corruption

Bid Rigging on the WWTP?

By Donna Westfall

CREDIT TO DAVID SCHOLL, Publisher to Dixon’s Independent Voice

$44 million wastewater treatment plant and rising. Photo by Paul Critz

$44 million wastewater treatment plant and rising.
Photo by Paul Critz

Before the videos of the Crescent City, City Council meetings were destroyed and during the years of 2008 through 2010, I asked whether or not the bid was rigged referring to the one and only $37 million Wahlund bid for the overly expensive/unaffordable $43.8 million upgrade/expansion of the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Of course I was labeled and treated as a crack pot and trouble maker by my fellow council members, Charles Slert, Kelly Schellong, Kathryn Murray and Dennis Burns. Not one of my fellow council members had the slightest interest in investigating the possibility of “bid rigging” because they acted like they were all positive that was not the case.

And out of that miserable experience Crescent City Times.com was born because the local newspaper held a similar bias to my fellow council members. monkeys see no evil

Today I received an email sent by David Scholl, Publisher of Dixon’s Independent Voice sent to Ms. Hall at Courthouse News Service regarding the article titled “City Says Tax Haters Have Run Amok” By TISH KRAFT. Let’s look at her first paragraph:

FAIRFIELD, Calif. (CN) – A “renegade band” of tax-haters could cost a California city millions by refusing to pay “a single cent” to clean up carcinogenic groundwater despite a state order, the city says in court.

Talk about bias, lack of honesty, unfair reporting…. go to Courthouse News Service and read it. It’s almost unbelievable and in my opinion, slanderous. Take the term “tax-haters” and let’s compare that to what comes to mind… hate crimes.

  • Publisher Scholl states, “The issue is not and never has been whether to upgrade the sewer system.
  • The issue is the city’s push for 100 year-old obsolete technology which only dilutes the waste water system’s pollutant outflow; does not remove
    one ounce of the critical pollutants; and costs multiple millions more than new technology that actually does remove them.”

Is this sounding familiar?

How about the City of Dixon doubling, then tripling the rates?  Why didn’t the reporter for Courthouse News Service interview what she termed, “the renegade band?”  How many times do the ratepayers and owners of properties have to protest to tell their City they are out of line?

This brings to mind whether or not Crescent City and the City Council should have investigated other technology before plowing ahead with a $30 million MBR (membrane bioreactor) technology which looks to process a lot of Harbor waste, the equivalent of about 1850 single family equivalents? Matter of fact, it’s looking more and more like the Harbor waste may have been the true cause for putting the city’s system into cease and desists.

Let’s go back to Dave Scholl’s email. In his last paragraph he states:

  • “It is important to note the engineering firm being used by the city – Stantec – was the only bidder on the project. Our investigative reporters contacted other firms to whom the city sent bid packages and were told those firms knew Stantec had a lock on Dixon so it was not worth spending $50,000 or more to prepare bids that were sure to be rejected.”

And that’s one way bid rigging is allowed to happen. In the case of Crescent City, local individuals, not investigative reporters, contacted potential bidders who were sent bid packages. Written next to their names were some notations such as “too far to travel,” written either by former Public Works Director, Jim Barnts, or someone from Stover Engineering, as the reason they did not bid. Yet when further researching, those same companies took jobs just as far as Crescent City.

As I recall, the guy from the Electrical Union that told me about Colburn Electric falsifying payroll and not paying overtime on Crescent City’s WWTP, made the same comment.  Bidders were told that Wahlund had a lock on it so they were not going to spend all that money to even bid.

Here’s the entire email dated June 29, 2015, so you can understand what’s going on:

Ms. Hall,

Thank you for conversing with me about the article you published about the Dixon Sewer Rate Initiative controversy.

As owner and publisher of Dixon’s Independent Voice for the past 18 +years, I was astounded at the tone and lack of basic journalistic practice
and ethics shown by the author.

The article repeatedly states “the city says” – and that the city is calling the taxpayers group “a small band of renegade tax-haters.”

The “art” posted with the article also refers to “Haters.”

Such name-calling is not just unprofessional, but slanderous.

You could instead, in this instance call the city officials “haters of democracy, haters of modern technology, and haters of the environment.”

But that would also be improper spin to prejudice the readers.

Your editors should have insisted the author identify exactly who was speaking for “the city.”

The issue is not and never has been whether to upgrade the sewer system.

The issue is the city’s push for 100 year-old obsolete technology which only dilutes the waste water system’s pollutant outflow; does not remove
one ounce of the critical pollutants; and costs multiple millions more than new technology that actually does remove them.

Back in 2006 the city planned to “solve” the waste water issue with the State Water Board by building a $40 million seven mile long pipe to
discharge the water in an area where the ambient water quality was worse than the waste water outflow.

The people of Dixon – with leaders of the Solano County Taxpayers Association (SCTA) – put an initiative on the ballot to roll back the sewer
fees that were tripled to pay for that foolish idea.

At the prodding of the citizens – including the SCTA – the city set up a Citizens’ Waste Water Review committee. About half the members appointed were members of the SCTA. Members of the committee included professionals in the field of water and engineers as well as rate-payers.

At the time, the state concern was only about salinity. The committee, with the support of the SCTA recommended the city ban new installations of salt-based water softeners which increase the salinity of household water. (There are softeners that do not increase salinity.)

The committee also recommended – with SCTA support – a “buy-back” program to remove already installed salt-based water softeners. The city did adopt that plan- which resulted in dramatic reductions in waste water outflow salinity.

The committee also recommended a 50% increase in fees with the revenue to be dedicated to improving the current waste water system by repairing the sewer pipes throughout the city; drilling new test wells near the sewer plant to get more accurate readings of the ambient water quality; and building up a fund to pay for the current rate-payers’ share to upgrade the headworks; (The remainder to be paid by new development, which is a major reason the upgrades are needed.)

The SCTA supported that reasonable increase. That increase was supposed to be temporary and rolled back once the dedicated purposes were
accomplished, that was never done.

In fact, the SCTA held a demonstration at the State Water Board to get their support to allow the city to ban the culprit water softeners.
The SCTA pushed through the legislature a law allowing Dixon to adopt such an ordinance. Prior to the SCTA effort, state law PROHIBITED local
government from banning them.

Instead, the city abolished the waste water committee claiming they “had not done anything,” and because it had not met for several months – which was due to sabotage by the chairman of the committee who would not call meetings and who is a close political ally of the Mayor – who in turn had been annoyed by the committee’s actions.

The current controversy is over the city’s adoption of a 100 year old obsolete technology – “activated sludge” – and its refusal to seriously
consider modern technology with capital and operating costs that are considerably less expenses, and which actually remove contaminates –
including fats, oil, grease, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides – and reduce heavy metals and other contaminants.

Former members of the Citizens Waste Water Committee continued researching options – and informed the city about proven new technology. They even tried to get the state water board to review them.

The 2006 initiative that was passed included a clause to require a vote of the people for any rate increase. Without such a vote, the city slipped in
an amendment to the minor rate increase noted above which simply edited out that provision – all without a vote of the public. As you know
initiatives passed by the people cannot be amended without another vote of the people.

It was when the city passed a more than doubled water rate increase to fund the obsolete technology plan that the people revolted.
First organizing a property owner protest under prop 218 which garnered about 45% of the necessary property-based owners.
While that is and impressive protest which should have given the council pause – a 50% protest is required, so the city went ahead

The people responded with a referendum, and in less than 30 days almost 20% of voters signed those petitions. The city attorney, however, declared the referendum petitions invalid because Exhibit A, which was part of the Resolution, was not filed with the City Clerk – although the Exhibit had been presented to the voters when they were signing the petition

That in turn resulted in the citizens filing an initiative petition to roll back the rates. While state election code allows up to 180 days to gather signatures, the citizens again obtained the signatures of about 20% of voters on the initiative in about two months.

Only 15% is required to call a Special Election, but because the petitions did not specifically ask for such an election, the city council instead placed it on the November 2016 ballot – by which time the entire wastewater plant project would be completed.

So the citizens again organized a new petition specifically calling for a special election. Again much more than the requisite number of signatures were gathered in less than 60 days.

All along, the city has deliberately stretched out its processing of the initiatives and hurried the construction of the sewer project – clearly
intending to make the citizens’ objects moot.

The right to vote on sewer fees are specifically allowed under prop 218 – which is in the state constitution. But the city attorney has claimed the initiative is unconstitutional.

The whole purpose of the initiative and referendum provision of 218 are to give the public an ability to halt a foolish and wasteful project.

It is my newspaper’s position that ANY encumbrance of such huge magnitude should be put to a vote of the people. That could have, and should have, been done any time in the past two years – including the 2014 June election or the November election.

The city has acted in bad faith throughout the controversy – and now attacks its own citizen in the article published by Courthouse news.

It is important to note the engineering firm being used by the city – Stantec – was the only bidder on the project. Our investigative reporters
contacted other firms to whom the city sent bid packages and were told those firms knew Stantec had a lock on Dixon so it was not worth spending $50,000 or more to prepare bids that were sure to be rejected.

Dave Scholl, Publisher
Dixon’s Independent Voice
PO Box 1106
Dixon, CA 95620
(707) 678-8917

It’s important for those of us living in Crescent City to keep a pulse on what’s happening in other communities because we’re not the only ones dealing with City officials that act in bad faith and don’t listen to constructive suggestions like “we can’t afford $43.8 million” and found out in three short years that the State Revolving Fund loan was in default.

 

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