Trailer proves fleeting refuge from smells at sanitation district office
September 19, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District’s new administrator has caused a bit of a stink over an office trailer that he rented to get away from odors, mold, pests, stained carpets and having administrators and other employees sharing space.
Gerhardt Hubner was hired in April at $150,000 a year in a new position to replace a district administrator position that was a 10-hour a week job. Shortly after starting the job as full-time administrator, Hubner began complaining about the district office. Over the past several months, Hubner has cited numerous issues with the district offices including bubbling and peeling paint, deterioration of the break room, leaks in the indoor plumbing as well as noise.
A worker with the risk management consulting firm Bickmore inspected the existing office. The company then produced a hazard assessment report, which identified several issues and recommended repairs. But, the Bickmore report did not suggest relocating employees out of the existing office.
After receiving the report, the district spent $18,591 on repairing heating and air-conditioning and another $10,200 on fixing a collapsed pipe in a urinal and retrofitting the men’s restroom for ADA compliance. The work is now nearing completion.
Hubner ordered the trailer to serve as a new office for administrative staff. On Aug. 11, the trailer arrived at the sewage plant site. Since then, the trailer has been equipped with power and new furniture. Phone service has been ordered but is not yet ready. No one is currently working in the trailer.
The district is currently renting the trailer for one year at a price of $5,400, according to district receipts. The agency also paid $2,200 for delivery and installation, $3,956 for furniture and about $2,500 for electricity.
Excluding phone service and staff time, the new office has thus far cost a total of about $14,000 to order and assemble.
Hubner said at the last board meeting that the trailer has not cost more than $12,000.
Hubner’s ordering of the trailer without board approval and without any permitting from regulatory agencies prompted complaints to San Luis Obispo County code enforcement and the California Coastal Commission, both of which launched investigations into the unpermitted structure. It appears, though, the district will evade punishment.
Even so, Hubner was criticized for circumventing its decision-making authority.
“I don’t object to the arguments and reasons in support of having adequate office space, but I think that significant expenditures need to come to the board,” said Arroyo Grande mayor and district board member, Jim Hill. “I think that’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we do exercise our fiduciary duty.”
Hubner took over as district administrator as the agency was resolving a several-year run-in with regulators over a 2010 sewage spill. The district announced last month that it agreed to settle litigation and pay a $1.19 million fine.
During the hearing, Grover Beach mayor and board member, John Shoals, said Hill raised valid concerns about permitting and the board’s fiduciary responsibility. But, Shoals also said Hubner is doing a good job as administrator.
Mary Lucey, the third board member and the representative of the Oceano CSD, said Hubner has faced unfair criticism over the “cheesy little construction trailer.” Lucey suggested that Hubner add a portable toilet outside the trailer to remedy the lack of a bathroom in the structure.
Hubner did not respond to questions about the new office. He stated in a staff report for the upcoming board meeting that district staffers would complete a coastal development permit in the near future and submit it to the Coastal Commission.
Coastal Commission planner Daniel Robinson said the sanitation district will submit the application early next week. The Coastal Commission will then likely approve an after-the-fact permit at its November meeting, Robinson said.
The after-the-fact permit would negate the need for enforcement, Robinson said. The commission approves after-the-fact permits from time to time.
If the Coastal Commission were to penalize the sanitation district for developing without a permit, the South County agency would face a potential fine of between $500 and $30,000 or daily fines of between $1,000 and $15,000, according to the Coastal Commission website.
Following the departure of the agency’s previous administrator, the sanitation district’s chief plant operator, John Clemons, took on the executive role for an additional $800 a month in pay. The district administrator is responsible for responding to board direction, setting agendas and overseeing payroll.