Morro Bay City Council’s deceives the public, promotes sewer project

August 14, 2021

Writer’s Note: This is part two of a story, told in installments, about the corruption involved in Morro Bay’s water reclamation facility. Part one is about Morro Bay City Council’s bait-and-switch.

OPINION by CYNTHIA HAWLEY

The Morro Bay City Council lied about the size of the sewage treatment project during the approval, permitting, funding, and bidding  processes and is still lying about it.

Along with telling someone something that is false, it’s also a lie to withhold or conceal or even suppress needed or important information. Public agencies can lie by disseminating false information and withholding the truth, and by illegally shifting public processes to eliminate the events when information is required to be told. The city council has lied in these ways.

This particular series of lies about the city’s sewage treatment plant began at the Sept. 2018 rate increase hearing and the Oct. 2018 meeting when the Morro Bay city council members did the bait and switch that involved both fake information and withholding the truth.

At the September rate increase hearing they lied about what they were going to build for the money, saying it was to be a “rebuild” and “replacement” of the existing treatment plant. They skipped disclosure and approval of the project at a public meeting, and in October contracted to build it without disclosing what was to be built.

The city council members also conspired with the California Coastal Commission to eliminate all local public permit hearings at which project plans would have been required. But that’s another story.

After the rate increase hearings and contract approval, the deception shifted to lying about the project’s size. What is being built has two headworks with the capacity to process a total of 16.28 million gallons of sewage a day compared to the existing plant with the maximum processing capacity of 6.64.

Here is the deception in the March 2018 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project: “… the proposed WRF would treat a maximum average annual daily flow rate of 0.97 MGD, which is a slight decrease in treatment capacity from the existing WWTP.” (See page 5-8). The EIR was a sham because the true capacity of the proposed facility was not disclosed and was not used to determine possible impacts.

The number 0.97 million gallons in Table 3-1 is an average of how much sewage the city produces in a day — obviously not a description of the project.

Fast forward to the California Coastal Commission’s July 11, 2019 permit hearing for the project. Under the heading “Project Description” the staff report describes the project as “… construction of new 0.97-million-gallon-per-day average daily flow tertiary-treated wastewater treatment and water reclamation facility …” and as “Construction of a new 0.97 million-gallon-per-day (MGD) water reclamation facility … .”

This is what the coastal commission approved and consequently, as seen below, it is what was permitted.

After the commission’s hearing the number was rounded up to one million and the city submitted three sets of plans to the commission that say, “The Project includes construction of a new one million gallon per day advanced treatment facility on South Bay Boulevard north of Highway 1.” The full capacity of the plant to process sewage was not disclosed.

The permit issued by the coastal commission on Nov. 8, 2019 is for a “… 0.97-million-gallon-per-day average daily flow tertiary-treated wastewater treatment and water reclamation facility… .” This is not what is being built.

The city even lied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the low interest loan agreement. In the “Schedule I Project Budget” of the March 9, 2020 federal WIFIA Credit Agreement the city council told the federal government that the loan money is for a “0.97 million gallons per day WRF”. Search for 0.97.

How do these lies shake out in the bidding process? Consider the ramifications of a developer lying about the size of a project in an invitation to contractors to bid on its construction. For example, when and how would the selected contractor be informed that the actual project to be built is not the project described in the invitation or in the development permit?

Ask the Morro Bay City Council how that gets worked out because this is exactly what they did.

The city’s April 2020, “Invitation for Bids Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) Phase II” describes the project as “construction of a 1 million gallons per day water reclamation facility for the City of Morro Bay.”

The city did the same thing in its Oct. 2020 “Notice to Consultants Request for Proposals/Qualifications and Contract for … Lift Station and Offsite Pipelines Construction” which says: “The WRF Project includes construction of a new one million gallon per day advanced treatment facility.” Look under the heading “General Work Description.”

This is quite a tangled web of lies. When and how were the contractors informed that the actual project involves two headworks with the combined capacity to process 16.28 million gallons a day and the pipelines necessary for conveying far more sewage than one million gallons a day?

Another consequence of lying in public documents is that the falsification of a public record that is submitted to a public agency is a felony under California’s Penal Code.

As of the time of this writing, the lie about the “rebuild” and “replacement” that the city council members kicked off on Sept. 11, 2018 that morphed into the lie of a “one million gallon per day advanced treatment facility” is still being told on the city’s web site.

The city council members have never told ratepayers the truth about what they are spending our money on.

Cynthia Hawley is a land use and environmental protection attorney. She lives in Morro Bay and has lived on the coast of San Luis Obispo County for 45 years.


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Calzonian

What a waste of energy. For those who spin their conspiracy theories and those who fight them, the engineering, the specifications and the contracts are all a matter of public record. Your opinions are just that, opinions! On the bright side, at least that location won’t be used as a secrete UFO base any more.


lookout

Yes, the engineering, the specifications and the contracts are a matter of public record. So are meeting agendas and minutes, letters, and memos. It’s the public record that is so damning in this project. What it reveals is corruption, there in black and white for those who take the time and spend the energy to dive in and look closely at what has been happening in Morro Bay.


diamond

City of Morro Bay screwed the entire community again, with the sham colluded sewer debacle. The powers that be torpedoed a promising comprehensive shared low cost facility with Cayucos. There should be an linvestigation into why members of MB council & city hall pushed hard for tripling the cost of a facility knowing the extreme unnecessary financial stress put on working class families. Why? So far only nonsensical rhetoric & frail excuses.

Follow the money and friends of friends.


blackjack

It was odd, after Cayucos agreed to let MB choose the site ( which at the time per MB was ” Rancho Colina ” up 41 at the time of the breakup between entities ) that as you say the council elected to impose terrible terms onto Cayucos ( No rights to any reclaimed water, 30 or 33% cost burden even though Cayucos’ flow is only around 24%, No representation or input allowed from Cayucos’ staff with regards to the project, etc . )

Add it to the list of other odd things like Mayor elect Irons attending the Coastal Commission hearing , getting up during comments, and saying he was opposed to the original proposed project which was still in play to rebuild the plant at the old location. That would have only been a total cost for both communities of about $35 Million combined.


injustice_to_bees

Not sure how this is opinion piece is different from the first one…except that there is an allegation that contractors were somehow duped into providing a bigger plant than advertised. Trust me. They were not or there would be massive lawsuits. Project specifications will have been VERY specific.

If there is a third installment, lets all hope that Ms. Hawley addresses the previous comment by “dobbsey”, which makes total design sense. Huge difference between required maximum design loads (plus redundant mechanicals) vs. average loads.


From dobbsey,

“The plant is not designed to process 16.28 million gallons per day. It has two headworks, each of which have a design capacity of 8.14 million gallons per day. The headworks are in a parallel-redundant configuration, meaning that one will be operating while the other will be in standby mode. Given that these subsystems represent a single point of failure, this is a prudent design feature that maximizes plant uptime while enabling crews to perform maintenance. Furthermore, these plant subsystems must be sized to handle the highest expected instantaneous flow, which in this case is 8.14 million gallons per day. The 1 million-gallons-per-day figure from your story is the overall annual average, which is an entirely different concept, and is also clearly shown in the Design Basis in Table 1-1 of Section 1-4.


injustice_to_bees

Also from Ms. Hawley:

“ When and how were the contractors informed that the actual project involves two headworks….”

I can tell you exactly when and how. Before they bid on the project, the project estimators for prime contractors and subcontractors utilized voluminous approved project construction documents with multiple addenda and literally giant stacks of detailed specifications. Anyone unfamiliar with public works projects/contracting would be amazed at the level of complexity and detail for a project like this. These are legal documents that inform all parties…including the contractors that choose to bid on the project….but then Ms. Hawley is a lawyer, so she must have know the answer to her own question.


lookout

Regarding plant sizing, please see my response to Advocato, below. As to a need for two headworks, that is a defensible idea provided they are of reasonable size, which they are not.


In addition, it does not appear to me that Ms. Hawley is implying that any contractors were duped. I think she has made it quite clear that the ones who have been duped are the residents of Morro Bay.


lookout

I want to note that others duped include regulatory agencies and the people who granted the loans for this project.


cynthiahawley

To Dobbsey,


The claim that one of the two headworks is “standby” while the other one operates does not add up to the conclusion that “The plant is not designed to process 16.28 million gallons per day”. Design is structure. Operation is use of the structure.


The total structural capacity is divided into two separate headworks each of which can process 8.14 million gallons a day.


Whether one is standby or both will be used at the same time (a matter of pipes) is a question of use, not design and construction.


The reality and the issue at this point is that ratepayers are paying for the infrastructure — the concrete and steel and everything else that goes into construction of headworks — with the total capacity to process 16.28 million gallons of sewage a day.


advocato

Ms. Hawley, while I appreciate your thorough linking to documentation, you are making assertions that are very clearly out of your expertise. Your identification as an attorney does not imply you have a thorough understanding of water treatment plant design. The documents you’ve provided show that although the plant is to be designed to treat ~1 MGD on average, there is an identified peak hour flow rate of 8.14 MGD. Although that peak flow only occurs for an hour, the rate is nonetheless measured in MGD. The headworks are thus sized at 8.14 MGD specifically to be able to handle the hourly peak flow rate. Two headworks are incorporated into the design for redundancy (in case of maintenance or failure of the primary). I can understand how this could be confusing to someone not necessarily well versed in interpreting technical engineering documentation, but I would recommend consulting with someone with appropriate qualifications before continuing to make uninformed statements. If you continue reading past the headworks section in the Scope of Work, it becomes very clear the plant is not intended to treat anywhere near what you are claiming in these series of articles.


lookout

The attempts made here to discredit Ms. Hawley’s story by citing her lack of experience building wastewater treatment plants are not credible.


Yes, that one 8.14 mgd peak flow figure appears to have come from the City’s historical data on plant throughput, and yes, the plant has to be able to handle the highest peak flow, even if that flow does not continue for very long. That is obvious.


HOWEVER, as noted in my response to Dobbsey in regard to the earlier story, the City’s own highly-detailed WWTP monitoring reports show no such figure and, in fact, show that plant throughput has never even reached 4 mgd. Why not? Do those reports lie? No.


THE 8.14 FIGURE WAS CLEARLY INCORRECT. YET, IT SUITED THE PURPOSES OF THOSE WHO WANTED TO BUILD AN OVERSIZED PLANT. It is not at all difficult to imagine how persons with less-than-honorable purposes, bent on building the biggest plant possible, went through the historical data, knowing it contained a significant number of incorrect, greatly-exaggerated readings, and picked the highest one of those readings they could find.


How do we know the data used to justify plant size contains a lot of invalid readings? We know that from reading the City’s annual WWTP monitoring reports.


On page 2-6 of the City’s 2019 WWTP annual monitoring report, we have this:

“Historically, the most influential factor affecting flow rate was a metering inaccuracy that resulted in flow overtotalization. A STUDY CONDUCTED DURING 2002 FOUND THAT RATES REPORTED BY THE EFFLUENT FLOW METER WERE CONSISTENTLY OVERESTIMATED BY AS MUCH AS 25%.”


“During 2002, overtotalization was largely eliminated after a more accurate influent flow meter was commissioned … HOWEVER, ON OCCASION, THE NEW METER ALSO OVERTOTALIZES FLOW, FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN THE INFLUENT FLUME BECOMES TEMPORARILY SURCHARGED AFTER WATER BACKS UP INTO THE INFLUENT CHANNEL BEHIND THE PLANT HEADWORKS”


On page 4-3, we find this: “ON RARE OCCASIONS, HOWEVER, THE INFLUENT FLOW METER ALSO REPORTS ERRONEOUSLY HIGH VALUES … ON THOSE OCCASIONS, THE ORIGINAL, POTENTIALLY INEXACT DAILY FLOW FROM THE INFLUENT METER IS STILL REPORTED IN THE CIWQS1 DATABASE FOR COMPLIANCE-EVALUATION PURPOSES. However, when plant personnel suspect, or have direct knowledge that the influent flow reading is inaccurate or compromised, they provide a narrative about the event in the monthly monitoring form, and include an estimate of the actual flow along with the computational rationale for the estimate. Often, this corrected value is based on effluent flow readings adjusted downward to account for that meter’s overtotalization.”


So, the City’s historical throughput data contains quite a few readings that are incorrect and far higher than the actual flows. THAT is why we do not see a ridiculously-high number like 8.14 in any of the annual monitoring reports. It would have been corrected for that reporting purpose. However, the original, uncorrected data was obviously useful to those who wanted an excuse to build an enormous plant for their own purposes.


All that is bad enough, but now add on the fact that that the historical flow data includes flows from Cayucos. Cayucos won’t be using the new plant, yet there was clearly no downsizing to compensate for that.


805thirdeye

Why isn’t the Office of the SLO District Attorney investigating in order to file a complaint in this matter?


George Garrigues

An interesting claim, but it is missing a key element: WHY was the “lie” being told? I mean, follow the money. WHO got what out of this deal? If the council members are basically as wealthy or as poor now as they were before they OK’d it, why on earth would they lay out such prevarications as this writer claims they have done? Motive is important.


panthro

Cynthia Hawley seems to not understand the difference between a flow rate (mgd) and capacity (the 16.28 million gallons). The .97 mgd figure they keep throwing out is average influent flow, that is, the average rate at which sewage flows into the plant at any given time. In fact, the same Table 3-1 they linked to lists a peak rate of 8.14 mgd.


This opinion piece is analogous to saying the Toyota bait-and-switched you on a Camry when they said it gets 42mpg but only has a 12 gallon gas tank. The .97 mgd figure is a rate (like mpg) and the 16.28 million gallons is a capacity.


There may be reasons to be upset about the Morro Bay City Councils actions, but this is certainly not one of them. This is just someone that can’t read a chart.


lookout

She understands. The problem is that the 8.14 figure is bogus. See my response to Advocato, above.


Rambunctious

All I can say is it better not smell when the winds turn off shore…