Larry Allen enters battle against Forbes magazine columnist

January 23, 2014
Larry Allen

Larry Allen

By KAREN VELIE

San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District Executive Director Larry Allen fired back at Forbes Magazine columnist Steven Hayward Wednesday claiming none of the information in his “attack piece” is true.

For example, Allen claims Hayward misstated his base salary by about $100,000. Hayward wrote Allen was paid close to $250,000.

Nevertheless, the APCD’s fiscal year 2011/2012 salary projection listed Allen as receiving $240,119 a year in salary, benefits and fringes. At that time, of the district’s 21 full-time employees, 19 received total compensation of over $100,000 a year.

In addition Allen contends that his department does not permit tractors and as such the comment about a $13,000 fee to Cal Poly for permitting a tractor is incorrect. According to APCD documents, the cost for his staff to inspect and approve tractors is listed as an inspection fee, not a permit fee.

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.

Allen’s response to Hayward:

“Mr. Hayward – you ought to check the accuracy and credibility of your information source(s) before you publish an article in a national magazine. Absolutely none of the information you’ve published here in this opinion/attack piece regarding me and the San Luis Obispo (SLO) County Air Pollution Control District is correct.

“Contrary to your claims, local air quality would not be nearly as good as it is today without the efforts of our agency and our many partnerships with local business to help achieve and preserve clean air.

“We do and have implemented many successful programs that have significantly reduced emissions from local sources that are not directly regulated by the state and federal EPA. The residential wood combustion rule you mention was adopted in 1993 to ensure clean burning woodstoves are installed in new homes to reduce exposure inside and outside the home to toxic air contaminants from inefficient woodburning units. It was just one of numerous other measures that were developed and implemented as part of a very effective clean air plan that achieved significant local emission reductions with broad input and support from the business and community interests. Our plan was used as a model by the California Air Resources Board for other air districts to follow, and implementing that plan resulted in SLO County attaining the state ozone standard. I am proud of that.

“Regarding your statements on our budget and salaries, I am paid a $153,096 annual salary, not $250,000 as you claim. Of 23.5 total staff, only 4 others, our Division Managers, earn a 6-figure salary – $105,310 per year to be precise. You might also be interested to know that our staff size has not increased since 1993, a claim very few other government agencies could make. Our agency is extremely lean and streamlined in its operations. Our long-term fiscal plan, adopted by our 12-member Board of elected city and county officials, anticipated the closure and loss of revenue from the power plant several years ago and implemented numerous cost cutting measures to build reserves to cover that loss when it occurs. All of this information is included on the Air District’s website, an information source you must have not considered in advance of submitting your attack piece.

“Contrary to your statements, only 50 percent of our budget comes from permit and inspection fees, which are set by our Board in a public hearing, not by staff; less than 1 percent of our budget comes from fines. The other 50 percent of our budget does come from state and federal appropriations, motor vehicle registration fees and local property taxes. Regarding the alleged $13,000 fee to the university to inspect and permit a tractor: I have no idea where you got such a notion. We do not require permits for tractors, but we do provide grants for farmers to repower or replace their tractors to help them comply with state regulations – I’m guessing that’s what you must be referring to, with the notable correction that we are giving them money, not charging them fees. We typically provide over $1 million per year in grant funds to local business and other organizations to help them comply with state air quality regulations.

“I would hope that a national magazine like Forbes would hold its writers to higher standards than you’ve clearly been held to, and I will be contacting the Forbes editors to ask for a formal retraction and apology to be published by them.

“Sincerely,

“Larry R. Allen”

Hayward’s Wednesday response to Allen:

“Mr. Allen is correct that I have misstated his base salary. He and other public servants like him might help their case, however, if they did not deliberately render their complete compensation in opaque terms that seem designed for obfuscation rather than transparency. The 2012 salary information for the APCD (p. 41 of the budget document) sets Mr. Allen’s direct salary at $153,202, but then adds two curious lines: “Fixed costs: $12,082; Variable costs: $70,919; Total: $236,021.” (The 2011 total figure was $240,119.) There is no explanation or breakdown of either of these categories: how much of these figures are standard benefits (health insurance, etc.), and how much are other items that deserve to be considered compensation, such as pension contributions or especially cashable accrued vacation and sick days or per diems (the favorite trick of the state legislature)? And why is this table omitted from the current year budget document entirely, with no total annual compensation figure listed anywhere? I think I know why. (The 2011 salary schedule puts Mr. Allen’s “variable costs” of salary at $82,000.) The public ought at least to know what the commensurate figure for “variable costs” of Mr. Allen’s salary is this year.

“This opacity contrasts starkly with the way total compensation is reported for senior executives at public corporations, where direct salary, annual bonuses, stock options, and contingent buyout obligations are clearly stated and explained. If Mr. Allen wishes to be more transparent, he should restore that omitted table to the current budget, and offer more details about those mystery numbers. (I was, incidentally, the public interest representative on the California Citizens Compensation Commission in the early 1990s, so I’ve seen this circus before.)

“But Mr. Allen’s salary is entirely ancillary to the main points, about which he disputes two. Mr. Allen says “Contrary to your claims, local air quality would not be nearly as good as it is today without the efforts of our agency and our many partnerships with local business to help achieve and preserve clean air.” Leaving aside how many businesses in the county truly regard the APCD as their “partners,” I categorically dispute Mr. Allen’s triumphalism about the role of his agency in the air trends in the country. A close consideration of the data will show an insignificant difference in air quality trends between San Luis Obispo and counties that do not have special purpose air districts like the APCD. I suspect that Mr. Allen and his staff are unaware of these data.

“Second, Mr. Allen contests my criticism of the APCD deriving its revenue from self-determined fees and fines: “Contrary to your statements, only 50 percent of our budget comes from permit and inspection fees, which are set by our Board in a public hearing, not by staff.” I wonder, then, why the budget page of the APCD website reads as follows: “Most of our funding comes from fees paid by businesses and industries that cause air pollution,” and goes on to say that other funding sources are “minor.” So Mr. Allen disagrees with his own website? Perhaps he will see to changing this soon. But again this misses the point: whether the amount of revenue from permit fees is 25 percent or 75 percent, the correct amount should be: zero. Or at the very least the revenue should flow to the county’s general fund, where its use would be balanced alongside the full range of public interests.

“This gets precisely the heart of the problem. Mr. Allen repairs behind a convenient fiction that the board, not directly accountable to the people, is something more than a rubber stamp for these semi-autonomous, staff-run single purpose agencies, which have, please note, greater autonomy than the federal EPA. (Incidentally, proposals over the years in the state legislature to have local air boards directly elected have been stoutly opposed by air districts. Curious, that.) There is extensive academic literature, again likely unknown to Mr. Allen and his staff, about how single-purpose agencies like the APCD become increasingly zealous over time, and indifferent to wider balancing of public interests. This is why I conclude that the APCD as a standalone agency should be abolished, and its legitimate enforcement functions (enforcing conformity for equipment like diesel generators, for example) transferred to the county’s general planning department, where both decisions and oversight are by their nature required to balance competing interests in a way that the APCD does not. This is just a sound principle of public administration, which has been endlessly trampled by modern trends in administrative governance.

“At the back of all of this is the fact that our air quality statutes, both state and federal, are antiquated and badly in need of reform. We’re not living in the 1970s anymore. To be sure, it isn’t Mr. Allen’s fault that his single-purpose agency is an obsolete model, prone to the usual mission-creep incentives of bureaucracies everywhere to metastasize. But neither does he have any incentive to be a reformer. Quite the opposite. (It’s a separate issue for another time, but the infamous AB32 should be called the “Keep CARB and Local Air Districts in Business Forever Act.”)

“All of the forgoing propositions require considerable evidence and debate to substantiate, which is why I’m working on a book about the subject. But perhaps Mr. Allen will agree to a formal public debate with me about all of these issues after I return to the county later this summer? A public servant ought to be willing to offer a vigorous defense for matters of protracted controversy like this. I’m sure Cal Poly or some other civic organization would be willing to host such a public forum. Let me know.

“STEVEN HAYWARD”


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PaulJones

The cities and county have building codes in place and inspectors. Why is a fireplace any different than a hot water tank, furnace or any other item that must meet code and standards? I guess because Larry Allen wouldn’t have a job, that’s why.


OnTheOtherHand

By way of explanation, there is a difference. Most building codes arise from a desire to keep people individually safe from the greed of builders and manufacturers or their own ignorance of what is safe. The wood burning stove and fireplace regs are there to prevent heavy pollution of the outside air by individuals not their inside air.


Whether or not the need for regulations on wood burning stoves and fireplaces are needed or not is a matter of debate. I don’t know if it would be needed in SLO county but I do know that similar regs have been highly beneficial for the air quality in some Rocky Mountain communities during winter inversion layer conditions (where air is trapped in a valley much like the conditions in California’s Central Valley.)


pigsrule

This story at the very least has put light on the matter and made the bloated county bureaucracy explain their expenses. They say they want a forum but really, the SLO County wants no part of a forum and if there is one, will any reasonable explanation be given. Heck, their answer will be to establish (ie pay for) a commission to investigate why a board should exist.


MarkJames

Larry is on the hot seat now, bring on the debate.


Look on the bright side Larry, at least Hayward has given you a few months to study. Better run along now and hit the books.


JordanJ

Its director, Larry Allen, is paid close to $250,000 a year’


Hayward doesn’t call it a salary, he say’s that is what Allen is paid and it’s true. It doesn’t matter what category of payment Allen disguises it under. Our government employees have become rather creative with all the tax payer funds they manage to swipe from the citizens under the guise of added perks that we aren’t supposed to know about. Exactly what are all your perks and added compensation Mr. Allen? No doubt your lunches are all paid for by us taxpayers as well. How much do you receive in reimbursements for your supposed expenses? Yeah, those are additional ‘perks’ (called reimbursements rather than benefits) that get swept under the rug and you don’t even pay taxes on them, do you?


Does anyone know if Larry and his gang go on ‘retreats’ which is a buzz word for a free vacation on the tax payers. Lisa Solomon was fond of those and I think ‘retreats’ on tax payer money should be banned.


Kevin Rice

Retreats? Travel junkets? OF COURSE! Does a $600 room at the luxury Granlibakken Lodge in Lake Tahoe qualify? (Because everyone knows you can’t productively hold a conference in Merced, right?) Shall i post details?


No_More_Anger

Absolutely, post the details. Fingerprinting without the facts is like a gun that fires only blanks.


givemeabreak

kevin rice….PLEASE do post the details!


Kevin Rice

Will do. Look for it all the top of the posts in a few hours.


OnTheOtherHand

Agreed generally. The big exception I would take with Mr. Hayward’s response is his implication that corporate execs are not equally disingenuous about their “compensation” packages. They have these things written into tax law by their corporate puppets in Congress. One example is the methods they use to calculate the “benefits” they receive for personal use of corporate jets. They are also at least as inclined to call their vacations to exotic locations “business trips.”


euroamerican

In my opinion this is the best thing that could have happened. Now thanks to Mr. Allen’s indignation the APCD has now been brought to the forefront, and scrutiny of the County taxpayers


Cindy

Would someone please explain this fireplace pollution control/ wood combustion APCD program to me? It seems to me that regardless of whether there are doors on a fire place or not, the smoke still goes up the chimney and enters the atmosphere, no?


I really don’t get how making people put doors on their fire place (which I have on both of mine plus a blower) makes a difference where outside pollution and the ozone layer is concerned.


Why do we need an APCD agency to oversee that anyway. Isn’t that the building inspectors job and part of the permitting process for new construction or upgrades?


No_More_Anger

Cindy, a mere google search would of produced this


https://www.aqmd.gov/tao/ConferencesWorkshops/WoodSmokeForum/AllenSlides.pdf


justchuck

Salary, schmalary, he is feeding at the trough of the taxpayers for almost a quarter of a million dollars and is trying to obviate that fact with semantics. I would help clean up the air for a lot less.


kayaknut

Well done Mr. Hayward, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Mr. Allen to agree to a open public forum for a discussion and public questions, something tells me he would never accept any offer of one.


BeenThereDoneThat

Agreed but I wish he would accept. I for one would love to go and hear it. While they are at it bring along Hill. It would make great entertainment that I would be more than willing to pay for.


Kevin Rice

I will happily underwrite the costs of such a forum, and I’ll provide Mr. Allen with several pitchers of water—he’ll need them.


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