Here’s our viewpoint, which was published in the May 15, 2018 edition of The Tribune. Some of the viewpoint was later addressed at the City of Morro Bay’s Q&A session on May 16. Our response to the City will be posted shortly.
Dear Morro Bay City Council: Give us a sewer project we can afford
Morro Bay’s controversial Water Reclamation Facility is racing after five years of city-led delays, no set project budget and a revolving door of consultants in lieu of a project management team. The result? The largest public works project our city’s history – five years after the city told residents the project would only cost an additional $12 million to $20 million than the current plant.
It’s also been three years since voters approved water and sewer rate hikes for a $75 million plant. Now residents are expected to pay at least twice as much for a flawed project without any accounting of how the money is being spent for rate hikes they already approved.
What went wrong?
The city spent five years considering 17 alternative project sites, but not cost-efficient projects. They finally chose the South Bay location as their preferred WRF site, but did so before the completion of an environmental impact report. An EIR provides a comprehensive review of project alternatives and locations. With extensive public analysis and input, a finalized EIR would help the council make a more informed decision on siting.
After five years of unnecessarily spending millions of ratepayer dollars on a myriad of consultants, the city hired a program manager. Despite Councilman Robert Davis’ faint praise of Morro Bay’s Citizens for Affordable Living (CAL), the city excluded CAL’s representative from interviewing the manager they ultimately selected. According to Public Works Director Rob Livick, the city selected the new program manager with the help of a sub-committee that held no public meeting for three months prior.
Last year, Mr. Davis voted to oust CAL member Richard Sadowski from the Planning Commission after Mr. Sadowski sharply criticized the WRF at a City Council meeting. In March, the City Council refused to vote on the motion to nominate a CAL member for the WRF Citizens Advisory Committee.
The city commissioned an expert peer review report with input from licensed, reputable public works officials throughout the county. Mr. Davis claims the peer review identified only $17 million in cost savings. Yet in their key findings, the same peer review panel identified cost savings between $38 million and $43 million to construct a project on or near the existing project site. This was their recommendation for the most effective way to reduce construction costs.
The city will be reviewing only two design-build proposals from two firms with conflicts of interest. Multi-national engineering firm AECOM’s bid appeared on the short list under the stewardship of Michael Nunley, Morro Bay’s former program manager previously employed by AECOM for nearly five years. Global engineering company Black & Veatch is the second company to bid, yet they’re bidding on a project based on specifications outlined in the $800,000 Facilities Master Plan they authored. That is not a competitive bidding process.
Residents want a better, more compliant project to be completed in a timely and efficient manner, but not at any cost. Voting no on the upcoming Proposition 218 vote would send a strong, unified message to the city: “You delayed. We paid. Enough is enough.” Bring us a more cost-efficient project that we can vote yes for.