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Waste not, want not 

You’ll have to excuse this week’s column. My 36-year eighth grade reunion is coming up, so I took a couple of days off and hit the streets in search of some new threads. Parachute pants and a blingin’ clock necklace? Don’t mind if I do. I’m also assembling a collage titled “What I did the past 36 years.” I’m having a hard time dredging up enough content, but I suspect my participation in the 2010 Chips-Ahoy-Athon may tip me over the edge.

I know what you’re thinking: Firstly, damn Shredder, you’re gonna look fly. And secondly, Shredder, you’re going to a lot of effort for this. Both are true. But eighth grade was an important grade for me. It was the year I learned what I consider to be the most important lesson of my entire academic year, one that, had Morro Bay and Cayucos learned this lesson during their collective eighth grade experiences, might have saved a crapload of money.

My teacher, being the annoying type who wants students to learn things, assigned us all year-long country reports. I got Guatemala, home to the Mayans, a bloody civil war, and a constitutional democratic republic, if memory serves me correctly. Actually, I didn’t do the report. I just now copied that information off Wikipedia. I mean, I did the report—if you count doodling the word Guatemala onto a piece of paper a dozen or so times along with a couple of happy faces, and casually dropping some fingernail clippings over those.

About a week before the report was due, I got nervous about my grade. When it comes to teachers, they don’t always understand the beauty in simplicity, the superiority of a couple random words on an otherwise blank sheet over a 10-page thesis paper. So I paid my uncle, a smooth-talking investment banker, two months’ allowance to sweet talk the teacher, take her out to a nice McDonald’s dinner, and talk up my report.

You can imagine my displeasure when my final grade still came back as an F. To make matters worse, my uncle refused to give me my money back, insisting he’d done the best he could and he couldn’t exactly get a refund on two McChicken Filet Meals. So yeah, I have some regrets. I should have followed my best friend’s example: He paid the smartest kid in school to write his report and wound up with an A. Lesson learned. Don’t pay someone to defend your could-be-better work when you could simply pay a qualified person to do good work in the first place.

You get what I’m saying, Morro Bay and Cayucos? Yes? No? It may just be the giant rock on your face, but you look confused. I’m referring to your wastewater treatment plant proposal? The one near Estero Bay that you’ve spent the last four years and more than $1 million trying to sneak past the Coastal Commission?

It’s too bad about that. I mean, it’s true that the Coastal Commission might still approve the location you’ve selected, in which case please find the nearest set of Crayolas, select the one labeled “incredibly surprised,” and scribble it all over my face.

But given the fact that the Coastal Commission’s staff will probably recommend denying the location, that’s a pretty long shot. So then there’s the $105,000 or so you paid Susan McCabe to talk up your proposal to the Coastal Commission. I know how you feel. I wasted a whole $20 on that Guatemala report fiasco in eighth grade. Do you know how much bubblegum I could’ve bought with that $20? Neither do I. I paid the smartest kid in class to do my math homework. Of course, you could probably buy a lot more bubblegum, or whatever it is cities buy, for $105,000.

I suppose it’s reasonable to point out that you also could have used that money to pay someone to massage the kinks out of your proposal, maybe develop a backup site, something that doesn’t fall in a flood zone. I’m just brainstorming here. Maybe the kid who did my best friend’s report about Greece is available to help you clean up that proposal. I think she charged $30, which I thought was very reasonable considering my buddy walked out of the class with an A. And she had a special clause that if her clients didn’t get at least a B, she’d refund their money. Maybe McCabe would be willing to return a percentage of the money you gave her to wine and dine the Coastal Commission so they’d approve your project, now that it’s looking like they’re not, in fact, going to be approving anything. But who knows?

Maybe you can take all those fancy-but-perhaps-useless plans for which you shelled out contract after contract to consultant after consultant and turn them into ornamental curtains. You probably won’t need those designs in the future. You might remember when outgoing Mayor Bill Yates told this paper that if the Coastal Commission shuts down the current design, “then the design work that’s gone on at the present location would be in vain and we would start over.”

Then again, if I’d had nine years to get that Guatemala report together, I’d like to think I’d eventually come up with something pretty good on my own. In fact, I probably could have written the report in at least half a dozen languages and iambic pentameter, and composed a score to Guatemala: The Musical. It would have been the stuff of junior high legends, told from one generation of pimply kids to another. But it’s probably unreasonable to expect government employees to work on the same short deadline as kids in junior high. Clearly, they’re operating on a whole different level. Besides, of course, the fact that they hired an $105,000 cheerleader to tell people how great their flawed project was instead of fixing the project. In that regard, Morro Bay and Cayucos, you’re in complete harmony with my eighth grade self.

If it turns out that the commission actually does give the project an OK, ignore all this. And congratulations!

Shredder has enough dough for three blings and one bubblegum. Send comments to [email protected].

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