Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Happenings: Unger Demolished, Kellar Criticized, Cemex Hopes Revived

Sam Unger: unintelligent, disingenuous, out-of-touch, or patronizing?[1]  I’m not sure which proportion of each Mr. Unger is, but the Executive Officer of the LA Regional Water Quality Control Board did not come off at all well during tonight’s meeting.  He was invited by Mayor Kellar to deliver information about the chloride issue, but the presentation quickly turned into a tongue-lashing from all members of the council.  It took up the better part of the evening.  There was a bit of controversy about an oil pipeline and words exchanged about the Mayors Prayer Breakfast, but tonight’s meeting was mostly a chance for Claritans to come to a collective realization that they want to challenge unreasonable water quality mandates.  As Councilmember Frank Ferry would convincingly say at one point, “We are that crazy”—in other words, Santa Clarita is ready to fight nonsensical chloride standards, whatever the odds or whatever ridiculous means are necessary.

After Ferry’s invocation—he read from a speech by Cardinal O’Malley following the bombing in Boston—we learned that Mayor Kellar had invited Sam Unger to talk chlorides with Santa Clarita.  Unger, who umm-ed his way through some cheesy PowerPoint slides didn’t make a great impression.  He was trying to explain why chloride total maximum daily loads (TMDL) were set to 100 mg/L, explained the history of setting the TMDL, and so on.  It was almost embarrassing when he tried to explain the “science” that justified the limits set on chloride levels.  After explaining that the law required protection of the most chloride-sensitive beneficial uses—farming of avocadoes and strawberries, for the Santa Clara River—he held up binders of “science”.  What’s embarrassing is that these weren’t results of studies conducted with SCV wastewater on crops or even modeling or meta-analyses based on prior chloride/agriculture research.  They were print-outs of other studies, which a team of purported experts reviewed to come to chloride TMDL recommendations.  As Maria Gutzeit would very hilariously put it in her comments, “Calling this science is like calling a book report a great work of literature.”  He quite literally wanted us to think gee whiz, that’s a lot of paper, you must have done a lot of good science.

Unger was then thoroughly lambasted by every member of the Council (except for Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who is marching to her own peculiar drummer on the issue).  Marsha McLean kicked some serious ass.  “I am going to try to be as respectful to you as I possibly can, but some of the statements you made are difficult for me to handle,” she began.  McLean then pointed out that the “independent advisory panel” that reviewed “the science” was weighted in favor of Ventura’s agricultural community.  She noted that farmers had enjoyed bumper crops despite chloride levels, and she wondered why TMDLs would be switched from 100 to 117 mg/L only if an expensive treatment plant were built by Santa Clarita.  She also asked why there hadn’t been any field studies to go along with the literature review, to which Unger replied, “There would not be any further science that would be unraveled…”  Essentially, she was frustrated that there was no “science” to back up TMDL standards or to support the notion of chloride-based crop damage.

 Laurene Weste addressed Unger next, and she basically just had him talk about all the horrible penalties that could be imposed for violating chloride limits, unsuccessfully trying to make a point that compliance was a cheaper option (I think: I don’t know what point she’s making half the time).

Frank Ferry was more aggressive.  He talked about how state water is already very salty, and how we’re given water to drink that isn’t good enough (in terms of chloride levels) to water avocadoes with.  This is when we like Ferry to be brusque, and he didn’t disappoint.  “What agency’s responsible for common sense to come through?” he growled rhetorically.  He talked about how Ventura farming lobbyists were pulling strings but would be desperate for compromise if Santa Clarita stopped pumping water downstream for them to use.  He suggested diverting our water to a big lake instead, saying “We are that crazy.”  Ferry wouldn’t let Unger say science had prevailed over agricultural lobbying, demanding “Please do not insult this community…do not state it is not a political process with political appointees on a political board.”


TimBen Boydston also did well.  He read from the scientific literature review noting that they had claimed no definitive chloride limits could be set for strawberries and ornamental plants.  He pointed out that the only damage shown for avocadoes was leaf burn on one farm, and that yield of fruit hadn’t been affected.  He asked a long list of questions about legal appeal options and how the choride TMDL could be challenged. 

Finally, Mayor Kellar graciously gave Unger a chance for closing comments, which he squandered.  This let Kellar finish with an anti-invasive-government tirade—verbal ground he has clearly tread before—about having to comply with exhausting regulations and wasting time and money fighting to keep some level of self determination.

Public Participation

 Public Participation followed.  Many community members spoke.  Alan Ferdman said “I do not like being threatened” to Unger and noted that one of the threatened penalties would cost each household $73,000 a year in taxes.

 Chemical Engineer Maria Gutzeit, a chemical engineer, ridiculed the TMDL science.  Many others shared her sentiment.  It was only Lynne Plambeck who used the chloride debate as a chance to lament rapid growth and a lack of standards enforcement for new developments.

 On the topic of not-chloride, Susan Wachter wondered why an anti-gay individual was going to speak at the Mayors Prayer Breakfast.  In response, Mayor Kellar pointed out the event is not run by the City and that he wanted it to be about prayer, not personalities.  Kellar described himself as being in a “no-win situation” for the breakfast/speaker. A break followed.

 Comments, Consent

 At 8:27, the Council Members made their brief presentations to the City.  Cemex was on the mind of Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste, who spoke about SB 771 from Senator Boxer’s office with co-sponsorship from Senator Feinstein’s office.  Congressman McKeon has promised to support the bill “when” it makes it to the House

 The Consent Calendar passed without much fuss.  Councilmember Boydston asked if the City was paying a fair price for some open space near the planned Cemex mine, and he was assured they were.

Finally, there was discussion of an oil pipeline in Santa Clarita.  Primary concerns were about a major accident, which could be exacerbated if a more explosive substance that crude were flowing through the pipeline.  Thus, the Council decided to allow the pipeline but to require another meeting if the pipeline would switch to conveying a different petroleum product.  On the once-more-controversial topic of campaign posters, the new ordinance allows people to pick up confiscated signs after the election.  The meeting ended at 9:05


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