what’s happening, if you look at the laws, if you look at the standards of procedure, there is a lot of red tape — and that red tape isn’t going to disappear if you demand the commissioners to take shortcuts. And we need to take into consideration that the County could have easily mitigated these substantial issues early on during the first wave of appeals.

Do you think that there will be a sewer in Los Osos quietbay, or will there be some new “important” thing that really needs attention to stop it again?

I say it’s OK to care about snails, but it seems a little silly to worry about snails on a well-used piece of property – (the staging area for the last project) that has just recently acquired a greenhouse and a bunch of horses. (Crunch, crunch.) Who owns that property?

My educated guess is that there will be a sewer, but in order to get that sewer built, there needs to be a change in how the County government approaches the project. Instead of minimizing concerns by issuing ambiguous, topical rebuttals, the County needs to discuss these issues openly with people without the attitude. Since AB2701 passed, County officials have always said, “We’ve heard it all before and we’ve addressed it,” without ever mentioning when they did, who addressed the issues, where they derived their analysis from and how. If there’s an engineer stamp on the report addressing the issue, the report is treated as unquestioned, certified fact.

There will always be a ground swell of people who won’t like the project for one reason for another. We see that kind of division on the federal-congressional level when it came to the debate on health care reform. The lesson learned from that debate is that we need to fight for more transparency so the debate creates a revolving door of community participation — so if someone poses a question that the County feels they’ve answered a hundred times before, they should just answer the question. If there’s an appeal that they feel has already been discussed, discuss it and document it thoroughly — because dismissing those appeals has resulted in several months of stimulus fund limbo.

A change in County government? The project is at the Coastal Commission! Whatever hurdles thrown at the project will be hammered out between the two staffs and presented again to Commissioners. The County is out of it in terms of “County Approach!”

The project was THOROUGHLY discussed, it just didn’t result in the outcome that you wanted to see, hence a sudden forgetfulness or rather denial of the many, many discussions and reasons given for the current project.

The response and attitude I’ve see from the County has been thorough and respectful. Not so with the likes of Al, Linde, Piper, Ben, Martha, etc., who probably have done Step more harm that the problems of the technology itself. They may sound good to their own fans, but to the rest of us the impression has been quite negative. You should have looked a a different sales strategy, one that avoided anger and salesman presented cut-away-STEP tanks.

Community participation only goes so far. None of us are professionals. Many haven’t studied anything and only parrot their friend’s views.

I’d be curious of my above mentioned group as to which one of them can say they support STEP/STEG because they have lived with it? I can promote gravity as I have lived with it most of my life (except for here) and it works just fine. I lived in earthquake zones most of my life, too.

The problem was that many concerns heard at the Coastal Commission were heard there for the first time. I never heard these groups promote these issues as problems before and I’ve stayed in very much in touch with this stuff. For that reason I believe the delay was caused by these groups.

The project is at the Commission, but the board has yet to commit to a resolution that would address the substantial issues raised — and then the County has to vote on whether they want to accept the project or not so the County is not out of the forest yet.

I think you’re biting off more than you can chew here. I’m personally not concerned about the end result as much as how we got to that point — and I’ve stated this already in this thread.

We need to constantly keep each other in check by acknowledging all perspectives. The County has appeared respectful to you — and I’m not disputing that — but from what I’ve seen, they’ve handled dissenting opinions poorly to the point where they would proceed with a chairman’s rebuke to restrict public comment. Neither the supervisors nor Public Works have responded to e-mails from me or my colleagues. I’ve been to office hours where Gibson appeared to be disrespectful and condescending to those who opposed him politically.

I feel that it’s not our right to judge people like Al, Linde, Piper, Ben, Martha etc. on the grounds of how “we,” the unspecified majority views them. Define the “rest of us.” Do you have a community-wide poll that explicitly poses the question, “What is your impression of these people?” I doubt it. There hasn’t been any.

You said, “None of us are professionals. Many haven’t studied anything and only parrot their friend’s views,” and I find it intriguing. Back in the day, Pandora Nash-Karner would send mass e-mails to her supporters, urging them to parrot her specific views. I only mention this because the foundation of your “anti-sewer” ridicule stems from the talking points found in her string of e-mails.

The rationale behind the whole, “I lived with gravity and I had no problems with it” is bizarre to say the least. FOX NEWS talked about how this recent snowstorm back east disproved climate change and Al Gore’s “hysterical” theories on global warming. Just because one thing is happening doesn’t exactly disprove the opposite effect. Just because you lived with gravity most of your life does not mean that gravity doesn’t have its share of problems elsewhere.

The groups you’re talking about have discussed these issues prior to their appeals at the Coastal Commission. You can find those appeals here:

I don’t believe the Board is involved. It is for the staffs to work out. Then, when the CCC grants a permit the County will opt to accept the project or not. Let’s see, I predict that the thousands of citizens that don’t live in Los Osos will be urging the Supes to accept the project. For if they don’t, guess who gets to pay for the money spent so far?

How we got here is history. Cleaning up the pollution so we can live here is the important part. Healing the community will be the next important part when this thing is in the ground.

I think that the County has been incredibly respectful of the differing viewpoints. If it got a little rough for your taste, just how long would you keep your patience being yelled at and vilified week after week? Frankly, I thought that they handled it with grace.

“The rest of us” are a collection of comments from observers of the BOS behavior of the above STEP supporters. Sorry that I didn’t clarify that. In my opinion, their yelling and harping has done their position a great deal of harm. Acting disrespectfully because you don’t get your way is childish. And that includes the wacky accusations of collusion with MWH.

What exactly is the “foundation” of my “ridicule?” I have seen that ever quoted Email of Pandora’s but that’s it. To what do you refer? If I exhibit ridicule, it has been inspired by the incessant and annoying behavior of pseudo environmentalists who sport P.E.s from

No system is perfect. I want some real life experience with STEP from these STEP supporters. Haven’t heard it yet.

I have read all of the appeals.

It’s not an issue of whether or not the County has been rough for my taste. If you want to talk about my personal experiences with them, alright. They never gave me a taste. My colleagues have been disrespected and ridiculed by the supervisors — and you could say about them, “Well, they were the ones who yelled at the supervisors week after week,” but I’m not one of the weekly variety that goes up to the podium. I would ask the County a question and they would either decline comment or my many e-mails and phone calls would go straight to the void. None of my comments were, in my view, mean-spirited or accusatory. In fact, they were quite the opposite but I am known for having an opposing view.

We can argue until the cows come home about how the frequent speakers affect their cause, but the fact of the matter is that they’re citizens like you and me who have an opinion — and sure, they shouldn’t be yelling and acting foolishly, but who am I to tell them how to act, how to speak, how to behave or how to think? I focus on what information they can provide. The problem with Los Osos politics is that we get so caught up in the personalities of people that the issues tend to be swept under the rug. We are constantly tempted to ridicule how people conduct themselves, but we get too caught up in the trivialities to ask each other where the proof is. Then the conversation turns to, “I love gravity. I hate STEP/STEG. I hate gravity. I love STEP/STEG” without any variation.

I do see an echo in talking points that reflect the talking points of Nash-Karner. I don’t know if you have multiple aliases, but I see Sewerlass (sewertoons), Realistic1 and Clairevoy making the same exact points as you as well as using the same language and presentation as you. I can see the talking points are syndicated across the blogosphere, which leads me to wonder if you are all the same person or if there’s a lack of understanding of the subject matter to elaborate any further. I wish I could talk to just one person, one nickname with one solid foundation of thought.

I’m am truly sorry about your experience with the County. Haven’t enough information to know why, can only guess, which is useless here.

I’d say being swept up in the personalities went to back before the recall, which is as far as I can go back knowing those players. Is this not always the case? It’s politics that controls the day and answers that sound good are often chosen over reality.

I don’t think asking for proof is out of line but is instead necessary (otherwise fairy tales rule), but I also think that a question put to votes of this nature, a WWTF, is way beyond our scope to assess and is best left to professionals. They sometimes make mistakes too, and sadly, forgiveness doesn’t seem to be in the lexicon of Los Osos. I hope that changes.

I can’t see how bringing identities into this blog matters, we should be addressing the issues. You are talking to me, I am talking to you. If you sound like two people or even three sometimes to me — well, so be it, and if the bloggers mentioned above sound alike – so be that too. Each side seems to have its own set of talking points. (I’m not sure I get what you mean on Pandora though – she has been silent for years now, I don’t know what her talking points were back then and many new facets have come into the dialogue, but that’s OK, it really isn’t a question you need to answer.)

I just wonder if getting this thing done as quickly as possible isn’t the best for all of us. Then we can focus on what is really important, figuring out financing to help the disadvantaged. That is really where we ought to be spending our energies. We are not going back to square one this time.

Mythbuster, kind of like when we dropped the atomic bomb?

Mythbuster writes,”I just wonder if getting this thing done as quickly as possible isn’t the best for all of us. ” and “Then we can focus on what is really important, figuring out financing to help the disadvantaged. ,” Oh after we run up bills then we figuere out how to help the disavataged? Great, backward though.