Morro Bay Council rejects proposed sewer plant

January 4, 2013


UPDATE: Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schulz said Morro Bay is not pulling its application, it is asking that the Coastal Commission deny the application.

At a highly contentious special meeting, the Morro Bay City Council voted 3-2 Thursday evening to withdraw its application to build a new sewer plant at the site of the current plant.

For years, officials in Morro Bay have worked to rebuild the city’s nearly 60-year-old sewage-treatment plant. Last year, the Coastal Commission said it wanted the city to move the plant a mile from the coastline.

Morro Bay’s former council argued that such a move would add up to seven years to the three-year project and 50 percent more to its estimated $60 million cost which could double sewer bills.

Prior to the November election, four of the council members were against moving the plant or terminating the three consultants hired through an agreement with the Cayucos Sanitary District. Now, the council has three members in favor of withdrawing its permit approval application with the Coastal Commission while the city looks into its options.

Approximately 100 people attended the meeting with most asking that the plant get moved from its current beachfront location and many wanting the three consultants promoting the project terminated.

Morro Bay and Cayucos Sanitary District entered into agreements with Dennis Delzeit for project management services for a total of $253,000,with Dudek for alternative analysis reports is for a total of $455,642 and with McCabe to seek favor with the Coastal Commission for a total of $155,000.

It is unclear if the project manager Dennis Delzeit works for Wallace and the Wallace Group or if Wallace is working for Delzeit. Nevertheless, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Wallace of criminal acts in his administration of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District and said it is asking the attorney general to conduct an investigation.

While Mayor Jamie Irons voted to pull the permit application, he elected to change the wording from termination to suspension in the resolution on the three consultant contracts noting that he is a friend of John Wallace.

“I respect John Wallace; he is a decent man,” Irons said.

Dennis Delzeit also said he was aware of the allegations of criminal acts against Wallace, but not concerned.

Councilman Noah Smukler said he wanted the three contracts terminated, as opposed to suspended, partly because of Wallace’s involvement.

Members of the Cayucos Sanitary District said they were unable to attend because of holiday scheduling conflicts. So, even though the Morro Bay City Council voted to withdraw its permit application, the co-application by Cayucos will go in front of the commission as planned. In addition, even though Morro Bay has suspended its consultant contracts, Cayucos contracts with the consultants are ongoing.

Mayor Irons along with council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler voted in favor of canceling the permit application while suspending the consultant’s contracts while council members George Leage and Nancy Johnson angrily dissented.

In 2003, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board informed Cayucos and Morro Bay that they would have to upgrade their plant by March 2014 or face penalties. Opponents of pulling the permit application contend doing so will make it impossible to get a new plant constructed by the deadline.

Nancy Johnson said the vote to pull the Coastal Commission permit application could result in legal issues with Cayucos.

“For better or for worse, the three of you own the project,” she said.


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When this all started in 2004 or so, the finding was made that the project was an upgrade of an existing facility and therefore the land use was protected under the city’s local coastal program.

That’s because the initial project was going to reuse some of the old plant’s equipment like the clarifiers, but replace the majority of the treatment parts.Under that scenario, it was a proper finding to make that it was an upgrade not a new project.

Had the JPA found that this was a new project from the start, the city would have required the plant be moved from the beginning because that’s what’s called for in the LCP. But the concern back then was costs and the goal was to do this project as painlessly and inexpensively as possible.

This project definition was set by the city council AND the Cayucos CSD board. Everything that’s been done since then — the facilities master plan, the EIR, the rate study, etc… — has been done under that finding — it’s an upgrade not a new project.

That was the path 2010 when FEMA said the existing plant was within the creek’s 100-year flood plain and needed to be moved out of it. The solution was to raise the plant 8-feet to put it out of the flood plain, which FEMA accepted.

But that meant replacing the entire plant and not being able to reuse any of the old plant. The project still proposed to use two-thirds of the overall existing system — the collection and the discharge. So the JPA continued on assuming that its project definition was good.

It wasn’t until 2010, when the Coastal Commission first sent a letter to the JPA saying that because the entire treatment plant was being replaced, that made it a “new” project and thus the requirements included in the LCP — like recycling the waste water — kicked in. It also meant the allowable land use on the site changed, which made the proposed project “non-conforming.” The existing plant is fully conforming under the LCP and the city zoning ordinance.

It’s this simple change in the project definition that has led to this entire controversy over whether the proposed project conforms to the LCP, which in turn leads to the Coastal Commission instituting its new-found concerns regarding avoiding coastal hazards.

That’s a policy that the commission hasn’t even set yet, and still the MB-Cayucos project is being made to adhere to it.

And yet in 2007 the commission approved a sewer plant project in Crescent City what is even closer to the ocean than Morro Bay with zero concerns about things like sea level rise and tsunamis. In 2009, it also approved a sewer plant in Goleta that’s closer to the beach and Morro Bay is. The coastal hazards avoidance concerns are very new to the commission.

It is unfair to criticize the various consultants who have been hired to work on this project. They have only done what they’ve been told to do and have operated under the assumption that this was an upgrade not a new plant. And that decision was made in the very early stages of this project’s development by the elected officials of both communities

The exsiting plant can’t be seen from HWY one for more than a split second, taking your eyes off the road at that point in travel isn’t a good idea what with an off ramp an on ramp and two lanes of traffic, that just doesn’t fly, getting permits from cal trans to go up hwy 41 to the proposed sewer plant will take for ever and the enviro nuts will have a field day with spoons and sifters looking for dead Indians, the cost now just went up another mil. The chance of a tsunami wiping out the plant where its at now is about zilch, and if it did, that is the least of our problems it will dilute in a heart beat, I didn’t hear anyone here screaming about the Japan sewage.

What about cost, you can estimate all you want but at the end figures lie and liars figure, the cost for moving the plant will go over estimated costs by several million dollars, because of broken lines in digging up hwy 41, pumps that don’t work to pump all of our effulent up hill, because of miscaulactions, the list will go on and on, whos going to pay for this, those of us that own property and live in Morro Bay.

Moving the plant is just plain stupid, the liars at the coastal commision will never grant a permit for anything else on the “former” site other than open space, no hotel,no park, no visitor centers nothing, we’ll have useless empty land sitting there for ever., what would anyone think they would grant anything there for a tsunami could blow thru there.

I say about 150,000,000 and 7 years until the dust settles… Get ready for the pain Morro Bay!!

It is clear from the content of the CCC staff report that the project violates Morro Bay’s LCP and the Coastal Act. Just the zoning violation alone makes approval of the project impossible. It also raises interesting questions. How is it that nobody on the project team noticed that the zoning for their site is wrong, and that an LCP amendment would have been necessary to allow new the plant to be built there? How come the Coastal Commission had to figure this out for them? Aren’t city staff supposed to know local zoning?

On top of that, there is the Coastal Commission presentation on sea level rise currently playing on the government channel. That presentation pretty would pretty much seal the fate of this project on its own. Anyone who watched the presentation and subsequent discussion knows that the Commissioners got the message regarding the risks of putting critical infrastructure too close to the shoreline.

It appears that Cayucos, like Morro Bay, has figured that out that the CCC is going to deny the permit.

Cayucos has scheduled a meeting on Monday, January 7, to consider a resolution to ask that the permit application be withdrawn. They are also considering suspending or firing the consultants, just like Morro Bay did.

As Mr. Leage said in the Morro Bay Council meeting, the Coastal Commission is going to do what it is going to do, regardless of what the applicants say, but it does seem like a good idea for the applicants to be in line with the CCC staff, rather than continuing to fight them. That approach clearly hasn’t worked well.

Nancy Johnson in cahoots with George Leage…AMAZING…!

Just googling around, found that John Wallace/Wallace Group is the “Assistant Project Manager” under Dennis Delzeit. Delzeit/Wallace were hired in July 2010 by the MBCSD for $263,293 for services though Feb. 2012, certainly there’s been amendments to the contract along the way. that’s the Wallace Group M.O.

Wallace used AG Mayor Tony Ferrara as his first ranked reference, then John D’Ornales (GM at Heritage Ranch, where Wallace is Dist. Eng.) and third Paavo Ogren, SLO Co. Public Works Director.

The Wallace resume reads like a who’s who of SLO Co. et. al.

$87,432 of the contract is specifically for Wallace Group.

Election results were very supportive of each candidate, and neither of the 3 had to face a run-off election. Also, they did not conceal their thoughts on the sewer issue while they were running for office. What makes you think a recall is a good idea?

On the Wallace issue, it is best that he remains under the microscope.

Despite the election results, it is exactly this kind of hot-button issue that creates highly contentious public meetings, and these meetings often lead to outraging the public to the point that they seek changes in those who are governing them.

Example: The Lisa Solomon/Paso Robles debacle. THAT was the issue provoking the outrage in most PR folks to whom I spoke, and I think that is because what Lisa Solomon did was not only heinous, but the city council and city manager allowed it to occur for YEARS–and–it resulted in costly legal liability–AND–a $250,000 buy-off, PLUS future liability for pension and other benefits.

In addition, this issue isn’t going to go away any time soon, and the politicians involved seem absolutely clueless about the concept of “not fanning the fires” of the public’s anger.

This is especially true when the clueless politicians actually deliver a slap in the face to the taxpayers at the meeting…for example, the mayor letting the taxpayers know that what is important to him is that the infamous John Wallace is his “friend.”

Mayor Irons, a part time contractor, former Power Plant Employee is friends’ of Wallace, what a surprise! He must be ignorant or doesn’t know the rules. If there is a connection to Wallace on these projects and Mayor Irons admits he is a personal friend of Wallace’s then he should recuse himself from the vote to eliminate any appearance and/or inference of impropriety. Maybe he has been taking lessons from his wife in SLO. Conflicts of interest, favoritism, nepotism seem to be the game around here. Award your friends or their associate’s sweet lucrative deals to do studies that go nowhere and produce no results for the community. But least not, we hired my buddy the consultant with a highly tainted reputation to do a study or analysis in an area where he is an expert, well at least on skirting the law?

Your absolutely correct with Irons excusing himself from any conflicting votes or otherwise. Irons said “Wallace is a decent man” and Delzeit is not concerned over recent allegations. Wonder if Delzite was concerned when he was Pismo Beach’s director of public works and he ran Wallace off the job after Wallace tried to sue the city for contractual conflicts. Or maybe it was it Wallace’s failure to perform and some $100,000 in unwarranted charges on a certain project in the works.

Pitiful how SLO county runs rampant with collusion and nepotism when you look at who they hold as our pillars of society. How about “employee of the month” John Mason and Kelly Gearheart’s win as man of the year. Im sure they are there decent guys too eh?.

Doggin, ITA. It is amazing to see the political corruption in our county, which is so firmly entrenched that politicians publicly admit, in recorded meetings, that they are “friends” with a contractor who has been accused of criminal acts in his administration of another WWT facility, the inept administration of which led to a massive sewage spill into local creeks, ocean and Oceano homes.

It is great to hear that the Water Board has requested that the State AG investigate Wallace and the SSLOCSD. If it turns out like the City of Bell’s investigation, it won’t be too long after the investigation starts that we will get the joy of watching John Wallace be frog-marched in and out of the courthouse.

“How about “employee of the month” John Mason and Kelly Gearheart’s win as man of the year. Im sure they are there decent guys too eh?.”

Perhaps, when compared to the administrators and officials who gave them those honors, Mason and Gearheart ARE “decent guys.”

After last night’s meeting what does it take to get recalled in Morro


That won’t happen over one meeting. Also, you cannot commence a recall against someone who has been in office less than 90 days. (Election Code § 11007.) Notwithstanding, and presuming you’ve got loads of energy and supporters, here’s how it’s done:

I don’t think anyone would want to recall a politician over “one meeting.”

Rather, the “one meeting” was a culmination of instances where the politician showed blatant self-serving, inept leadership that was harmful to the people the politician is supposed to be serving.

I totally agree about the “loads of energy and supporters” comment. The fact that the politician has to be in office at least 90 days shouldn’t be too much of an issue, since it takes awhile for most grassroots recall efforts to get going.

Maybe Nancy will just step down. Problem solved.