Viewpoint

Check the facts on Peters’ claims

November 21, 2013 

It was disappointing to read former Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters’ Viewpoint article on Nov. 3. I’m a fact-checker by nature. In the course of the current mayoral recall effort, I’ve checked claims made by both sides. I’d like to rebut three of Peters’ claims and show that Mayor Jamie Irons was true to his campaign statements and promises; the wastewater treatment plant is not vastly more expensive than originally quoted; and Peters misleads the public by presenting her “opinions” as facts.

Peters states, “Despite campaign statements that he would let the Coastal Commission decide our wastewater treatment facility application, immediately on taking office Irons requested the project be denied ...”.

This claim is also the primary complaint in the recall petition. Here’s what I dug up in Irons’ campaign literature, website and Tribune endorsement.

“In my opinion, it’s resolved and we move forward (if the project is approved by the Coastal Commission),” he said. “If it’s not permitted — let’s start working to find an alternative site. I don’t feel it’s going to be productive to engage in a lawsuit against the Coastal Commission.”

The first portion of this quote is what Peters and the recall petitioners continue to reference. However, when you read the quote in its full context, it becomes clear that Irons’ actions were not in conflict with his campaign promises.

Here are his complete and verbatim statements from his citywide campaign mailer:

“The current council has been wasting time and money fighting the Coastal Commission’s clear directive instead of finding a better location for the plant, planning for recycled water and reclaiming valuable coastal property for higher value activities. I want the city to get moving on this project by actually listening to citizens and cooperating with the Coastal Commission. We owe it to ratepayers to get the lowest cost long-term solution, while protecting our water supply and complying with known environmental regulations. To read my complete position on the issue, go to http://www.JamieIrons4Mayor.com.”  

When Peters says, “immediately upon taking office,” she leaves out one key piece of information. Only 11 days after Irons took office, the Coastal Commission staff report was released recommending strongly to deny the Morro Bay wastewater treatment plant application (see minutes from Jan. 3, 2013).

Peters’ argument only has merit if the staff report had recommended “approving” the proposed project. The fact is that Mayor Irons upheld his promise to “get moving on this project by actually listening to citizens and cooperating with the Coastal Commission.”

Peters says, “New project cost estimates range from an additional $90 million to $160 million.” Additional to what? Not additional to the cost of rebuilding the plant on its current site, which is what many will infer. The two proposals are completely different — they are apples and oranges. The $30 million, which is typically reported as the original price (from the Nov. 11, 2012, Dudek Fine Screening), is for basic construction only. The newly released report from Rickenbach Consulting (Oct. 29, 2013) includes that same $30 million plus additional, optional features and uses extremely conservative buffer estimates. To make the new quote comparable to the old, you must also remove/consider the following:

• $16 million to $20 million in soft costs. The old report did not include soft costs in construction, but had it as an additional item.

• $12 million to $16 million difference in construction contingency. The old report aggressively quotes $4 million, while the new report quotes a conservative $16 million to $20 million for basically identical work. This is purely an estimating/accounting difference.

• $20 million for advanced treatment/conveyance for recycled water. No doubt this is a “nice to have.” The council has said it would like the plant “recycle ready” and would phase in advanced treatment as funds become available.

Building a new plant is costly; no one is arguing that. Additions include raw/wet weather pumping and conveyances ($4 million to $14 million), some soft costs, land acquisition (potential offsets by selling/using the current site is possible but debatable).

You can see Peters’ “additional $90 million to $160 million” is extremely bloated and misleading. Her final reference that she was “accused of ‘fear-mongering’” seems oddly ironic.

Peters’ “no plan of succession” remark is opinion, not fact. She can’t know what Irons planned. We can, however, see that an interim city attorney has already been hired at a very reasonable rate with excellent references. In fact, the interim attorney’s $100/hour rate is less than what we paid our former city attorney when one includes insurance, car, vacation, retirement (CalPers adds 23.2 percent) and potentially far less if you consider that Mr. Rob Schultz had time to consult for San Simeon and Guadalupe while employed full-time for Morro Bay.

Are Peters’ statements political spin? Or is she unwilling to see the facts? Either way, I encourage readers to do their own homework: Read the reports, speak to a City Council member, attend meetings, form an educated opinion.

Morro Bay resident David Burton is a software consultant. He volunteered on Mayor Jamie Irons’ election campaign.

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