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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don the beachcomber

Debbie Peterson is the only challenger for Hill’s seat who has made a public issue over this matter. Please go to her website at DebbiePetersonSupervisor.com and see for yourself. Dan Carpenter and Shelly Higginbotham have remained silent.


fishing village

This is a serious health consideration. There is no reason Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill would oversee this issue unless it was to defend people living in the area. What would be the benefit? There isn’t any. Rather than attacking these men, stick with the issue!


Kevin Rice

You’re saying we should persecute scientists; ignore science. That’s perverse.


Kevin Rice

Thanks to the down voters for clarifying Bruce and Adam and APCD are supported by those opposed to science, truth, and open debate.


Kevin Rice

The benefit, fv, is we could stop wasting millions of tax dollars trying to stop the 500 million pounds of sand that NATURALLY BLOWS onshore every year. We can stop destroying dune habitat with hay bales, bright orange fencing, and chemical spray soil binders. Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson and APCD have a money agenda that does not embrace fact and mature and science.


shelworth

Your sarcasm is wicked funny dude! oh wait, you’re serious?


pasodowny

Gibson, tend your own district 2 “garden” for a change. You are obsessed with everything but your own responsibility. I find that “appalling.”


Chena Cat

No one has brought up the removal of thousands of eucalyptus trees that probably was a great buffer in stopping/trapping the dust from traveling much beyond Highway 1. Also, what about the vast amounts of dust blown up into the air from barren agriculture fields? Are we going to shut down farming operations? Mr. Gibson seems to be “agenda” driven instead of using “common sense” for the good of the “whole.”


kayaknut

Gibson is more likely “money” driven, Larry Allen has convinced Mr. Gibson he needs a raise, maybe he wants to reach $500,000 compensation before he retires, and Mr. Gibson supports anything that will bring in more money to the APCD, and in return Mr. Allen will give Mr. Gibson ??????.


adustum

Start a petition supporting Mr. Harris. Call the L.A. times and let them do a story on abuse of power.


Jorge Estrada

Retalitory behaviour towards the any participant in public with the intent to cause harm does not set well with me.


Jorge Estrada

Retalitory behaviour towards any participant, for their public comment, does not set well with me.


Cindy A

Folks should write to the State on behalf of Harris. Gibson is out of line.


kayaknut

Didn’t Mr. Stork at Cuesta College do the same thing?, send a letter on official letterhead without full agreement supporting the rail spur and many called for him to step down. Now Mr. Gibson does the exact same thing, so are those same people going to call for Mr. Gibson to step down? or is there a double standard that depends on who is doing what and whether you agree with their opinion.


Myself

I might hazard a guess that Stork might learn from his mistake, but Gibson never seems to learn, you would think he would sitting next to his buddy Hill as hill usually does the dumbest things, but it looks like thats not to happen.

Can’t wait for hill to be replaced,that looks to be a pretty good thing at this point,then the next go around is getting rid of gibson,both should have been gone last go around.


Mr. Holly

Sometime the truth really hurts. Too bad that Hill and Gibson are so wrapped up with themselves that they can’t be objective to the other side. I find Mr. Harris’s comments to be very informative and really tells the truth of what is and has been going on at the Dunes.