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Empire of the dumb 

Science and history aren't optional belief systems

What is one to make of the current efforts in Morro Bay and Grover Beach to advance a political agenda based on a lie?

The majority of the Morro Bay City Council is trying to do the right thing. It has decided that it will not attempt to build a sewer plant in a flood plain, perpetuating a coastal eyesore that has no need to be built on the coast. Abandoning its previous plan to do so was a matter of the voters voting out the councilmembers who pursued that doomed project and voting in candidates who acknowledged the authority of the state’s coastal law.

The majority of the Grover Beach City Council is trying to do the right thing. The Air Pollution Control District has passed an ordinance to curb dust pollution from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. In the run-up to passage of the ordinance, many arguments against it were concocted and thrown against the wall to see if they’d stick. They didn’t. Those arguments were tried again in court, and failed again. Preparations to implement and monitor dust-reduction methods are now underway. The heedless opposition to this regulatory reality, coming in large part from Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, the city’s representative on the APCD board, has been an ongoing embarrassment to the City Council, which finally removed her from that position.

The centerpiece of the effort to recall Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons is a fantasy primarily based on the premise that a sewer could have been built on the beach for about a third of the likely cost of the present project, a project that could actually be permitted and built—i.e. cheap fantasy vs. expensive reality—and he is somehow the reason why the fantasy project’s permit was denied. The two previous mayors and two current City Council members who actually bear responsibility for that debacle have been vocal in attacking the current mayor for allegedly wrecking their project. In other words, after burning through $2 million spent on consultants and lobbyists and pressing ahead despite all warnings, those responsible are trying to pin their failure on someone who had nothing to do with it beyond stating his agreement with the Coastal Commission, at the end of that long road, that the project could not receive a permit.

To believe what is being said in Grover Beach, you must discard a two-year, peer-reviewed study, conducted by the preeminent experts in the field, which determined that the dust pollution from the Oceano Dunes comes largely from the devegetated riding area after off-road vehicles have disturbed the sand, making those particles more likely to become airborne compared to undisturbed areas of the dunes where the sand is anchored by vegetation. You must believe that this study somehow failed to notice that if you live downwind of sand dunes, hey, you’re going to get sand and dust blown on you. You must believe that scientists and regulators slap their foreheads and exclaim “Why didn’t I think of that?!” every time this homespun wisdom is offered up in public testimony, letters to the editor, websites, and blogs as superior to the findings of all those stupid scientists. Above all, you must believe that the Department of Parks and Recreation should not bear the burden of curbing the public health hazard they are responsible for, and that if the Oceano Dunes SVRA cannot reduce its dust pollution below hazardous levels, it should just continue to operate as is.

To believe what is being said in Morro Bay, you must believe that not a discouraging word was heard about the Morro Bay wastewater project until Jan. 10, 2013, and Morro Bay and Cayucos did not receive multiple warnings from multiple agencies and environmental groups and hundreds of residents, in verbal and written comments, for the better part of five years, on precisely the issues that ultimately sank the project. You must believe that it was not the project’s glaring deficiencies, the city’s refusal to correct or comply, and the recommendation for denial of a permit by Coastal Commission staff that doomed the sewer project, but the new mayor’s five minutes at the microphone at that January 2013 Coastal Commission hearing. You must believe that a sewer could have been built on the beach if only the mayor had continued the strategy of fighting the Coastal Commission (because that plan had worked out so well for the previous City Council).

There’s no denying the energy and intensity behind these twin efforts. Those who want Mayor Jamie Irons off the Morro Bay City Council and Mayor Debbie Peterson back on the board of the Air Pollution Control District have obvious goals: get enough votes to move a sewer project back to the beach and repeal or gut an ordinance perceived as a threat to an off-road playground, respectively.

But those things are not going to happen. The coastal protection policies that prevailed over the arrogant whimsy of Morro Bay’s last two city councils and departed senior staff were put in place by the people of California to protect the coast. The local air quality ordinance that is giving off-roaders fits in Bakersfield and San Jose was fashioned to protect the health of the residents of Oceano, the Nipomo Mesa, and Santa Maria.

One group wants to discard science. Another wants to re-write history. Both need to go back to school.


Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments to the executive editor at [email protected].

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