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Simmering septic saga

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The ongoing battle over Los Osos septic tanks is mired in arguments again, but this time it’s not about pollution, it’s about lawyers, with the fairness and the fees of the various attorneys involved now in the spotlight.

As the Regional Water Quality Control Board pushes its case for a sewer system for the town by preparing cease-and-desist orders for 45 selected homes—mandating expensive bimonthly pumping of household septic tanks—the Los Osos Community Services District board is continuing its fight on behalf of the residents.

The CSD has charged that there may be bias on the part of the Water Board’s attorney in the case, Laurie Okun, and has asked her to recuse herself.

Reed Sato, the new chief of the recently formed Office of Enforcement for the State Water Resources Control Board, will now serve as legal counsel for the prosecution staff on the cease-and-desist orders for the 45 homes. Sato has asked for a delay in the case while he reviews the records and prepares his brief.

It is now likely the septic tank pumpout orders will be on the agenda for the Water Board’s July 7 meeting in San Luis Obispo.

Meanwhile, the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury has released its report on an investigation into the settlement agreements on various lawsuits by the Los Osos CSD. The Grand Jury report states that it “was unable to discover whether public funds were used to reimburse the law firm for work done on the recall election and Measure B initiative.�

As part of its investigation, the Grand Jury interviewed a complainant, the current LOCSD interim general manager, a member of the old board who was recalled, and two members of the new board who were also members of the old board. None of the new members elected as a result of the recall was interviewed.

The new CSD, seated after a recall election last September, agreed to settle five different lawsuits by paying out nearly $500,000 in public funds. After two citizen complaints, the Grand Jury looked at whether public funds were used to pay the law firm involved, Burke, Williams and Sorensen. One of the law firm’s attorney’s was the author of the Measure B ballot initiative, which called for the proposed sewage treatment plant to be moved away from the town center.

Claiming attorney-client privilege, the law firm submitted documentation of its time sheets and billing records, but the actual legal tasks performed were redacted, leaving a blank spot in the column of billable tasks.

“Since public funds were used to settle the five lawsuits, the Grand Jury feels that the public has a right to know what legal services were rendered and billed, and if the billings were proper,� the Grand Jury writes in its report issued last week. “Neither the new [CSD] board nor the law firm are willing to provide any detailed information to the Grand Jury regarding the exact nature of the legal services rendered and billed.�

The Grand Jury has asked the Los Osos CSD to waive the attorney-client privilege to clarify whether $488,617 of public funds were used to reimburse the law firm in connection with the recall election and the Measure B initiative, including the initial drafting of Measure B. The CSD has until July 17 to respond.

 

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