Jack McCurdyFebruary 2012
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MB/CSD Reactivate Controversial Lobbyist to Push WWT

by Jack McCurdy

The contract of lobbyist Susan McCabe has been reactivated to advocate approval of a new wastewater treatment plant project by the California Coastal Commission, even though no project has yet been approved by the Morro Bay City Council and Cayucos Sanitary District board or the Commission staff, which already has rejected several proposed plant proposals over the past year. The Morro Bay and Cayucos and Commission staffs are scheduled to meet this month, February, to determine if they can agree on a plan that would stand a good chance of being approved by the Commission itself — and McCabe could lobby for.

Susan McCabe, the controversial lobbyist who claims she has an "excellent working relationship with the (California) Coastal Commission staff and Commission," although some inside the Commission say she is intensely disliked, has had her contract with Morro Bay and Cayucos reactivated to lobby the Commission on behalf of their latest wastewater treatment plant proposal, which is still up in the air.

McCabe's website (McCabe and Company) had identified her as a former member of the Coastal Commission (that claim has now been erased), although the Commission staff had reported she had only been an alternative for a Commission member who appointed her as his stand-in when he couldn't attend a Commission meeting (Fourth Estate - SLO Coast Journal - 2011 June).

She reportedly also was fired by the Port of San Diego several years ago for what Port officials claimed were her boasts in emails about “spoon feeding” a Coastal Commissioner while attempting to secure his vote on a controversial Port project (Port of San Diego Fires Lobbyist).

There have been no indications that the Morro Bay City Council or Cayucos Sanitary District board (MB/CSD) or their staffs have looked into any of these questions raised about her character and record.

McCabe was hired last February to lobby the Commission to approve the first wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) project submitted by MB/CSD the month before, then she was assigned the task of advising MB/CSD as to the chances the project had in being accepted by the Commission. But it was rejected right off by the Commission.

After that, her contract for $1,000 an hour with a cap of $12,500 a month plus expenses for a one-year term, was suspended on May 31 through December 31 because the Commission staff rejected several additional proposed designs submitted by MB/CSD, and it was unclear when or if a WWTP plan would be ready for her to advocate. There is no record of her advising MB/CSD as to the chances of any of the proposed projects winning Commission approval, probably because the project has been changing so fast, she has had no chance to assess the chances of what has seemed like a moving target for a year. WWTP project manager Dennis Delzeit said she has been paid $42,477.85 through December 31.

Now, after seeking a wide range of additional information about the project over the past year to determine if it meets requirements of local and state statutes (Two Strikes), the Commission staff is poised to meet with MB/CSD staffs later in February to see if it has been provided all the information it needs since the January 12 MB/CSD meeting to make that determination. If it has, the project could go before the Commission itself for possible approval on April 12 in Ventura.

But that is very tentative. If the Commission staff is not provided what it has requested very soon, the consultant for MB/CSD, Dudek engineering, will have to do more work, and it won't be on the Commission's April 12 agenda. And McCabe won't have a project to lobby for.

On the agenda for the MB/CSD meeting last January 12, Delzeit announced that McCabe's contract had been reactivated. He did so without a vote of the MB/CSD. He said she would familiarize herself with evolving plans for the project and then begin lobbying the Commission on the final project, all of which, he said, would cover January, February, March and April — even though her contract presumably expires this month, February.

At the joint MB/CSD meeting almost a year ago, on May 12, 2011, McCabe was asked by Morro Bay Mayor Bill Yates, "How many sewage plants have you worked on?" From the podium, she answered, "I don't believe I have worked on any sewage plants."

But it turns out she was under contract to San Luis Obispo County in 2004 as a consultant "for lobbying in Sacramento," the minutes of the August 3, 2004, Board of Supervisors meeting state.  The minutes also mention "a letter to the Coastal Commission that will be on the August 17 . . . agenda, for the Board’s consideration, regarding the Los Osos sewer" project.    

In response to a question, current county chief administrative officer Jim Grant said, "I don't know if  McCabe was consulted by the county in any way regarding the Los Osos sewer project."  

At that time, 2004, the sewer project was under the jurisdiction of the Los Osos Community Services District before the project was transferred to the county under legislation sponsored by then Assembly Member Sam Blakeslee, who was elected in November, 2004. Whether there were any discussions within the county about the sewer project and about how or whether the county might become involved in 2004 is not known publicly. Legislation transferring jurisdiction was reportedly adopted in 2006.

Sara Wan, who recently ended her term as chair and member of the Coastal Commission, said, when asked about McCabe, she "has worked in Sacramento to get me removed" from the commission. A top commission staff source also said McCabe "has always been a strong opponent of Peter Douglas and worked in Sacramento to get him removed." Douglas was executive director of the commission since 1985 until his retirement late last year, was chief deputy director from 1977 to 1985, and co-authored the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972, which was approved by California voters and established the Coastal Commission.

A person who has worked closely with the Coastal Commission said, "McCabe is one of the most destructive forces at work today in undermining the coastal program. She badmouths the commission to members of the legislature, and perpetuates the myth that the commission is an out-of-control agency determined to deprive hard working people of their property rights."

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