Hill challenges Shoals

November 15, 2014
Jim Hill

Jim Hill

OPINION By JIM HILL

The recent election represents an opportunity for residents of Grover Beach, Oceano and Arroyo Grande to change some policies at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District that have not been in residents’ interest. In 2010, a spill estimated at 384,000 gallons of raw sewage was released from the treatment plant, seriously affecting nearby homes and the area environment.

The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has authority to levy fines of up to $10 per gallon for such events, but according to OCSD Director Lucey’s statements on the record, the water board responded with a settlement offer to the district of $300,000. This would represent a charge of roughly $10 per resident of the district, rounding the population to 30,000.

John Wallace, then Administrator of the sanitation district, didn’t want a fine on his record and prevailed on his friend, Arroyo Grande Mayor Ferrara, to challenge the fine with the regional water board.

The sanitation district board, led by Mayor Ferrara, voted to challenge the fine and hired an attorney to represent the district before the water board. The legal fees for the challenge came to about $750,000 –two and a half times the amount of the settlement offer – or about $25 per each resident of the District.

Due to the challenge, the water quality board thoroughly investigated the sewage spill, finding Administrator Wallace directly responsible and increasing the fine to nearly $1.2 million (still a relatively small fraction of the potential maximum), or another $40 per resident.

Just now, Mayor Ferrara has convinced the current sanitation district board to file a lawsuit against the state to protest the increased fine. The same attorney who lost the challenge at the water board has been engaged again.

There is no reason to believe the legal fees alone would not exceed $750,000 this time around, $25 more per resident on top of the $65 already charged, and it is very unlikely the sanitation district will prevail in the lawsuit – in fact, the fine could be increased yet again.

I invite newly elected Mayor Shoals of Grover Beach to join my effort to stop the lawsuit before more damage is done. If not, each resident’s liability could increase to $90 or more in legal fees and fines, or $360 for a family of four.

I know this is unaffordable for most Arroyo Grande families and I’m pretty sure the same is true for Grover Beach and Oceano. Worse, there will be no tangible benefit for the money spent.

It remains for each city and the OCSD to pursue restitution for the fine with former Administrator Wallace, something outgoing Grover Beach Mayor Peterson would have been willing to pursue, and the regional board did determine the spill was directly Wallace’s fault. That course seems to me far more likely to reduce the cost to district ratepayers than additional lawsuits engineered to protect favored interests.

Jim Hill is a write-in-candidate for the Arroyo Grande Mayor seat against Ferrara who is currently trailing in unofficial results.


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40 Comments

  1. Pelican1 says:

    WINNER…WINNER…CHICKEN DINNER!
    In Tony’s camp, hemlock and crow will be served at 6:00pm sharp.

    (5) 13 Total Votes - 9 up - 4 down
    • Gordo says:

      LMAO!!!
      Poor Tony… I guess he needs some hobbies now that he eases into retirement. Perhaps the monthly luncheon of Fuzz that Wuz (retired LAPD members), maybe start early getting next year’s vegetable garden ready or perhaps building a nice model train collection, complete with a striped engineer cap.. plenty of things to do, too bad he didn’t do any of them instead of putting his foot in his mouth and getting booted out of office..

      (1) 11 Total Votes - 6 up - 5 down
  2. TaxMeAgain says:

    So the same four “thumbs down” comments on each of the comments is an indication that we have four sore losers in our midst.

    (3) 21 Total Votes - 12 up - 9 down
    • kayaknut says:

      At this point you only got 3 thumbs down, maybe our former mayor hasn’t gotten to his computer yet, he was busy all weekend deleting files and maybe he slept in this morning. Give him time and you likely will get your 4th.

      (5) 13 Total Votes - 9 up - 4 down
  3. Pelican1 says:

    Congratulations Jim
    And finally……

    Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high
    There’s at town that I heard of once in a lullaby.
    Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.
    And the dreams that Jim dared to dream really do come true.

    Someday we’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where Tony is far behind us.
    Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops.
    That’s where you’ll find us.

    Somewhere, over the rainbow, Jim will lead.
    Birds fly over the rainbow, why then, oh, why can’t we?
    If a happy new mayor now can lead, beyond the rainbow,
    Why, oh, why oh why can’t we?

    (1) 21 Total Votes - 11 up - 10 down
  4. agag1 says:

    There are folks in our community who have followed the sanitation district on-goings for years. Combined, their knowledge of the dealings of Wallace, Ferrara, and Shoals is invaluable. I am hopeful that these folks will unite, and keep this issue in the forefront, as well as bringing more information to the surface for all to see.
    Even though Jim Hill is but one vote on the board, knowing that he has the passion for making the district operate efficiently, effectively, and with the best interests of local residents in mind, we now have a voice for honest representation.

    (23) 35 Total Votes - 29 up - 6 down
  5. Toadstomper says:

    If this litigation is pursued by the sanitation district board then they have an obligation to go on record and specifically state why they feel it is the best interest district’s ratepayers. This needs to include a full explanation of the risks involved. If they do anything less, then this is yet another important board decision that lacks both transparency and the courage to be clearly accountable.

    A full explanation is especially needed in this situation where it is hard to imagine how such litigation makes any sense except as a hallucinatory denial of past mismanagement.

    Shoals has a direct responsibility for the past mismanagement at the district through his appointment of Bill Nicholls to the district board. Nicholls and Ferrara stopped any and all attempts to control Wallace and deal with the endless problems at the district. They were so aggressive in protecting Wallace and the status quo that it would be far too charitable to say they were merely asleep at the wheel. Jim Hill was the only voice of sanity on the board but was continually out-voted 2 to1. One can only hope that Shoals has since learned enough that history doesn’t repeat itself..

    (16) 28 Total Votes - 22 up - 6 down
    • LameCommenter says:

      “…. One can only hope that Shoals has since learned enough that history doesn’t repeat itself……”

      People in this county don’t learn very well (the recent write-in campaign is a delightful exception). Los Osos just returned arrogant renegade Cesena to the CSD board, the guy who cost each property $ 24,933 by his brainless too-late cancelation of the working, underway, well-vetted former sewer project.

      The public down there must WANT Shoals to come back. This will prove to be a mistake.

      (8) 22 Total Votes - 15 up - 7 down
  6. SamLouis says:

    Hey, Ferrara, did you read this article? It smacks of LEADERSHIP rather than MANIPULATION… Too late for you though!

    (9) 27 Total Votes - 18 up - 9 down
  7. analyticone says:

    Jim, thank you for breaking it down that way. But that’s just the cost to the people of paying the fine and paying for the legal fees, a total of about $2,000,000.

    What about the reserves wiped out by huge losses and the failure to add to the reserves for 10 years?

    From 1988 to 2004 the District was adding about $500,000 a year to its reserves.

    Then the district lost at least that amount every year from 2006 through 2013 (it broke even in 2005) until 2014 when it was back in the black by $400,000.

    The reserves, estimated at $12m in 2004, were wiped out by the losses.

    If it had continued to operate as it should have, the district would have had 9 years of profits ($4.5m) added to the $12m reserves, which is $16.5m.

    That would have funded about half of what is needed to upgrade the 1960’s plant to recharge the aquifer and protect from future spills. The rest would probably have been covered by grants, so no additional cost to the ratepayers.

    Instead, the residents of Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano will now be on the hook for the $16m plus interest.

    This is why we need a forensic audit. It is time for the people of this community to demand their money back.

    (23) 35 Total Votes - 29 up - 6 down
    • StakeHolder says:

      Well spelled out, analyticone. Everyone needs to read this closely and absorb it.

      A forensic audit is necessary to go after those who “stole” this money. If not, we the ratepayers will be responsible, which equates in higher sanitation bills. Watch what is coming, rate increases already!

      Wallace and his multiple engineering groups need to be responsible and PAY IT BACK.

      (15) 27 Total Votes - 21 up - 6 down
      • agag1 says:

        So glad to see Jim is willing to “take the bull by the horns” on this issue.
        Let’s hope he is able to garner another vote to get the audit started.
        Wallace needs to be held accountable for his evil deeds.

        (6) 14 Total Votes - 10 up - 4 down
  8. Pelican1 says:

    There’s a mayor who’s sure all that glitters is gold
    And he’s trying to buy a stairway to heaven.
    When he gets there he knows, if the votes are all close
    With a word we can get what we came for.
    Ooh, ooh, and he’s trying to buy stairway to heaven.

    There’s a sign on the wall but he wants to be sure
    ‘Cause you know sometimes the mayor’s words have two meanings.
    In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings,
    Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

    Ooh,makes us wonder,
    Ooh, it makes us wonder.

    There’s a feeling we get when look to Jim Hill,
    And our spirit is crying for Tony leaving.
    In our thoughts we have votes to get rid of Tony,
    And the voices of those who stand looking.

    Ooh, it makes use wonder,
    Ooh, it really makes us wonder.

    And it’s whispered that soon, if we all call the tune,
    Then Jim will lead us to reason.
    And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
    And the community will echo with laughter.

    If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
    It’s just a fall cleaning of city hall.
    Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
    There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
    And it makes us wonder.

    Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know,
    Jim’s calling you to join him,
    Dear Arroyo, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
    Your mayor lies on the whispering wind?

    And as we wind on down the road
    Our votes are taller than our soul.
    There walks a candidate we all know
    Who shines white light and wants to show
    How everything still turns to gold.
    And if you listen very hard
    The Jim will come to you at last.
    When all are one and one is all
    And Jim answers our call

    (1) 25 Total Votes - 13 up - 12 down

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