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Die another dust 

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I found this flier affixed to a bathroom stall (aka alleyway where I passed out after a rough night of snorting Gobstoppers and kombucha shooters), and something about it spoke to me: Do you like money and think the pursuit of the almighty dollar should trump public health concerns? Think the gosh-durned guv’mint should stay out of our business? Do you think science is too technical and science-y?

I could practically feel the salty wind in the two hair follicles that haven’t yet managed to escape my head, could hear the roar of an ATV engine drown out the annoying sound of the ocean and nature, and it was glorious. Just me and 40 horsepower—somewhere between a Segway and Volvo—kicking up some particulate matter. Ain’t no thang. If Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson and the 284 “people” who signed her petition think we should do away with the San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District’s Dust Rule, who is Science to argue?

After all, she’s already explained that the science used to determine that the ATVs out on the dunes create an unhealthy environment for everyone else is, well, science. It’s too technical. It makes Debbie’s head hurt. So she’s not refuting the science. Except to say that she kinda doubts the science of it. Which is how I came to the conclusion that photosynthesis doesn’t exist. I don’t understand it, but also I don’t agree with it. There’s a quick way to circumvent having to actually learn anything.

I signed the petition, of course. Four times. The only justification for an anonymous petition is, after all, the fact that you intend to cheat. We’re not in Russia or North Korea where thugs with bad haircuts are going to drag you off to a gulag because you had the temerity to sign a petition expressing how little you care about air quality. All under the guise of protecting your rights to ATV on the dunes, which no one is actually trying to deprive you of anyway. I’m not sure which constitutional amendment affirms that right—I argued I didn’t believe in history so I could start a Segway scooter gang instead of attending my American history class—but I’m pretty sure your right to unlimited dune access trumps a local resident’s right to clean air. Peterson—who bravely assumed the dusty mantle of ATV rights, which, incidentally, coincides with the financial interests of a lot of the Realtor’s buddies—foolishly responded to a query about the possibility of people dying due to air pollution by saying, “Well, they’re not dying fast enough.” She later apologized and insisted the comment was taken out of context, which seems to be another one of those get-out-of-jail-free cards that someone who speaks her mind honestly shouldn’t have to rely on.

So what do we know about Peterson’s petition? For one thing, we know that it relies on some statements that are shaky at best, such as: “The SLO APCD has created a rule (The Dust Rule) that fines State Parks $1,000 a day when the wind blows up excessive dust … $4,080 a year to monitor each air monitor (22 have been installed) … . The purpose of these charges is to fund the SLO APCD for monitoring the work of the ODSVRA.”

What the petition—and Peterson—fails to mention is that the $1,000-per-day fine is simply an option available to the APCD, and the agency has never enforced that fine, despite the fact that particulate matter exceeded state standards on 70 days in 2012. Then there’s the small matter of the “$4,080 a year to monitor each air monitor (22 have been installed.)” In fact, this fee only applies to two of the 22 monitors, which might sound like a minor correction, but the difference between the $89,760 Peterson’s petition argues and the $8,160 reality is quite substantial. You might forgive a regular Jo Schmo lobbyist for, if not outright lying to the public, certainly misrepresenting the facts. But a public official should be held to a higher standard, a standard that requires knowing the facts surrounding an issue involving public health, especially if you intend to wade into, or create, some kind of debate or movement. Either Peterson doesn’t understand how the fine works, or she’s chosen to misrepresent the fine to her constituents. Either case does not bespeak a leader who warrants respect. Then again, maybe she’s just got too much sand in her ears from all those glorious hours driving across the dunes.

Setting aside what we’ll call the petition’s lack of respect for precise facts, I can’t help but question the timing. It’s true that State Parks and the APCD have endured contentious relations, but all signs point to an improvement in their relationship over the past year. They’re making progress on the issue, so why would Peterson and her anti-regulation, pro-commerce buddies try to throw a wrench in things now? If the APCD fails to correct the issue, the Big Bad Federal Government will step in, and I don’t think they’ll be as gentle as the APCD, which, let’s remember, has opted not to fine State Parks despite the fact that it’s still exceeding state and federal air quality standards on a regular basis. And something tells me that if the federal government rolls into town, Peterson’s going to throw an even bigger hissy, maybe even toss out another petition with even more factual inaccuracies and “anonymous” signatures.

So go ahead. Repeal the Dust Rule. Go head to head with the feds, tell them you as a Realtor simultaneously doubt and don’t understand their science, then watch as the agency you’ve been championing—State Parks—is forced to contend with an entity that probably won’t spend three years waiting for it to get its act together while the residents of the Nipomo Mesa get sick from the air. Or acknowledge that you maybe didn’t think that far ahead. But don’t worry about it, Debbie. Maybe planning, like science, makes your head hurt. Or maybe you understand what’s going on better than you, and your petition, are letting on. In which case, you seem to have selected which constituents you’d like to represent (businesses), and which to ignore or dismiss for their inability to die quickly enough (people).


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