Sanitation district regulatory woes escalate

November 19, 2012


The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District is facing another fine for the third release of improperly treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean in less than four months, with each release larger than its predecessor.

Sanitation plant superintendent Bob Barlogio reported to regulators that on Oct. 24 the plant violated it discharge permit. After the plant’s chlorination pump malfunctioned, district employees sent a sample of effluent being released into the ocean to a lab which reported it had a fecal coliform content of 160,000 MPN (most probable number of fecal coliform per ml). Anything over 200 MPN violates the district’s operating permit, with large overages in line for mandatory penalties.

Surfing and swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform increases the chance of developing illness such as hepatitis and pneumonia from bacteria entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears or cuts in the skin.

Because of a 2010 spill of 674,400 gallons of raw sewage, ratepayers in the communities of  Arroyo Grande, Oceano and Grover Beach are facing increased utility bills.

At an Oct. 3 hearing, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board levied a $1.1 million fine against the sanitation district after it determining the 2010 raw sewage spill was due to careless and improper maintenance of the sanitation plant.

Within days, sanitation board attorney Jon Seitz announced he planned to appeal the ruling. Two members of the three person sanitation district board, Arroyo Grande mayor Tony Feraria and Grover Beach councilman Bill Nichols, voted in favor of filing an appeal with the State Water Quality Control Board while Oceano Community Services District Board President Matthew Guerrero voted against it.

Last Tuesday, the Oceano board discussed a request from Seitz to send a letter to the state water board supporting the sanitation district’s appeal while using talking points Seitz included in his request; the board ultimately voted against Seitz’s request.

Shortly before the Sept. 28 water board hearing, a plant sample of effluent was discovered to have a 50,000 MPN fecal coliform content, 49,500 MPN over the limit.

In the past, high fecal coliform levels at the plant have primarily been blamed on issues with chlorination equipment malfunctioning. However, in this case, the levels of chlorine residue in the sample were unusually high, which means that the effluent contained matter the chemical was unable to penetrate.

Several months before that, a sample test of effluent being pumped into the ocean had a fecal coliform count of 30,000 MPN. This discharge was not reported to regulators after plant management determined the high count was due to an error at Abalone Coast Lab in San Luis Obispo.

John Wallace is the chief administrator of the sanitation district. He is also the owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm located in San Luis Obispo, which the district pays between $50,000 and $80,000 a month for engineering, consulting and administrative work.

During last Tuesday’s Oceano board meeting, Guerrero asked his fellow board members for advice on how he should vote on an upcoming sanitation district board review of Wallace’s administration of the district and the Wallace Group’s contract. In the end, it was determined by the Oceano board that a bottom up review of Wallace should be asked for before a vote is made of whether to terminate both or one of Wallace’s contracts with the sanitation district.

If the sanitation district board members refuse Oceano’s request, Guerrero said he will vote to terminate both contracts.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

It is becoming more apparent that siting on the thrown and having to ask for the paper occassionally happens but if you are further down the hill, the paper is routinely served $. The problem could be resolved if we all had septic tanks and took care of our own cash cow. Certainly the housing density would have to decrease and gov won’t allow that. Less taxes per acre does not yeild a better pension.

A question for any San Dist or City/Community Service Dist representative:

Why is the complete Board Pack for the 11-20-12 San Dist Board Meeting not published on the San Dist website?

Last week an download of the packet was available, but all that it contained was the agenda. No Supt report, no financial statement, no Staff reports. Nothing, just the agenda.

After an email was sent to Matthew Haber (District Bookkeeper) and John Wallace (District Administrator) specifically asking that the complete Board Packet be made available, the download link suddenly “disapearred”.

This, in conjunction with the sudden “rescheduling” of a regularly scheduled public meeting only seems to confirm the suspicion that District Administrator John Wallace is not providing “absolute transparency” and is indeed selectively feeding the public only information that he wants to.

I think you answered your own question. Audit results were released recently that were a joint effort between an outside contractor and the Water board. Two of the unsatisfactory marks the district received were the lack of public access to the plant, also self monitoring AKA, the honor system. This has been an ongoing problem for many attempting to access public records at the district desk pursuant to the Ca Public records act. Wallace and/or Seitz refuse to grant access to any member of the public for this purpose. Staff told reporters the gate was installed after 911 to prevent a terrorist attack. Funny, they say their worried about a attack that might release untreated sewage and pollute the receiving waters. Hum… how many times has the plant done exactly that under Wallace’s administration? A person cant help but wonder if the electric gate was intentionally installed by Wallace specifically to keep the public out. Any other PUBLIC facility is just that, PUBLIC, and its open to serve us not hide from us. Far as the lack of board pack goes, its not the first time and it probably wont be the last we’ll never see whats on it.

Really? Did anyone really believe it was all about pigeon crap?

US CODE Title 33 Chapter 26 section 1311(a) makes it is unlawful to discharge pollutants off your property before “pretreatment” (1317(b)) to remove toxic disease carrying and cancer causing pollutants.

This never would have happened if the RWQCB (Regional Water Quality Control Board) enforced the Public Health Code and Public Law 92-500 aka THE CLEAN WATER ACT of 1972. It is a “Congressional Mandate of the highest priority” to implement the “best available demonstrated control technology” to remove all pollutants from our discharge AT OUR PROPERTY BEFORE IT GOES INTO A SEWER, as to “PREVENT SAID POLLUTANTS FROM MIGRATING into our drinking water, rivers and oceans just as it did here and has done so many times before.

It is the RWQCB’s SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITY to promulgate this technology which has existed for decades to assist in the implementation to remove 100% of ALL POLLUTANTS and then recycle that water to be used over and over to stop our water shortage problems.

So think about it…the RWQCB is suing Wallace when they are GUILTY for causing the problem in the first place! If the RWQCB enforced THE CLEAN WATER ACT there would NEVER be another sewer spill. Pollutants would be removed at everyone’s property and we would all be recycling our water ending our shortage or water…plenty to go around.

The RWQCB and The Wallace Group are GUILTY of not enforcing The Clean Water Act which by the way carry Federal fines of $25,000 per day and up to 3 years in prison per day of violation. Sad when your own “government agency” is the real criminal!

To appear as if they are doing their job they sue the Wallace Group…

“to remove all pollutants from our discharge AT OUR PROPERTY BEFORE IT GOES INTO A SEWER”, yes indeed…another costly not enforced policy The Wallace group provided to the Sanitation District in the way of a sewer system management plan (See SSMP) and Pretreatment ordinance. All supposed to be in compliance with state ordinances. But like everything else Wallace has given us tax payers its just lip service on paper to go through the motions of compliance.

WHAT? John Wallace is still running that place? I would have thought for sure the ratepayers would have raised holy hell by now.

If most voters read Cal Coast News (or even New Times), they probably would. Unfortunately most get their news from the local TV stations or from the Tribune if they pay attention to any news at all. As a result, most voters are pathetically ignorant of what has been going on and put no pressure on the AG city government in particular. GB voters have put in a new council which may take action — but it won’t happen until the beginning of next year. Meanwhile, our financial liabilities skyrocket and we will be paying for it in huge sewer rate increases over the next few years.

Local media is something isnt it? “live and local” were bring you the latest bla,bla,bla. KSBY brings the public nothing in the way of real news. Everything is sugar coated BS, and they refuse to report on what really goes on in SLO county. Its no wonder the same schmucks keep getting reelected as nobody knows what their agendas really are because its hidden like the rest of their story.

Thank you, John Wallace, for giving us such a salient (and expensive) example of what cronyism and extreme conflict of interest can lead to. Amazing that the Grand Jury called this ridiculous conflict of interest months ago, and somehow Wallace keeps on running the (quite literally) sh!t show.

While reading this article, seveal thoughts came to mind. They are:

– Three untreated releases of sewage in the last four months? When was this reported to local Water Quality? Why was the public not informed? It seems as if Plant Superintendent Bob Barlogio is incompetent when it comes to running a sewage treatment plant properly and protecting the Public Health. At the least, the PUBLIC should have been informed so that they could avoid the contaminated ocean waters.

– If Plant Supt. Bob Barlogio actually reported the most recent bacteria violation as being a result of “pump malfunction”, he’s LYING. The pump was intentionally turned off when Shift Supervisor Trinindad Rodriguez instructed two TEMP AGENCY employs to perform plant operations (which is ILLEGAL for him to do). In the course of carrying out Shift Supervisor Rodriguez’ instructions, the TEMP workers manually turned the pump off. It was not discovered until many hours after the fact, after hundreds of thousands of gallons of fecal coliform laden water had already been pumped to the ocean.

– Shift Supervisor Rodriguez has previously recieved formal disciplinary action from the State Water Resources Control Board for for using unlicensed personnel to perform plant operations. If this is the second such occurrence, he should have his Operators License revoked. If Plant Supt. Bob Barlogio was also aware that this was occurring, his license should be revoked as well. These actions have placed the PUBLICS HEALTH AND SAFETY in jeapordy.

– John Wallace has pulled another “bait and switch” in regards to the upcoming Sanitation District Board of Directors Meeting, and moved it from it’s regularly scheduled 3rd WED of the month. He’s done this on a regular basis whenever there is information that shows his mismanagment of the District and he wants keep it from being exposed to the general public.

– Perhaps Mike Seitz has excused himself from being Sanitation District Legal Counsel as a result of the current, ongoing investigation by the Calif BAR association, which resulted from a formal complaint being filed against him.

– OCSD representative Matt Guerrero has suggested a “bottom up review” and wants to ask the Plant employee’s their opinion of Wallace. After the top three employees spoke out about Wallace, and all ended up fired, I’m sure the current Staff members won’t have anything bad to say about Wallace. This suggestion by Guerrero just seems to confirm the fact that Wallace has numerous supporters who will not hold him accountable for his actions. Why not talk to the three former employees and see what their “opinion” of Wallace is? I’m sure they’d be more truthful and feel more free to expose Wallace’s mismanagement then the current staff who would be fearful of losing their jobs if their comments made it back to Wallace.

– Finally. South County Residents are getting exactly what they deserve. Namely, higher sewer rates and wasted money that’s going straight to Wallace’s bank account. If the amount of information that has been exposed over the last three years doesn’t force the ratepayers to demand action, then nothing will. I fully expect Wallace to tap-dance his way through the mess he’s made and continue to fleece the rate payers for many more years.

An outstanding post Lone Gunman. The temp workers have been present for over 3 years now. The issue of non certified operators has been a problem for years and frankly its Wallace’s way of cutting corners. Throw in the fact Rodriguez himself is a racist who openly told his staff he desires to hire Spanish speaking individuals as they work harder and cheaper and don’t have the knowledge to challenge his unsafe practices. Think about it, some of the chemicals alone used daily at a treatment plant like the San Dist could kill or maim for life. Sulfuric acid, Caustic soda, Ferric Chloride, Sodium Hypochlorite, Sodium Bisulfite to name some of the common ones. Toss in confined spaces, Potential bombs like an Anerobic Digesters which if its contents are introduced to plain old outside air will quite probably explode. Methane gas, Hydrogen Sulfide, explosive atmospheres, O2 free or deficient environments. You think these $10 an hour temps are trained on these hazards? not a chance and the less they know the better in Wallace and Rodriguez eyes as they wont ask questions or buck heads about safety regulations. BTW, OSHA is aware of the untrained cheap labor and investigated this some time ago. Its just a matter of time before somebody gets hauled off the the morgue or hospital you watch but like everything else that takes place there Wallace will never tell the public just like his O&M insurance cancellation.Its up to karen to find the truth and bring it to us.

Think back a few years when Wallace fired the Lab tech to save money. Since that time has building permit revenues increased to justify two salary increases and another on the table? Wallace claimed the dist was going broke and months ago in the board pack he told the public they needed to borrow or raise rates to stay solvent. Now hundreds of thousands of $dollars$ later and a probably $1.3 million in fines for round #1, he’s looking to reward those who refused to cooperate with state investigators,abuse public property, commit theft and fraud to save Wallace from a public lynching, no way!!! they need to go as well.

Look at the board pack from a couple meetings ago as Wallace is lobbying for yet another employee salary increase because they do such a good job, its no joke as its there in black and white. There is your answer to why those still employed don’t speak out, their either on the take with Wallace or they fear Wallace like little kids quivering as the bogey man comes calling. The only solution is the State Water Resources Board ordering a Cease and Desist order and if were lucky its already in the works.

In the mean while do tell the Seitz B.A.R. complaint. Any links and Where does one sign up to add their name to the list of disgusted tax payers?


1. I very much appreciate the information you provide in your post.

2. Do you happen to know the reason for the complaint, regarding Michael Seitz, filed with the the State Bar Association? Did Michael Seitz formally recuse himself from representing SSLOCSD, or is this just a switch of representation between the two Seitz brothers, partners in a legal practice?

3. I believe Mr. Guerrero’s consultation with the OCSD regarding direction in handling the Wallace contracts is a good step because it puts the OCSD board members in a position where they must indicate their own, individual stand on continuing Wallace’s contractual association with Wallace. This was not a closed-session vote, so each OCSD board member will go on record regarding continuing SSLOCSD’s exposure to liability by endorsing continuing Wallace’s role in administration of the SSLOCSD facility.

Given the forced accountability of each OCSD board member from forcing them to go on public record, I believe it is a first step by one of the city/district SSLOCSD customers, which will end up forcing accountability from the other city/district SSLOCSD customers.

5. Regarding getting the three fired SSLOCSD employees to testify regarding their experiences while employed at SSLCSD….Appleton testified at the Water Board hearing. Douglas has settled her case with SSLOCSD and that settlement may preclude her from revealing information about what she experienced while working for SSLOCSD. However, the Water Board hearing transcript and document attachments have some information from Ms. Douglas. Moscolo’s attorney may have recommended that he not publicly comment on his experiences while working for SSLOCSD.

Again, thanks for the information you provided.

I believe you are unrealistically harsh on the SSLOCSD ratepayers for not having effected large, complicated changes in the administration and management of the SSLOCSD.

a. The system is rigged in favor of the cronies. These crony relations have been established and reinforced over decades. IMO, it is unrealistic to expect ratepayers to overturn these crony relationships in just a few years.

b. Bringing about changes quickly can only be accomplished by bringing in the assistance of entities who have the power to force change on the SSLOCSD and its administration-by-cronyism method of mismanagement.

c. To bring about such large changes in a short period of time could only be accomplished by the State of California doing a “City of Bell” on the SSLOCSD. Complaints have been filed with the State. Letters have been written to the State. To date, the State has not intervened.

d. I believe expectations of an uprising of the ratepayers to demand change has to be realistically tempered with the reality that efforts to bring about such a movement are crippled from the get-go because the major print news publication for our county (Tribune) is part of the same crony system which has brought about the criminally negligent administration of SSLOCSD.

In other words, any ratepayer movement against the corrupt crony situation at SSLOCSD will occur IN SPITE of the Tribune, and not because the Tribune has been engaged in keeping the locals informed of important situations that impact their lives.

The Tribune, by refusing to accurately inform its readership of issues that impact the public’s financial, environmental and public-health best interests, has joined with the Wallace Group/Seitz brothers and Arroyo Grande/GroverBeach-OCSDcustomers to form an unholy trinity by which great damage is being done to the public so that the these powerful cronies can profit.

how is it that you know so much?did you word ther at the time the temp employees torn off the pomp?it looks like you pointings fingers

What is FRM? Do they need a plumber, i’ve been outta work for 7 months now.

FRM = Fluid Resource Management (a consultant for the plant).

Also, a company started by John Wallace.

Jon Seitz district council?? what, did Mike finally OD on donuts? Does anybody have a tally on just how much Wallace has cost the public to date over this on going circus? I mean really people, two lawsuits lost with pay offs and number 3 in the works, hundreds of thousands in legal fees just for the latest mess that still settled and now their trying to convince the water board that the three recent violations were what, another act of God and beyond their control? Equipment failures causing this problem with disinfection? Where is their Star shift supervisor, he who Wallace touts so buttkissingly? Maybe its time to fire toss the idea of his third raise in recent years and him as well as Im sure FRM could use a new plumber.. How hard is it to install redundancy of some sort in a CL2 system? its not. Oh yeah, wheres that SCADA system you started in on years ago Wallace, remember? the one Appleton told us you banked over $50K on back then and was far superior to what FRM could install for $4500, still nothing to show for the $50K spent. What happen to that initially estimated $1.2 Million dollar chlorine Contact Chamber that ended up being $2.1 million? doesn’t it work ? Is it that your praised new Shift Stupervisor can comprehend a basic instruction manual, electronics or the mechanics of a pump and keep crap out of our oceans? BTW, hows that cogen unit workin out?. Supplementing 80% of the power needs and yet the PG&E bills were 80% less than precogen. Perhaps its related to the $30,000 in repairs it now needs because the bargain basement junk you bought us tax payers wasn’t such a good bargain, kinda like that big diesel pump your “staff” couldn’t figure out how to run that added to the Dec 2010 spill? What say you John Wallace, you cant hide forever, the public wants some honest answers.

Guess AG mayor Feraria still supports his good old boy, will they be hanging out together this holiday season?

Yea, at the Embassy Suites “Garbageman’s Ball”, along with every other politician in this County. Nope, garbage personnel not invited!

You got that right SLOBIRD. Anyone game to find out when and where the “Garbageman’s Ball” will be this year, stand outside and videotape who attends?

John Seitz and Jon Seitz are first on the letterhead…Mike is the “little” brother who is overwhelmed with taking over the practice while Jon is on medical leave.

Doggin rattles off an impressive myriad of questions…all good ones. Thanks!

When did Jon Seitz go on medical leave? As of 11-14-12, Jon Seitz was the legal counsel present at the NCSD board meeting.