The Coastal Post - December, 1997

The Incredible Mutant Siamese Twin Sewage System;

"Sue Us Mark Warner, Sue Us!"

By Jim Scanlon

Tuesday November 18, 1997

After trying vainly to proceed with the construction of a two sewage treatment pond system (AIWPS) that would go "somewhere" and be operated "somehow" operated jointly with the French Ranch subdivision, the three person majority of the Board of Trustees of the Lagunitas School District ordered their attorney to meet with the developer and work something out.

While it was not explicitly stated, it was clear that the impediment to the joint sewage plan was the formation of a viable Community Service District to run the system with a limit on the District's cost. Rather than thank the opponents of an agreement which would have created big time problems, and backing out, Trustees, came up with an "amendment" which seems certain prolong the agony.

The new "amendment" eliminates the Community Service District and eliminates the sewage ponds-well maybe it eliminates the sewage ponds-and calls for the construction of two separate but equal sand filter sewage treatment systems back to back on property to be donated to the school "sometime" and placed "somewhere." The school would be spared using some of its land for other uses, and would allegedly save in operational costs.

Although the meeting started out on a feel-good note with a number of humorous tributes being made to Brian Dodd on his last meeting (well, maybe his last meeting) after 20 years of service to the school, that mood soon faded to be replaced by trustee hostility to the numerous opponents of the Board's policy on the joint sewage development. The vote on the amendment was put off a week for tweeking, so Dodd will be able to vote to pass it a week before his term expires.

All three of the majority trustees joined with a few supporters in attacking the motivation and integrity of opponents. Using similar words, all three stated that opposition to the school's plans was intended solely to stop the French Ranch Development.

Although never explicitly stated in public, the trustees have worried about being sued by the developer if they back out of the joint agreement. However the threat of a lawsuit from opponents, did not seem to bother Board President Steve Charrier, who hurled a challenge to Board critic Mark Warner whose lawyer sent a five page critique of the Siamese Twin sand filter agreement. After agreeing to a one week delay Charrier, alluding to eventual passage of the amendment, said clearly and defiantly, "Then sue us Mark Warner, sue us!

The delay of one week, allows Dodd, whose term expires November 30 to vote with Charrier and Jeanne Marlow on the contract. Trustee Richard Sloan has been the lone dissenter from the beginning.

Adding to the tone of crisis, the District's attorney Susan Reed lost her composure on being questioned by Jean Berensmeier, and spoke in a progressively more and more confused, excited manner for several minutes finishing her remarks with a tribute to the Trustees.

One couldn't help sympathize with Reed who was given what would seem to be the impossible task of pleasing the developer, the Board and opponents, in an "amendment" to an agreement which was gutted and completely renovated. Normally, board members of governing bodies negotiate agreements and the attorneys work out the details in a rigid document called a contract. In this case, this Board has consistently left important details unresolved, to be worked out later.

The "amendment" she presented had a large number of contingencies that made it hard to understand. The haste of the Board to "agree to something, even if it is wrong" didn't help, nor did a few obvious typographical errors. It bothered some people in the audience that the agreement was presented to the board on stationary from the developer's law firm.

Trustee Richard Sloan, the sole opponent of the joint sewage plan, was quoted (after the meeting) in the Point Reyes Light criticizing Reed. "The developer has two lawyers representing him, the Board has none."

AIWPS Is Not Yet Dead!

AIWPS Is Not Yet Dead!

November 25, 1997

It was a cold and stormy night when the Lagunitas School District Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to approve an amendment to the July 1997 agreement to jointly build a sewage treatment facility. Brian Dodd, the Trustee most responsible for the unusual joint agreement with the developer, seconded the motion and voted with two other Trustees at his last appearance as a Trustee (his term expires with the next Board Meeting December 2). The two newly elected Trustees, Reed Stockton and Thelma Weiss will be seated next week.

This meeting was smaller and more civil, with less overt hostility than the meeting of the previous week. Chairman Steve Charrier seemed more relaxed, and reported that the he had gotten a second legal opinion on a pro bono basis from Craig Lavadu? the City Attorney for Mill Valley and he had confidence that the Board's actions would stand any legal challenge that publish funds were misused.

There followed a long, series of questions and enlightening answers about what the "amendment" to the "agreement" means. What it means is that the original AIWPS (AY-whips) is still there. It is the foundation of the amendment but it is still there "in abeyance." If the Siamese Twin sand filter plan gets hung up for any reason (and there are many), then AIWPS or some variation there of can come into effect.

The District does not have sufficient money left from it's state "hardship" grant to go ahead with the original AIWPS plan and would face increased operational costs because it is now known its share of maintenance cannot be capped. So a leaner, meaner AIWPS could easily come back to haunt the San Geronimo Valley. Charrier and Trustee Jean Marlow stressed repeatedly that this would be a very remote possibility. Charrier also repeatedly stressed the Board's commitment to the sand filter solution.

It was strange and ironic to hear Charrier extolling the District's commitment to the sand filter solution when just a few months ago he was attacking it and expressing confidence that a Community Service District could and would be formed to run AIWIPS at a low, fixed cost.

In going ahead with the agreement the district board is again, committing itself to a plan in which important details have not been worked out.

What is certain is that the school is now linked, for good or ill, to the French Ranch Developer. The permits that the developer has obtained are for a subdivision with a sewage system linked to the school. The developer will not, or can not, allow the school to back out and endanger his permits to build.

Last July, the Trustees rushed a 3-1 vote to support the French Ranch Development in gaining Planning Commission approval the next day. This was and is the defining moment in this saga. There can be no doubt that trustees wished to secure benefits for the district. It would seem clear in retrospect, that they did not adequately consider the risks involved and are still not considering these very real risks.

As always with optimistic assessments of costs and benefits, the costs make themselves known immediately and forcefully, while the benefits recede into the future. The District is incurring mounting consulting and legal expenses which are eating into its "hardship grant" from the state. Is there a point where the state will step in?

Now that the developer has his permit, (other will be needed too) he will not part with them willingly-and who can blame him? It was easy for the Board to get into this mess with the best of intentions, but it may very difficult, very messy, and very expensive to separate. Siamese Twins cannot always be separated without one dying.

Dodd is now gone and has left his ungainly twin and the comatose AIWPS in the care of others. Steve Kinsey the consensus builder who helped conceive and nurture the "win-win" joint sewage plan is also gone onward and upward. The San Geronimo Valley Planning Group which vigorously promoted AIWPS, has been recently reformed and many non- supporters of Kinsey who were purged earlier this year are back. AIWIPS stalwart Bill Noble is out of the Planning Group; and Richard Gray, another AIWIPS advocate, seems to have dropped out for now. Wendy Kallins got so emotional lamenting the loss of AIWIPS at the November 18 meeting that her voice quivered and I thought she might break down in front of the mike.

It is sad to see an experienced Trustee like Richard Sloan, the Valley's nicest guy, ignored, isolated and frequently addressed rudely by Chairman Charrier. He is a veteran of many school board fights and usually comes out a winner. Had his advice been followed, the School would not be in the mess it is in today.

Many, if not all of the supporters of the Board's approving the amendment to the agreement urged to Board to "get it over with," and "move on." This seems delusional in the extreme-to think that this problem will just go away by going forward-the Vietnam Syndrome.

It seems certain that the school, in addition to caring for the children in the Valley, will have to devote a disproportionate amount of attention and money to the twin sand filter systems and to the developer to which they are joined in a lasting, complicated uneasy union-one great big unhappy family.

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