Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Chinatown" The Movie, Revisited

Three minutes is not a long time to expose ten years of hanky-panky but there I was last night trying to sum it up. After taking my flea comb through the 51 page loan agreement between the CSD and the SWQCB and reviewing the new conditions of the proposed continuance of the loan it struck me just what went down.

You could drive a truck full of money through the Revenue Stream clause. In effect, the CSD would not have to figure out how they are going to pay back the loan till 90% of the sewer plant was complete. This is like the bank loaning you money for your house and saying hey, we'll look at your credit and figure out if you can pay us back after you get your final inspection.

Bingo. The SWQCB knew about the revenue stream shell game. There are two ways to get revenue for the sewer. Through "user fees" or through "assessments." Proposition 218 creates a firewall between your pocketbook and the CSD. Each type of revenue stream has a list of constraints. Now like I said before, follow the money.

The Sewer starts out as an assessment district with the County. It's on your tax bill. That's for the original engineering study. We still owe $17 million on that one. Watch carefully. Shazam! The revenue stream becomes a "user fee." As a "user fee" they can raise the price of the project with no oversight.

Forty million, then sixty million, then 90 million, then 130 million, etc, etc, etc. One problem, they can't charge the vacant lots. Ooops! That means that 5000 households will be paying for unused capacity on lots that are idle. And it's quite possible that the vacant lots will never be built on because of salt water intrusion.

Along comes the new board and Measure B. Now keep your eyes peeled..... Woosh! The SWQCB demands that the loan revenue stream be under the "assessment" shell. Now the SWQCB can get their money back because they can charge the vacant lots claiming it's not their fault that you can't build on them.

Let's imagine for a minute that this was all played out in the e-mail alley behind the CSD office. The SWQCB had motive. Shortsightedly, they thought they would benefit by the "user fee" revenue stream because there would be no special vs. general tax separation. They had been touting for years that the sewer was a major part of the basin plan and Estuary improvements.

If the taxes were separated between general and special, it's quite likely the sewer could never be financed. The LOCSD-3W had motive. By calling the revenue stream a "user fee" they could run up the cost 300% without any vote by the people.

So I'm looking at this 51 page contract that is so hair splitting that it makes sure your employee's ex-wife has toothpaste money. The $130 million, drive through, 'don't-tell-me-how-you-are-getting-the-money-till-it's-done' clause looks a little fishy. Don't you think? Well, it all might have gone down that way except the money stream now is a "user fee" so they're stuck with Prop. 218 "user fee" constraints:
-They can't charge you for your vacant lot.
-You can opt out on hooking up.
-You can't be billed till they deliver the service.
But "user fee" constraints offer even another firewall. If you can get the service generally elsewhere, they can't charge you for it. Which means you could put in your own on site wasterwater treatment plant for say 75 dollars a month with a guy that comes around and logs that your system is twice as good as the sewer plant, like this one: The Equaris. That's a BIG problem. It's called competition.

So why is the SWQCB flipping back to "assessment" model?
So the SWQCB has some place to get their money from. You think they got caught and now they have to run the Prop. 218 "assessment" gauntlet. Wrong. Actually they are switching horses, mid sewer apocalypse, to stick you with the bill. I saw the bit about the two-thirds vote in the SWQCB's conditions but I didn't see any mention about the tax separation--did you? Funny thing.

Do you believe the loan payment source can be flipflopped between revenue methods purely to avoid Prop.218 constraints?
That is how your property rights were abridged.
Now it's time for, as they say in the legal profession, discovery. That is why we need the State and Federal and Grand Jury to look in that alley and find out who walked all over our property rights.

Special thanks to the HJTA for the inside info. --Steve Paige

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What To Do When The Titanic Sewer Loan
Hits A Proposition 218 Iceberg

The Los Osos sewer loan is sinking. Everybody's in a panic running for the legal life boats. As a third class passenger, many of you are afraid for your financial lives. Don't panic.

Thirty three percent of the families out here are living below the poverty level. That's why Baywood Elementary is a Title I School. Another 20 percent are Seniors on a fixed income. We are in the majority. Prop. 218 was written for us.

Proposition 218 seemed like a weenie little problem but the wackos floated a loan that was so structurally unsound that it immediately started to sink when it nudged aginst measure B. To ask the right questions we have to follow the money. The State water board is asking the LOCSD to get out of the last legal lifeboat so that the SWQCB can paddle off to safety and avoid the follow the money sctutiny.

How are they doing this? By offering 150 million dollars in 'funny money' to the LOCSD to get out of the life boat and go down with the sinking loan ship. The loan is dead either way because of Prop. 218 irregularties. Oh, also, they have henchmen pointing hefty fines at the LOCSD to blow them away if they don't agree. To me that's really a rock and a hard place. Where are we in all of this? Well actually, we are in really good shape.

Here's why.

First you are only looking at the tip of the legal iceberg. Proposition 218 was an initiative that we the people passed to close loopholes in the Gann Initiative, Prop. 13. It's supposed to protect you from bogus "special taxes" on your property by having you vote on them. It's a surprisingly simple, very readable amendment to the State Constitution that protects you from being over taxed for services delivered to your property.

Second, the 150 million dollar loan is 'funny money'. It's quite possible that the loan was agreed to and dispersed outside of its Proposition 218 constraints. That's why you smell panic among the ships SWQCB financial officers.

Stay calm, here's the instructions for your life preserver:

Formost read this analysis of Prop 218 from the State Legislative Analyst's Office. Then get ticked off. Then go to the County website and download the complaint for the Grand Jury and fill one out using Prop. 218 as your beef. Pick any section, almost all of them were violated by the wild CSD and SWQCB pirate swashbucklers who took over the ship and rammed the loan into Prop. 218. Given the situation I commend the new board for valor beyond the call of duty.

If the CSD caves in, it doesn't end the 218 drama, they just become the fall guy. If the County takes over the sewer project, it doesn't quelch the loan irregularties because they get stuck holding the rotten loan bag. That loan is the real hot potato, not the sewer location. I say it's your duty to complain. It doesn't cost a penny.

Then go to the State Tax Advocate’s web site and file for a hearing. The hearing is local. Doesn't matter which side you are on, sewer here or sewer there. We all have the same rights. It's your right to be taxed according to the letter of the law. Somebody blew it and you need make a stink.

I sent to the RSWQCB a little seven page note about what I think about their fines. I'm not waving a sewer flag. I'm waving a property rights flag. You and I, the low income majority in Los Osos, should have that flag to rally around. Read the fine print. Not one penny can be charged to you for a service that is not specific to you and actually being delivered to your property. That's part of Prop. 218.

I plan to stay here. This is a beautiful place to raise my child. I plan to squawk until I get my first 'reasonable' and 'legal' sewer bill arrives in the mail. Prop. 218 will assure me of that. I want to thank Newsstand Greg for letting me blog here and giving you my take on things. More to come about your own on-site 'Bio-neering' to help solve the sewer issue and how to be a thorn in the side of bureauracy.

NEXT: So why are you smirking outside the prohibition zone? I guess you haven't seen the new septic regulations that are being proposed by the SWQCB.

--your friend next door, Steve Paige