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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Gordo

I repeat my earlier comment from the Hill Story: The balls on these guys!

To try and pull the wool over our eyes regarding his compensation and salary is insulting. Do they teach these department heads and elected officials how to be so arrogant or do they acquire it as they rub up against one another?

The claims made by Allen regarding the way his APCD collects their fees and what good they really do begs the question, “What color is the sky in your world, Larry?”

Mr. Hayward is correct when he suggests having a regular county department assume responsibility for inspecting diesel equipment, making sure wood burning fireplaces are compliant and designating burn days for backyard burning. It would ensure accountability and if the tasks were assigned to three different departments, say Health, Planning and Fire, it would guard against the consolidation of power by one agency.

Hill and Allen are going to wind up with their own chapter in Mr. Hayward’s book if they continue sparring with him. Way to go guys! When Moe gets done playing hide the salami with his assistant the three of you really should take your show on the road!


Kevin 99

At least Hayward admits to sloppy journalism. A true journalist would have called the APCD and said, “Say, it says here that you’re making $240K/year. True?” But he didn’t. He just wrote his piece, and now it sits out there without correction. Journalism isn’t what it used to be, my friends. Now you just toss stuff out there–and that’s fine if you clearly label yourself a “columnist” or an author of opinion pieces, but I think we all should expect to have a certain level of confidence in the facts that are reported in straight news pieces. This did not meet that test.


Some of you will click a thumbs down on this post. I’d sure like to know why….


mbactivist1

Kevin, he IS making $240K a year. “Nevertheless, the APCD’s fiscal year 2011/2012 salary projection listed Allen as receiving $240,119 a year in salary, benefits and fringes.” There was no need to call Allen. The APCD’s own documentation provided the figure.


r0y

Ooops. Completely missed this one, didn’t you?


SamLouis

Steven Hayward hits the nail on the head:


“…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…”


“…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…”


So let’s fire 3/4 of the APCD staff including Mr. Allen and his four “division managers” (keep those that actually do some work), sell their building (the former Ziatech facility off Sacramento Drive) bought with taxpayer funds and move them into an extant SLOC facility — which need not be in the City of SLO by the way.


SamLouis

Dear Air Pollution Control Officer Allen:


First, would you please take a couple of paragraphs in this forum to clearly outline specifically what you do on any given workday to justify your $153,096 (plus benefits) annual salary? I want to know what we taxpayers are getting for our money.


Second, what do you think you would be doing for a living if you worked in private enterprise and how much do you think you would be earning? How many hours per week would you be working versus what you do today?


Third, would you also take another paragraph or two to explain what the four APCD “Division Managers” (your subordinates) do to justify their annual $105,310 (plus benefits) salaries and why their positions even exist?


Based upon your current daily workload, do you think these four “Division Managers” positions would even exist if you were employed in a similar function in private enterprise? How would the absence of these four positions (part of your own empire) effect your own compensation?


Thanks in advance for your help.


Sincerely;


A. Taxpayer


P.S. Just as a heads-up Mr. Allen, we (the taxpayers) are getting tired of paying for the waste exemplified by your office.


kayaknut

“Just as a heads-up Mr. Allen, we (the taxpayers) are getting tired of paying for the waste exemplified by your office” One problem is even if Mr. Allen is shown the door following the removal of Mr. Hill and Mr. Gibson from the BOS after their next election if not sooner, Mr. Allen would likely “retire” and then start collecting a pension, (from a grossly underfunded system supported on the backs of the taxpayers instead of the people who feed off it), that will likely be close to, if not more than, what he collects now. This needs to be changed first and then he can “retire”.


SamLouis

Yup!


Jorge Estrada

That said, get ready to pay income taxes on your benefit package too because this rational can go both ways. Just remember the line we’ve all read,” wages, tips and compensations.” Yes, I hate thinking about too.


rogerfreberg

Larry Allen should not try to match brain pans with Steven Hayward. Larry should just retitle his diatribe,”SAVE MY JOB!!!”


I am getting more and more impressed by the people contributing to Forbes Magazine.


isoslo

The APCD is a complete waste of the taxpayers money. If it did not exist the air in San Luis County would be exactly the same. This is one of the biggest scams ever perpetuated on the citizens of SLO county. Hopefully this article will bring some much needed attention to this embarrassment of public waste. Think of all the good the APCD funds could do for the homeless or the mentally ill or any number of other needy groups. Governing is mostly about allocating resources, and we don’t need the APCD!


SLOthinker

Back in 70’s, one of the major sources of air pollution in the county was the Morro Bay power plant. It burned fuel oil a lot of the time with not a lot of pollution control equipment installed.


Over the years, starting in the 90’s, the plant was retrofit with pollution control equipment and eventually stopped burning oil. All this was done in response to the tightening of federal standards. The only role the APCD played in this was to enforce the federal standards. This entailed inspections and reviewing and approving of retrofit plans. In the mid 90’s this amounted to quite a bit of work.


However, by the early 2000’s, with all the retrofits done and market forces severely limiting the plant run time, there really was not much for the APCD to do in respect to the plant. At this time they made a few inspections, reviewed a few reports AND COLLECTED A BIG FAT CHECK


SLOBIRD

This process on the Morro Bay Power Plant, implemented by Federal Standards also reduced our County Pollution which Mr. Allen is happy to imply that through his diligent policies and procedures has reduced County wide pollution, forgetting the mention of Federal regulations and requirements. How many APCD workers does it take to enforce doors on fireplaces which have been standard in California under Title 24.


SLOthinker

Exactly what I was trying to get at.


Mr. Holly

Finally! We have some help from the outside. Hopefully this will bring attention to all of the problems that we have thruout the entire county and with city governments.

I hope that this is the beginning of all the misdeeds that are occurring to be identified and hopefully bring public pressure to thin down the governments where they are not the give away of our tax monies for programs like the APCD.


r0y

Unfortunately, reading the comments on the Forbes.com article, it looks like we’re not unique.


In fact, isn’t this somewhat the point of Mr. Hayes’ original article? He just happened to use our County and “officials” as an example (a real easy example).


As much as I’d like to think of “help from the outside” – it really needs to be US, on the inside. I am not going to help the folks in NY or NC with their fat bureaucrat problem; nor do I suspect they will help us. We can do it, but it will be slow going.


More of this; more CCN investigative reporting; KVEC & Dave, whatever it takes… all helps. Sure, there will be setbacks, as SEIU and it’s minions circle the wagons to protect their interests over ours; sure we’ll have spineless weasels (hello, Ron Roy) who cave to Enforcers who begin to enforce their will more than laws… but in time, we’ll get this.