, , , , , ,


The proposed parcel tax headed to the June 5th ballot has stirred up a lot of very good, and sometimes very confused dialog. From my perspective, there are three components of the issue, and each deserves a thoughtful exploration as stand-alone topics, later to come back together to hopefully inform those who will be both involved in and affected by the measure, whether it passes or fails.

In this episode, I will focus on the Cambria Fire Department, with a side order of Cal Fire.

So Many Questions

I went into this portion of the exercise with a list of questions based on feedback I had heard from across the community.

Some of these questions included:

  • Why do we need to spend so much money on a professional department?
  • Is this proposed tax designed to protect the community or protect the firefighter’s jobs?
  • We have a Cal Fire station in town that responds to callouts – doesn’t that provide another level of protection and fill the manpower needs?
  • How about the Ambulance Corps?
  • Why do we need so many Paramedics and EMT’s?
  • How about a volunteer force?
  • Will we need to spend more money on building out the firehouse?

Great questions – and they need to be answered as accurately and thoroughly as possible.

Lights Up


I picked up my lamp and set out to get some answers. My wandering took me to the CSD website, the administrative offices, and most enlighteningly to the firehouse. I was able to get some significant face time with Chief William Hollingsworth, a bit less time with an on-duty crew, and a quick exchange with the Firefighter’s Union Rep, who I will follow up with when he is off-duty and can speak in his capacity as a union leader.

The Cambria Fire Department

From the website:

CFDThe Cambria CSD Fire Station is located at 2850 Burton Drive, providing excellent emergency access. The Department provides a range of round-the-clock fire protection, prevention, rescue and emergency medical services to the community of Cambria. It also offers training and public education programs, building safety inspections and a fuel hazard reduction program.

The first thing I noticed as I hit the page is the header – Fire and Safety. Indeed, the department does much more than fight fires. In fact, fighting fires take up a surprisingly small amount of time on the duty roster. So, given that, why the big fuss over how many people are on a fire truck? What else do they do with their time? And under all those “other” tasks, why is it the CFD’s responsibility?


Chief Hollingsworth has been very clear on the official Department position. Firefighters may not discuss or represent the union position while they are on duty. Off-duty, on their own time – they have the same rights and responsibilities that come with the First Amendment. The rule is sensible, and the crew I spoke with followed it. When my questions led them to an uncomfortable place, one of the men handed me the business card of the union rep and suggested I set up a time to have him answer my questions. They provided me with specific codes, guidelines, and a list of governing rules and regulations (which I have mostly forgotten.)

The crew was polite; neither aggressive or defensive, and appropriately forthcoming.


Chief Hollingsworth started with an overview of the Cambria Fire Department – it’s beginning, the evolution from a volunteer force to the current professional emergency services department that serves the community today. He also shared some of his journey from rookie firefighter to Chief of the department. Throughout the conversation, I was struck by his real passion for the community and his firm belief that service goes beyond the individual.

The conversation was cordial and informal – no notes, recordings or “gotcha” questions. I explained my mission, and he responded with candor and a willingness to answer as fully and openly as he could. The conversation wound up going far longer than either of us expected. Although I had sent him a list of questions and topics when I requested a meeting, it felt more important and more productive to have a conversation rather than a Q and A.

We sat down in his office, surrounded by the books, binders, photos, and mementos that make the room more than an office. The sounds of an active Emergency Services station filling the space with an assortment of beeps, static, voices from afar, and all the codes that blip across the airwaves. The Chief stayed focused on the conversation, but much like a parent who always has one ear on the baby monitor his head would tilt a bit, and his hand would casually reach out to adjust the volume on the radio that never left his side. This soundtrack added some atmosphere and relevance to the conversation, as first responders from various agencies were dispatched, reported status and kept the dialog going in their language.

CFDstationThe station itself was fairly quiet, with crews going about their duties and responding to some of those calls that crackled through the radio.  I was reminded about a question that was raised about the potential need to expand the station.  It was brought up based on a discussion from over a year ago, in the context of potentially housing the Cambria Healthcare District’s Ambulance crews as their facility, damaged in a mudslide, was being rehabilitated.  At the time the Chief stated the firehouse was not originally designed to house 24 hour emergency services crews and would need to expand if that path was taken.  In the ensuing time, the firehouse was reconfigured to take better advantage of existing space, and the current crews are sheltered, snugly but fully.  (A quick conversation with the CCSD General Manager provided the same answer.)

It’s not about me, or any one person.  It’s about the community.

Chief William Hollingsworth


One often-cited argument for a fourth firefighter on a shift centers around response to a structure fire. There is an OSHA/Firefighting standard that requires there be at least two firefighters inside and two firefighters outside during a structure fire. This standard is designed to protect the firefighters. Without the two-in and two out staffing, the fire can only be fought from outside. There are exceptions that allow first responders to enter the structure if they have a clear sense that they can rescue a person they know to be in the building.

With the added response from Cal Fire, as well as other mutual support services, it seems that threshold is often, if not always met.

More Than Just Numbers

The issue, Chief explains, is not only how many, but how quickly they can get to the fire. It is not how many, but how long the fight goes on before additional resources are onsite to provide relief and expand the ability to fight the fire from multiple attacks. It is about the number of tasks the crew can do simultaneously. And it is about safety. Safety for the firefighters, for the people that are imperiled, and for the surrounding community that could be impacted by a spreading fire. Does the fourth person have to be a Cambria Fire resource? No, but having a fully staffed and trained department, who live train and go into the fire together has a very compelling upside.

Still, Why So Many?

I asked Chief Hollingsworth what additional value the three firefighters bring to the community. To answer that question we walked through a list of “jobs” that have fallen into the department’s list of chores.

The most prominent reason, other than firefighting, were automobile accidents.  “Hmm, I thought, “tell me more!” So we walked through a few variants of an automobile accident.  Assuming a single-car crash, the responding crews would need to:

Assess the situation

  • Ascertain how many people were in the vehicle
  • Identify the number of injuries/potential injuries
  • Do they require multiple EMT/Paramedic action?
  • Are there transport situations?
  • Do the responding Ambulance crew(s) need assistance with assessing/moving/transporting patients?
  • How damaged is the car?
  • Can the crew open the doors and extract a victim, or
  • Do they need to deploy heavy equipment to “open” the vehicle
  • Is the car smoking?
  • Is the car on fire?
  • Is the car in a dangerous or precarious position that could lead to a more dangerous situation?

While this is happening, what is going on around the wreck?

  • Is there a traffic control team ensuring proper safety – for the crew, for other motorists approaching the scene? For any other people in the area?
  • Is there damage to any structures, trees, power lines that need to be secured?

I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

Now, start putting bodies against those tasks. Then, multiply by the number of cars and occupants that might be involved in a multi-vehicle crash. The resources begin to add up.

Interestingly, when I went up to Cal Fire Station 10 to get their view of the whole staffing/taxation discussion, the Captain on duty referenced the nearly exact scenario – and made specific reference to an accident that had occurred just two days prior. Multi-vehicle head-on collision, multiple injuries. The Cal Fire crew was first on the scene (the accident happened on 1, just down the street from the station.) Cambria Fire and Cambria Healthcare District Ambulance crews responded.

The Cal Fire Captain said, “I used every one of those guys.”

The Homebound and The Homeless 

The list of duties went on; some were obvious, some not so much.

The CFD responds to different types of 911 calls, including things like domestic violence or other disturbances. Often they arrive before the Sheriff’s Deputies and need to wait for law enforcement to take the lead. These calls can go a lot of different ways, including medical emergencies. When the authorities do sweeps of homeless camps, the CFD assists in identifying dangerous conditions and taking steps to remove them.

Last week we did something I never thought I’d have to do here in Cambria.  We added bulletproof vests and helmets to our emergency response equipment.

Cambria Firefighter

Protection through Prevention

The CFD spends time going into the community and assisting residents with maintaining their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, changing batteries and making sure they are correctly placed and properly working.

Why does the Fire Department do that, I wondered. Simple – their duty to protect the citizens requires this type of effort. By bringing awareness to proper prevention measures, and ensuring that they are followed lives, and property are better protected. The insistent wail of a smoke detector might be the only alert many of us get before the intrusion of smoke and flame makes reacting to the danger manifestly more difficult.

So, why can’t other organizations take on that community service task?  How about the Lions Club, or the American Legion, or any of the other Service organizations in town?

Chief Hollingsworth nodded, smiled a bit and asked me – “who do you think are members of those organizations?  The very people who we are helping.”

Oh, yeah, right. Good point!

Hydro Hydra Hydrants 

Fire Hydrant inspection and maintenance is a critical part of keeping the community safe. Much has been made over the years about how good or how poorly this critical task was performed. At this time the focused efforts to work through the hundreds of hydrants across the area is ongoing, with an estimated one-third of them checked and brought up to standard. This process takes time and manpower; higher staffing levels allow for a better division of labor and a better rate of progress.

Building inspections, both residential and commercial fall to the CFD to conduct or assist.

Mutual Aid

Just as Emergency Services from all around the county respond when called to assist Cambria, so do Cambria’s First responders when the alarm goes up.

Response obviously requires bodies, but it also needs those bodies to be highly trained and certified. It also requires that the equipment is properly outfitted and certified. This program takes time and effort, and personnel to cover shifts when some staff members are doing the things they need to do to stay current and to keep Cambria Fire in a position to both give and receive mutual aid.


The question of having some component of a volunteer fire department comes up frequently in the discussion. The history of America is ripe with stories of volunteer fire departments, manned by citizens of all ages who would drop everything and answer the fire alarm. These forces ranged from highly trained and drilled to loosely organized. Cambria was no different, and the long history of the department is filled with combinations of professional and volunteers working in various configurations. Within the community, volunteers participate in different emergency response teams and firesafe focus groups. The task of firefighting, however, has become a professional endeavor. As of this conversation, the number of available community volunteers who have the skill, training, and willingness to participate has fallen to two.


For Cambria Fire, a vital component of the force capability lies with the Reservists. Many of the reserve ranks are made up of people who see firefighting and emergency services as a career, and they invest their time – lots of time – money and energies into becoming skilled enough to begin that journey.

To become a Reservist, the candidate has to complete the required training and education to meet the minimum standard of a Firefighter 1. This training takes an estimated 600 plus hours – done at their own expense and with no guarantee of a paid position at the end. Tough sledding indeed, and all the while many of these candidates are working different jobs, going to school, taking care of themselves and sometimes their young families.

As grueling as this course is, they stick it out with the hope of gaining a position with agencies like Cambria Fire, where they can get the experience and resume-building skills and certifications that are necessary to advance through the ranks.

Chief Hollingsworth shares that a person who wanted a position as a volunteer firefighter would need to go through the same training and certification process, with the attendant costs, to qualify. With a population that sees the original Woodstock as a generational touchstone, the reality of finding even a small number of folks with the physical, emotional and dedication to service to take on this role, well, not going to happen. The spirit is willing, but the flesh would prefer to leave it to the professionals.

What About Cal Fire?

CalFireSignOne constant that finds its way into the conversation is the protection provided by Cal Fire Station 10, located in the northern part of town. Where the landscape changes from mostly residential and commercial to more open land, bordered by a rising mountain range, state parks and on up Highway 1 to Big Sur. With a charter to protect state lands and all that reside on and around them, this station has a bit of a complicated personality. From the staffing levels that change depending on the season to the different types of equipment they use, these first responders need to be ready for anything.

The crews respond to calls within Cambria, and depending on location and where they are when a call comes in can be first on the scene. Cal Fire crews are trained and certified in multiple disciplines and work with Cambria Fire and Cambria Healthcare Ambulance to provide a first responder force with tremendous capabilities that save lives and livelihoods.

Lunchtime at Station 10

I had the opportunity to spend a short time at the station, and the duty crew (who were very polite about me interrupting their lunch) shared their thoughts on what they do, and how they partner with Cambria Fire and other responders.

The Captain (I didn’t capture his name) gave me a rundown of the capabilities of his team, and the different types of tools and equipment they use to respond to different situations.  He described the working relationship with Cambria Fire, sharing that the relationship was very good – better than it had been at other times in the past.

He shared that his crew covers a broad swath of geography, and deal with an exciting range of situations from structure fires, wildland fires, mountain rescues, cliffside recoveries, and ocean events. Some of these responses are shared with the teams from Cambria Fire and others they handle on their own.

Staffing the Station

I asked about the staffing model Cal Fire uses at Station 10. He told me that it varied; in “fire season” the crew had four firefighters. During the non-fire season, the station is manned by a crew of three. Duties are a bit different between the two organizations, and the types of firetrucks they deploy have different configurations and capabilities. Cal Fire uses both Type 1 and Type 3 trucks, with Type 3 designed for more effectiveness in wildland fires, and Type 1 (which is the primary engine Cambria Fire uses) more the traditional type for areas like Cambria.

Our conversation turned to the current Cambria discussion.  I asked him about the contention that Station 10 was sometimes left uncovered when they were called out to a remote location or to provide aid to another agency across the state. He was pretty clear that, in his experience, the periods of time the station was “empty” were not very long, and that when they were dispatched to a call complimentary crews from other locations were sent to backfill. This could be hours, but in his memory, he hadn’t seen anything like a day or more.

One of the challenges of having crews from outside the area can be the lack of familiarity, particularly of the densely clustered residential streets of Cambria. This lack of first-hand knowledge can slow response times as the replacement crews navigate the often difficult streets and roads to get to the incident. Being on the wrong type of truck can have a bit of a narrowing effect on capabilities, but most times the total response provides the capabilities to attack a fire with a more than a reasonable chance for success.

So, to the question of three or four personnel on the Cambria Fire crew, he gave a very pragmatic answer.  “Of course, having four is better. You never know what you’re going to walk into and having enough manpower makes things safer.” Not a full-throated endorsement nor a strong rejection.  Just his view.

Now What?

As I was writing this piece, Cambria and the nearby town of Morro Bay each experienced a structure fire within a 24 hour period. We got to see what a collaborative mutual aid response looks like. A prominent Cambrian, who got a way-too-close look at the incident labeled that response “Magnificent!” The men and women who show up ready to serve are just that – and more.

The conversation will continue right up to decision day, June 5th.  The community has so many smart, involved and concerned members passionate about all things Cambria.  There are many questions yet to ask, many discussions to have, many debates to engage the minds and passions of all sides.  Issues of fairness, loyalty, fear and confusion will likely cycle through each exchange, and hopefully suss out enough good knowledge so everyone will feel comfortable with their vote.

I’m going to keep poking at this, and in the end come to my own decision. As we all must.

Till next time…


Safe – Part II

Safe – Part II


, , , , , , ,

As part of my journey to better understand the different factors that have gone into the upcoming ballot measure, I reached out to the CCSD General Manager with questions around some of the things I’ve heard from different parts of the interested community.

One of the primary issues relates to taxation approach to funding the firefighter positions.  I took a few questions (formed from reading and hearing thoughts from vocal community members) and posed them to the GM.  He directed me to Legal Counsel for specific details.  I submitted my questions in an email and received the following response from David Hirsch, an attorney who works with District Counsel Tim Carmel.  Mr. Hirsch’s answers are BOLDED.

 Parcel Tax – Legal Edition

The questions I posed fell into two buckets.

Bucket A: Parcel Tax

  • Why was the method of seeking revenue through parcel taxes done the way it has been done?
  • What law, statute or other governing rules make this approach legal and compliant?
  • Why would this issue not be addressed through different means, such as a 218?

Mr. Hirsch responded (some editing for brevity)

“The answer to your questions, in large measure, is that the special tax is something that is expressly authorized by and consistent with the requirements of Proposition 218.  Proposition 218 was a voter approval protection initiative that added provisions to the California Constitution.  It created a requirement that special taxes, such as the CCSD’s parcel tax measure that will be on the June ballot, are subject to a supermajority vote that requires two-thirds voter approval.   A provision in the statutes that govern community services districts, Government Code Section 61121, expressly authorizes the CCSD to levy special taxes.” 

He continues, ” Proposition 218 also addresses and creates procedural requirements and restrictions on other forms of local agency revenues, such as fees and assessments.  Those types of revenues are not an appropriate source to fund the three-firefighter positions that the special tax will address.  Fees relate to services such as water or sewer and are restricted to the cost of providing those services. Assessments require that there be a special benefit to the assessed property. The higher level of staffing of fire response vehicles will provide a general benefit to the entire community and therefore cannot easily be funded through an assessment process.  Therefore, although it requires meeting the high threshold of a two-thirds vote of the electorate, the special tax was deemed the most appropriate way to provide the needed funding for the three-firefighter positions.”

This second section of questions is less rooted in law and more in the application.

 Bucket B: Fairness

  • There are many views on the “fairness” of taking a path that excluded many property owners being able to vote on the tax.  The ones that rise to the top of the list posit that all property owners should have the right to vote on issues that directly affect them, and will (if successful) impose costs on them.
  • Renters are given the opportunity to tax property owners.  Many rental properties have multiple tenants, which can dramatically up the number of votes per property.
  • Taxing those with higher equity in town (homes or other structures) the same as those with much less (vacant parcels).
  • Parcel owners who reside elsewhere receive no benefit but are burdened with the costs of the proposed tax.
  • Some citizens have mentioned that in the past they were mailed a ballot and could cast a vote on issues like this.  Is that not doable under the approach that has been taken?

“… You note that ‘There are many views on the “fairness’ of taking a path that excluded many property owners being able to vote on the tax.”  I can certainly appreciate your point; however, fundamentally the fairness question is a policy issue with regard to how the special tax was structured.  The previously noted Section of the Government Code that authorized seeking approval for the special tax also provides that “…The special taxes shall be applied uniformly to all taxpayers or all real property within the district, except that unimproved property may be taxed at a lower rate than improved property.”

“…the CCSD’s Board of Directors looked at options that included only taxing improved property.  They ended up deciding, within their sound discretion, to submit a measure to the voters that would assess a uniform amount on all parcels in the District.

“… certainly there are many examples that can be cited where taxes are deemed unfair to some but nonetheless are lawfully imposed.  You noted that renters are able to vote on taxes that their absentee, property owner landlords have to pay.  Other examples include transient occupancy taxes paid by folks staying at hotels that are voted upon by the communities residents and not those that are taxed.  Likewise, owners of vacation homes who reside elsewhere and are not registered voters in Cambria will not be able to vote on the tax, although they certainly will benefit from its passage.  Other examples of unfairness include Mello-Roos special taxes, which often are created by one landowner, a developer, but subsequently are paid by the future residents of the property, and school taxes paid by retirees with no children in the school system.  Unfortunately, often the nature of taxation is such that there is some element of unfairness, however, how the tax is structured is a policy question best left to the elected officials who must take responsibility for seeking its approval. “

” You also mentioned that some citizens have said that they were mailed a ballot and could cast a vote on issues like this and asked whether that could be done for the Cambria’s firefighters special tax measure.  Those folks may have been referring to an assessment district ballot process, which as noted, is not an appropriate mechanism to fund the three-firefighter positions.  Otherwise, if they were referring to a mailed ballot election, while there are procedures to have such elections (they are significantly more expensive), Cambria’s measure will be on the regular June 2018 ballot and voters will need to go to the polls to cast their vote or vote by absentee ballot.”

So, there we have it – a detailed response to a sampling of the comments and questions heard around town.  Perhaps this will provide clarity to some; maybe it will raise more questions from many.  Knowledge is power. The quest for accurate and honest information can feel like the hunt for the Golden Fleece. Accurate and honest answers can keep us from feeling like the fleeced.

In the next edition I sit down with CFD Chief William Hollingsworth to get a better sense of the true need for the proposed staffing levels.  I also visited Cal Fire Station 10 and had a brief conversation with the Captain on duty.

Safe Part I




, , , , , ,


Small Town, Big Challenges

Beautiful Cambria is a glorious, tangled stitch of a community, full of all the characters that present a fertile field of archetypes for writers in all genres. Real people with real experiences, built from lives lived here, there and the other places we never heard of or never really cared much about.

All of these characters make the community what it is, and what it does.

This is Us?

Each member, from a grizzled rancher who lives independently from the rest, to the retired couples who have made their way here, drawn by the peace and pace of the place. Lifetime residents who have seen the area grow and change, much to their dismay. Lifetime residents who have seen the town grow and change, and embrace and encourage an evolution of culture and spirit. Passers-by who come for a while, turn restless or weary and move on to the next adventure. And the visitors who come to experience the near-mysterious charm of the place, either as a stop on a longer journey, or a recurring destination marked on the vacation calendar, or a holiday gathering, or drawn back by a special memory of an emotional milestone.

All of us, regardless of the how, when and why of our presence here, share in the benefits and in the responsibilities of keeping each other protected.

It becomes challenging to figure out exactly who is “here”; this leads to a conga line of difficult questions around how we keep safe. Heck, what is “safe?” How do you define it? How do you quantify it? How do you apply it?

And even in idyllic Cambria, the question looms – “how do you pay for it?”

In broad terms, Cambria has three critical columns of need that impact the community -Health, Safety, and Education. They are in many ways interdependent, but complex enough to require specialized oversight by a combination of experts and involved citizens.

And they all cost money.

How do I serve thee? Let me count the ways…


I can’t imagine anything more critical to the health and safety of a community – and by extension a county, state, region, country, and a planet – than education. Without even a bare minimum of formal learning opportunities, how do we grow? Without knowledge, how do we maintain where we are? The old saying “how quickly we forget” is pure truth.

Children can and do learn their lessons wherever they appear; organized and managed schools provide an opportunity to start building the fundamentals of good health – physical, emotional and social health that nurture and sustain communities and cultures.

We don’t all have the same takeaways from the same lessons, and that’s what makes for vibrant societies. In a perfect universe, we would all learn how to communicate with each other with a minimum of rancor. We should argue, debate, challenge and share with the goal of coming to better decisions. No need to agree with everything, but at least put in the effort to understand what it is that makes up the disagreement.

Firefighting Services
normal_Cambria_CACambria is home to a professional Fire Department, which developed over time from a traditional volunteer organization to its current staff of professional firefighters, paramedics and EMT’s. The department is officially part of the Cambria Community Services District and led by a veteran, Cambria-bred Fire Chief who reports up to the CSD General Manager. Chief Hollingsworth came up through the ranks and is incredibly well-versed in all aspects of building and managing a department that provides services that extend well beyond the ladder. They respond to emergency and non-emergency calls that range from fires to medical assist calls, traffic accidents, citizen assists, ocean rescue, hydrant inspection and maintenance, building inspections and a range of community activities, most notably the Cambria Fire Safe committee and the Cambria Emergency Response Team.

Chief Hollingsworth and his team are highly visible in the community, engaging with citizens, answering questions and offering safety advice. As the “Chief Operating Officer” for the Department, he regularly briefs the community on the activities the CFD has going on, as well as providing a much-needed linkage to Firefighting/Emergency Services across the state and the nation.

More Professionals

SolidRedGlobeCambria also houses a CalFire station. That team works alongside the CFD and has a set of skills and expertise (and availability to next-level resources) that are critical in the geography of the San Luis Obispo County North Coast. With miles and miles of rugged coastline, forested hills and dense, mountainous ranges served by narrow roads, the breadth of emergencies that require a response is not trivial. Together these professional firefighting organizations provide great front-line support to Cambria and the surrounding region.


Healthcare District

healthdistrictThe Cambria Community Healthcare District adds another dimension to the Emergency
Services picture for Cambria and the surrounding regions. California has discrete Health Care Districts throughout the state. In simple terms, they are chartered with providing vital healthcare support services to communities that fall outside established or incorporated areas that have more standard healthcare services.

The primary and most visible presence of the CHD is the Ambulance Corps. This service consists of multiple ambulances and crews that field combinations of Paramedics and EMT’s.
These first responders cover an area that is larger than that covered by the CCSD-operated Fire Department. They range farther north, through San Simeon and at times go past the SLO County line and into Monterrey county. They also extend farther south and are often called in to support other area Emergency Services under reciprocal agreements. They currently operate two staffed ambulances that are on duty 7 x 24.
The agency operates apart from the Emergency Services provided by the Cambria Fire Department. Funding and governance are distinct. The CHD first responders and Cambria Fire employees are covered by different unions. Employees of the two agencies sometimes pull shifts for the opposite agency. They often service the same calls in support of each other.


The similarities, differences, overlaps and distinct responsibilities are of course more complex than I’ve captured here. They become more important, however when viewed through the lens of the complete Emergency Services capabilities required by Cambria and the surrounding population. The effect on the community, both positive and negative, probably deserves a serious conversation. Given the divisions within the boards of the respective governing agencies, it would take a heroic effort to get that discussion started.

In the meantime, the collective cadre of First Responders will continue to deliver their best efforts regardless of patch or title.

How Many?

The Cambria Fire Department traditionally staffed responding fire trucks with three people; a Captain, and Engineer, and a Reserve Firefighter. This model allowed for good response coverage to most emergency situations, but it has limitations. Under current guidelines Firefighters responding to structure fires must follow the rule of two; to fight a structure fire from inside, there must be (at least) 2 firefighters inside, and two firefighters outside. They all must be in communication with each other. This process provides a measure of safety for the firefighters. So, if a house is on fire, and the responding fire crew only has three people, the most they can do is fight the blaze from outside until more manpower arrives. I believe there is an exception that would allow firefighters to enter the structure if they had a high degree of certainty that a person was trapped inside and they could affect a rescue.


Two years ago, the CFD applied for and was awarded a SAFER grant, which funded an additional three firefighters for two years. This additional staffing gave CFD the ability to deploy four people on the truck, which in turn gave them the ability to fight structure fires from inside and outside as needed. The additional staffing also put the CFD in a position to attain and comply with other professional standards and practices.

With the grant funding set to run out at the end of March, a decision has to be made whether the community wants to keep the additional three firefighters, and if so how they would be funded. The way forward appears to be through a tax on parcels within the district; this approach would require raising a ballot measure that would be put in front of Cambria voters on June 5th, as part of the statewide primary scheduled for that date.

The target amount that would need to be raised was $300,000 , which would be spread across the tax base the board determined to be appropriate.

“Never yell FIRE in a crowded Vet’s Hall.”

The process of making the ballot measure happen falls to the CCSD Board of Directors. They would need to agree that a public vote was the right path to follow. Then they would have to agree on the specifics of the ballot measure, draft the appropriate language with the help of CSD staff and legal counsel, and put it again to a vote; the motion had to be extremely specific and reflect exactly what would appear on the June ballot. The process needed to move quickly, as the steps between motion and public vote had deadlines that had to be met. If they weren’t, the measure would likely be pushed to the November election.

The measure also needed to be discussed in open session, and the public had to have the opportunity to give their input.


In the days leading up to the public meeting advocates of the proposal, led by members of the Firefighter’s local and their supporters, went out into the community to ask for support. They came prepared and made their case door-to-door, in public gathering places, and visits to local businesses. Their efforts paid off, as the Vet’s Hall was packed with Cambrians, fellow Emergency Services personnel from the surrounding areas, and their colleagues from the Cambria Health District Ambulance Corps. Every speaker who rose during public comment favored moving forward with the ballot proposal. The Board President had a bit of a challenge managing the public, as it seemed they viewed it more as a town hall meeting rather than an official Board meeting. None the less, everyone was heard, and the board then moved to discussion. They agreed to proceed with the ballot measure but hit some rough spots when determining exactly “who” would be subject to the proposed tax.

Equitable Equity

Cambria, as noted earlier, can be tough to “count.” Within the District, there are different types of parcels. There are parcels that are described as “improved,” meaning they have a water meter and more than likely a structure. The number of parcels with this designation appears to be around 3600, give or take.

Next up are the parcels that are “unimproved,” – no water connection and no structure. These lots further break out into different subsets, including those with a “water position,” meaning that they are on the list that could receive a water connection when many restrictions are lifted, including an existing building moratorium governed by the county. (The issues are significantly more complex, but for the sake of this piece, I’ll leave it there.)

Another group of parcels has no connections, no position on the water wait list, and most likely will never move to “improved” status. There are also parcels that have been “retired” through a donation to different land trusts and conservation organizations. Add to these properties that are owned by the CCSD and other government agencies that are not subject to taxation. A complex problem that would need to be sussed before the measure could be written.

What is fair?

So then, which parcels should be taxed? Those that are designated as improved? They have the most “skin” in the game and the most to lose in the event of a fire. But why would other parcel owners not be also taxed? An event could begin on their parcel and spread to adjoining properties; the risk is there and should spread across the entire parcel population. Additionally, many lot owners don’t live within the boundaries served by the CCSD, and therefore will not be eligible to vote on the measure.

Math Problems

The math becomes challenging under either scenario. Assuming that the decision was made to tax the 3600 or so “Improved” parcels, the per- piece cost would be higher. The logic in support of this was based on a few factors, the main one being that the projected revenue would be known, whereas if the tax were extended to all parcels, the likelihood of predictable revenue would fall as lots are retired, merged or otherwise taken off the tax rolls. This could result in a declining revenue stream, leaving a future funding deficit.

Faced with these choices, the Board directed staff to come back with recommendations based on both scenarios. A follow-up meeting was scheduled for later in the week.

The public was somewhat disappointed with the lack of a decision, but most realized that the data needed to be clear before a decision could be made.

Round Two

The Board reconvened a few days later, ready to move the issue forward. The staff, as directed prepared two distinct resolutions. A rather startling fact was shared – what had been a $300,000 target on Monday became a $378,000 target on Thursday. This was explained by the Finance Manager, who, after a careful reconsideration and analysis, determined that the most sensible way to proceed was to base the levy on the highest rates the three firefighter positions could attain, rather than the previous calculation based on the average position rate.

Comments, questions and suggestions were offered by the community. The directors (minus Director Farmer, who was recovering for a recent surgery) went through the pros and cons of the two options, and ultimately voted on the proposal that would cover all taxable parcels.

Next Steps

The staff, with guidance from legal council will prepare and submit the required paperwork to have the measure placed on the June ballot. It is estimated to cost the District – ratepayers – between $10,000 and $20,000 to execute this effort.

Felix Ungar: I was just repeating what I thought you said.

Oscar Madison: Well, don’t repeat what you THOUGHT I said, repeat what I said! My god, that’s irritating!  From Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple”

The In-Between Time

The statistics that measure what the different Emergeny Services teams do are pretty interesting. And surprising.  How much time do firefighters spend fighting fires?  How many ambulances show up at the average call for service?  How many EMT’s and Paramedics do we have, and where do they live, organizationally?  How are the different Emergency Services managed, measured and compensated?  What services are redundant, what services are “extras”, and what value do they bring to the community?  Are taxpayers and ratepayers paying for too much redundancy, or not enough capability?  What does the rest of the county, the state and the country do to provide these services?

More on that next time (unless I’m “encouraged” to ignore it all!)

(For an interesting look at the challenges Fire Departments  around the county face, read this terrific article by journalist Karen Garcia in the New Times.)







Reports & Retorts Redux


, , , , , , , ,

Click Here for Part I 


The unsuccessful attempt to fill the open director’s seat created a few question marks for the community.  Much was made of the chaotic process used in the September 19th special meeting.  Many Cambrians felt that process was poorly thought out and unfair to the candidates.  A lot of heat was directed towards board President Amanda Rice. As the keeper of the gavel, it was assumed that she would be the person responsible for defining the process and managing the execution.  While I agree she owns the hot seat, I’m not in the camp that sees the weakness of the attempt as solely her fault. Governing is a team sport.

President Rice, to her credit, reached out to members of the community to solicit ideas on how to do a better job with the next round scheduled for October 3rd. I don’t know how much helpful input she received, but it wasn’t quite enough to fix it all before the meeting.

Post 9/19, the community was buzzing with thoughts, suspicions, complaints and the odd call for revolution. Business as usual in this crazy, awesome town.  Candidates that had submitted themselves to the Circus Minimus that took place between the hills over the skate park and the hills over the Fiscalini Ranch had time to rethink their commitment to service.  Many decided to remain in the competition, despite not quite knowing the rules.

Let Us Try Again

I was unable to attend the October 3rd meeting but did manage to catch a portion of the proceedings via the live feed, and later watched the whole session via the archived recording.

The community came out in force, with different candidates having groups of supporters rooting for their success. There were a lot of the usual attendees and an increased number of citizens who came to speak in support of Aaron Wharton. Aaron is a local business owner who decided that he wanted to contribute to the community that he and his family chose as their home. He bore a different profile from most other candidates. He had acquitted himself reasonably well in the original round of interviews and was one of the six chosen for the bonus round.


To the surprise of some, multiple speakers rose to vocalize their support for Wharton’s candidacy. So many that those not in his camp began to voice suspicions that the whole thing was planned, perhaps in cahoots with one or two directors. The word “puppet” made its way into the conversation. It seemed that some of the regulars, who frequently pack the meeting and regularly speak about this and that couldn’t believe that another group of folks would take advantage of the public comment period to advocate their cause!

I’ve got no strings, so I have fun
I’m not tied up to anyone
They’ve got strings, but you can see
There are no strings on me

Written by Dickie Jones and performed by Pinocchio

After public comment, the meeting turned to the business at hand – fill the seat. Here’s where the whole thing went sideways again. Since no meaningful progress had been made in structuring the selection process, the previous month’s chaos came back for an encore. It was unclear – would candidates have a chance to speak? Would there be more interview questions from the board? At some point, President Rice noted that in her view any member of the community could still submit themselves for consideration. Oh boy!

Suddenly there was a cavalcade of citizen activists marching to the podium to declare their candidacy.  It was like a mashup of Bullworth, The American President, Forrest Gump and Waiting For Guffman. Yes, those are four loosely associated films with tenuous plot ties strung together to make an inconsequential point.

But seriously…

Things settled down a bit though candidate DeWayne Lee, a strong contender for the seat, was unsure if he would have an opportunity to present himself again. It was assumed he would, so he deferred his public comment slot with the expectation that he would present later in the proceedings.

Aaron Wharton made his way to the podium for a second round of grilling.  He began by referring back to some of the answers he had given in the first round. He inartfully tried to clarify that his answer to the question on how many permits should be allowed wasn’t quite right, and it had been given as an effort to “tell them what they wanted to hear.”  Not the best or most thoughtfully constructed statement; it gave the impression that he was just appeasing a few directors.

It’s Gettin’ Hot In Here…

Director Farmer picked up the oven mitts, turned up the heat and started grilling Mr. Wharton.  It was clear that he was not a fan, and was using his time to aggressively challenge Wharton’s answers.  The exchange got a bit weird, with Farmer rejecting Wharton’s answers by interrupting him and repeating his questions in an even harsher tone.  Mr. Wharton, clearly bemused, asked Mr. Farmer “what do you want my answer to be?” – turning his earlier misstep into a humorous and de-escalating jibe.

After the cross-examination ended, Director Bahringer nominated Mr. Wharton.  (note: he had also nominated him during the seven rounds at the previous meeting.)  The nomination was quickly seconded by Vice President Sanders.  Director Farmer looked quite stunned by the quickness of the nomination process, and during discussion asked for clarification on whether he could abstain.  That took a few minutes, and then the intrepid clerk called the roll.

Director Bahringer – AYE. Vice President Sanders – AYE. Director Farmer (more clarifying discussion, then…) ABSTAIN.  President Rice – AYE.

Aaron Wharton, come on down and raise your hand!

It was me against the world, I was sure that I’d win, but the world fought back, punished me for my sins.

Mike Ness, Social Distortion


How do we view the job of an elected official?  Why do we choose one candidate over another?  Positions or personality?  Values or attitudes?  Comfortable or charismatic?  Familiar or mysterious?

After we make our choices, how do we expect our chosen few to execute their duties?  How long do we stick with them, or more accurately how soon do we abandon them?

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream, and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”   The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”                       Replies the scorpion: “It’s my nature…”

  • I vote for a person with the expectation that they will do what I want them to do because they work for me.
  • I vote for a person because I believe they have the capacity and skill to make the best choices based on all the facts available, combined with their experience and discernible character traits.  I don’t expect to agree with or like every decision or position, but my vote is a sign of confidence in the person.

There is also the question of how an elected official views their responsibility once they assume office.

The proper view should always be “regardless of how many votes I garnered I am obligated to represent all the members of the community.”

What we sometimes see, however, is the view that “I represent the people who voted for me, and I will decide based on their wishes.”

Are We, We Are

During all this tumult it again became clear that Cambria is a community of many tribes. Some are very vocal, which can give the impression that their numbers are much larger than they are. Some, in their passionate zeal, ignore social norms and fall back on volume and venom to move their position forward. Some rely on quiet negotiation, using relationships and positive persuasion to advocate for their views. Some follow along, and some just ignore it all. When hard times hit, or someone needs a helping hand the community frequently drops the animus and acts with a level of unity that reminds me how great this town is. When it comes to the CCSD, and to a lesser extent the CCHD (Cambria’s Community Health District) that unity heads to Costco for a big box of “NOPE.”


Watching from afar and watching from the back of the room are two very different experiences.  Being “in the room where it happens” adds dimension to the experience.  You can see and hear the murmurs, sharp comments, snorts and quiet affirmations from the audience.  You can watch the body language of the crowd, see furious scribbling or iPad tapping, catch the fleeting smiles and nods as well as the darkening scowls and grimaces depending on what is being said from the dais or the speaker’s podium.  You can also catch the interaction between citizens as they comment to each other or, frequently about each other.

Occasionally, rude or disruptive outbursts or steady streams of angry chatter cause others to turn around, stare or comment, communicating the request for courtesy so everyone might hear the words of those who legitimately have the floor.  This general sense of courtesy and reasonable public behavior sadly falls apart when some citizens feel their right to “free speech” trumps the rights of others to focus on and listen to the rightfully recognized.

An Example

This story is not intended to be “gossipy,” but it is meant to shine a light on behaviors and attitudes that sometimes diminish the principle that everyone has the right to participate in the proceedings without harassment or undue disruption.

While getting feedback from people who attended the October 3rd meeting, a few  relayed an exchange that happened between two locals.  One, a noted activist and frequent disruptor, and the other a local business owner attending the meeting in support of a candidate.

As the proceedings went on, a group of folks stood in the back of the room, talking loudly and distractingly.  The business owner turned around and asked for them to quiet down so people could hear what proceedings.  The requestor was met with the following response. (stealing a masking tactic from the Megan Amram-scripted hit comedy series “The Good Place) “FORK OFF, BUB.”


After the meeting ended, he approached the disruptor to express his dismay at being treated so rudely.  That earned a second “FORK OFF, BUB.”

Now, this type of truculence isn’t all that surprising, but I wanted to be sure what I was told was accurate.  I reached out to the recipient of this verbal assault, who after ascertaining that I wasn’t out to cause him grief, agreed to meet and fill in the blanks.  Those blanks included a third invitation to “FORK OFF.”

Still, I wanted to understand if there was more to the story, or perhaps gain an understanding of why the responder felt it was appropriate to behave in this fashion. I sent an email to the orator asking if the story was true and accurate and if there was more that could be shared that might provide a different perspective on the exchange. As of today, I’ve not gotten any response.

Next – The new guy takes a seat, just in time to do it all over again.






Reports and Retorts


, , , , , , , ,

Check The Milk Carton

I’ve taken some time away from my blog for a few reasons.  I’ve been a bit busy with “work” writing, and by the time I’m done with that, the last thing I want to do is write some more.

The larger reason, though, is a bit more personal.  As an observer of community interactions, I’ve developed some particular views on people, on positions and the intersection of both.  It would be dishonest to say I am “neutral,” but I think it would be similarly dishonest to say I am a committed member of a group that advocates one side over the other.  I lean, but I don’t believe I fall.

This has made it a bit difficult for me to keep a clear line of sight as I attend the monthly meetings, read the mountain of documentation that surround the major issues, and have conversations with friends and acquaintances around town.  So, I took a few months off from the blog but still followed along as things progressed.

And boy, have things progressed!


For those who read from afar, a quick description of how the Cambria Community Services District is structured.

We have a Board of Directors consisting of 5 elected positions. Each elected term is four years, and those terms are staggered with the thought of keeping some level of continuity as terms expire or seats otherwise become vacant.

There are several ways to fill positions that become vacant during a term:

  • A special election can be called.
  • An interim appointment can be made by the remaining board members.
  • Should all attempts to make an appointment in this process fail, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors can make the appointment.

Depending on when in the term a vacancy occurs, the seat will be on the ballot during the next election cycle.

All the options have positives and negatives, and in  Cambria, each method has vocal supporters and detractors.

Now It’s Time, To Say Goodbye…

Long-serving Director Michael (nobody calls him Mickey) Thompson announced that he was resigning his position effective the end of August 2017. Director Thompson’s adult life has been dedicated to public service, pre-dating his time in Cambria. He has been an active member of this community, with a broad and loyal base of friends and supporters. In addition to his service to the CCSD, he has been a contributing member of organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce, Cambria American Legion Post 432 and more.  He has been a faithful supporter of the Sustainable Water Facility, as well as a strong advocate for sensible management of balanced growth and environmental stewardship.  (Begin howls of disagreement here…) Over his long career of service, he developed a low-key but clear way of expressing his positions on important issues. He has also demonstrated an open-minded and fair approach to listening and adjusting his views based on new input or information.

His term runs through November of 2018, so the seat was eligible for appointment. The decision was made to follow the previous practice and have the sitting directors select a replacement by unanimous vote. The legally required process was followed; post a notice of vacancy, call for interested candidates, provide an application form and schedule a special meeting where the next phase of the process would play out.

A Baker’s Dozen

Thirteen candidates submitted applications.  A read through all of the applications revealed a healthy list of desirable skills and experiences, many in the public sector, and some with previous leadership roles on the CCSD Board.

By the time the meeting began only a dozen candidates had remained under active consideration. There was just one woman on the slate, which, given the makeup of the town and the number of women who are very involved in the community was a bit of a surprise.

“Let’s Get Ready To Grumble!!!”

From the first gavel, it was obvious that the meeting was not going to go very smoothly. There were no clear guidelines that would cover the entire process and there were no objective criteria the Directors could use to fairly and equally “score” candidates.  In reality, each member of the board brought personal preferences and biases to the process, and without more structure that ultimately ruled the decision-making process.

The “interview”  process had been used in the past, but with a much smaller group of candidates. With a dozen people to work through it became clear that it would be at best difficult to give each candidate, and each director, a decent amount of time to thoroughly explore even a minor few positions. Successive applicants, having heard the previous questions and answers, would have the advantage of adjusting their responses based on what they just saw and heard.

In This Corner…

Two of the sitting directors – Jim Bahringer and Greg Sanders – expressed views that advocated appointing someone with positions similar to Mr. Thompson’s, the rationale being that he was elected with a significant margin, and the citizens who spoke with their votes should have their positions sustained for the remainder of the term.  Others on the board had different views.

In That Corner…

President Rice pointed out that over time, Director Thompson’s positions evolved and would likely have continued to evolve should he have served his entire term.  Director Farmer pointed to the most recent election, where he was selected over an incumbent, as a sign that community sentiments had changed significantly since the 2014 vote, and those sentiments should be taken into account.

In The Peanut Gallery…

A third position, which makes sense to me, is to appoint someone to fill the vacancy who brings a new energy and outlook, different experiences and a philosophy that is inclusive and open to input but can stand firm on major decisions.  More importantly, the appointee should have a set of skills that would add value to the body, rather than just appeasing any given segment of the overall town.

Round One

The candidates make their statements.  Each established their positions, using different techniques from a classic recitation of resumes to showy flourishes that played to the crowd but didn’t land with much impact.  The rounds progressed, with various combinations of probing jabs and slick defenses.  After a while, the judges decided to narrow the field, with each member offering their choices.  Those that met the on-the-fly threshold of multiple mentions went on to the round of six. At this point, I have to switch to a different sports metaphor.

The Ties That Bind…(Apologies to Bruce Springsteen)

After eliminating 6 of the 12 candidates, the board continued their attempt to select a new teammate.  Rather than retelling the whole excruciating story, I’ll go with the Warner Wolfe version. (If you want you can “go to the videotape” HERE)

“Bahringer opens with a strong nomination -picking a seasoned veteran to join the starting five.  He makes a strong case for his pick, citing a 17-year career on the CCSD team as a major strength.  Sanders nods and agrees, adding a second.  Crunch time – the ball is passed around the court, and ultimately the candidate is REJECTED!  The crowd is getting into it now.”

The process continues, with nominations, discussions, and rejections.  Each round ended as the first had – Bahringer and Sanders on one side, Rice and Farmer on the other.  The exchanges got hotter, the arguments more pointed, and the language grew more forceful.  “Come on man, take this seriously!”  “I’m taking this very seriously, Mister!”  Tough stuff!

In the end, seven votes were taken, seven scores of 2-2.  Nobody wins.

Let’s Do It Again!

With no selection made, the board agreed to have a second special meeting to try again to fill the seat.  We’ll take a look at that in our next episode.

Oh, Yeah…

Did I mention that Greg Sanders announced that he was resigning his seat at the end of October?






100 Days


, , , , , , , ,

The Crazy Beauty of Democracy

Elections – our opportunity to make choices and vote our ideals. Or hearts.  Sometimes even our rational minds.  This past election season was certainly unlike anything we’d seen before.  And now we get to look back at the magical 100 days, and see what we have wrought!

Setting the Stage

Not everyone was happy.  No matter where one stood on the issues, the general sense was that some soon-to-be made choices would either lead to comfortable stability or radical change.  Some traditional affiliations held, but without the rock-solid surety of previous election seasons. New candidates emerged, familiar faces stepped up and fell back, and in the end, it came down to two.  One, a familiar and often scrutinized woman with a long and laudable record of public service.  The other, a man of some celebrity, known for things other than a firm grasp on the intricacies of complex and serious governmental process and responsibility.  Both had ardent and vocal supporters.  Both had detractors.  Both stepped forward and spoke of their vision for the future.  They were different, very different.

The campaigns rolled on, the candidates leaned on their respective bases for the votes needed to win the election.  Most observers thought that she would succeed. Her popularity wasn’t as solid and enthusiastic as it might have been; she had been urged to lean in a bit harder and expand her support, but she stayed true to her strategy.

He was a wild card from the beginning.  Of course, there was a core group of passionate supporters who shared his views and attitudes.  There was also a growing distrust of the established government and of the established governors.  The vague discomfort grew into something stronger as the campaign season wore on.  More and more supporters of adjacent candidates turned to him, embracing his message.  A message that was often hard to figure out, and positions that were more sound byte and vague accusation than firm and verifiable policy positions and governing platforms.  It was all, “They’re bad, I’m not” and, “There’s something going on here and I can stop it” slugs.

We all know how that turned out.

Raise your Hand and Repeat…

The oath of office was administered.  Some thoughts at the time:

“Well, he won on a wave of passion and desire for something other than the same old, same old… but running for the office and actually being in the office are very different things. He will realize how complex and difficult the role is, and will become more serious about doing the job. There is no way he will continue to pepper other government representatives with vague accusations of corruption, incompetence and elitism… no way he will remain under-educated about how the government works, how public service differs from public criticism, how the mechanics of public budgets and finance differ from simpler tasks of personal financial management…  how public works differ from private enterprise, even when both are technically complex.  He will grow and mature, and recognize that the words he used as a private citizen with little public accountability must be delivered more thoughtfully and with greater precision when holding the public trust. He will recognize that the other elected representatives are there, as he is there, through the will of the people… he will not need to embrace them, but he will need to work with them in a trusted and professional manner…”

Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.

Walter Isaacson, writing about Benjamin Franklin and the Founding Fathers


So the clock ticks, and the official record begins. His knowledge is on public display.  His questions are now coming from a position of responsibility, and what was ok before is now not so okay.  Expectations are higher.  Skills are expected to sharpen.  Efforts to become more expert in key areas have to be made, and results have to be measurable.  Careless and inflammatory remarks made as a private citizen, or as a populist candidate, now have to be challenged more quickly and more forcefully.  Attacking others, no matter how “benignly” will draw return fire; he can’t be surprised by it nor unduly offended.  This isn’t a game, its people’s lives.

Survey Says…

The maturity has not happened.  His questions and public comments remain, at best, difficult to follow.  The go-to move of repeating the vague accusations and suspicions that enthralled his supporters during the campaign just don’t pass muster now.  Certainly, many of his base still cheer him on and marvel at his courage and “stick it to the establishment”  attitude.  Great.  Fantastic.  Unbelievable, believe me.

I don’t, and here’s why.

It is easy to declare one’s intention to “bring people together” and “heal the divides that separate us”. But, with every comment to a reporter, every broadcast interview, and every indolent repetition of the same old lines, bridges erode.

Every repeated, simplistic analogy is evidence of a closed mind.

Every play to the base is a missed opportunity for wider connections.

The true test of leadership arrives; the opportunity to really listen, digest and incorporate information and develop a better understanding – well, still waiting.

The hundred day mark has been reached.  From where I sit things have gone badly.  Sorry, Harry, but that’s my thought from the back of the room.


The Continuing Education of A Curious Boy


, ,

Cambria is as much a melting pot as New York or San Francisco.  Within the community there are artists and farmers, small business owners and the people who staff and run the many shops, restaurants and hotels that cater to the large visitor population that fuels Cambria’s economy.  There are retirees of all backgrounds, and young (though not so many) families who have chosen to build their futures here. Vineyards, microbreweries and tasting rooms share their own creativity, offering inviting places for people to meet and experience liquid art. The hills surrounding the town are dotted with farms and ranches, with cows lowing mere yards from the beautiful PCH or following well-worn paths up and through the hills and canyons.  At times I find myself thinking, as I take in the unreal beauty, that it looks like a painting.  Life not imitating, but being ART.

And beauty is beauty.  The coastline may be on the wrong side of the continent, and the pine trees look different, but the infinite wonder of the clear night sky over the rumbling ocean is as inspiring as a high winter sky illuminating crunchy snowfields and frozen lakes.  Beauty.

 Doctor’s Appointment

When not gazing at the sky, I enjoy talking to people from all parts of the community.  I have long wanted to have a conversation with Doctor Elizabeth Bettenhausen, Ph.D.  Ms. Bettenhausen is a frequent contributor to the ongoing dialog that fills the Vet’s Hall every fourth Thursday of the month. She speaks with an endearing combination of poetry, reverence for nature and education but then easily pivots to a rapid-fire statistical precision (often flavored with the tone of incredulity) that can make a listener sit up and pay attention or chuckle in admiration as she weaves her narrative.  She is always well-prepared, and though her facts and figures sometimes add up to disputable conclusions, she remains open to feedback and discussion.  She has a great mix of ego, passion, curiosity and desire to bring positive action to difficult situations.  In a series of exchanges on social media, we expressed very different views on “how much is too much” interaction with the staff of the CCSD. Anyone who spends more than eighty-four seconds on Facebook knows that more often than not these exchanges lead to less than polite endings.  Ms. Bettenhausen took a different path, inviting me to join her for coffee or tea and a discussion of the issues and the information that led us to our different conclusions. It took a few months to make that meeting happen, though we did run into each other at the Cookie Crock (I just love typing “Cookie Crock”) and at the Vet’s Hall.

I had two CCSD-related questions I really wanted to ask her.  The first question, based on a sentiment that has been expressed by some community members – was pointed and direct – “do you think that the Board is corrupt?”  And the second, and more interesting question to me – “why do you engage so deeply with the issues of the CCSD?”

Outside Benches, Inside Voices

We finally scheduled a time to meet before a special Board meeting. We connected, sans refreshments, on a beautifully sunny afternoon, coming together on the benches outside the Joslyn Center a moonstone’s throw from the Vet’s Hall. Our discussion began as most first conversation begin in this town – “what brought you to Cambria?”  This usually leads to a fun exchange of stories, but in this instance it laid a bit of a foundation for the discussion that followed.

Elizabeth  Bettenhausen is a passionate environmentalist, and a more passionate advocate for education. She devotes a good amount of her time as a volunteer at Cambria’s grammar school, helping the kids with everything from reading to understanding our natural world and the fragility of our environment. She teaches them about our responsibilities in sustaining all that it is.

As much as she is a passionate environmentalist, she is equally an advocate for Social Justice.  This led our conversation back to the reasons we chose Cambria, and the layers of social complexity that both knits the community together and keeps it separated.  After a bit of background and personal history exchanges, Ms. Bettenhausen brought the conversation back to that initial question, and examined it through the lens of her experiences.

Ms. Bettenhausen shared her experiences working with the kids in the grammar school, and highlighted some of the divisions within the community that play out in the classroom.  She spoke about the distance between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities, and between the different tiers of economic advantage.  We touched on the various “sub-cultures” that make up the community, and what each tribe saw as their vision for the town.  We spoke about the realities of the social ills that affect all communities regardless of size, location or economic status.  The painful and not always obvious darkness of drug abuse and the associated impacts on families and communities seem to bring the same pain and destruction whether in Cambria California or Katonah, New York.  Poverty in Paso Robles hurts as much as poverty in Bridgeport Connecticut.

We spoke of faith both learned and earned, and of the beliefs we examined, lived and ultimately rejected. And we discussed the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us.

Three o’clock suddenly tapped us on the shoulder, so we began our walk towards the Vet’s Hall. I remembered I hadn’t asked Elizabeth (by now I am comfortable using her first name) the two questions that had been clanging around in my brain for weeks and weeks. I  I’m glad I didn’t open our conversation with them;  the discussion might have gone a completely different way.

(Oh, by the way, the answers were “No – perhaps not fully competent, but not corrupt” and “I believe it’s my responsibility as a member of the community.”)

Doctor Two

As if talking to one gifted teacher wasn’t enough, I had the unexpected pleasure of joining a discussion with another local legend, Bill Bianchi, Ph.D. I’m sure a lot of people in the community are familiar with Bill’s work; a Google search will lead you to a range of his writings.  Worth a spin!

We were attending a social function filled with impressive locals from all backgrounds.  Bill was quietly sitting at table, engaged in general discussions about a range of things. As often happens around here, the conversation turned to water – a subject Bill knows a little bit about.  With a Doctorate in Soil Physics, his expertise runs deeper that the local aquifers.  In a quiet, light voice he walked us all through the fascinating history of water issues that have always been part of the California story. Bill blended his academic work and knowledge of local history with deep technical and statistical data wrapped in a very humanistic spirit and served up an education that put local water issues into a bigger context. Bill shared his experience and expertise is such a casual, inclusive manner that learning didn’t hurt at all!

Calm Tops Calamity

So many topics often become nothing more than ragged noise fueled by parochial passions that over time blur fact, fiction and feeling and lead listeners far from the kernel.  Both of these discussions reminded me that passion met with education and a thoughtful soul, delivered without arms in hand are so much more inspiring than red-faced and hard-hearted denial of different thoughts and perspectives.

Thank you, Doctors!


Tough Slog


, , , , , , , , ,

Water, Water Everywhere

It certainly has been a challenging few weeks for the Cambria Community Services District employees.  They’ve been inundated from every possible direction, with never-ending rain straining every resource. From the well fields to the brine pond, water, water everywhere.  The town, the surrounding hills, the beaches and the roads were assaulted by blessed and cursed rain.  It was all hands on a flooded deck.   Danger. A slip, a missed step, a falling tree, or a power line.  Look left, get pummelled from the right.  Miss something over there while trying to fix something over here, and bad things can happen. 

At the same time, the CSD staff leadership was under a different deluge – one of warnings and eventually notices of violation from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.  Some of these issues overlapped, with the rains exacerbating the strain and driving serious and consequential real-time decision-making, each choice the best that could be made, knowing that the downside of other things put aside could come back to haunt.  There is real danger in these times.

Pick up a shovel or spreadsheet?  Answer a public request or comply with an agency requirement?  Ensure safety or ensure administrative compliance?  Ask for help or ask forgiveness?  Whatever call is made, another one will be made by someone else. Such is a life in public service.  Plenty of support when someone gets hurt, and plenty of told-you so’s when someone comes up short.

Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society. Thomas Paine

Extra, Extra!!!

In the weeks since the last Board meeting, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board sent Notices of Violation to the CCSD.  Each notice contained specific complaints, and each listed infraction carried the potential for fines; the number of instances times the dollar amounts per violation quickly added up to a theoretical fine closing in on $600,000.00 all in.  Startling, disturbing and definitely eye-catching.  Which is why the headlines led with it in one form or another.  Not Fake News, but certainly tone-setting.

A careful reading of the credible news articles revealed a more detailed and nuanced view of the situation. The vast majority of the violations were administrative – late or incomplete reports being the main bloc of issues.  The reporting requirements placed on the CSD are not trivial; some would argue they are close to punitive.  The reports seem to be required so the Water Board and other oversight agencies can monitor and manage any potential issues that could compromise the health and safety of both citizens and the environment.  Important stuff, and each agency seems to take these data points very seriously.  Timeliness of the reports likely impact the reporting the respective agencies need to do, and on it goes.

A deeper dive into the reporting and updates from the involved parties reveal that the draconian tone of the notices (and the subsequent headlines) were meant to convey a message – “Hey, guys – we are very serious here.  Get it together fast!!!”  Further reading offered a more conciliatory and even encouraging posture from agency representatives.  While not absolution, it revealed a more pragmatic and less dramatic approach to solving the problems that drove the notices.

The General Manager acknowledged the violations, and accepted that he and his staff had to do much better to win the trust of the agencies and the public.  Significant progress has been made against the backlog of late reporting.  Root causes were identified, and process changes and personnel realignments were made to better manage the requirements going forward.

Still – those headlines!  The most extreme of the stories flew around Social Media like the winning Lottery numbers.  To some, I guess, there were.


I never expect to see a perfect work from an imperfect man. – Alexander Hamilton

Throughout the onslaught, some very serious questions were raised around accountability.  There is no doubt that the General Manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the CSD’s obligations are met. He’s The Guy.  Responsibilities for individual deliverables fall across different parts of the organization, and many are shared among different, interlocking functions, but when things go boom, people are looking for that “one throat to choke.”  He is the one who takes the beating, no matter how fair or unfair.  I think he accepts that responsibility, and so far he has stood up and taken the heat.  He also stood tall and apologized for his comments at an earlier meeting, directing his words to the individual he scuffled with and the agency he inaccurately represented. Most importantly, he has taken action to correct what needed correcting.  Still, there are members of the community who are demanding his head.  Some have been taking small snips, others flashing their blades wildly. Still others lay out stones in the road hoping he will stumble over one and knock his own head off.  Or lose his cool, speak out of turn, and force the hand of say, oversight agencies.

Others take a more measured view, shut out the noise, and deal with the facts.  Not a single dollar in fines has been levied based on the Notices Of Violation.  That could change, and maybe it could result in a significant fine.  Maybe there will be a nominal fine or penalty.  Maybe the oversight will be ramped up and the reporting requirements tightened.  Or maybe, with considered review, opportunities to reshape some of the requirements will make it easier to comply while maintaining the correct levels of safety and situational awareness.  I struggle to think of a reason an agency would severely punish a community for these types of infractions.  I wonder why some community members seem almost gleeful at the prospect.  Weird, right?


I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!  – Margaret Hamilton

You know what else is weird?  The incredible swiftness with which some loyal friends and supporters of the Board President tossed her under the Prius and sped away because she did not do their bidding.  She (GASP!!!!) voted the way she thought was best.  Well, hot damn!! I fear some people don’t quite know how representative government is supposed to work.  It is interesting  to see some of these folks go on about free and equal, but when they don’t get the specific actions they want they call for the overthrow of their own votes. To quote some bozo in Washington. “SAD!”

Unaccepted Answers

With every meeting and every conversation, it becomes clearer that no matter what the explanation, what the reasoning or what the evidence says, some  folks simply will not believe anything the Board says about the Sustainable Water Facility.  From the conditions that drove the rapid development and build out of the facility, to the funding of the project, the rebranding, and the current status, required changes and ongoing permitting, every position given by the Board is called into question by those who oppose the plant, along with pretty much everything else that is the District’s responsibility.  Every question has been answered, and just about ever answer has been rejected.  Short of allowing folks to place fingers in wounds nothing will change any mind.  This is really too bad.  But if the foundational mindset is that there never was an emergency and the facility was always intended to fuel growth, therefore everyone involved is corrupt and dishonest, this will never change.  It becomes a game of attrition.

I often question my own view of the facts, so I reach out to different members of the resistance to ask for a better understanding of their positions.  Results have been mixed, with some good, open and civil conversations, and some sharp, “stick to the issues and “What do you not see?” retorts, as if coming to different conclusions somehow makes me a dullard.

Men often oppose a thing merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. – Alexander Hamilton

How Do We Listen?

There were a couple of real head-scratching exchanges during the last meeting.  They illustrate our collective differences in how we listen, what we hear through our own filters and biases, and how we respond to what was said.  A few quick examples:

  • The GM went through, in some detail, the actions he and the staff have taken in response to the Notices of Violation.  He highlighted a few of the drivers that contributed to late reporting, including samples that are sent to different labs around the country, resulting in uneven and delayed results needed to populate the required reports.  He outlined the steps taken to remove this particular stumbling block; later, in public comment a citizen referred back to the GM’s comments as an example of finger-pointing and shifting blame.  Now, my initial reaction was “that’s not what I heard.” Director Bahringer’s response confirmed my take on what was said.
  • Another citizen (and prior candidate for a Board seat) spoke about the loan agreement that funded a large part of the facility, saying we have “hocked everything we own…”and painted a dire picture of having everything in town seized if we default.  I wonder if he read a different loan agreement, because I didn’t see anything like that in the one I read.
  • A third example was an exchange between Directors Farmer and Sanders regarding the work needed to be done to complete the EIR.  Director Sanders shared his experienced opinion that documents like the EIR often go through a complicated response process, and at times the information that agencies have requested in their review comments are already in the document, and could be found by a more careful review of the data provided.  Director Farmer replayed that back as Director Sanders blaming the Agencies for not doing a good job, rather than the original EIR document being flawed.  Certainly not what I heard Director Sanders say, but that’s how Director Farmer heard it.
  • The last example of what was said versus what was heard – in discussing the excess water in the brine pond, the GM outlined a plan that is under consideration, pending approval and permitting from the appropriate agencies.  That plan includes draining much of the rain and floodwaters out of the pond and into nearby fields, lowering the content of the pond to safe, compliant levels.  The second piece of the puzzle would be the ongoing removal of the brine produced by the SWF.  This would entail pumping the brine into tankers and trucking it south to a facility that would dispose of it safely.  The General Manager did some quick math, and estimated that taking everything currently in the brine pond, pumping and trucking it out could cost around a million dollars, and that clearly was not a feasible solution.  This was relayed back to me in an email as  “The estimate at the meeting was at least $1 million to dispose of what’s there now. “

Perhaps these few examples can highlight why it might be helpful to take a minute or two, think about what we hear, ask clarifying questions, or even replay a recording to validate our thoughts.  However, if we all go into a situation with set jaws and contentious minds, not much will change.  A war of attrition.

Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest – Paul Simon

Once Upon A Time

A friend shared with me an article by Nathan Welton from July 2004, detailing the multiple environmental groups who engaged in the battles over the Hearst development efforts. I was struck by the sheer number of different and overlapping groups, and the fractures and tensions among them as they battled to find a common voice.

This section caught my attention: “Leading up to that event was raucous name-calling littering editorial pages — one recent letter painted North Coast county supervisor Shirley Bianchi “a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hearst Corp.” for her support of the current preservation and development plan.”

“Meanwhile, a former adviser to the Environmental Defense Center has admonished the group for having the temerity to make a public request for documents related to the Hearst deal.”

“And Sierra Club officials are threatening to kick local board member Tim O’Keefe out of the organization for publicly airing his differences over Hearst.”

Turn on a trusted and dedicated public figure – check.

Get mad about public document requests – check.

Exile individuals for airing differences of opinion – check.

The more things change…

Quite Remarkable


, , ,

Wait a Minute, Mister Postman!

I was very surprised to see a series of official documents regarding issues between the CCSD and Governmental agencies appear on Social Media within hours of them being sent.  Odd, I thought.  How on earth did these posters get these documents so quickly?  They weren’t any of the addressees, nor any of those cc’d.  They weren’t mentioned in the body of any of the official documents.  So why am I so interested in how the document got posted so quickly?  Good question, multi-part response.

Learn Your Lessons Well

First, some color.  Back in my corporate days I would  find myself in litigations and mediations around a host of issues – business, technical, contractual, etc.  In one particular case I was in a mediation session in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  One of the attorneys from the other side was an older guy, right out of Central Casting.  White haired, hounds tooth sport jacket, bow tie, round spectacles, probably smoked a pipe while sipping sweet tea.  Behind the fatherly appearance was a legal lion. One phrase he used, in his soft southern drawl, was “this document is quite remarkable.  Quite remarkable indeed!”  I knew I was in for a battle with a very capable opponent.

That simple phrase comes to mind as I think about the most recent chapter in the ongoing drama “As The Water Churns.”

The Documents

I read them several times so I would have a decent grasp on the issues. Most of the issues seem to be administrative violations, with late and/or incomplete reporting topping the list.  Why is this happening?

  • Staffing issue?
  • Onerous and redundant requirements?
  • Lack of expertise?
  • Lack of understanding of the reporting requirements?
  • Clerical errors?
  • Incompetence?
  • Malice?
  • Prioritization where the reporting was superseded by more critical tasks?

The issues raised around the rapid rise of water levels in the brine pond are clearly a concern, and highlight the risks associated with a failure to properly address the root causes.  As the report correctly pointed out, the a major contributing factor was out of the district’s control, but the remedy belongs to the district and the agencies responsible for the land and culvert that caused the problem.

These issues need to be addressed, and it is imperative they are addressed fully, however long that might take.

The language of the notices seemed to be overly dramatic and heavy-handed, designed to be a very loud shot across the bow.  A subsequent report in The Cambrian seems to support this observation.

Shot heard.

I heard it’s Conspiracy Theory month.  Here’s mine.


It’s quite remarkable that an official series of communications from a regulatory agency to another agency, ‘cc’d to members and staff from additional agencies, wound up in the possession of three citizens not affiliated with any of those agencies, not on any part of the distribution/cc list, and with no indication that they were in any way party to the matters being discussed.  Well, I thought, these documents are public record, and can be shared (after proper review) with members of the public.  Yet here they were, posted to a Social Media Page, mere hours after they were sent.

Even with everything moving at previously unheard of speed, it would be nearly impossible for a citizen to draw up a FOIA request, submit it to any or all of the parties named or copied, have the request go through the appropriate vetting process (especially since there are specific threats of penalties that could reasonably require a response and discussion between/among the parties) before the information is released to a citizen. Even if a miracle FOIA event happened, an individual would likely have to know that such a series of notices were being prepared and sent, who was preparing them, and who would be getting them.

Quite remarkable indeed.

I thought about it some more, recalling the times that staff and board members raised the issue of members of the public using the agencies to harass and obstruct Cambria’s efforts to successfully complete the SWF project.  I thought about the General Manager’s repeated comments, the resignation of a key employee, the stories I’d heard from other Cambrians about the many “off the books” interactions between citizens and staff members of several agencies, including the Water Board and the Coastal Commission.

What’s the likelihood of these “off the books” interactions being discovered by a FOIA request?

I though about the many letters – including the ones submitted through EIR Review, and those published in papers like the Sierra Club newsletter, and compared them to the writings and public comments of several of the prominent opponents.  The similarities are quite remarkable – as if the same writer’s hands guided them all.

Finally, here’s a blatant example of agency documents appearing on Facebook, in near real-time, from persons that have no discernible reason to have those documents in that timeframe, and the theories of collusion, obstruction and double-dealing seemed more credible.


Shine The Light 

If there are people in positions of authority – or staffers with inside information – who are inappropriately sharing documents, giving access to confidential or sensitive information, or otherwise assisting people or groups who are deliberately acting with the intent to cause failure, that needs to be investigated and dealt with.  That goes for anyone – CCSD Board members, Coastal Commission staffers, Water Board folks…

This is a reasonable position, and one that should be appreciated by the few folks who consistently lob accusations of corruption, collusion and all manner of wrongdoing at the CCSD Board and staff.

It is about everybody’s favorite word – TRANSPARENCY!



As the kids say, “I just can’t….”


, , , , , , , , , , ,

Where do I begin…

I’ve taken a little more time than usual to capture my thoughts from the January CCSD meeting. I was so – I don’t know – confused, disheartened, bemused, all of the above when I left that I really had a hard time sorting through it all. It was such a strange and unsettling meeting that I actually went to the video tape and watched the whole thing again, wanting to be sure my initial reaction wasn’t due to the weather. It wasn’t; this meeting was a mess.  A quick look at the agenda didn’t reveal anything controversial, and my sense was that it should be a pretty crisp meeting. Boy, was I wrong.

It doesn’t matter how fair and balanced I try to be with this one. I’m bummed that our most critical local government function went all Humpty Dumpty.

If you could see her through my eyes…” Cabaret

Let’s go to the video tape…

It might be a good idea for every Director, Staff  member and public speaker to watch the entire 4 hours and thirty-nine minutes of this session so they can see what we the people see from the audience.  It could  offer some insights as to where behavioral changes might result in a better, more productive and positive collaborative enterprise.


So why the long face?

After thinking about it for a few days I’ve come to the belief that the behaviors exhibited in the meetings are more the result of issues that take place outside the Vet’s Hall, and build to a point that explode during a public meeting.  Let’s start with Public Comment. It seems like it has become a game of dueling speakers. One gets up to speak negatively about the Board, the staff, and actions taken or not taken. The next speaker gets up to defend the board, the staff and actions taken or not taken. It’s like a slow game of tennis, but you get to sit down after each stroke.

It took me a while to figure out what one speaker was talking about. Survey equipment or surveillance equipment?  A man with a dog? Two men in hazmat vests? Routine surveillance? What is this, an episode of the X Files? Photographic evidence showed surveyor’s levels, but no surveillance equipment. Or hazmat vests. Or a pickup truck. Or the man on the grassy knoll. Weird, but definitely the CSD’s fault. I’m still not sure what that was all about, or why it was an issue for the Board.

The interaction between the General Manager and Citizen Dickason was embarrassing. It went from Jerry Gruber to Jerry Springer, with both sides hitting  the “I DON’T TRUST YOU!!!!!  WELL I DON”T TRUST YOU EITHER!!!!! duet like veteran community theater actors.

New Direction?

With the elevation of Director Rice, I expected that there would be some differences in how the meetings would be run.  Community members have expressed unhappiness over the length of the meetings. President Rice on several occasions stated that she would like to see them take less time. In her first full meeting with the gavel, she brought this baby in at a crisp four hours and thirty-nine minutes plus a few seconds. There was much shifting from side to side in the folding chairs. A good chunk of time was spent on President Rice going through her proposed goals and objectives for the coming year. Perhaps a review of the meeting recording could help her identify where clear thought and word economy might move things forward at a more reasonable pace.

There seemed to be a marked change on how dialog around public comment would be handled. The combination of Brown Act requirements and CCSD Bylaws set a general framework for allowable interaction. Directors have the option of giving short responses to speaker questions, and to ask short questions of the speaker for clarity or amplification. In past meetings these exchanges were few, and generally brief. In this session, debates seemed to break out all over the place, and, in several instances, Directors had terse exchanges with speakers, the audience and each other.

New President

On multiple occasions the President made what I consider to be inappropriate or poorly thought out comments to the General Manager. Putting aside the battle between GM Gruber and Citizen Dickason, I was stunned by the way President Rice handled two issues.

I am of the mind that an employee, no matter how high they are in the organization, should not be dressed down, have their competence questioned or otherwise undermined in a public meeting by a Board Director or Officer.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”    From The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Additionally, it is, in my view, inappropriate for a Director, let alone the Board President, to publicly accuse or imply that a business or organization doing work with the CCSD is behaving unethically.  The comments by President Rice and Director Farmer in relation to the CDM Smith task orders were painful to hear, and based on my experience, reflected a real lack of understanding of how projects like the Sustainable Water Facility are managed.  Consulting firms do not exist to do favors – heck, they would go out of business pretty quickly if they gave away their services.  These services have real value, and require real work by real people with deep expertise to achieve complex objectives.  The whole process of designing and executing a complex technical project demands clear requirements and deliverables; it also requires a robust change -management methodology, which covers expanded requirements, changes to project scope, additional services required (time, materials, expertise, support…).  The methodology usually outlines what steps are to be taken to define the  scope of any change, why the change is needed, who is responsible for the change, and what costs, if any, are projected to be required for the change.  To have public officials imply that the consulting firm is acting in bad faith – “they know we have this money…” is not cool.  Telling the General Manager that you think he did a poor job in negotiating the changes is at a minimum in poor taste and shows a real lack of leadership.  Comparing the execution of the complex project to building a house, and telling the consultant tough – the rest of the work will be on their dime – may seem like a popular posture but is actually pretty ignorant.

What good is sitting alone in your room… Cabaret

Some suggestions

General Manager Gruber expressed the desire to file requests for information from all of the agencies he believes are being hectored by members of the community.  He has stated a belief that the impact to the staffs of these agencies, including the CSD, is significant in cost and operational effectiveness.  He also stated that these constant filings (and other contacts) are seriously undermining the reputation and credibility of the District.  He also believes some of these efforts are deliberate tactics by some groups to cause the SWF project to fail.

OK, if these assertions are true, I would support an effort to prove them.  File the requests, collect the data, put together a process to translate these situations into real costs – with some reasonable calculations that would give the Board and the community a fair sense of the size and impact of these issues.  If it turns out that they do, in fact, have a measurable impact on the District, it should be reported on, just like a failed piece of equipment, an infrastructure emergency, a vehicle replacement or any other expense or activity that impacts the District’s ability to do business.

And, if this all proves out, what action could or should be taken to address the specific identified problems?  Will the individuals or groups found to drive these problems change their views and alter their behaviors?  Based on initial reactions over the last few months that these charges have been surfacing, I doubt it.  Will the information galvanize the community to apply their voices in an effort to persuade?  Maybe, but to what effect?  Will the Board find a way to better dialog and support their responsibilities, or will they as individuals continue to root with their core constituents?    Based on this last meeting I have my doubts…

Come into the light

It is one thing for members of the community to make accusations of corruption, malfeasance, collusion, secret meetings and other nefarious goings on by Board members.  It is quite another to hear sitting Board members make similar veiled accusations against their colleagues, the firms that the CSD does business with, and other businesses and concerns in town.

If someone has an accusation to make – make it.  Publicly.  With facts.  Data.  Names. Specific actions or events.  Stop with the passive-aggressive, air-quote “many people are saying” type of nonsense.  Put it out there and be ready to prove it.  Save the suspicions, conspiracy theories and “alternative facts” for a different forum.  Decide if you want to be a grown up who takes the facts as they come or a partisan who takes the facts that they favor.

Make the meeting rules clear and stick to them.

Demand respectful behavior from everyone.

Correct errors and misinformation in a crisp, factual way.  When a speaker repeats false information – like how many hours CSD employees work – provide the data that clearly ends the debate.

Figure out a way to get the tough conversations done before or after a public meeting. Solve the conflicts before they hit the meeting floor.

It’s like raaa-aiiiiin on your meeting day…”

badly heard Alanis Morrisette lyric

Have a meter

One of the interesting things about attending the meeting twice was the opportunity to see it from different perspectives.  I generally sit in the last row so I can see, hear and observe the whole room.  Watching the replay gave me different views of the proceedings, and offered a few chuckles.

Watching the speakers queue up for their shot at the podium reminded me of shoppers looking for the fastest line at Costco.

Listening to a citizen address the Board and mention how a Director spent some time looking at his phone at the last meeting.  Watching the same citizen sitting in the audience reading the newspaper as other matters were discussed.

Having a citizen proclaim that the General Manager should be fired for his exchange with a speaker, and then stating that his assertions of harrassment were based on hearsay.  The citizen then continued with ” I heard it wasn’t even her… I heard it was someone else.”  uh, using hearsay to attack hearsay?  Have a meter!

hearsay – noun
  1. information received from other people that one cannot adequately substantiate; rumor.