County gets more strife over Los Osos sewer project

County leaders are downplaying complaints from Los Osos residents that they have made an important document difficult to access, although county officials say they have sought the aid of other county departments to make it more available.

The complex, 1,000-page document pertains to the Los Osos sewer project, and several Los Osos residents have complained, some bitterly, that the county has made only one copy available, and then only during business hours and at the county offices.

The “counter” copy became available after residents complained.

The limited access shuts out people who cannot get to the offices because they work or who cannot wait in line for others to look through the report, they told supervisors Tuesday.

Several speakers asked that the document be put online.

Public Works Director Paavo Ogren said he has not done so because it would take staff time and money. “We’ve been busy,” he said.

In response to an e-mail from The Tribune, Ogren could not provide a dollar figure for how much it would cost to place the document on the county web site. Nor could he say how much staff time would be involved.

“It is not reasonable to assume that the county will just simply post to a website everything that we are doing,” Ogren wrote. “I’m certainly not opposed to posting more information to the web, but I must still consider priorities in managing a public agency.”

He wrote that he considers it “a higher priority to direct staff to continue to focus on our efforts with federal and state agencies because the benefits to the community … are potentially very significant, and clearly more important than the ongoing outcry of the usual critics.”

“If I get some heat for setting priorities such as I have, and others don’t understand the value of our efforts to seek out federal stimulus funds, well, I would rather pursue what is good for the community of Los Osos and take that heat. I will rest better at night,” he wrote.

In an e-mail to The Tribune, Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who represents Los Osos, wrote, “I don’t micro-manage Paavo’s staff, so I supported his assessment of priorities.”

He wrote that “The criticism we’ve received … is a bit excessive relative to the high standard of our performance.”

Both men took umbrage at the suggestion that the county has not been forthcoming.

“For over three years, the county has shown unprecedented transparency and responsiveness to document requests on this (sewer) project,” Gibson wrote.

“The fact that we quickly made a public copy of this material available is consistent with our past practice,” he wrote. “That hardly amounts to “hiding” this information as some have suggested, and I can think of no other project where such information has even been requested.”

Ogren, too, said the fact that the public can see a copy at county offices shows responsiveness.

“If those who are complaining had actually submitted a records request, and we were non-responsive, then the criticism would be justified,” he wrote.