Air quality district’s bloated salaries

November 14, 2011

Larry Allen

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series about questionable activities of the San Luis Obispo County Air Quality Control District.)

By KAREN VELIE

They set hefty salaries for themselves and went looking for the money to meet the payroll.

It’s not the city of Bell.

This time it is the San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District. And a review of both the salaries decisions and fees and fines it levies, shows that the salaries make up the bulk of the district’s budget.

District expenditures have grown from $2,438,146 during the 2001-2002 fiscal year to a budget of $4,156,766 for the current fiscal year.

Some 75 percent of the agency’s expenditures are for employee costs, according to the district’s expenditure report.

Of the district’s 21 full-time employees, in salaries benefits and “fringes,” 19 run over $100,000 a year.

Top earner, Executive Director Larry Allen, costs $240,119 a year, according, to the district’s fiscal year 2011/2012 salary projections.

This was before the board voted in 2010 to increase Allen’s salary 17 percent over the next three years.

The salary decision is one that former air quality district board member Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian doesn’t agree with, he said.

“I think with this economy, anyone getting a raise beyond the cost of living should be questioned,” Achadjian said.

The agency tasked with protecting air quality is an unusual form of government in that it primarily subsists on fees and fines that its board has the power to create.

Many of the district’s permit fees have no impact on air quality, according to staff reports.

During air quality district board meetings, Executive Director Larry Allen has repeatedly asked the air quality board to approve new fees saying that the agency needs to make up for about $300,000 in yearly permit fees from the Morro Bay Power Plant. The plant is slated to close in the next few years.

Allen told CalCoastNews the air quality district does not need to raise fees to pay for salaries and regular trips to luxury destinations.

“We are not the city of Vernon,” Allen said.

The city of Vernon has a population of only 112, though many businesses thrive in the city. Several of its former  highly paid public officials who had also spent lavishly on travel and other perks were arrested for conflicts of interest, voter fraud and misappropriation of public funds.

In 2008, the board approved the adoption of fees to monitor fermentation of wines at local wineries even though the staff report said doing so would have no effect on air quality.

The air quality board is comprised of all five county supervisors and a council person from each of the county’s seven cities. While former mayor of Atascadero Mike Brennler sat on the air quality district board he questioned the board’s decision to back the winery fees.

“I felt very uncomfortable with the winery fees,” Brennler said. “What bothered me the most was when one board member referred to a winery owner as a polluter.”

During the first year the the district enacted the winery permit fee, the district netted $107,222 from the fee, according to air quality board records.

After approval by the board, new rules are sent to both the state and the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. After approval, the district board than votes to approve a fee schedule brought forward by air quality district employees who benefit directly from higher fees.

For example, after the state passed laws requiring smog testing and record keeping for off-road diesel engines such as those used in construction equipment and generators, the board voted to approve fees the air quality district created to charge for their inspections of the engines.

In Oct. 2010, the air quality district charged Cal Poly $13,215 for the re-inspection of a Caterpillar tractor, according to the Cal Poly district file.

However, according to Proposition 26 which was passed in 2010, if charges for permits and fees, inspections, and administrative enforcement are not reasonable the fees need to be approved by a two-thirds vote by both houses of the California Legislature.

Each year, the air quality district board votes to approve a legislative platform written by Allen that includes wording to, “Oppose legislation to remove district discretion or expenditure of penalty revenue.”

During last year’s vote in closed session to increase Allen’s salary and approve a new three-year contract, the board was informed Allen had not been given a raise in years and also that he was underpaid when compared to his constituents, several board members told CalCoastNews.

The board, however, was kept in the dark about Allen and the rest of the air quality district staff’s salary amounts, several board members told CalCoastNews. In addition, the vote accounting was never made public.

The air quality district board’s approval in closed session violated Government Code 54957.6 which says, “Closed sessions held pursuant to this section shall not include final action on the proposed compensation of one or more unrepresented employees,” CalAware attorney Terry Francke said.

“Compensation can neither be discussed nor acted upon in a closed session listed on the agenda as dealing with performance evaluation,” Francke said. “Clearly the vote should have been public (54957.1(a).), and not just reported; final action to approve compensation of an unrepresented employee must be in open session.”

About 54 percent of the agency’s revenues are made through permits and fees from primarily businesses and other government agencies including local schools. Another 32 percent is garnered through state and federal aid, DMV fees and property taxes.

Only 0.6 percent of the agency’s operating capital comes from settlements for failure to comply with air quality rules, according to the district’s 2011/2012 budget.

It is difficult to determine exactly where the funds are being spent because the agency refuses to comply with the California Public Record’s Act. Instead, it has created its own rules regarding records requests.

Allen told CalCoastNews that the district’s attorney Ray Biering says they do not have to follow California records request laws that do not agree with air quality district created rules.

For example, the agency refuses to allow the public to see its itemized expenditures, a record that is required to be available to the public. Kevin Kaizuka, the APCD’s fiscal services manager said they do not have it in paper form and do not have the funds to make it available.

As for other records requests that they have agreed to comply with, they charge 20 cents a page, require requests in writing, and payment up front, all of which are violations of California’s Public Records Act. Many records received by CalCoastNews have been incomplete or incorrect.

The county air quality district charges similar page rates to other air districts, Allen said. He contends that records requests interfere with doing business.

“They charge 20 cents a page at the APCD in Santa Barbara so we can charge the same,” Allen said. “We have real work that this is keeping us from doing.”

An inspection of several air quality district files demonstrates how the agency oversees businesses and government entities they regulate.

For example, during an inspection of the Circle K in Atascadero on Morro Road, the air quality district found four record keeping errors. All of which related to one section of the log book being in the wrong place – a missing alarm log section, no alarm log sample form, no instruction for filling out the alarm log, and no information on where the alarm log was posted, according to air quality district records.

The district is permitted to charge $1,000 per day for each infraction regardless of whether it is a record keeping error or actual release of a pollutant. In the case of the North County Circle K store’s record keeping errors, the charges originally amounted to fines of $4,000 per day for a total of $88,000.

When Circle K corporate representative Joel Lundquist asked for an explanation of how the penalty was assessed, the air quality district sent back a letter increasing the penalty.

“You asked how the penalty amount was obtained,” the air quality district letter said.

Air quality staff said they made an error in computing the penalty.

“The $88,000 maximum penalty erroneously stated in our April 7, 2011 mutual settlement letter has been corrected to $232,000 as shown below,” the letter said

A different version of the letter put the total much higher.

“The correct total penalty is $340,000 not $88,000 as we erroneously stated in our April 7, 2011 mutual settlement letter,” one draft says.

As is generally the case for the agency, the air quality district letter allowed Circle K a massively discounted settlement if they agreed to pay the district within two weeks. Circle K officials complied and sent the air quality district a check for $7,800 for having the store’s alarm log section in the wrong place.

Several former board members want the district to give warnings first before sending businesses and government agencies notices of violation, Achadjian said.

“The beauty of a warning is it builds trust,” Achadjian said. “We have to do better so we know we have a trustworthy government. I do not want these guys to color the rest of the government we deal with.”


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rogerfreberg

Isn’t this the same agency that was erroneously presenting the public with false air quality control reports? Was this a way of justifying their existence?


As was reported, this isn’t the City of Bell where the big guy made something like a cool million a year… but it is not far behind.


I take strong issue with Katcho … on the contrary, THIS is an accurate reflection of government today… high salaries and low public service. This needs to change.


Congrat to CCN for following up on this!


NorCoMod

Larry Allen presented the public with falsified forecasts. When he was caught and confronted with the truth he said he falsified the numbers for the health of the general public. Right!

If it wasn’t for his agency’s agenda to shut down OHV use on the dunes, you could almost believe him.

And don’t forget that our local APCD was just another county department until the Board of Supervisors cut them loose a year ago. Now they’re an autonomous group of activists with more power than any of us can imagine and they’re accountable to no one. Patterson and Hill are going to be reminded of that boneheaded move in this next election.

I hope Karen V. is digging further into this rogue agency. Larry Allen is only the surface.


CA Native

It won’t change.


R.Hodin

Wrong. It will change, if enough people show up and put pressure on the APCD board at the budget meetings. It will take a lot of people.


CA Native

I wish you well in that endeavor, honestly. However you know how these things go. People do not have enough time and persistence to force government accountability. And government will institute measures to prevent ‘We, the People’ from interfering with their plans. Time limits for public comment, etc.


dhg

It is not about air quality now, nor has it ever been. It all about the money.


easymoney

Anyone surprised here?

These salaries are paid to admin public servants to perform at a certain level, they believe this how government forces mandates and fees on the public by law. And those being paid have no problem with stabbing the public in the back and making such outrageous mandates…


zaphod

Wrong , Owen’s Lake has had to deal with toxic particulates for decades .


It is much better now, fewer school closure days in lonepine, some people from our local air quality group were part of the effort at Owens Lake.


Typoqueen

This must be a first, I am disagreeing with my mentor and fav. poster. I feel that your link is apples and oranges. According to your link a good deal of the issue with Owens lake was caused in part due to ranching and from diverting water to the Ca. aqueduct. The arguments with the dune issue is whether the PM is caused by man/OHV or just part of the natural dune environment. I don’t see clear evidence that the blowing sand is caused by man.


The dunes blow sand and many think that’s just an act of nature. The only way to stop it would be to do as they did in your link, put in pipes, plant plants and trees that aren’t indigenous to the area or pave over the dunes. I’ve read the study and it’s flawed. I have seen other sand dunes and when it’s windy they blow PM and yes that PM might not be healthy but it’s an act of nature and I don’t feel it should be harnessed, harnessing the PM would ruin a unique environment. If there was anything at all in that study that demonstrated that the dust blowing up to the mesa (perhaps blowing up to the mesa, not proven) was caused by the OHVs and making people sick then I would be the first one to say it needs to stop. But so far there isn’t proof of that.


R.Hodin

Allen nor the study claim that the OHVs cause the PM10 pollution, only that a “significant portion” of the pollution attributable to OHV use can be measured (or implied). I have yet to see how “significant” is defined, in contrast to “insignificant,” when it comes to PM10 amounts & densities transported into residential areas. It’s one thing to measure at the source (dunes) it’s another to trace the drift to inhabited areas.


From reading the article above, it appears that according to APCD practice, no pollution, measurable or implied, is too insignificant to warrant a “fee”


Typoqueen

At the recent Pismo City Council meeting Allen said that the vehicles break the ‘dune crust’ and that is what is causing the high PM, although I don’t believe he’s been able to back that claim.


godislanguage

“Kevin Kaizuka, the APCD’s fiscal services manager said they do not have it in paper form and do not have the funds to make it available.”


How convenient the government can excuse themselves of legal record keeping. Can I use this excuse when the IRS audits my records?


Hey Kevin, by your flawed logic that an agency with annual expenditures of over $4.1 milliion with 21 employees doesn’t have to keep legal track of their expenses, then I guess businesses with the same size budget don’t have to keep track of their expenses with the IRS…right?


Who gave you the a pass of this Kevin? The lawyer? You work for the people and the people demand to know what’s really going on at the APCD. Get off your lazy butt and get it done or we’ll find someone who will.


Maybe the truth is you really don’t care about our economy and what is right. You only think of yourself, your salary and pension and who cares about the further destruction of our economy by this agencies unilateral actions based on greed not on what’s right.


…time for the Grand Jury to look into things.


Kevin Rice

>>”…time for the Grand Jury to look into things.”


And there’s the rub… the county Grand Jury has no oversight over SLO APCD because it is empowered through a state agency (CARB), not the county. You need to write the Board–contact info posted below.


easymoney

Sad truth is the Grand Jury is selected by many agencies it actually oversees. There is no bite In that dog or I would have volunteered long ago to serve. I have watched the reports come out annually and see the ineffectual effect it has on those being reviewed.


Typoqueen

This Allen character getting a quarter of a mill for what he does!! This is ridiculous. I wonder if every one on SlORiders list gets paid and if so how much? I also wonder how much all these studies cost ie the dunes studies. This is just a shame and is what is so prevalent in human nature, give an inch and they take a mile. We need an APCD but these people are taking advantage of us. I don’t see why we need this many people in such a small county and why we need to pay these people so much. I’ve heard Allen talk and I’ve read his work, he doesn’t have the demeanor nor the ability to fairly make that much money and he certainly shouldn’t be on any APCD boards.


After watching Allen speak at a few meetings and reading his editorial in the Trib it is my opinion that he is the cancer of this board. He is paid an exorbitant amount to produce flawed studies and intimidate small business owners.


I want to write a letter to the APCD to express my dissatisfaction on this recent dunes study, but like a few other small business owners that I know, I’m afraid to. I can’t afford to lose my business over what is known as a vindictive out of control board. I wish that I could write a letter and just make it from ‘Typoqueen’. This is a good example of why I don’t use my real name here. This board truly has local businesses afraid of them. This county doesn’t need these strong armed over paid greedy prigs. I am usually pretty vocal on political concerns and I do write and make calls but in this case I feel that I can’t and it really makes me mad. If I didn’t have a family and other families that depend on my business then I wouldn’t care but I have to think of our families.


Thanks Karen. Good article, can’t wait to see the next one. I hope that you follow this, don’t let them keep this stuff under the table.


Kevin Rice

In the interest of full disclosure, my lobbying salary doubled this year: I now make $0.


Typoqueen

I heard Allen say that you are a paid lobbyist for the OHV. Too bad you couldn’t take some legal action for defamation of your character. Any time we even hear the word ‘lobbyist’ it makes most peoples stomach turn, it’s slanderous.


bobfromsanluis

“He contends that records requests interfere with doing business.” – that is a direct quote from the article attributed to Larry Allen; Mr. Allen, what do you think “your business” is? You run an agency that is supposed to serve the general public, so furnishing required requests actually IS your “business”. Arrogant doesn’t seem descriptive enough for an attitude like this; thank you to the person who posted all of the contact information, let’s all contact as many of these board members to demand some changes. Don’t you wonder what the air quality is at the office of this board?


Paladin

Great article Karen. Just got a card in the mail from APCD concerning our burn permit. Last year we paid $25. This year it went up 100 % to $50! I wondered where the money was going.


racket

You might consider completing the paperwork and returning it without the check, thereby remaining in substantial compliance with the mandate while protesting the tax. Some dooryard burners I know are handling this unfair tax in that manner.


Kevin Rice

Burn permit fees were doubled by the Board on July 27. Miss that meeting? The revenue increase was estimated at $46,284 more for the APCD (see link below).


Cal Fire Chief Robert Lewin wrote on April 6 (see link below):


“Cal Fire is concerned that this 100% fee increase may result in a significant overall increase in the fire hazard by discouraging many residents from properly clearing and/or maintaining their vegetation… We think it is vital that the public be allowed to dispose of this material in the best way possible, and for many people this means burning.”


The Cal Fire letter then presents burn permit fee comparisons to other air districts:


East Kern APCD: $0

Monterey Bay APCD: $0

San Joaquin: $24

Santa Barbara: $50


Cal Fire STOPPED selling burn permits at their fire stations because they do not want the public to associate the 100% increase with Cal Fire.


The Cal Fire letter is on page 22 of the APCD Board report:

http://slocounty.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=1136&meta_id=223216


Mr. Holly

Someone ought to contact the Atascadero FD about their weed abatement program. They only charge a 150% administrative fee. Sounds fair to me what do you think? Arn’t they already getting paid or is this cutting into their exercise, shopping or tv time?


R.Hodin

Thanks for the link to the report, from reading it, I get a new appreciation for how our APCD operates, which seems to be in direct contrast to the rest of the county.


While all of the county departments were required to demonstrate cost savings and suffered budget reductions over the past several years, the APCD has not had to look at their operations and look for increasing efficiencies, streamlining their operations, or making actual staff reductions.


They have instead made the assumption that their enforcement & program costs are sacrosanct, and that their budget deserves to be raised to meet those costs. The Board controls the budget, but has ceded all responsibility to Larry Allen, and literally insists that he “find” the money to fund the APCD budget. This is a formula ripe for abuse, as all he needs to do to please the Board is to ramp up fees and invent new ones. The Board no longer has any budgetary leverage over the APCD, as long as Mr. Allen can balance his books. The APCD budget can continue it’s uncontrolled and bloated expansion, ad infinitum, with a nod and a wink from it’s supposed oversight board, our very own elected officials.


Maxfusion

This board and CARB are green weenie scams. This is a group of no-nothings playing “save the planet” while looting the taxpayers. Git a rope.


taxpayer

How about posting the names of the people and the cities they represent on this board?


Kevin Rice

APCD Board Contacts


Karen Bright

City of Grover Beach

Phone: (805) 473-4567

gbadmin@grover.org


Joe Costello

City of Arroyo Grande

Phone: (805) 473-5404

jcostello@arroyogrande.org


Roberta Fonzi

City of Atascadero

Phone: (805) 470-3400

rfonzi@atascadero.org


Bruce Gibson

Phone: (805) 781-5450

bgibson@co.slo.ca.us


John Hamon

City of Paso Robles

Phone: (805) 227-7206

jhamon@prcity.com


Adam Hill

Phone: (805) 781-5450

ahill@co.slo.ca.us


Jan Marx

City of San Luis Obispo

Phone: (805) 783-7752

jmarx@slocity.org


Frank Mecham

Phone: (805) 781-5450

fmecham@co.slo.ca.us


James Patterson

Phone: (805) 781-5450

jpatterson@co.slo.ca.us


Noah Smukler

City of Morro Bay

Phone: (805) 772-6200

nsmukler@yahoo.com


Paul Teixeira

Phone: (805) 781-5450

pteixeira@co.slo.ca.us


Ed Waage

City of Pismo Beach

Phone: 773-4657

ewaage@pismobeach.org


R.Hodin

thank you