Reminiscent of the disastrous chain of events that led to bankruptcy for the Los Osos sewer project, the five-year odyssey of the Los Olivos Community Service District’s sewer plan appears to be headed for implosion under the weight of the LOCSD Board.
The board was voted in to maintain “local control”: locals could tackle the town’s groundwater challenges cheaper, faster, and better than the county or the state. Instead, a much larger and more expensive sewer project is moving forward, but the LOCSD seems to have “forgotten” to inform the community it is supposed to serve.
The project has gone off course. In August 2019, after a series of public workshops with residents, the LOCSD Board unanimously adopted Board Resolution 19-04, describing a phased approach that would start with the downtown core and expand only as necessary based on groundwater monitoring data. In 2020, the LOCSD acquired from the county a small parcel of land between St. Mark’s church and Mattei’s Tavern to accommodate a treatment system for the downtown core.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the property tax assessments the LOCSD has collected did not fund the expected groundwater monitoring. Instead, it funded contracts to design an extensive sewer system that looks nothing like the one presented to the community in Resolution 19-04. The project has also grown to include a 2+-acre, above-ground sewage treatment plant, potentially including effluent ponds.
Suppose the LOCSD Board is allowed to continue on this misguided course. In that case, all district residents, regardless of owning an advanced onsite wastewater treatment system, will be forced to hook up to a centralized sewer system and pay for the construction, ongoing operations, and maintenance of a new sewage treatment facility in perpetuity.
The Board needs to be more forthcoming about the changes it made. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, public engagement diminished, local newspaper coverage was almost non-existent, and fewer than five Board members often attended the LOCSD’s virtual meetings. The Board dramatically changed the project scope without revoking or amending Resolution 19-04 or notifying the public. One more bizarre detail: descriptions of the legal work the LOCSD was paying to the law firm meant to serve the district suddenly became hidden from the public in 2021. A lack of transparency erodes public trust. Public agencies must be open and transparent regarding taxpayer money expenditures, which has yet to happen in Los Olivos.
If the LOCSD Board is interested in being good custodians of taxpayer dollars, they are grossly uninformed. Spending years of assessment fees on a project the public knew nothing about was reckless. Their premature and arbitrary decision to pursue a hostile taking of a parcel of agricultural land from a local family not interested in selling the land for such a grossly incompatible project is not only profoundly offensive but will also be incredibly expensive.
Finally, may we call out the NIMBYs here? The incumbent Board decided to pursue a giant, expandable sewage plant only once they convinced themselves they could put it amid homes owned by our Solvang neighbors, who would have no say, no vote, and no benefit from a sewage plant near their bedrooms and backyards.
Sadly, the LOCSD Board needs to get realistic about the inevitable consequences of their oversized plans that lay the groundwork for unchecked sprawl that will leave the quiet, bucolic town of Los Olivos unrecognizable.
The Los Olivos CSD meets at 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at St. Mark’s church. The next LOCSD Sewer Workshop is Tuesday, January 24, at 6 p.m.