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

15 Comments:

Blogger Shark Inlet said...

This appears to be in the past Steve, but the numbers of the loan, $135M borrowed for 20 years at 2.3% interest show that the payments would be about $150/month for each of the 5000 households currently existing. If no more homes would be built our costs wouldn't increase. If we somehow manage to get up to buildout, the costs decrease.

You do have a good point, however, about the smaller plant (even if your price/month is off). The builder of the Monarch Grove neighborhood wants to put in another similar plant to what they've already done for Monarch (where costs are closer to $130/month than $75/month). If construction costs for such a plant are included the bill is even higher, but still less than what this current CSD will end up charging (I would bet $300/month minimum).

9:08 AM, November 23, 2005  
Blogger Steve Paige said...

Thanks, I stand corrected. I tweaked the text.

9:34 AM, November 23, 2005  
Blogger Spectator said...

Good stuff, Steve, a good primer!

Now that the loan has been defaulted, large fines to the LOCSD and individual polluters are in order. The RQCQB as all the legal authority to do what they want to do. Their job is strictly to enforce compliance with the law.

To avoid the individual fines, the answer is hunnyhuts, sealing toilets or putting in composting toilets, and replumbing houses to collect greywater into large tanks.
9,000 gallon tanks minimum will be required along with permits etc. Ozonation or chlorine will be required to keep the greywater from going sour and stinking up the neighborhood. The grey water cannot be spilled on the ground. It will have to be hauled away.

An average household of four uses 300 gallons of water a day. Severe conservation will lead to stinky people, dirty clothes, a general lack of sanitation, dirt and weeds for lawns, and a slum for a neighborhood.

Clearly there are no economical solutions for individuals.

Steve, go for the Equaris! Put it in your garage along with the holding tank to take the effluent! Better not stink or malfunction, your neighbors have sensitive noses.

Otherwise reality: Shortly the LOCSD will have no money, employees will not be paid, and all LOCSD revenues and assets attached by contractors and other harmed parties (property owners).

The property owners will not re-assess themselves and put the money into the hands of the current LOCSD for purchase, development of plans, environmental impact reports, and permits for a new site, should a site ever be found. Done that!

The current LOCSD along with their dupes have looked a perfectly good gift horse in the mouth and refused it.

The county or state will take over the functions of the LOCSD because it will be fined bankrupt, and the county and state will not be so stupid as to throw away the previous assessment money used to develop the plans and permits for the tri-w site. 20 million down the drain? No way.

The treatment plant will be built on that site. Costs will continue to increase, and suits will continue to be filed at large costs to individuals, and will continue to fail. There will be no LOCSD money to file suits. There will be no LOCSD.

In the future it will get even worse for those who refuse the system! No hook up to the sewer system, no water! Another 9,000 gallon tank for potable water. Pressure pumps, ozonation, electrical costs, and once a month a potable water truck and another truck to haul away the grey water.

If an individual homeowner wants to go this route, let em do it!

Prepare to be punished severely, after all, we the people in the prohibition zone are breaking the law by polluting the ground water. We are criminals. The legal system does not look favorably upon criminals. And now, because of the actions of the new LOCSD, we are in the hands of the Phillistines (RWQCB), and they are looking to extract pounds of flesh from each criminal polluter. They are really mad. It is really stupid to insult the judge and jury.

So what if the state attorney general, local DA, and grand jury look at where the money came from and the process? They should look at the constitutionality of unfunded mandates. If the mandate is found to be illegal, maybe then you will get a reasonable sewer bill. Don't hold your breath!

The government agencies know that there has been 30 years of obstruction by those who never wanted to pay for a sewer system at any price. History does not lie. I am willing to bet that 50% of the recall vote came from these people.

The people of Los Osos have been screwed by their own ignorance, led down the road by false and unrealistic promises of a cheaper sewer at a better location, no fines, and available money.

If you think the RWQCB and the state board is hopping mad, just wait for the backlash from the property owners who were sold a bill of goods based upon pure speculation.

Relax and enjoy it. Enjoy that your home is now worth $100,000 less than it was last year and dropping fast.

1:30 PM, November 23, 2005  
Blogger Steve Paige said...

So let me see if I got this correct. You would rather pay for an illegally financed sewer, throw away your State Constitutional rights, scream foul that 'over half' of the people of Los Osos want a fair shake, and NOT trust our government and judical system to end your Freddy III version of sewer hell? They can change the name on the door (County) but the legal and technical flaws are still there.

What about all the little people that just barely get by here. Kids milk or the sewer bill, your choice mom. Heart medication or the sewer bill, you choice Grandpaw. I think I'll stick it out for them. Sorry you don't have any guts or just want to see two million dollar homes here.

Steve

5:23 PM, November 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a little off subject, but I keep reading "leaking septic tanks" as the problem. Couldn't we just replace the tanks? Or is it that the tank is leaking into the leach pit?
I am a 35 yr. resident of Los Osos and have lived virtually my entire adult life with this sewer issue. If the problem is as bad as stated then those responsible for fixing the problem should be held accountable for allowing it to go this long without fixing the problem.
How many houses were built after the initial sewer issue came up? Why were septic tanks allowed to be used in the first place? Where is the County's role in all of this?
Besides all that, there are just as many birds in the bay as when I came here 35 yrs. ago, and I would swear that it doesn't smell as it used to.

11:25 AM, November 26, 2005  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Both the county and the CSD, when it was formed, had the ability to form a Septic Management District, which would have allowed them to set standards for, well, septic management. They never did. Furthermore, the CSD had the option of instituting a water conservation plan (less wastewater, less pollution) They never did. Years ago, CAWS volunteers canvassed the town with a face-to-face, door-to-door Sanitary Survey. Apparently it was the first one ever done and included getting information on what type of tanks/pits were out there, how many times leach fields had failed, how many times the tanks had been pumped, & etc. So far as I know, nothing was done with any of this information. So much of what's going on here is based on By Gosh & By God Guestimates, rather than hard science. I find in telling, and others have pointed this out, that the Tribune refers to "suspected nitrate pollution" when refering to what this problem's about. Suspected? There's also been awful fibs, even during official presentation, i.e. "raw sewage flowing down the street." I remember one photo that was supposed to "prove" that we had raw sewage flowing down our streets, a photo which included a shot of a tampon lying on the ground, thereby proving nothing but the photographer knew nothing of how a septic tank worked.

If there's anything that Los Osos is awash in, it's hokum and spin and hooey.

6:26 AM, November 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was part of a group that installed the first pump at 16th and Paso Robles st. It was done in the early evening so as to reduce the risk of being told to stop. It was done during a pouring down rain with lightning and thunder to add to the challenge. It was done so property owners could save their property from the poor planning and drainage provided for their streets. Septic tanks had nothing to do with that event. Runoff water had everything to do with it. Water that had nowhere to go but to mix with whatever was in the ground, including septic tanks.

11:54 AM, November 27, 2005  
Blogger Spectator said...

Steve:

At this point there is only one speculation that will count if we are ever going to get a reasonable sewer bill.

Is an unfundated mandate legal? If the Feds dictate to the State, and the State dictates to the County, and the County dictates to the locals, should not the unreasonable and excessive burden on individuals be shared by the fed government ( EPA ), The State Government, The County Government, and a local government should it exist?

This unfunded mandate came as a result of a democrat controlled US congress, and a democrat controlled state legislature. Obviously they did not give a hoot about the little people and seniors. They are no better than the new LOCSD foolish five.

They should resign!!

12:43 PM, November 27, 2005  
Blogger Steve Paige said...

Good point spectator. Sorta like no child left behind program. The no Sewer left behind program. Resign???? Relax, give it some time. The sky is not falling yet chicken little. Have we not been paying our County assessment district 1 sewer bill like a trooper? Do you realize that it's 1/3 the benchmark rate for EPA % Sewer Costs per household?

11:06 PM, November 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! Spectator! Unfunded mandates should be illegal! If that were true, I wonder what you would prefer? That a Republican controled Government would completly re-fund the Clean Water Act? Thereby causing everyones taxes to go up? Or would a Republican Government repeal the act because clean water was too expensive?
I don't buy your partisan reasoning. There has, as far as I can tell, been quite a good mix of everybody in this "mess" Maybe what we need is a good ol fashioned dictator.Mike Green

7:18 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Shark Inlet said...

I am not a fan of unfunded mandates.

However we in Los Osos should remember that this is not an unfunded mandate. Back in the 70s and 80s when we were first told that it is not safe to have too many homes/acre on septic and told we would need a sewer, there was free money that would nearly pay for the entire project.

The neighborhood near the SLO airport was in the same situation back then. They voted to go ahead with putting in a sewer on Uncle Sam's dime. Yes, they currently pay a bit more than those in SLO proper ... about $10-20/month more.

If we had taken any of the several opportunities to put in a sewer back in the 80s and 90s the plant would be in place now and our bills would be below $100/month. Now $100/month sounds like a "dream come true" to people of this community.

Here's the irony. Until last week we still had the possibility of using federal dollars to lower our costs by about $70/month (from about $275-300/month). There was still funding from the government for this mandate.

We, through the wisdom of our elected officials refused the funding available.

9:38 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Steve Paige said...

Shark inlet...

Actually if you read Proposition 218 and quit sniveling, you would realize that our "Special Assessment" portion of the tax would be about 1/2 the proposed fee because the other half should be a General Tax for Esturary improvments.
Lest we forget we are getting ripped off. The basin plan specifies that the Los Osos sewer is a feather in the cap of the people in general.

8:25 AM, December 01, 2005  
Anonymous Madeadecision said...

Steve,

Good point, good to know there's acknowledgment about polluting the bay.

The problem with the 1/3 benchmark of the EPA guidelines, is that comparing Los Osos with a benchmark is essentially useless. Los Osos should be paying more, because Los Osos never put in infrastructure, because we've delayed 30+ years.

Who are we getting ripped off from whom? Los Osos residents have been realizing the benefit of not paying sewer fees for 30 years. Of not having to pay a higher upfront permit/development fee the County should have required when it put the houses in. That, my friend, is a financial benefit people in Los Osos have had. At the same time, the liability from the continued pollution has been increasing, as has still not been 'paid for'

I understand the sentiment because the years of non-payment by residents now means a huge bill is due.

I love how people want it both ways. Hey, if the 1/3 benchmark helps politically to get grants, great. Just don't expect to have your cake and eat it too.

5:41 PM, December 01, 2005  
Blogger Steve Paige said...

Your argument seems to fall outside State Constitutional Law. I would suggest if you were a law abiding citizen you wouldn't support breaking the law to 'punish' Los Osos. Actually the nitrate levels have dropped since 1997 when the LOCSD was formed. Sorry I'm not into sewer S&M we'll pass on your plan to punish us. The real reason that the State has taken on Los Osos as an 'example' is that it can't do anything about farming pollution because of historic and outdated water law.

9:33 AM, December 04, 2005  
Anonymous madeadecision said...

You think rejecting sewers every 6-7 years isn't sewer S&M??

Nice tactic, twisting words into some laughable 'law-abiding' argument.

I wasn't pointing anything out about 218, if you actually read what I wrote. Your statement about paying 1/3 the benchmark rate is meaningless. The benchmark rate is mostly useless for Los Osos.

The benchmark rate is based on communities where they were smart enough to put in a sewer at the right time.

Nothing would be better than sticking it to the state, though.

8:41 AM, December 05, 2005  

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