Morro Bay council picks preferred sewer location

December 12, 2013

IMG_1873The Morro Bay City Council has chosen a property in the Morro Valley near Highway 41 as its preferred location for a new sewage treatment plant. [Tribune]

The plant is currently located near the beach at the end of Atascadero Road. In 2003, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered Morro Bay and Cayucos to upgrade the plant, and earlier this year, the California Coastal Commission said it wanted the plant moved one mile from the coastline.

On Tuesday, the council followed the recommendation of planning consultant John Rickenbach and identified the Morro Valley site as the preferred location among seven contenders.

The Morro Valley site consists of two parcels totaling 446 acres east of the city on the north side of Highway 41. Construction of a sewage plant at the site is estimated to cost $100 million.

City staff previously recommended moving the plant to the site of the closing Morro Bay Power Plant, but the council rejected that proposal Tuesday. The power plant site had the lowest estimated constructions costs, $90 million, but the council said it was too close to residents and had potential for other uses.

As backups to the Morro Valley site, the council chose a Chorro Valley location near Highway 1 and Morro Bay Boulevard and the 36-acre Giannini property east of Highway 1 and overlooking Morro Valley.

The council also decided to explore the possibility of a shared sewage treatment plant with the California Men’s Colony, which would be located on the Cuesta College campus.


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Letter to the editor published in the 12/15 issue of the Tribune:

” Words mischaracterized

I have become aware that my remarks at last January’s Coastal Commission hearing, at which the Coastal Commission denied the permit for the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant, are being cited in support of an effort to recall Morro Bay’s mayor. I am distressed to see my words mischaracterized so inappropriately.

At the time, I was frustrated that the commission was in the position of having to deny a project that should have been denied by the local government. The newly elected mayor was not to blame but bore the brunt of my frustration because he was representing the city at the hearing. True culpability lay with the former City Council majority and the city’s consultants, who advised the city to press ahead, at great expense to all concerned, with an illconceived project.

The commission made a fully informed decision, supported by your sitting mayor. Our staff recommended denial of the permit, and commissioners agreed because the project as designed clearly failed to meet the requirements of the California Coastal Act and Morro Bay’s Local Coastal Program.

The mayor and current City Council should be commended for diligently acting on the strong message the commission sent: Alternative locations for the plant must be identified and thoroughly analyzed before seeking a Coastal Development Permit.

Mary Shallenberger Former chair, California Coastal Commission “

It was like an extra special early Christmas gift to read Mary Shallenbergers letter this morning in the Tribune! She could not have been any clearer in explaining that her frustration was toward the gang of Yatesians, and how pleased they are to see our current council moving quickly in the right direction. One more thing to cross off the tacky pro-recall flyer.

Yes, along with the ridiculous claim that building a plant at the old Atascadero Road site would be way cheaper. It’s right there in the same report that estimates costs for the sites still under consideration.

Using the same estimating methods they used for the other sites, the consultants came up with a figure of $83 million for what it would have cost us to build a plant at the Atascadero Road site.

The $17 million difference between that figure and the one for the Morro Valley site is a far cry from the one the recallers were claiming. They had been saying it would have cost under $40 million to build at that site, and the consultants’ figure of $83 million is over twice that.

So we can thank Shallenberger for the $100 million plus project that she and her cohorts at the coastal commission are forcing down our throats.

Thanks again Ms. S. Hope you are as committed to moving off the coast when YOUR hometown tries to replace its sewer plant, or water plant or whatever. I’m sure YOUR constituents will not mind paying three times more for such a project.

She should keep her nose out of Morro Bay’s business, she and the other commissioners have done enough damage.

Since tthe case FOR the project was never made, does this letter show that she and the other commissionsers had already made up their minds before the appeal hearing was done?

Because that would be illegal. We are entitled to a fair and impartial hearing before this board, but it sounds like she and the others already had their minds made up.

So the place where our sewer treatment plant has been located for 50+ years is illconceived? Is that because it no longer fits the political goals of the CCC, that is to move 25 million people and trillions in infrastructure away from the coast ahead of sea level rise and tsunamis?

The case for the project was never made? Really?

Have you forgotten that the lobbyist hired in early 2011 by Yates and his cronies hounded the Commissioners for months and months, meeting with them individually and repeatedly making that very case? The Commissioners probably heard more arguments for the project than against it.

The project got a fair hearing and the Commission made, as Ms. Shallenberger said, “a fully informed decision”. The project was shot down because it was, as Ms. Shallenberger said, ill conceived and violated both the Coastal Act and the Morro Bay Local Coastal Plan.

Keep her nose out of Morro Bay’s business? People were trying to use her words to support a ridiculous recall of the Mayor and that is most definitely her business. The recallers made an unethical attempt to mis-characterize her words and then use them as a weapon against Irons. Setting the record straight was the ethical and professional thing for her to do.

Let me also point out that the recent letter from CCC staff was addressed to the Mayor and the Council. I think that clearly indicates the new, cooperative nature of the relationship between the Council majority and the CCC.

The last Council majority defied and ignored the CCC, which is counter-productive and just plain dumb, as illustrated by the failure of the last project. The current Council majority is actually working WITH the CCC and thus helping to ensure that this project will be successful. What a concept.

This message addresses an issue brought up by doggin – regarding the possibility that a major ocean surge would not just inundate a sewer plant at the beach, but the lift stations and the collection system as well. I said I know a person who is a collection system expert and would ask about this.

I asked my friend an he said, doggin, that he agrees with you that some of the collection system would likely be affected – maybe a third of it. He said that lift station 2 in Cayucos (end of 24th street) would be the lift station most affected, but that a couple in Morro Bay might also be inundated.

However, he also said that if the sewer plant were inland, the parts of the collection system that were unaffected would continue to operate, as would the plant. So, in his view, an inland plant would result in a considerably-less-serious sewage spill problem resulting from an ocean surge than we would see if the plant were at the beach.

Cowpetal, when people attack with the obvious desperation shown in your last post, I know that I am doing a good job getting out the truth about the WRF project.

Your personal attacks will not change the fact that it is indeed possible to build a plant for a reasonable price, less than half of the initial estimates we got. We know that because it has been done by others. The examples are well documented and current, and IF THEY CAN DO IT, WE CAN DO IT.

Yes, PERC Water has done a great job for other communities I know of but, as I said, there are quite likely other companies that work in a similar manner and could also do good work for us.

No, I am not on the PERC payroll. I realize it is hard for some to understand, but there actually are people who work hard to help the City and receive no financial compensation whatsoever – no paycheck, no kickback, no nada. Besides, remember, you are the one that brought up the name PERC. I only referred to them as a “company”.

Instead of wasting energy predicting disaster, why not help make the project a success by doing some research yourself – finding and studying the stories of other towns that have had successful WWTP projects? They are out there, and I know that because I have seen them. Find those examples and provide the information to the project team and the Council. Sitting around ranting doom and gloom helps no one.

Good grief, MBA1, I cringe at your elitist commentary (“people in the know believe”) and, like Myself, disagree with your numbers. At best you are naive, at worst deceptive.

The consultant posted worst-case scenario numbers for a reason. (Bidders see those outrageously high numbers and salivate.) You cut them in half because it suits your narrative, not because you’re right. Obviously you’ve never been involved in a sewer project before. Don’t feel bad about that, though. Neither has Mayor Irons,or council members Smukler or C. Johnson or shadow members Weinholtz or Stedjee. This is a fact. So you’ll all figure it out as you go along, right? This will be the largest public works project in the history of Morro Bay, and it’s the blind leading the blind when it comes to knowledge and experience at the leadership level in these serious matters.

So go ahead, play your foolish game, we know you can’t help yourself. You are not a lawyer and not an accountant. So cut the numbers with your plastic scissor all you want to make them look pretty to fit your spin. The worse-case scenario is more likely to happen simply because of your (and the council’s) negligence, and that’s unacceptable to the cost-conscious majority of Morro Bay residents who don’t want to live in your expensive fool’s paradise.

Given a vote on $100+ a month sewer bills – with the prospect of periodic increases and more for overdue repairs to the broken collection system — the voters will turn it down. Yes they will.

By the way, how much is Percwater paying you to constantly promote them? All your flurry of posts tell us is that Irons has already made up his mind at our expense. Keep digging the hole deeper for him. I’m sure he appreciates the help.

I strongly suspect, cowpetal, that what really has you and a few others particularly upset today is the increasing coverage of this fact: The same consultants that estimated $100 million for a plant in the Morro Valley said it would have cost $83 million for a plant next to the old one on Atascadero Road.

The fact that the estimates are so close, and the fact that the recallers have been citing a much-lower figure for the Atascadero site, shoots a pretty big hole in their pitch to recall the Mayor.

The information is not just coming out here. It’s coming out in public comment in televised City meetings.

As previously noted, I think both figures are too high, and the consultants have already acknowledged as much, stating that the estimates were mainly for comparison purposes; not intended to reflect actual costs, which will be lower.

Please keep your comments to the subject and not the personal.

The Morro Bay sewer is fair game, other users are not.

? or !


silly do your homework, make a trip to PERC in Santa Paula

you live in the dark age “bent” on old technology

I know good and well that estimates don’t ever hold true to what is wanted, the ranch at 41 is not going to come in anywhere close to the consultant’s guesstimate, there are too many things that can and will go bump on this project, that parcel is not in the city the county doesn’t want the city to annex it, the right of ways from cal trans is going to be absurd, then we’ll have to contend with the Indians, and that cost is gonna go nuts,this is not a good idea.

Working with the coastal comm on the old site was/is a much better way to go, cost wise for the citizens of MB, from what I’ve read the CC was not in favor of the old site but it looked like they would work with us here, and I think this would have resolved itself, but the mayor asking for the permit to be denied was a bad move, just one of several he has made and there is more to come, now with Andera out of the way he’ll appoint some one to do his bidding and there will be some other department heads going down the road, this guy is a vindictive little man and hopefully he’ll go down the road before he can inflect any mor edamage.

Oh who do I get to pay for the increase in the sewer bill for this goof up.

I will ignore your attacks on the Mayor for now, and focus on the issue at hand and your concerns regarding project estimates vis-à-vis actual project costs. This is one point on which we agree (amazing!!!). Yes, Myself, I agree that project cost often do exceed estimates. There was a revealing story about that in regards to our project

The story talks about a project with costs that ballooned from an original estimate of $24 million to a final cost of $83 million. Scary.

Such things do not always happen by accident. I believe it is more often by design. The big engineering companies that design and build sewer plants have a business model designed to make big bucks for them at the expense of their customers. Every plant is designed from the ground up – little piece by little piece – a classic case of reinvention of the wheel. It is a VERY inefficient way of building plants, but a very lucrative way of doing business. The losers are, of course, the customers.

HOWEVER, there is another way to do it. I know of one company that uses a modular approach to building plants, and there may be others. The modules are already designed and well-tested, and are combined in custom ways to meet the needs of individual customers.

Because they build plants this way, the company is able to offer much-lower prices, faster construction, AND guaranteed final cost and guaranteed schedule. Yes, I said GUARANTEED final cost. They were here, and offered to build a plant for $10 million less than the estimate the City had for the plant. They even did, at their own expense, a custom design for our plant – one that could be placed on any site, by the way.

However, senior City staff appeared to favor another company – the former employer of one senior staff member – and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect the intellectual property of the firm that offered a plant for $10 million less. Such agreements are standard in industry, but our staff seemed determined to drive this firm away, and they did.

I really don’t care much of what the coastal comm says or wants, they are left leaning tree huggers and generally always vote no on a project,except the one at the Harbor Hut,that one has Betty windbag in a dither, or change what the contractor or tax payer want costing thousands or millions of dollars in needless waste, for them to not allow the plant to be rebuilt on the old site is absurd from the get go the arguments from them and the left leaners here in town don’t hold water,there are many many sewer plants along sid ecreeks and the outfall lines dischatge in the ocean,as far as a tidal wave or tsnami hitting it, in this town and all the rest of the beach towns around here that will be a minor problem,its like spitting in a 10 gallon milk can you won’t notice it.

So what is your address so the rest of the residents of MB can have you pay for the excess billing for this.

Did you even notice the information I provided on the company that uses the modular approach, builds plants for far less than other engineering companies, and guarantees final cost and schedule? There are probably other companies that could do an equally-good job for us and bring us a plant that costs less than half of the current estimates.

The bottom line is that the plant will not be built at the beach. Attacking the CCC and a large segment of the population of Morro Bay will not change that.

Yep it sucks, Irons really screwed that one up for good.

Wrong again. See Mary Shallenberger’s letter to the editor in the Sunday, December 15 Trib

Maybe you missed the recent flood of the Oceano Sewer Plant, near Arroyo Grande Creek, that sent poo poo all over the neighborhood and homes.


that’s what happens when poo poo hits the fan

Can you point us to a news story or other source of more information on that, grayotter?

It was 3 or 4 years ago. The last time we had big rains. Arroyo Grande Creek flooded, while the outlet into the ocean was filled by high tides. There was no place for the flood water to go so it covered the Oceano Sewer Plant, local agriculture fields and the neighborhood around the sewer plant. I’m sure it was in all the local newspapers. That sewer plant or the Oceano Community Services District would be able to give you rolls of paper on it.

Maybe five years ago.

Probably near the time when the previous council was first elected and asleep with their heads in the sand…

Now, in regard to your attacks on the Mayor regarding his handling of this project, please see my response, below, to Taxpayer’s post.

The mayor is still a fool.

but so cute

CCN readers might be interested in a letter sent by CCC staff to the Morro Bay City Council regarding sites for the new sewer plant.

As someone who has been closely involved in what happened in Los Osos, I am shocked at the naiveté of the people in Morro Bay who have witnessed this from 5 miles away! It is like they took the handbook “how to fail in Los Osos” and changed the title to “how to suceed in Morro Bay”.

I have even seen some of the same people from Los Osos who absolutely added $50M to the Los Osos project, present themselves to the Morro Bay city council meeting and offer advice on how to be successful!!!

There is no point in saying much except “prepare yourselves”.

Don’t worry about us, Shocked. We are finally on the right track toward a successful project. Unlike prior Council majorities, this one actually cares about the residents of Morro Bay and about running a well-managed project. They said they would choose the location by the end of December, and they have done so. So, the project is on schedule.

Regarding the budget, discussions and public comment at the Council meeting made it very clear that initial estimates made by consultants were WAY over the likely final cost. The consultants said that the original estimates were so high because of unknowns, and that they will be refined downward as more is known.

By the way, in case you did not see my earlier post, below, some people have been ranting about those high estimates, saying it would cost just a fraction to stay at the current location. WRONG. The same consultants’ estimate for building a plant at the current location was $83 million. That’s not all that much lower than for the site that was chosen.

Many of those who were instrumental in the Los Osos obstructionists debacle are indeed the same individuals who are promoting yet another small town disaster.

Simply compare the rhetoric, the divisiveness, and the assumed expert knowledge, and you have Déjà vu all over again.


I have a few questions for you MB. You are obviously pro new location and seem to be on the same wave length as the current council is. The original plan was to build at the same location adjacent to the current facility. This is being ruled out because?? having a treatment facility within tsunami range is a bad idea or? I can see where relocation would free up a prime chunk of land and since the city owns the batch plant property as well which rarely is used anymore, its frees up a handsome parcel for a massive hotel or convention center.

Enlighten me here as the way I see it like this. Any tidal surges will will flood the plant and also overcome the collections system and lift stations rendering them useless. The plant will be massive amounts of concrete and rebar able to withstand anything short of a nuke blast. Build it up the canyon and problem solved, but now we have a typically heavily populated convention center or hotel,built of partial stick construction sitting on a roads end where 5:00 traffic is gridlocked and when a tidal surge hits loss of life and property will be potentially great,far greater then a sewage plant. Heck climb up on any one of the numerous mass concrete process buildings such as a digester or Ox ditch and your 20+ off the ground. Sure hiding the plant somewhere would be nice but at what price I ask? Give us some examples of a project of this magnitude coming under budget. Your prospective cost of less tan half of the current estimates scare me in that any engineer that is that far off from actual completion costs has no business in the business and they better find a new line of work…….or perhaps go work for Wallace. What say you?

The Atascadero Road location was rejected because it violates a lot of Local Coastal Plan policies, including the fact that it is in harm’s way – being vulnerable to both inland and ocean flooding. Building a new plant there would also violate our zoning. That area is zoned for light industrial use, and a sewer plant is considered heavy industry.

I think I see the point you are making – whether we have a sewer plant at the Atascadero Road location or a hotel or convention center, that location is not ideal for major development. That seemed to also be the viewpoint of the Coastal Commissioners when they rejected the site. They said that options for future development there would be limited. So, maybe there will never be a hotel or convention center there.

However, if there were, I think that the issue is that, if you have some warning, you can evacuate a hotel or convention center, but you cannot pick up and move an entire sewer plant.

I don’t know if a tsunami or tidal surge would actually flood out the lift stations and collection system or not, since they are underground. I have a friend who is a collections system expert and I will ask him. I do know that the whole collection system is in bad shape – very leaky.

Happily, I can give you an example of a project of this magnitude coming in ON budget though not under. The sewer plant in Santa Paula was built in two years and came in on schedule and on budget. The company that built it guarantees final cost and schedule, and if they mess up, they have to absorb the loss. It costs the customer nothing extra. They also will guarantee the rates for 30 years if you hire them to run the plant.

They came in here with a proposal, but Schultz and Lueker refused to allow the staff to sign an industry standard non-disclosure agreement to protect the company’s intellectual property. They seemed to prefer a different company and did not seem to like this one entering the “contest”. In the end, they drove them away.

The so-called Atascadero Road location was denied because Mayor Irons asked for it to be denied. He wasted millions when he asked for no vote to be taken. He sold Cayucos down the river. He sold the taxpayers of Morro Bay down the river. The worst case scenario if a vote were allowed to happen would have been that the project would have been denied. Because of Jamie Irons, Christine Johnson and Smukler that vote never happened. The Coastal Commission didn’t vote to deny building the wastewater treatment plant, those three voted to not allow the city’s project to come to a vote.

These three are responsible for the damage that will be done to seniors and others on fixed incomes in Morro Bay.

Taxpayer, you are COMPLETELY misrepresenting the facts. First of all, there WAS a vote – a vote on whether or not to deny the project. Listen to the meeting. Audio is available on the CCC Web site. If the Commissioners had liked the project, they could have voted not to deny.

That project was doomed clear back in November, 2010 when the CCC staff sent the City a 12-page letter outlining all the things that were wrong with the project and the site. The City’s own planning commission agreed with the CCC.

An arrogant Yates-led council majority ignored the warnings and voted to proceed. The CCC then took control of permitting for the project – a pretty clear sign that they had no faith in the Council majority’s direction.

So what did Yates and his pals do then? They hired a lobbyist (Susan McCabe) to try to convince the Coastal Commissioners that the project was OK. That was in early 2011.

The lobbyist hounded the Commissioners for months, meeting with them individually, to try to get them to support the project. I suspect that with all that lobbying, the Commissioners probably heard more arguments in favor of the project than against it. By the time of the January hearing, the Commissioners had heard all the arguments from both sides, and had all the input they needed to make their decision

Irons’ support for denial (rather than withdrawal) was nothing more than a formality, and was a wise move on his part to prevent the pro-project faction from wasting even more than the millions they had already squandered on a doomed, ill-advised project.

When considering the $ Billions spent in the sewage industry, Cuesta College should offer an AA Degree in that discipline. Another learn by dooing opportunity.

“Learn by doing” is Cal Poly’s motto. While Cuesta doesn’t officially have a motto it generally seems to be “making lifelong learning happen”.

Gee, I wish I could type :) Here is the correct link for the post I entered a few minutes ago:

Before the people start carrying on about how much the new plant is going to cost because it will not be built on Atascadero Road next to the current one – please check the table on the 427th page of the document package at

There, you will find information on preliminary cost estimates for the sites that are under consideration, AND for the Atascadero Road site rejected by the CCC.

Please note that the consultants’ estimate for building a new plant at that site is $83 million – WAY higher than the number people have been using in their attacks on the Mayor. Yes, that’s $83 million to build a new plant next door to the existing one, NOT the $30 million number that the recallers have been throwing around in their attacks on Irons.

That means we have a $17 million difference between the estimate for the Morro Valley site now favored and the Atascadero Road site In addition, at the last Council meeting, the consultants indicated that their estimates are worst case scenario and will be refined downward as more information comes out.

People in the know believe the actual cost will be half, or less, of the original estimate. The worst-case scenario for the Morro Valley site is $100 million. Half of that is $50 million. Half of $83 million is $41.5 million.

That would give us an $8.5 million difference between the cost of building at a safe inland location and at the risky Atascadero Road location that violates numerous LCP policies. That seems a reasonable price to pay for a plant that will not be at serious risk of being inundated and rendered inoperable by flood waters.

What makes you think your favored spot comes with an accurate estimate? When was the last time a major water treatment plant project came in on budget?

The point, Rambunctious, is that the same consultants that estimated $100 million for my “favored spot” estimated $83 million for your “favored spot”. The difference is WAY less than the infamous “recallers” have been claiming.

In fact, I do not believe that the estimates are accurate. I believe they are way too high. A major treatment plant project that came in on budget? Santa Paula. There are others, but I am most familiar with that one.

I recently spoke to someone in Santa Paula city government and, after two years of operation, he is still extremely happy with their plant and with the company that built it. That company guarantees final cost and schedule, so there are no surprises, and has been building plants for over 10 years.

Interestingly,a political faction in Santa Paula is STILL trying to cause trouble because their favored vendor lost the contract to build the plant. They even complained to the Grand Jury.

I have a copy of the Grand Jury report. It says that the council acted in the best interests of the city, the vendor met all contracted obligations, and nobody did anything wrong. The report also noted city staff ties to the vendor that lost. Hmmm, very interesting.

“In fact, I do not believe that the estimates are accurate. I believe they are way too high.”

I think you’re dreaming…

Then you did not listen to the last Council meeting.