"Coastal Commission Enforcement Case Number V-3-07-034," or. . .
... How 20 Property Owners in Los Osos Just Made a $25,000 Donation to the Failed, 2005, "Defeat the Recall" Campaign"It is not necessary to bury the truth. It is sufficient merely to delay it until nobody cares."
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
It's official, and it's bad, like, the worst thing that's ever happened to SLO County, bad.
A SewerWatch investigation reveals that when three Los Osos CSD Directors facing a recall election in 2005, made the decision, just days before their recall election, to begin "mass grading" at the highly controversial "Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area" (ESHA) "Tri-W" site in downtown Los Osos, to pave the way for their now-failed, "mid-town" sewer plant/"picnic area," they did not -- repeat: did NOT -- have the regulatory green light to proceed with construction, a "clear violation," according to the California Coastal Commission, which means, through a simple process of elimination, that the only explanation remaining on WHY they made that illegal decision -- a decision that wasted millions of public California dollars and completely destroyed 11 acres of "all-ESHA" in SLO County -- is due to some bizarre, failed, illegal political strategy, and, now, today, about 20 property owners in Los Osos are paying $25,000 each to clean up that failed, illegal political strategy... from seven years ago, and both SLO County government, and the Coastal Commission now consider that remedy an "appropriate resolution," to that "clear violation."
The year was 2005, and three Directors of the Los Osos CSD, Richard LeGros, Stan Gustafson, and Gordon Hensley, were facing a recall election with an election date that they set themselves, for September 27, 2005.
The reason they were facing that recall election, is because many of the town's voters were beyond-upset that the three spent the previous five years, and some $25 million of the community's money, developing a sewer system for Los Osos that included -- and I'm not making this up -- an industrial sewer plant/"picnic area" to be constructed smack-dab in the middle of Los Osos, just three blocks upwind of downtown, and, in 2005, those angry voters had collected enough signatures to trigger a recall election that would remove Hensley, LeGros, and Gustafson from office, and elect directors that did NOT want an industrial sewer plant in the middle of their beautiful coastal town.
However, just eight working days before that September 27 recall election, the 3-member Board majority that was facing recall -- Hensley, LeGros, and Gustafson -- made the decision to begin "mass grading" at the mid-town sewer plant site, known as the "Tri-W site," even though they knew that if they were recalled, the entire Tri-W project would be stopped by the post-recall Board, which is exactly what happened... the three were recalled from office on September 27, 2005, and the "post-recall" Board immediately halted work on the Tri-W project, and five years later, the Coastal Commission voted to make that stoppage permanent, when the Commission approved, in June 2010, a SLO County-developed sewer system, that puts the treatment facility outside of town, downwind.
Additionally, the "entire" 11-acre Tri-W site, in 2005, was considered official "Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area," and contained sensitive coastal dune scrub dune habitat, with, according to a Coastal Commission ecologist, "high habitat and ecosystem value."
At the time, and even up to today, the reason the three recalled directors gave for making the decision to begin "mass grading" at the "all-ESHA" site, just days before their recall election, was because they said that "30 years of sewer delay is long enough," and therefore wanted to act as soon as possible to curb the alleged water pollution that is coming from the town's septic systems -- an over-the-top disastrous, and, as it turns out, illegal, decision.
Just 11 days after the start of "mass grading" at the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site -- grading that cost millions of California dollars to conduct -- the recall was successful, Hensley, LeGros, and Gustafson were immediately removed from office, and replaced with three directors that were... and I can't believe I even have to report this... against a downtown, industrial sewer plant/"picnic area." The new, post-recall Board, was now 5-0 in favor of stopping the mid-town project, which is exactly what they did. (Two sitting Directors, Julie Tacker and Lisa Schicker, were also opposed to the nonsensical mid-town location.)
However (and here's the bombshell), Coastal Commission staff recently directed me to a 2010 Coastal Commission staff report, and, according to that document, the pre-recall LOCSD Board, just days before their recall election, did not even have the regulatory green-light to proceed with construction on the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site, and therefore, illegally jumped the gun on the decision to begin "mass grading" at the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site.
Specifically, according to Commission staff, the 2005 pre-recall LOCSD Board majority failed to fulfill "the terms and conditions" of their Coastal Development Permit (CDP) "prior to construction," when they failed to "satisfy" a "condition of approval" to create a "program" that set $10,000 aside every year for "maintenance and restoration" for something called the Broderson site.
Protecting the undeveloped Broderson site was "mitigation" the Commission placed on the LOCSD in 2004, because the District was proposing to rip up a "large parcel" of "all-ESHA" for their mid-town sewer plant.
The June, 2010 staff report reads:
"... per the terms and conditions of the (now-failed Tri-W sewer project) CDP, all of Broderson was to be granted, along with a program to contribute $10,000 per year for its maintenance and restoration, prior to construction of the (Tri-W sewer) project. (bolding mine.)
The document continues:
"... this prior CDP requirement was never satisfied, even though construction commenced and the ("all-ESHA") Tri-W site was graded by LOCSD in 2005 (just a few days before the recall election). Both the Commission and the County have been tracking the matter as a violation for several years... there was clearly a violation (by the 2005 LOCSD) of the terms and conditions of CDP A-3-SLO-03-113."
In other words, based on that wording, Hensley, LeGros, and Gustafson, developed, behind-the-scenes, some bizarre political strategy to illegally rip up the ESHA at the Tri-W site, using funds from the State of California, in hopes of "defeating the recall," and staying in office.
[I mean, c'mon, if they didn't even have the green light to begin construction -- and, according to the CCC, they didn't -- then what would have been the reason to illegally jump the gun, and start construction... just days from their own recall election? Ignorance of the "terms and conditions" of their CDP? Not likely. According to the local environmental "organization," SLO Coastkeeper, "Mr. (Gordon) Hensley has extensive experience in permit compliance issues."
So, if anyone would have known that he was "violating" the "terms and conditions" of his Coastal Development PERMIT, it would have been LOCSD Director, Gordon Hensley, because, according to SLO Coastkeeper, Hensley "has extensive experience in PERMIT compliance issues," which means he can't even go to the "I didn't know," card. (And, "thank you," to SLO Coastkeeper for providing me with such an excellent, relevant quote on my story involving Gordon Hensley.)
And that leaves only one reason why Hensley illegally jumped the gun on his CDP: Illegal political strategy.
For context, it's my guess -- just a guess, but a reasoned one -- their thinking went along these lines: "If we start construction BEFORE the recall election, even though our CDP says we can't, it'll show the electorate that there's no turning back now, and so there will be no reason to recall us, or even vote. Excellent strategy! Let's do it!"]
Other notable quotes from the, June 2010, staff report include:
"As summarized earlier, the LOCSD initiated its wastewater project in 2005, including by completely grading the Tri-W site, which the Commission had previously determined to be entirely ESHA."
"The protection of Broderson was... a critical piece of the mitigation package that allowed the Commission to approve the use of the Midtown (Tri-W) site, which itself consisted largely of coastal dune scrub as well as other sensitive habitats, for a public service facility (sewer plant) in the first place. This was accomplished not through the public works override ordinance but through a rezoning of the Midtown site... The Broderson mitigation proposal was central to the Commission's finding under the Coastal Act that allowing a public facility in the ESHA at Tri-W was, on balance, the most protective of coastal resources."
"However, while the 80-acre (Broderson) site was acquired by LOCSD, it was never granted to an appropriate agency or conservation organization as required, and LOCSD has never allocated the $10,000 per year for maintenance and restoration of the site as required. As a result, this prior CDP requirement was never satisfied, even though construction commenced and the Tri-W site was graded by LOCSD in 2005. Both the Commission and the County have been tracking the matter as a violation for several years. [bolding mine.]
"... there was clearly a violation (just days before the recall election) of the terms and conditions of the (Tri-W) CDP...
"... the entire Broderson mitigation package was required before the (Tri-W) project could proceed... "
"... after abandonment of the LOCSD project, all that is left is the required mitigation at Broderson, and a degraded ESHA area at Tri-W. In other words, the area degraded at Tri-W was only allowed as part of a complete project that resulted in a
wastewater treatment plant and related facilities there."
"The Mid-Town (Tri-W) site continues to suffer from the grading for the abandoned wastewater treatment plant. "
"These lands (the Broderson and Tri-W sites) are the subject of an ongoing violation, and the responsibility for addressing such violations runs with the land. If the land is conveyed to the County, then it is the County's responsibility as landowner to resolve the violations, even if the prior owner was the violator."
"There is little doubt that: (a) a violation of the Coastal Act and the LCP exists; (b) (the pre-recall Board majority) LOCSD is responsible for the violation; and (c) resolution of that violation involves resolving impacts associated with LOCSD (illegal) grading of the Tri-W site."
"Coastal Commission enforcement case number V-3-07-034."
And, finally, "the Tri-W site can and should be mitigated due to having been graded in 2005."
And it's that quote -- that "the Tri-W site can and should be mitigated due to having been graded in 2005" -- that makes this story so interesting today, because that's exactly what the Coastal Commission required.
"Appropriate Resolution"As part of their "mitigation package" for the County's proposed sewer system for Los Osos (beginning in 2007, State legislation [AB 2701] handed control over the project from the Los Osos CSD, to the County of San Luis Obispo), the Coastal Commission, also in June 2010, required that the County "restore" the "degraded ESHA area at Tri-W."
And, as it turns out, and, not-so-surprisingly, that "restoration" ain't cheap.
Right now, as I type this, County officials overseeing the sewer project are currently paying more than $500,000 dollars for restoring the "degraded ESHA area at Tri-W" -- ESHA that was illegally ripped up (on California's dime... LOTS of dimes) in 2005 by the pre-recall LOCSD Board majority, in the first place, solely as some failed political strategy, obviously, and the source of funds the County is currently using to pay for that over half million dollar "restoration," is coming from the property owners in Los Osos, that paid their entire $25,000 sewer assessment in advance.
A few months back, I posted a blog piece at this link:
... where I first showed how the pre-paid assessment folks in Los Osos were only paying for the Tri-W restoration, and how not a penny of their $25,000 "sewer assessment" was going towards anything "sewer"-ish. Not one foot of pipe. Not one bolt. Nothing... just cleaning up the mess at Tri-W.
However, what I didn't know at the time I published my piece, is that the Coastal Commission was calling the "mass grading" at the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site, illegal -- a "clear violation," of the "terms and conditions" of the development permit, and, "little doubt," the pre-recall Board majority LOCSD "is responsible for the violation."
So, look at this scenario, in 2012. It's over-the-top interesting/horrible:
Today, some 20 pre-paid assessment property owners in Los Osos, are paying their entire $25,000 assessment solely to clean up the failed political strategy of the pre-recall LOCSD Board majority -- a strategy that cost Californians untold millions of dollars, and destroyed a "large parcel" of "all-ESHA" in SLO County.
(It also turns out, that (and not-so-surprisingly) illegally ripping up a "large parcel" of "all-ESHA" ain't cheap, either. Apparently, it costs a lot of California money to illegally rip up ESHA... solely for a failed political strategy.)
Almost unbelievably, this story gets worse... MUCH worse.
In their June 2010 staff report, Commission staff writes, "The Commission has been pursuing this (illegal Tri-W grading) case as a violation, but has been awaiting the completion of the (County's sewer development) decision process to determine appropriate resolution, since the Tri-W site was a potential treatment plant site for the LOWWP."
In response to that quote, I recently emailed Dan Carl, of the Coastal Commission staff, and who "approved" that 2010 staff report:
- Hello Dan,
... as you know, the County did not select "the Tri-W site as a potential treatment plant site for the LOWWP," so, I guess that's where we're at now, this part: "determine appropriate resolution" to the "active enforcement efforts."
And, as I show, that "violation" is (present tense) super-egregious -- a colossal environmental and financial disaster (using public money), solely due to some bizarre, failed political strategy involving the pre-recall LOCSD Board majority.
So, considering the County did not select "the Tri-W site as a potential treatment plant site for the LOWWP (in 2009) [Not even close. The Tri-W project didn't even come close to making the County's short-list of "viable project alternatives"), which means it's now time to "determine appropriate resolution," for "Coastal Commission enforcement case number V-3-07-034," what does your office now consider "appropriate resolution" for that "violation?"
The County's LOWWP as approved by the Commission through CDP Application A-3-SLO-09-055/069 resolves the enforcement case. Please see pages 37-44 of the Commission's findings for A-3-SLO-09-055/069 on this point. Hope that helps….
It does help.
Allow me to translate: What's Carl's saying there, in that mess of numbers, dashes, and slashes, is that, as long as the Tri-W site gets restored -- and it's in the process of being restored by the County, at a cost of about a half million -- then, the staff of the California Coastal Commission considers that to be "appropriate resolution" to the "clear violation" of the pre-recall LOCSD Board majority illegally ripping up a "large parcel" of "all-ESHA" in 2005... using, and completely wasting, millions of dollars of California money in the process... just days before their recall election... leaving a gigantic, "suffering," dirt pit in the middle of town for the past seven years, that the pre-paid sewer assessment property owners now have to pay to clean up.
In other words, more than 20 pre-paid assessment folks in Los Osos, are now making a $25,000 donation to the pre-recall Board majority's failed political strategy in 2005.
Also keep in mind, that, because all of those assessments are now going solely to cleaning up the Tri-W mess, and not a penny to anything sewer-ish, the actual sewer project will now be about a half million dollars more expensive for all of the other property owners.
Could it get any worse? Oh, hell yeah.
Remember this quote? "Both the Commission and the County have been tracking the matter as a violation for several years..."
BOTH the Coastal Commission, AND SLO County government, are not only aware that the pre-recall LOCSD Board illegally jumped the gun on their CDP, and illegally ripped up a huge chunk of ESHA using California's money, but, SLO County officials, apparently, are taking the exact same route as the Coastal Commission when it comes to "appropriate resolution" for "Coastal Commission enforcement case number V-3-07-034," and that route is, simply let the pre-paid sewer assessment property owners foot the bill for the 2005 Los Osos CSD Board majority's illegal, failed political strategy, and then just "move forward."
For this story, I emailed both Supervisors Bruce Gibson, whose District includes Los Osos, and Jim Patterson, who is facing a tough re-election campaign this June.
I outlined the terrible circumstances surrounding that "clear violation" -- which, I'm assuming they've known about for "several years," but, that entire time, didn't lift a finger for any accountability on the matter -- and asked them, "Which path do you two support: The County moving beyond the "tracking for several years" stage, and into the enforcement/prosecution stage for that 'clear violation," or simply forget about that deliberately created, illegal disaster, and just "move forward?"
Neither one of them replied, of course.
Allow me to translate that: By not supplying one word of response to this intensely important story, Jim Patterson, like the Coastal Commission, and Supervisor Gibson, is also fine with letting the pre-paid sewer assessment property owners in Los Osos pay their entire $25,000 assessment for the pre-recall LOCSD Board majority's disastrous, illegal failed political strategy, and, apparently, doesn't care that that same Board majority deliberately and illegally jumped the gun on their permit, and illegally ripped up -- just days before their recall election, and wasting millions of public, California dollars in the process -- a "large parcel" of "all-ESHA," solely as part of some bizarre, illegal, failed political strategy.
Not a shred of accountability for the 2005 LOCSD Board majority for committing the "clear violation," just let the pre-paid assessment property owners pay to clean up the mess, and then just "move forward."
That's Supervisor Patterson's position, just like Supervisor Gibson's position.
[It must be noted here, that, Los Osos resident, Pandora Nash-Karner, "chaired" a citizens group in Los Osos, in 2005, called, Save the Dream, that wrote, "Our goal is to support the LOCSD's (Tri-W) Wastewater Project and to DEFEAT the Recall of Stan Gustafson, Gordon Hensley & Richard LeGros."
Nash-Karner was also one of the five initial Los Osos CSD Directors, along with Gustafson and Hensley, starting in 1999, where they first began development of the now-failed (in June, 2010) Tri-W "project."
And, of course, Nash-Karner is a financial donor to Supervisor Gibson's campaigns, where, in turn, he appoints Nash-Karner as an official SLO County Parks Commissioner, which makes her a client of County Counsel, Warren Jensen, and affords her inside access to top County officials, like Patterson.
In fact, Supervisor Patterson attended, and spoke at, a Parks Commission meeting last year to honor Nash-Karner's 20 years (under the past three 2nd District Supervisors) on the SLO County Parks Commission.]
Finally, for balance, I also recently emailed Gordon Hensley, asking him for his response to how both the County and the Coastal Commission are calling his decision to rip up the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site, just days before his recall election, a "clear violation" of the "terms and conditions" of his CDP."
"Judging by past experience with you (SewerWatch), SLO Coastkeeper (Gordon Hensley's one-man "organization") is of the opinion that your inquiry is not merely information seeking in nature as you suggest, but is part of an ongoing campaign to disrupt our work.
As we have indicated in the past, it is the understanding of our organization that you do not actually work for a journal, newspaper, or other legitimate media and therefore I see no point in assisting you in your continuing vendetta."
He then doubled back, and fired off this email:
"When you have completed your 'story' please forward a copy to slo coastkeeper [sic] attorney Kate Neiswender," and then he gave me Neiswender's email address.
That was his response to the Coastal Commission writing, "There is little doubt that: (a) a violation of the Coastal Act and the LCP exists; (b) (the pre-recall Board majority) LOCSD is responsible for the violation; and (c) resolution of that violation involves resolving impacts associated with LOCSD (illegal) grading of the Tri-W site."
Incidentally, I also emailed Neiswender, using the email address that Hensley supplied, asking her for comment, but she never replied, either.
Clearly, what happened in 2005, with the Los Osos CSD knowingly jumping the gun on their CDP, and ripping up, at an enormous cost to California taxpayers, the "all-ESHA" Tri-W site, simply as some illegal, failed political strategy, is one of the worst things that has ever happened to SLO County, period.
And the "appropriate resolution" for that terrible, deliberately created, illegal, environmental and financial disaster?
According to Supervisors Patterson and Gibson, and the California Coastal Commission, simply let the pre-paid assessment property owners in Los Osos pay their entire $25,000 assessment to clean it up, then just "move forward."
Welcome to San Luis Obispo County government.