Morro Bay City Council’s behind closed door decisions

September 15, 2021

Writer’s Note: This is part four 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

From the start and every step of the way the Morro Bay City Council has illegally kept this project — the Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) and the pipelines — secret. The council members have made decisions in private, eliminated public hearings, used misleading public notices to camouflage decisions, evaded permitting processes and withheld the project plans.

These practices are illegal. By making decisions secretly the council members didn’t have to justify their votes in public and the ratepayers have no idea what they are up to.

Here are the illegal actions that were taken by the city council to keep this project secret from the people who are paying for it — from site selection to construction.

The city council members illegally decided to buy the site in closed session.

This was a two-step process. At their Oct. 11, 2016 meeting the city council members approved the site by approving a contract — a memorandum of understanding (MOU) — to buy it in the future. This was an option to buy the South Bay Boulevard site.

Then, two years later on Oct. 15, 2018, the council members illegally made the decision to exercise the option to buy the site in closed session instead of at a public meeting as required.

And they covered up the decision by faking the public record to make it look like it never happened.

There was no notice in the meeting agenda that the council would consider buying the property and the meeting minutes contain the false public record that no reportable action was taken. Falsifying public record documents is a felony in California.

Four months later at the city council’s Feb. 13, 2019 meeting the city attorney disclosed that the council did, in fact, decide in October 2018 to exercise its option to buy the property and that both parties were working to complete the purchase. (Go to 19:10 on the meeting timer)

The MOU contained undisclosed terms related to development of the surrounding agricultural land.

The future purchase of the WRF site was not the only subject in the MOU. There was another purpose for this agreement that was not disclosed when the council members approved the MOU.

Somewhere along the way in private the council members decided that the agricultural land that surrounds the project site — about 370 acres — should be developed. However, instead of taking the issue to the public as the law requires, the MOU contains a list of actions the council members agreed to take toward expanding development to that land.

The council members camouflaged their approval of the sewage treatment project as approval of a contract to build it.

Approval of a public works project doesn’t get much more definite than contracting to build it, and at their Oct. 23, 2018 meeting that’s what the city council members did. They approved “the new water reclamation facility” by way of approving the contract to build it.

The designs and plans for “new water reclamation facility” were part of the contract — Exhibit B Scope of Work — so approval of the contract was the approval of the “new water reclamation facility” described in the scope of work.

By lumping approval of the project in with approval of the contract:

1. There was no noticed public meeting for presentation of the project,

2. there was no staff report describing the project,

3. there was no distribution of the project plans,

4. there was no public discussion of it and no public input,

5. the council members evaded public disclosure of their reasons for approving the project, and

6. the council members sidestepped voting in public on whether to approve it.

The council members hid the Exhibit B Scope of Work when they approved the contract and withheld the fact that it existed.

There was an obvious glitch in approving this contract. The Exhibit B Scope of Work contained the plans for the double headworks with the combined structural capacity to process 16.28 million gallons of sewage a day when just the month before the council members passed a formal resolution to increase rates to “replace” and “rebuild” the existing 6.64 million gallon a day plant — with no disclosure of the expansion.

The remedy: Hide the Exhibit B Scope of Work from the ratepayers.

The council members removed the Exhibit B plans from the contract that was attached to the staff report for the Oct. 23, 2018 approval. A link to it was buried on page 113. And the existence of the Exhibit B Scope of Work was not disclosed in the staff report so readers wouldn’t know to look for it. Other attachments were included.

The city, county, and coastal commission evaded disclosure of the Exhibit B plans by illegally eliminating all local coastal development permit hearings.

Four public coastal development permit hearings were required — two (planning commission and board of supervisors) for the sewage treatment plant on county land and two (planning commission and city council) for the pipelines inside city limits.

All four were eliminated by illegal “consolidation” of them into a single permit hearing by the coastal commission. The city, the county, and the coastal commission all agreed to it.

The “consolidation” was illegal because it is not allowed if public participation is impaired by the loss of local coastal development permit hearings. And participation was impaired. Officials at all three agencies knew that consolidation eliminated all local opportunities to participate in the decision for the hundreds of people who opposed the project and/or the rate increases to pay for it.

Consequently, there were no permit applications with plans and no local hearings where they would have been provided.

The plans were not disclosed in general plan use permit applications.

General plan use permits are mandatory state-wide and are entirely separate from coastal development permits. While coastal development permits only apply to whether a project conforms to coastal act policies, general plan use permits cover way more — land use, open space, conservation, housing, circulation/traffic, noise, safety, air quality and environmental justice.

Even though the city was paying $260 an hour for a contractor to spend 40 hours on a use permit for the project, no use permit application was submitted to the County of San Luis Obispo for the treatment plant project on county land and no plans were disclosed in permit applications. (Search for $260 and scroll down to Task 10)

The only hearing that was provided for this major public works project was a sham at which no plans were provided, public participation was barred, and a coastal development permit was approved.

Here’s how this was pulled off. Note that a coastal commission employee approved the plans for this project.

1. The city submitted its permit application to the coastal commission without the plans for the treatment plant, the pipelines and all of the other project elements that were later permitted.

2. Coastal Commission staff illegally accepted the incomplete application and filed it as complete.

3. There were no plans in the application that the public could review.

4. Coastal Commission staff illegally omitted the plans from the staff report for the Commission’s July 11, 2019 permit hearing.

5. Again, there were no plans for the public to review in preparation for the hearing.

6. Members of the public could not participate in the hearing because they did not have access to the subject of the hearing — the plans.

7. Following recommendations in the staff report  the commission:

a. Voted to approve the project — without the plans

b. Directed the city to later submit the project plans to executive director for his non-public unnoticed review and approval.

Those actions were illegal, and because there were no plans at the hearing the Coastal Development Permit for the project is invalid.

Project construction is now well underway without a legal coastal development permit and without a use permit. These are the lengths that the Morro Bay City Council is willing to go to in order to conceal its intentions from the public. What are those intentions?


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lookout

This reads like a textbook case in public corruption. Where is the SLO County justice system? Oops, I forgot. In SLO County, it’s the “injustice system”, where public corruption if the norm, not the exception. :(


Rambunctious

Streamlining…isn’t that what we want?…


shelworth

Morro Bay City Council : “Ha ha too late!”


fish

what’s your plan Cindy litigation ? stop work order?


lookout

I can’t speak for the author, but it appears to me that a big part, if not all of her plan, is shining a light on the corruption and getting the word out to those affected. It occurs to me that maybe everyone who is unhappy about the illegal activities outlined in her articles could pitch in and try to get something done about the corruption.


It could be as simple as alerting the neighbors and the authorities. I suggest sending these articles to law enforcement with comments and a request for help. I think that the more complaints they get, the better the chances are of getting some action. I’ve sent mine to:


1. The United States Attorney’s Office, California Central District, Criminal Division, Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, 312 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 90012. 2. The online complaint page of the EPA Office of the Inspector General at

https://www.epa.gov/office-inspector-general/forms/epa-oig-hotline-complaint-form


There is also an FBI online tip site at https://tips.fbi.gov/contact but I haven’t used that yet


I wouldn’t even bother with the useless SLO D.A.


slocorruptionhater

Not sure why you post, and respond to posts, as if you don’t know much about the author or her intentions. You obviously know the issue well, since you’ve posted extensively on each of the three previous parts of this series. What’s the delio? I am just curious about the attempt to seem distant or impartial about the author’s writings. A bit strange IMHO


lookout

The “delio” is that this is about very serious issues. It is not about the author nor is it about the posters and/or their identities.