Three decades after being mandated by the state to build a wastewater treatment plant, the community of Los Osos is now closer than ever to breaking ground on its fabled sewer system. And this could only mean one thing: The people of Los Osos are now closer than ever to scrapping the entire project and going back to square one.
Democracy in traction
Community Services District (CSD) Vice President Gordon Hensley, one of three board members facing a possible recall, summarized his dissatisfaction with the Los Osos political process: â€œThis has got to be the worst example of democracy anywhere.â€?
Hensley maintains that recalling the CSD and starting over on the sewer would only cost the community more time and money. Thereâ€™s no way a recall would save money, he said. He also pointed out that newly elected board members Julie Tacker and Lisa Schicker were elected to represent the entire community.
â€œThe project is so far along at this point that holding a recall is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.â€?
If anti-sewer activists get their way, they will also recall President Stan Gustafson and board member Richard LeGros. Ososians hopeful of relocating the sewer away from its central, downtown location and cutting costs on what they consider an exorbitant project elected Tacker and Schicker to the CSD by an overwhelming 75 percent majority in November. Unable to advance their own agenda and stop progress on the downtown sewer, Tacker, Schicker, and their supporters have opted to launch a recall against the opposition.
Recall spokesman Steve Sawyer, who runs a print shop in Los Osos, expressed confidence in the movementâ€™s progress. In eight weeks, the recall effort has already gathered almost 1,800 petition signatures. The group has until April 15 to collect 2,000 names, but Sawyer says they plan to wait until they have closer to 2,500 to be on the safe side.
Meanwhile, the anti-recall group, headed by Pandora Nash-Karner and calling themselves â€œSave the Dream,â€? have already raised over $24,000 from private donations. Local developer Hank Watterworth contributed an additional $4,600 to run full-page ads in the Tribune and Sun Bulletin. But this monetary strength does not appear to concern Sawyer.
â€œWe can overcome these financial obstacles with volunteer manpower,â€? recall spokesman Sawyer said. He describes the recall as a true grassroots effort, comprised of senior citizens, young people, and working families. The attendants who gathered for a recall barbecue at the Los Osos Community Center on Saturday, Feb. 19 certainly fit that description.
Jan Di Leo, however, a member of the Save the Dream Coalition, was quick to demystify the grassroots label, pointing out that the Nazis were once a grassroots operation.
That barbecue, rally, and fund-raiser also featured the first announcement of candidacy by a CSD challenger, Chuck Cesena. Cesena was reluctant to have a target painted on his face, he said, but as an environmental planner and a resident of SLO County since 1984, he feels committed to helping resolve this contentious issue. No one else has stepped forward to pursue the other two potential vacancies.
Adding fuel to fire, Al Barrow, founder of Citizens for Affordable and Safe Environment (CASE), also used the barbecue event to announce his plans to put a Move the Sewer measure on the next ballot. This would give Los Osos citizens their first opportunity to vote on the sewer location.
Church and state
In the controversy over wastewater treatment, nothing is sacred. Now the Roman Catholic Bishop of Monterey (Diocese of Monterey) has entered the fray, drawing charges of sacrilege from the Save the Dream Coalition.
Apparently an anti-sewer message in the Feb. 6 parish bulletin so incited Nash-Karner and her colleagues that they sent a letter to the Bishop and paid a visit to Father Heibar CastaÃ±eda of Los Osos, demanding a printed retraction and letter of apology for what they considered libelous remarks about the LOCSD. Nash-Karner explained that the Bishopâ€™s statements were â€œpatently incorrect,â€? overstating the cost of the sewer project and accusing the CSD of not adequately considering other options.
St. Elizabethâ€™s Church has responded by posting a copy of a letter from the Bishop on the church bulletin board, summarizing the churchâ€™s official position. The letter, dated Oct. 17, 2003, is addressed to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, and describes the Bishopâ€™s concern over a sewer that may be built in the churchâ€™s backyard.
The CSD has 30 days to certify the recall petition once itâ€™s submitted, and the election would be held 88 to 125 days after the certification. If they wait until the April 15 deadline to turn in the signatures, the election could take place as late as September. And the next sewer project? God only knows.
Staff Writer Jeff Hornaday wakes up in a cold sweat dreaming about sewage. E-mail him at email@example.com.