Op-Ed: LOCSD Has Lost Its Way

By Kathryn Lohmeyer Rohrer

To the Los Olivos Community Services District (LOCSD) Board of Directors,

The LOCSD has lost its way, and you run the very real risk of forfeiting local control over the solution to this community’s longstanding groundwater quality problem.  Rather than doubling down on your decision to enlarge the sewer and sewage treatment component of the wastewater management project the LOCSD was formed to implement in 2018, it is time to adjust course back to the project approved by your voters and endorsed by every relevant stakeholder.

It is time to stop misleading the community about the actions you have taken without community engagement or approval.  You have never acknowledged or explained to your voters that you changed the nature, size and scope of the plans for a sewer system for Los Olivos.  Your response to anyone attempting to hold you accountable for your unauthorized actions has been to label them an “outsider,” misinformed or worse; this is destructive and divisive at a time when it is critical that the entire community works together to get this project underway.

It is time to get back to work on this community’s desired solution.  “The Local Phased Approach” was identified as the appropriate option for your tiny District (serving just 391 parcels of land) at least a decade before the LOCSD came into existence.  It was then promoted and adopted by you.  The Local Phased Approach includes both:

(a) A small wastewater treatment plant that is fully enclosed in a barn-like structure and located to serve a sewer constructed for the fewer than 80 small, compact lots that make up the downtown commercial core of Los Olivos; and

(b) A decentralized wastewater treatment (advanced septic) project, which can include of a variety of approaches for collection, treatment, and dispersal/reuse of wastewater for individual residences, clusters of homes or businesses, and even entire communities.

It is unfortunate that community members must now try to remind you of the many reasons you adopted the Local Phased Approach for Los Olivos, but here are a few reminders:

1.      A compact, enclosed wastewater treatment plant in and for the commercial core:

·       Is consistent with the County’s land use policies discouraging extension of sewers service to rural areas because such extensions encourage density and urban sprawl.

·       Avoids the environmental impacts that are associated with extending sewers through agricultural lands.

·       Enhances groundwater recharge (lessening the concentration of nitrates) by treating and reinjecting the District’s wastewater at the northern end of the Special Problem Area. 

·       Protects against threats to biological resources in the Valley, including the effects of urbanization (noise, fencing, odor, trucks, vermin) associated with a sewage plant sized to serve every parcel inside your District and expandable to process sewage from parcels north of the 154 and south to Ballard.

2.         The decentralized wastewater (advanced septic) project:

·       Is more cost-effective and economical, avoids large capital expenditures and costs less to operate and maintain.

·       Is green and sustainable, responding to growth while preserving green space.

·       Protects public health, mitigating contamination and health risks associated with sewage treatment plants.

It is time to work on securing funding for the Local Phased Approach.  The most rudimentary Google search reflects the availability of federal and state funding for decentralized projects for small communities like Los Olivos.  The Board’s assertions that a larger, expensive, growth-inducing system is required for funding are flatly untrue.

It is time to take off your NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) hats.  A quick glance at any of your site-selection “studies” shows that the you have repeatedly manipulated the criteria in an effort to ensure placement of the large, open-air sewage plant you have been pursuing (1) outside the LOCSD’s jurisdiction and outside the Special Problem Area the plant will serve; (2) on prime agricultural land; and (3) along a scenic, rural road with a bike path used by both locals and tourists.  Your reasoning conflicts with Santa Ynez Valley Community Planpolicies that recognize and support the preservation of distinct and separate urban townships, and the preservation and enhancement of agriculture as a vital component of the Valley’s economy and rural character.

It is time to stop trying to “export” the public health hazards created by your expanded project.  Sewage plants (unless they employ injection, septic tanks or leach fields) treat raw sewage utilizing aeration processes that, invariably, emit aerosols that contain pathogens.  The fact that you would even contemplate, let alone spend public money to study, using treatment methods that produce pathogen-containing aerosols anywhere near any residence seems reckless.  Pushing to place an open-air sewage plant with a 15,000 gallon liquid sludge tank on a lot that is surrounded on three sides by nearby homes of young children who attend Los Olivos Elementary School is unconscionable.

You still have the time to succeed, but every day you spend defending your decision to abandon the mission presented to and supported by the community brings you a day closer to failure – not just for you but for our community.

Kathryn Lohmeyer Rohrer is a neighbor, mother, and community advocate at www.localcontrol4losolivos.org

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat. 
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