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Lack of broadcast prompts citizen questions 

Why was AGP Video the production company that tapes and streams almost all public meetings in San Luis Obispo County absent from the latest session of the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB)?

No, that wasn't the setup for a joke. We really don't know.

The easy answer would be that the contract between the public water board and the private broadcasting firm has remained in limbo for several months. Agency staff said at the Dec. 1 meeting that they made an executive decision to cut the service as a cash-saving measure. They cited budgetary shortfalls as the reason.

But that answer didn't satisfy the so-called Los Osos 45, still under the threat of RWQCB cease-and-desist orders for their purportedly nitrate-leaching septic systems.

The prohibition-zone homeowners alleged the failure to pony up to AGP was less of a budgetary matter than an attempt to muddy public transparency. Some on hand for the unstreamed meeting then asked a follow-up question: What happened to longtime agency director Roger Briggs?

Briggs' employment with the water board predates the Los Osos sewer saga. His most recent year on the job and as director has been mired in contention due to two controversial policy decisions: the drafting of the cease-and-desist orders against the 45 low-income Los Osos homeowners and the issuance of bulky fines against the now-bankrupt community services district.

The transition, which occurred sometime in November, went unannounced. Officially, Briggs is currently on a six-month leave and is reportedly spending it abroad.

Briggs was unavailable for comment. Water board official Michael Thomas appointed to hold the agency reins following Briggs' departure did not return phone calls as of press time.

AGP Video co-directors Nancy Castle and Steve Matheiu said the Dec. 1 session of the water board was the first meeting in San Luis Obispo proper not broadcast since 1999. However, they disagreed with locals' concerns that agency staff might have severed the ties to keep eyes off the upcoming cease-and-desist hearings, set to commence on Dec. 14 in San Luis Obispo.

"It's been a long-running quasi battle with the water board, and it has to do with funding. They're strapped," Mathieu commented. "They really are kind of a stepchild board."

Many of the Los Osos 45, now with legal counsel, called for the RWQCB to reinstate webcast services in time for the proceedings on Dec. 14. When budgetary concerns torpedoed that appeal, several community members started a fund to subsidize shooting of the two-day event.

As of publication, CSD attorney Julie Biggs and the law firm Burke, Williams, and Sorensen had each pledged $500. According to AGP, water board staff also promised to secure a contribution. The broadcast outfit itself plans to make its own sacrifices on a meeting-by-meeting basis.

"We'll be there," AGP's Castle said of the mid-month hearings.


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