BOOK: Small Town Perfect Storm
AUTHOR: Barbara Wolcott
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About the Book:
A monstrous environmental public health disaster lay under a town of 12,000 people. It had already contaminated one of two aquifers serving them and the surrounding area. Now it threatened the remaining water supply. The source was not oil, nor chemicals but 5,000 septic tanks sending a million gallons of effluent down drains daily.
An even greater threat loomed as a minority of residents set out to prove there was no danger nor any need to build and pay for a sewer plant and collection system. What started as a quest for technical information became a contest of wills—a minority driving the majority to the brink of an economic disaster in an epic battle spanning nearly thirty years. The catalyst who finally found a solution was a first grade student when it began and a California State Assemblyman when he ended it.
Good intentions, enormous egos and a plethora of happenstance contributed to the long contest, creating a Perfect Storm that came gradually, destroyed people, long time friendships, some marriages and trust in government. Few believed the town of Los Osos was worth saving, but it survived with scars and started to reclaim its serenity before the dust settled. There are no comparables. Los Osos cut a fresh path and claimed its own redemption.
Barbara Wolcott's "Small Town Perfect Storm" is a factual and objective case study of a municipal political battle that has flushed common sense and good reason down the drain instead of the intended effluent. Ms. Wolcott has courageously offered her good offices in the form of "Small Town Perfect Storm." I doubt that any of the war lords of Los Osos will see the light of reason shed by Ms. Wolcott's valiant book. Let's hope that other readers do and someone learns a lesson from the scorched earth results of an embattled city.
"Small Town Perfect Storm" is a meticulously researched, extremely well written account of the Los Osos, California wastewater debacle. The details revealed by Wolcott, who was nominated for the Pulitzer for other work, are riveting no matter where one stands in the seemingly-endless sewer war. The Los Osos train-wreck is a textbook example of how not to approach a large public works project. Wolcott has captured it all in her unstinting prose.
I intend to send at least 30 of these books to friends who live in a community that can be taken over by people who represent the worst of the Peter Principle and the Unprincipled. This is the most balanced review of the 30 years of terrible decisions made by the Los Osos Community Services District in Los Osos, CA. Small Town Perfect Storm represents excellent research, balanced reporting and remarkable writing skills.
Congratulations to the writer for a perfect timeline of this disaster.
We moved to the Central Coast 30 years ago and considered living in Los Osos. We chose SLO 12 miles away and have watched in awe and sympathy at the events around the sewer problem in LO. Mrs. Wolcott has done an outstanding job of research and an even-handed treatment of this topic. It would be easy to pick a side in this catastrophe, but she has avoided that and instead has produced an accurate and measured history of the "perfect storm" that has surrounded this unfortunate town.
Mrs Wolcott has produced a good read and an important history lesson in small town governance.
We live in Los Osos, a town of nearly 15,000, and have lived through the events described in Ms. Wolcott's well-written book. To do the 30-year sewer war history justice would take volumes, but her distillation of the events, emotions, political players, agency requirements, media coverage and overall controversy is excellent. The story is long and complicated, and the emotional toll on the community has been very, very high.
We are very impressed with the author's ability to sort through thousands of pages of text, clipping, documents, letters, publications, reports and public testimony. She has obviously gone out of her way to thoroughly research the facts and double check the information.
The book is an excellent example of how a small group of people can make a difference -- for good or ill -- and how an entire community must live with the results.
Kudos to Ms.Wolcott -- a very tough job, well done.
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