Sanitation district attorney misled ratepayers

January 30, 2015
Matt Guerrero

Matt Guerrero

By KAREN VELIE

Confidential documents obtained by CalCoastNews reveal a long-term plan by South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District officials to delay fines and findings of mismanagement by mounting a legal battle against the state — a fight they did not expect to win.

In 2010, failures at the sanitation district resulted in 384,000 to 3 million gallons of raw sewage flowing into Oceano homes and the ocean. The Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board then determined the spill was the result of mismanagement.

In March 2012, the sanitation district sent a confidential settlement offer of $50,000 along with an agreement to spend $100,000 on repairs to the state water board. The sanitation district serves the residents of the Oceano Community Service District, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach and is governed by a three-person board consisting of one representative from each community.

On April 20, 2012, the state rejected the district’s settlement offer. Instead, the state proposed a settlement that included a $400,000 fine and the requirement for the district to spend $375,000 on specific plant upgrades.

On May 16, 2012, the three sanitation district board members, Oceano Community Services District President Matt Guerrero, Grover Beach Councilman Bill Nicolls and Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferarra, rejected the state’s settlement offer in closed session.

On June 6, 2012, in a sanitation district closed session meeting that wasn’t properly noticed on the agenda, the board discussed an anticipated timeline and a proposed strategy developed by then district administrator John Wallace, district legal counsel Mike Seitz, and outside legal counsel Melissa Thorme.

In their timeline, Wallace, Thorme and Seitz do not consider winning their battle against the state.

The timeline notes that after the district loss of a hearing in Sept. 2012, the district can appeal to the state water board in a process slated to take about a year. After the district loses the appeal against the state it can then file a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, which will take up to two years, the timeline says.

“The district does not have to pay fine until matter is settled in Superior Court,” the timeline says.

The district then paid about $750,000 to Wallace’s engineering firm, the Wallace Group, and a team of lawyers to argue against the allegations of mismanagement and the proposed fine. And as predicted in the timeline, the sanitation district lost the case and appealed to the state.

On Oct. 24, the state water board rejected the sanitation district’s petition for an appeal of the fine. In turn, the district board voted to file a lawsuit against the state in superior court, again as predicted in the sanitation district’s timeline.

State and federal laws provide for sanctions against firms and attorneys affiliated with legal actions that are taken primarily to “cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.”

During a Dec. 17 district board meeting, Seitz said that reports that the district had been offered a $300,000 settlement were untrue, and that the district had offered significantly more, a statement water board officials said is untrue. Several years ago, CalCoastNews reported that the state had offered the district a cash settlement of $300,000, an amount stated by Oceano Community Services District Director Mary Lucey.

“I can tell you that from my knowledge from those days that the water board never was below, well, let me back up, settlement discussions are confidential, so how anybody got information regarding a $300,000 proposed offer is kinda beyond me, but in terms of that, I can tell you that the district has never received an offer of $300,000 and the district has offered substantially more than $300,000 to try and settle it,” Seitz said during the taped meeting. “And having said that if the water board offered a settlement of $300,000 it would be my recommendation that the board take it.”

Sanitation district board member Guerrero, who was on the board during the 2012 closed session settlement negotiations, did not inform the public of the inaccuracies or challenge Seitz’ Dec. 17 statement.

Guerrero, a local attorney, recently applied to Gov. Jerry Brown to be appointed as a superior court judge.

SouthSLOCo Sanitation Settlement Offer

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SloHeadInTheSand

Calcoastnews.com broke the story and the Trib actually ran the same story later!


analyticone

This time, for once the Tribune actually got the story out first, but the Calcoast coverage is far more informative and more accurate.


The Tribune repeats the 2012 story by the then board, that the electrical failure caused the 4 pumps to fail. Had there been 4 working pumps that may have been true, but there were only 2 working pumps and only 1 of them with adequate power to pump the volume of water created by the flood.


Even if the electrics had worked, there would have been a significant spill because there was no effective backup for the pumps.


This failure to backup systems is why the Regional Quality Water Control Board is so frustrated. The plant, now 50 years old is in danger of failing. This is why the $16 million reserves that flowed out of the plant must be recovered and why the reserves that are being rebuilt must not go to defending the indefensible, but to upgrading the plant so that it does the job we created it to do: maintaining public health and safety.


Both the Tribune and Calcoast referred to the board as local representatives. The board is more than that. Health and safety code directs that the presiding [elected] officer of each District community sit on the board, along with an alternate selected by the presiding officer’s board or council. By implication, the Sanitation District board is composed of our highest and best and the expectation that we can trust our leaders. Their standard of care should be of a quality commensurate with their elected positions. Sadly, it is.


MaryMalone

WOAH….can the Trib be cutting and running in their slavish support of the powerful in our pathetically small county?


agag1

Dear Gov Jerry Brown,


Please give no consideration to the application for superior court judge you recently received from Matt Guerrero

He is a POS.


Sincerely,

The Ratepayers of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District


marcusaurelius

here! here!


unfortunately these two (guerrero and brown) are of the same ilk. i have a feeling these birds of a feather will flock together….


hill and ray are jealously scheming how to pull off a similar ripoff


MaryMalone

I disagree.


California has done very well under Brown’s leadership.


Can’t say the same for OCSD and Guerrero’s leadership.


Otis

Once again, Karen Velie has hit the nail on the head of truth exposing the foul effervescence emanating from the controversial managerial/ political circumstance of the Sanitation District.


Past Grover Mayor Debbie Peterson — by her analysis of the matter — fingered the issue with me at a luncheon in early 2013. She asked me — words to the effect — “did I believe there was something amiss here?” My answer then was, “I didn’t know”. Peterson replied, “Yes we don’t know and we should know.”


Well, now we do. Oceano Community Services Board Member Matt Guerrero should consider resigning and come clean to save his reputation. Otherwise he is probably toast along with Ferrara and Wallace for this farce. Their only apparent defense is incompetence.


Sober up print media of the area! The “fringe media” CalCoastNews (so called by Ferrara in his inept attempt to explain his reelection failure) has again exposed a fragrant stench of an administrative political failure gone wrong.


It exceeds the potent smells of untreated waste once spelt along the Lopez stream as circulated offending the fish and seals of Pismo Bay. The New Times and Tribune gasp in their journalistic medocrity where CalCoastNews exceeds brilliantly. Advertisers in the area take notice!


biteMe

Calcoast news is just gossip. Read a real newspaper !


OnTheOtherHand

If you suggest that the Tribune is a “real newspaper” (at least as far as NEWS coverage is concerned) you lose a whole lot of credibility with me.


Snoid

What more do people need to see what has been going on for decades? Where is the FBI, where is Dow? Assemble a criminal Grand Jury NOW. What in Gods name is it going to take for the public to put an end to this insanity, these bastards shooting your pets, beating up your children, robbing your homes? hell, there already doing the last one!!!!!!. Pitchfork time, screw protocol, run these bastards out and lock up those who have broken the law. Its time to end these freeloaders public funded circle jerk!!!!


marcusaurelius

Guerrero is as dirty as the spill itself….


ajdury

Guerrero, Guerrero, Guerrero.


Dude.


Are you truly ascending the ladder to judgeship on the backs of financially disadvanted Hispanics in Oceano?


What an embarrassment. You don’t belong on the OCSD board, the San Dist board or to even have a membership with the Latino Outreach Council. For shame.


I was kind of thinking maybe you were giving a fellow attorney a pass by not voting to fire or repremand Seitz at the last meeting but now it’s all clear – you need to keep him around because you knowingly allowed him to do the dirty work.


Now it makes a whole lot more sense why Mary Lucey didn’t fulfill her OCSD board president responsibility of taking over on the San District. You’re cutting deals with every devil in town in order to cover your tracks!


At this point, any San District board member that does not vote to oust Seitz is loudly and clearly giving a vote to sanction this ‘plan’ that has cost the district, ie the ratepayers, dearly.


And we don’t even talk about the victims of the flood anymore – another travesty in all of this.


I just keep thinking about that last San District meeting, where the majority of us were calling for the termination of legal council. Were all of *us* wrong or was Seitz? ALL OF US? Or Seitz? The answer to that is clear now, no thanks to one Matthew Guerrero.


marcusaurelius

guerro truly is a slimeball


falconbh

Guerrero, Guerrero…. Mr.G is county employee…He used his office to help Dow

get elected…then hired fellow county employee Paavo Ogren at 250,000 for a small district in a poor area.

They rule like kings with the ratepayers as their subjects. Just like in Bell, they hide in the dark shadows of democracy, routinely violate the Brown Act, placed ratepayers at risk with fraud, waste, mismanagement.


biteMe

Dude – are you a racist?


Mike Byrd

The grand jury didn’t come through when Arroyo Grande needed them. Will they now finish what they began with South San? Dan Dow, are you willing?


AAADADDYO

its time for grand jury to revisit issue.

More conflicts with sanitation attorney than are currently public.


analyticone

Pelican, what about Shoals? What job would he get?


Pelican1

Well, he tied with Steve for Best Role in the critically acclaimed.. “The Cover Up.”


Pelican1

Welcome to the first annual Academy of South County Sanitation Awards (The Turdies)

For Best Role in FISCAL MISMANAGEMENT..The Turdie goes to…Tony

For Best Supporting Role in FISCAL MISMANAGEMENT…The Turdie goes to….Michael.

For Leading Role in a Crime Series…The Turdie goes to….John

For Outstanding Role in Legal Misdirection…the Turdie goes to….Matt

The Academy would like to thank these “floaters” for their outstanding contributions to the success of the District.


biteMe

Oh, you’re not in Junior High after all. Perhaps kindergarten ?


Pelican1

I have a rule – ‘funny is funny!’ When I write a comment, it’s not necessarily my aim to upset people. I will be offensive, edgy and immature, but I will also be very intelligent and relevant….unlike those I lampoon.


MaryMalone

Seriously? Someone with the name of “biteme” accuses some one of being immature?