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A new day in sewersville 

New CSD charges forward to move the sewer as opposition lobbies for fines and litigation

After last Tuesday's hairline victory for the Los Osos recall, the septically challenged community is now plunging forward headstrong into a litany of litigation, a frigate of fines, and a maelstrom of mixed emotions.

In the face of anti-recall slogans, claiming "you delay, you pay," the new CSD has wasted no time in carrying out its promise to stop the sewer. Since the election, the board has already held three public meetings, with the fourth scheduled for tonight.

Even before the county clerk had certified the election and sworn in the three new CSD members last Friday, the board-elect unofficially convened on Thursday night to set the course for the new administration. As its first order of business, the board nominated Lisa Schicker as the CSD president and newly elected John Fouche as vice president. In a 5-0 vote, the board unanimously agreed on these positions, which took effect on Friday. The board also selected John McClendon to act as interim counsel for the board and to work together with the CSD's former attorney, Jon Seitz.

Meeting again on Saturday, for the first time in their official capacity as the certified CSD, the board unanimously agreed to stop construction on the current sewer project. The board also fired its recently hired PIO (public information officer), Michael Drake, and put its general manager, Bruce Buel, on paid administrative leave.

Besides the haste with which the board has progressed and the unanimity with which their motions have passed, the most striking element of these honeymoon board meetings has been the cheerful sense of fellowship between the board and the public.

The insufferable tension that had plagued every CSD meeting for at least the past 12 months had disappeared faster than a Recall sign on the front yard of a Van Beurden property. After opening last Thursday night's meeting with the pledge of allegiance, the crowd exploded with a standing ovation and a long round of boisterous cheers for the happy faces of the new board.

Speaking in the public comment period, Budd Sanford (whom the previous board had once threatened to sue) addressed the new board, saying, "This is the happiest day of my life!"

Several other speakers echoed that same spirit of joy and relief. Confounded by the lack of anger and aggression that had always fueled him at these meetings, Michael Jones found himself nearly speechless at the podium, just gazing at the board of smiles, none of them interrupting him or threatening to have him removed from the building.

While the mood was almost universally celebratory, two or three members of the public did warn the new board to tread softly. After winning the election by the narrowest of margins, the unanimous board faces the onerous challenge of representing a deeply divided community.

The greatest challenge, which came up often during the bitter recall campaign, will be the fines from the state water board. The new board's opponents, who include former CSD President Stan Gustafson, Pandora Nash-Karner, and another local newspaper, constantly remind them of these potential fines, which they say could run as high as $10,000 a day. And in the spirit of a divided community, correspondence between Nash-Karner and water board Executive Director Roger Briggs suggests that Nash-Karner is actually encouraging the water board to levy the highest fines possible.

Meanwhile, supporters of the recall and the new board maintain that $10,000 would be a drop in the honey hut compared to the $225,000 a day that was being spent on the downtown sewer. And what's more, that $10,000 a day would be borne by the entire community rather than just those residents of the prohibition zone.

On Tuesday night, the board appointed Directors Chuck Cesena and John Fouche to represent the district, along with interim counsel McClendon, in negotiations with the water board.

Former CSD Vice President Gordon Hensley, who once admitted that the recall might come as a relief, now refuses to walk away without a fight. Turning the old recall campaign's weapons against them, Hensley and a new group called Taxpayers Watch filed a lawsuit Tuesday, asking for a restraining order against the new CSD for breaking its contract with construction companies.

Hensley's attorney, Kate Neiswender, was apparently unfamiliar with the cancellation clause of the contract that allowed for a 90-stay on construction. Superior Court Judge Douglas Hilton asked the plaintiffs to review the contract and return to court on Friday.

Board Member Julie Tacker expressed her disappointment in Hensley's actions: "If Gordon wanted to be the watchdog, he shouldn't have accepted the bids, he shouldn't have started construction, he shouldn't have set the election so late."

As of Wednesday, New Times was unable to contact Hensley for comment.

The board's most recent move, on Tuesday night, was to hire Willdan, an engineering management firm from Southern California, to replace Buel. Buel, who sat quietly in the back row with his characteristically loud Hawaiian shirt, called Willdan an "excellent firm" and described them as "very capable." Director Tacker, who interviewed managers, explained that Willdan came very highly recommended by several other agencies and consultant firms.

Dan Bleskey, from Willdan, started Wednesday morning, working with Buel to get the CSD back on track. Bleskey's all-inclusive services, with travel and housing, will cost the district a total of about $24,000 a month. For now, the board is keeping Buel around for consulting during the transition.

President Schicker is enjoying the new atmosphere at CSD meetings, but has no illusions about being on easy street.

"At least right now, it's very cooperative," she said, well aware that the road ahead could get very rough. "We're just trying to take care of the train wreck - or whatever you want to call it."

The LOSCD meets again tonight and plans to implement an affordability study and a comprehensive audit of the wastewater project, as promised in the new board members' campaign. The CSD will also be reforming citizen committees, which were dissolved by the previous board, to deal with emergency services, water, finance, and environmental issues. The board has promised to create diverse committees that reflect the complexity of its constituency.

 

A & E Editor Jeff Hornaday wants to build a cell tower in your living room. Dial him up at jhornaday@newtimesslo.com.

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