Gibson’s attack on geologist creates dust up

July 14, 2015
Supervisor Bruce Gibson Photo by Daniel Blackburn

Supervisor Bruce Gibson
Photo by Daniel Blackburn

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson has used his sway to possibly jeopardize the job of a state geologist who is critical of the Oceano Dunes dust rule, a move that has drawn rebuke from three of the five sitting supervisors.

Three days after Supervisor Adam Hill threatened the employment of California Geological Survey employee Will Harris, Gibson followed up the threat in a letter to California’s chief geologist. Gibson’s letter accused Harris of having a conflict of interest and stated the geologist’s scientific objection to the dust rule is “diversionary and irrelevant.”

The letter prompted a response from the chief geologist stating action would be taken against Harris. However, Gibson’s letter has also drawn responses from supervisors Debbie Arnold, Frank Mecham and Lynn Compton who disagree with it and say they welcome Harris’s input on the dust rule.

Compton told CalCoastNews that Gibson’s letter threatened Harris’s livelihood and constituted an abuse of power.

“It is an abuse of power for any sitting supervisor to threaten anyone’s job, let alone a trained geologist just because their opinions differ from Mr. Gibson’s,” Compton said.

The dust rule requires the California Department of Parks and Recreation to reduce the amount of particulate matter blowing from the Oceano Dunes off-road vehicle area to natural levels or face fines of $1,000 per day. The regulation is based on a contested study that concluded off-road activity on the dunes has caused an increase in pollution on the Nipomo Mesa.

At last months air district meeting, Harris said that the dust rule is pointless because natural background levels are higher than current dust levels.

As proof, Harris has since distributed aerial images comparing the dunes in the 1930s to the dunes in 2014. The 1930s image displays more sand than the 2014 picture, and the recent image shows that much of what used to be open sand is now covered with vegetation.

Dunes Aerial Images“In the 1930s, there were 650 more acres of open sand subjected to dust-producing dune saltation,” Harris stated in a June 30 memo to Chris Conlin, the deputy director of state parks. “By this measure, state parks has already reduced saltation-derived dust below ‘natural background levels.’”

In April, the 2nd Appellate Court in Ventura ruled the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District does not have the authority to regulate air emissions at state parks through the current dust rule.Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 2.00.33 AM

Since the appellate court ruling, Harris, as well as some air district board members, have argued the district should stop defending the dust rule in court. Instead, they call for adopting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with state parks and working together to reduce dust levels.

Adopting an MOU would eliminate the APCD’s ability to levy fines on state parks. Some critics of the APCD say the intention of regulating activity at the dunes is not to protect residents from dust, but rather to increase revenue for the district.

Just before the air district’s June 17 meeting ended, Hill warned Harris that his public comment could affect his job with the Geological Survey.

“Perhaps someone will talk to your bosses in Sacramento about your appearance here today,” Hill said.

On June 20, Gibson authored a letter to John Parrish, the state geologist and head of the Geological Survey. Gibson’s letter, which was written on official board of supervisors paper, stated Harris owed an apology to the APCD and air district chief Larry Allen “for his grossly inappropriate commentary.”

Gibson stated in his letter that Harris disparaged the integrity of APCD technical efforts, as well as the competence of Allen. He also wrote that Harris displayed a conflict in his personal and professional roles, and that Parris should reconsider allowing the geologist to work as an advisor to state parks (DPR).

“I would also urge you to review Mr. Harris’s role in advising DPR to ensure that the public’s interest and health are protected,” Gibson wrote.

Parrish responded to Gibson in a June 30 letter apologizing for Harris’s remarks. Parrish said Harris appeared to have breached professional conduct, and his comments were not approved by the Geological Survey.

“I believe that Mr. Harris has likely irreparably tarnished his abilities to conduct constructive discussions with scientific objectivity on this project, and CGS will be taking appropriate actions,” Parrish wrote.

Compton questions whether Gibson’s letter could cost Harris his job.

“The letter from Mr. John Parrish, in response to supervisor Gibson’s original letter, indicates that the Department of Conservation, California Geological Survey will be taking actions based on Mr. Gibson’s letter chastising Mr. Harris for his public comments,” Compton said.  “What does that entail?  Could Mr. Harris be fired?  All for speaking up at a public meeting and giving his scientific opinion?”

Last week the SLO County Board of Supervisor adopted a resolution on civil discourse that calls for respecting people who express differing opinions at public meetings. Gibson was the honorary chair of the group from the League of Women Voters that was advocating for the resolution.

On Monday, Mecham wrote his own letter to Parrish, stating he hoped the incident would not have a negative effect on Harris’s position or career.

“He was respectful, articulate and seemed quite knowledgeable,” Mecham said of Harris in the letter to the geologist’s boss.

Neither Gibson, nor Hill responded to requests for comment.

The APCD board is currently undecided on how to proceed with the dust rule. It finished last month’s meeting by agreeing to continue discussions on whether to amend the rule and keep it in place or to abandon it and pursue an alternative route of reducing dust levels.

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50 Comments

  1. fishing village says:

    An apology from the State of California, read about it!

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. Pelican1 says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98T3PVaRrHU

    (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  3. jana says:

    Supervisors Hill and Gibson are true hippocrites. On one hand they play to their environmentalist base and then they turn around when nobody is watching and cuddle up to local property developers. Campaign donations, mailers paid by third parties, cocktail parties hosted by people doing business with the county, free travel and tickets to sporting events up in the Bay Area… Pretty sweet life guys!

    (14) 20 Total Votes - 17 up - 3 down
  4. pasoparent5 says:

    Remember Steven Hayward’s article on Forbes.com from January 2014 where he addresses the Larry Allen/Adam Hill/APCD’s situation? Maybe Mr. Hayward would be the one to contact about writing a follow-up piece re. Adam’s pal, Bruce Gibson.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenhayward/2014/01/20/bureaucracy-in-america-now-goes-all-the-way-down/

    What do you think, Bruce? After all, your colleague Adam’s the guy who called many of constituents “superficially educated and narrow-minded…bumpkins with bad breath and worse teeth…gullible and aggrieved…nostalgic for a past that never was…afraid of losing control—the fire-breathers, the weapons-collectors, wearers of bespoke body armor, anonymous online trollers, lovers of Ayn Rand novels for whom the gift of literacy is truly wasted…the teacher’s pets from cardio-prayer class, and the self-appointed scolds of free speech and the memorizers of parables about power…”

    I’m convinced Bruce Gibson thinks the exact same way.

    (34) 44 Total Votes - 39 up - 5 down
  5. SLOBIRD says:

    Does each public speaker get questioned, humiliated, quizzed and have letters written to their employees? Who in the hell made Gibson and Hill the “gods” of this County that behave like the devil himself. Is Debbie Arnold not the Chairwoman of the Board and should that letter not been discussed and been authorized by the Board majority. Like Gil Stork, Bruce Gibson should be made to apologize and recall that letter until authorized. He had no write to write that letter on behalf of the Board without their approval anymore than Mr. Harris speaking. If Mr. Harris is fired we should impeachment this a$$h@le. I am so sick of Hill and Gibson doing and saying what and when they want without consequences. Probably the most important statement in this article is

    “…Just last week the SLO County Board of Supervisor adopted a resolution on civil discourse that calls for respecting people who express differing opinions at public meetings. Gibson was the honorary chair of the group from the League of Women Voters that was advocating for the resolution.” If anyone on this site thinks Gibson or Hill are going to change their behavior you are so wrong. You can’t change colors of stripes of idiots and that is a true statement!

    (45) 57 Total Votes - 51 up - 6 down
    • Myself says:

      S B what you neglected to understand is that resolution wasn’t going to apply to gibson and hill,in their own minds of course, while we the people thought it would tone them down just a bit.

      (31) 37 Total Votes - 34 up - 3 down
  6. LameCommenter says:

    Foul, unprofessional, power-mad, agenda-driven egotistical scum. (Gibson)

    (36) 46 Total Votes - 41 up - 5 down
  7. Slowerfaster says:

    Harris presented himself as an ordinary ‘concerned citizen’, but then switched to a ‘government expert’; claiming that he was being paid to appear officially
    while on the government dime.

    This was false, a LIE to you brain dead conservatives.

    Truth will out that Harris is not ‘just’ a concerned citizen, or a government expert, but is in actuality a lobbyist.

    (-39) 59 Total Votes - 10 up - 49 down
    • pasodowny says:

      Really? From the opening line in Harris comment transcript:

      “Hello, I’m Will Harris with the California Geological Survey.”

      And later per the transcript:

      “I’m speaking on behalf of myself…I’ve advocated for a position based on my professional evaluation of the rule, based on my professional experience in the dunes since 2008 working with State Parks. I felt my point is valid to give to the board, and I think you should hear it unvarnished.”

      Harris stated who he is, who his employer is and his work experience in the dunes as justification for presenting his expert opinion on the so called dust rule. If you’re a Board member, why the hell would you not want to hear that?!

      Harris never presented himself as a “concerned citizen.” You’re just making sh*t up, not unlike the APCD and Gibson and Hill.

      (33) 45 Total Votes - 39 up - 6 down
      • Slowerfaster says:

        Baloney ! Harris conflated who he was, why he was there, and was cagey about who or what he was speaking on behalf.
        He was trying to have it both ways.

        If someone else of the opposite opinion, like say a health expert employed by the state, and took that dual role, it would be equally egregious.

        (-16) 26 Total Votes - 5 up - 21 down
        • analyticone says:

          Pasodowny quoted Mr. Harris word for word. You twisted his words and then called the transcript ‘baloney’ and twisted again.

          (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
    • lostinspace says:

      Just the type response we have come to expect from Adam Hill!

      (25) 29 Total Votes - 27 up - 2 down
  8. shelworth says:

    Face it, we just need to pass a law outlawing natural dust.

    (20) 26 Total Votes - 23 up - 3 down
    • Pelican1 says:

      No…we need laws that prevent morally bankrupt supervisors from exercising some sort of higher moral authority to cover for their very own hypocrisy.
      Shame on you Bruce for thinking that there is some kind of double standard.

      (43) 49 Total Votes - 46 up - 3 down
  9. Kevin Rice says:

    Pay her to “work under him.” A timeless occupation funded by taxpayers.

    (16) 34 Total Votes - 25 up - 9 down

Comments are closed.