Cambria CSD board and general manager show a lack of respect

October 16, 2013 

Editor’s note: The following open letter was sent to the Cambria Community Services District General Manager Jerry Gruber, and copied to the district Board of Directors, on Sept. 21. As of Oct. 14, the author had not received a response.

During a severe water leak in my neighborhood, you told me it was your job to listen to my frustration. I was impressed. Your predecessor certainly did not feel the same. Then again, she set the bar painfully low. I thought you were prepared to serve us in a much more respectful manner. Clearly, I was wrong.

You and the board have recently made two big announcements. One is that the district will issue new intent-to-serve letters. The second, which has not clearly negated the first, is that we all have to stop watering outside immediately and use 770-plus gallons less each month. Then, at a recent special meeting, you told the public you are paid to serve and that you didn’t want “theatrics.” That’s a little bit like punching someone in the nose and then critiquing the volume at which they say, “Ouch.”

Our opinions and worries are not theatrics, Mr. Gruber. Theatrics are acting, pretend. Our feelings are very real. And I have just about had it with being vilified for disagreeing with those who run this town.

In the time I’ve been active in local politics, Cambrians who love the environment, myself included, have been called “the crazies” by board and staff. (We’re not supposed to know that, but we do.)

We have been accused by a former board president of “running around lighting our hair on fire,” (despite the fact that the Coastal Commission ultimately unanimously agreed with each and every one of our concerns).

When Director Muril Clift called on one of us to speak, and was told she had left the meeting, he said, into the mike, “Good.”

I have been accused of not really caring about mercury (the most poisonous nonradioactive metal on the planet) but only wanting my town not to change at all. I have been told I don’t really care about the environment but am only guarding my property value, by people who have never even met me. And now you say we come up to the mike with “theatrics.”

But theatrics on your side of the table seem to go over well enough.

I was at a recent meeting in which Gail Robinette took up a good five or 10 minutes of meeting time telling us all how outraged and wounded she was to have been criticized, how she is a moral and ethical person.

No one ever said she wasn’t. They said, and I quote, “potential conflict of interest.”

In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t have a thick-enough skin to field questions about a potential conflict of interest should avoid elected office altogether. I shook my head about it with several of my local environmental colleagues because we have been insulted and defamed so much more roundly for merely commenting on board business. You guys are conducting it.

And yet you and the board have no problem publicly laughing at us, dismissing us and insulting us. Which leads me to believe that, as a group, you’re happy to dish out abuse while attempting to control how much of it is returned to you.

Yes, many people who step up to that mike are angry. Now you know a bit more about why.

We are mature people who understand the democratic process. We know we won’t always get our way. But we expect to express ourselves without being belittled. We know better than to expect that of the board after all this time. But for a moment there, you fooled me into thinking I could expect better from you. And now I have the right to express my anger and disappointment.

Freedom of speech not only allows speakers to choose the words they express, but also the volume and the attitude with which they choose to express them. To warn us otherwise is to treat us like children. If you and the board treated us with respect, perhaps you would get more respect in return. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?

Everything else has been tried, and the situation is only getting worse.

Thank you for your attention to my concerns.

Cambria resident Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 22 published and forthcoming books.

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