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, Gibson followed up the threat in a letter to California’s chief geologist. Gibson’s letter accused the employee 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 the employee. 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 the employee’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, the employee said that the dust rule is pointless because natural background levels are higher than current dust levels.

As proof, the employee 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,” the employee 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, the employee, 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 the employee 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 the employee owed an apology to the APCD and air district chief Larry Allen “for his grossly inappropriate commentary.”

Gibson stated in his letter that the employee disparaged the integrity of APCD technical efforts, as well as the competence of Allen. He also wrote that the employee 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 the employee’s remarks. Parrish said the employee 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 the employee 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 the employee 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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NorthCountyGuy

Gibson and Hill need duct tape permanently affixed to their loud mouths.


JB Bronson

Gibson should have been fired a long time ago. Little prick-trying to intimidate when most people don’t even take you seriously anymore.


jimmy_me

It’s a government job: you can’t be fired. Quite the contrary; this guy will probably get a raise and/or promotion. Then again, this guy could be offered a SLO-county-type severance package. Cha-ching!


Slowerfaster

Harris was wearing two hats, or trying to. Hill called him on it, and Harris was stuck. Gibson followed up.


You asshat conservatives would be calling both incompetents if they had done otherwise.


As usual, Compton is a pontificating, whining baby diaper.


BeenThereDoneThat

WHOA!!! You are ALL being to hard on Gibson and Hill!! It is hard for them to face the truth. They can’t wrap their simple little minds around anything other than affairs with women etc. Please easy up on these two. I’m sure they are at the top of their game, sadly.


SLO_Johnny

Mr. Harris has the right to speak at meetings as a private citizen but not while he is on the job. He should have clocked out first. He should have made it clear for the record that he was speaking as a private citizen and not representing the Geologic Service or State of California.


All that aside, Mr. Harris doesn’t deserve to lose his job. He deserves a reprimand and a warning. My guess is that he won’t be fired because California law provides strong protection for employees.


kayaknut

As a geologist for the state I doubt Mr. Harris punches a time clock on and off work. Like many jobs, both public and private, when you are hired, you are that position 24 hours a day and not just when you are physically at an office. The better question by Mr. Gibson would have been “Are you being paid to specifically speak here tonight by your employer”, which he did not ask, likely because the answer would not have what Mr. Gibson wanted to hear.


TaxMeAgain

You crossed the line Bruce.


racket

Your comment supposes Gibson was previously on the other side of the line. That is not true. Gibson long ago crossed any line of decency, statesmanship or honor. He is a piece of shit.


TaxMeAgain

Racket, you are correct Sir. Wonderful observation. Perhaps I should have said “You crossed another line Bruce.”


moderator

This comment set the tone. any comments complaining about personal attacks after this are deleted.

??? or!!!!! email please

thank you.


Pelican1

Seriously Bruce? This is all you have left in the tank? Intimidation seems a bit of a last ditch effort on your part to quiet you critics. The freedom to criticize you and other public officials is necessary to a vibrant democracy. The problem comes when healthy criticism is replaced with more destructive intimidation and sanctions.

You should be ashamed of yourself.


Rambunctious

“What does that entail? Could Mr. Harris be fired? All for speaking up at a public meeting and giving his scientific opinion?”


Sadly in today’s political world…..Yes


unlisted

As a state employee, isn’t Harris in a union (aka “bargaining unit”)? If so, I’d assume that his job is pretty secure.


Wasn’t he also supporting the state’s position, so why would the state fire him???


obispan

One would think, but if Gibson is successful there will be no quid pro quo evidence, just a series of increasingly but seeming unrelated “unsatisfactory” evaluations. Politics aside, Hill and Gibson must be replaced. They are evil incarnate. There are some Republicans in local office that are just as bad, but not at the County supervisor level, yet. Arnold, Compton and of course, Meacham, are quite reasonable, moderate and accessible. Can we get Kurt Kupper and Richard Kresja back to represent their more liberal constituents in 2 and 3? Maybe not, but can some decent people stand up?


unlisted

Sure, if Harris worked for the county, there’s a chance that he might be forced out. However, he works for the state and the state is fighting the county on this on.


NorthCountyGuy

I believe that geologists are classified as professionals. Professionals are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.


unlisted

So what if Mr. Harris is an “exempt” employee. He is paid far more than the Federal minimum wage, and probably qualifies for comp time.


My point is that he’s probably in a UNION, though professional don’t like to call it that. The state even has a union for employees who are attorneys.


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