Letter to the Editor: EPA Administrator's Letter in Piedmont Post

Rick Schiller is the author of the arguments against Measure A, the proposed sewer tax surcharge on the Feb. 7 ballot

Re: EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld’s letter in Jan. 25 Piedmont Post

Mr. Blumenfeld states he is writing to clarify recent articles regarding the City of Piedmont’s obligation to comply with a federal court order to 6 East Bay cities and a sewer district regarding their sanitary sewer systems.

The articles are the misleading and false articles published by the Piedmont Post, which assert that Measure A opponents contend that Piedmont is not required to comply with the court order. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Measure A opponents have contended, without any refutation whatsoever, and with the written concurrence of the EPA, that the court order does not require Piedmont to rush to complete replacement of the last, and most sound, portions of Piedmont’s sewer mainlines. Mr. Blumenfeld’s letter is careful not to repeat the Post’s falsehoods which, sadly, are endorsed by Piedmont’s City administration. That Administration knows better but insists on a slush fund paid for by new sewer taxes.

Mr. Blumenfeld agrees with opponent’s previous statements, that the 2011 federal court order requires all six cities and the sewer district to submit to EPA an Asset Management Implementation Plan (“AMIP”) by July 15, 2012.

Piedmont has a choice: it can submit an AMIP which rushes replacement of mainlines by 2018-2020 and requires substantial new taxes, or it can submit an AMIP which provides for replacement on a more reasonable schedule and that requires no new taxes. Once an AMIP is submitted and approved, it then becomes an enforceable plan, subject to penalties for noncompliance.

The Post, lobbying on behalf of a City Administration that favors higher taxes, just assumes that the AMIP will provide for accelerated replacement, but, as the EPA has stated repeatedly in writing, that accelerated replacement assumption is not required by the federal court order.

In my January 12, 2012 presentation at the LWV Forum, I detailed the critical AMIP process in the federal court order. In its coverage of my presentation, the Post omitted all references to the AMIP.

City Staff gave the MTRC a single plan, which includes the completion of the remaining 40% of the mainline sewer by 2020, and staff misrepresented that plan as being EPA-enforceable at that time. That plan is why Measure A is on the February ballot.

Staff’s plan is, in reality, only a draft plan which will become enforceable only if it is the plan incorporated into the AMIP which is yet to be filed.  If Measure A does not pass, a different plan may and should be incorporated into the AMIP.

Essentially City staff overloaded the sewer fund “cart” and wanted a bigger taxpayer “horse” to come by after the fact. By that misrepresentation, the City created an illusionary legal obligation to appear to force taxpayers to believe no option other than passage of Measure A exists. This is not the honest and comprehensive approach we deserve.

Piedmont voters do have a choice, and can safely vote no on Measure A without any risk of violating any court order or suffering any penalties. 

Rick Schiller

Editor's note: Mr. Schiller attached a copy of a letter he sent to the Piedmont Post responding to an earlier article entitled "Sewer Tax Debate Takes an Odd Turn." That letter is below.

Re: Jan. 18, 2012 Piedmont Post “Sewer Tax Debate Takes an Odd Turn”

The Preamble to the Society of Professional Journalists “Code of Ethics” states:

...public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.

In contrast to this Code of Ethics are the practices of your publication, the Piedmont Post (“Post”), in “Sewer Tax Debate Takes an Odd Turn” (“Article”) by Post staff reporter Paisley Strellis in the Jan. 18 issue. The Article states:

"Photographer Rick Schiller . . . claiming to have been in direct contact with EPA officials who said there was no timeline for the repairs and there would be no penalties levied if Piedmont did not comply. No documentation was provided."

The opening paragraph in presentation Jan. 12 at the televised LVW forum, with the writer of the above-referenced Post article, Paisley Strellis, present:

"The Proponent ballot measure twice states the following: The City of Piedmont must comply with the 2011 EPA order requiring additional rehabilitation. In contrast the EPA Compliance officer overseeing the 2011 Order wrote the following: 'the Stipulated Order does NOT specify a deadline by which Piedmont must complete the mainline sewer replacement work, NOR is there a stipulation for penalties to be assessed against Piedmont if they fail to replace or repair a certain length of pipe each year.' "

I. I have been in direct contact with Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) officials, both the regional manager, Alexis Strauss, and the compliance officer, Michelle Moustakas. In direct contradiction to the Article's implication that I have no source material, I stated at the forum that my source is “the EPA Compliance officer overseeing the 2011 Order” and I closed my Jan. 12 comments with: “I’ve spoken directly to the EPA.” Strellis chose to write: “no documentation
was provided.” No documentation was asked for by your reporter. I believe you have seen the email from Thomas D. Clark which sets out in full the email I received from EPA Compliance Officer Michelle Moustakas that supports everything I have said. [Editor's note: click here to read Thomas Clark's email.]

II. I stated “nor is there a stipulation for penalties to be assessed against Piedmont if they fail to replace or repair a certain length of pipe each year.” This is a direct quote in EPA Compliance Officer Michelle Moustakas’ 11/25/2011 email to me. My statement is limited to pipe replacement, not to all repairs and all compliance matters as Strellis stated in her article: “there would be no penalties levied if Piedmont did not comply.”

III. I stated there is a timeline, that the final plan “being due July 15, 2012.” In contrast the Article quotes me as stating “there was no timeline.”

IV. Mr. Rancor and proponent ballot arguments are based on Staff assertions of what is required by the EPA. I quote the actual source itself, the EPA Compliance Officer. The Post relies on second and third party sources. Ms. Strellis rehashed statements from Mr. Rancor and Staff rather than seeking out my direct EPA material.

Conclusion: The First Amendment’s “freedom of the press” allows the Post to attempt to influence an election by a deplorable disregard of journalistic ethics. The EPA’s characterization of a primary staff assertion to the MTRC as “misstated,” and other staff assertions as contradictory to EPA legal documents, which you now have, is the real story of Measure A.

The Post’s false portrayal of me as not providing documentation when none was asked for tells readers I am fabricating my comments. Ms. Strellis also provided false information in reporting my public presentation. The Post has a blatant disregard for the truth. Your Article denigrates me and my careful research, writing and speaking on the many public issues I address. There was a total lack investigation of my material by the Post.

Rick Schiller

Editor's note: Letters to the editor are published at the discretion of Piedmont Patch's editor in accordance with the site's Terms of Use. If you have a letter you would like to be considered for publication, please e-mail dixiemjordan@gmail.com. Letters should be no longer than 600 words and will not be posted anonymously. Please include a daytime phone number with your email in case we need to contact you for verification or questions. Your phone number will not be published.

Susan Kahn February 06, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Rick - How about sending the above to the Piedmont Post, just to see whether they would publish it. They should at least put it in the "Corrections" section. If they won't do either, then the Post does not deserve to be called a NEWSpaper. Readers of the Post need to be aware of the journalistic standards and ethics (or lack thereof) of a paper that claims to serve the citizens of Piedmont.
Rick Schiller February 07, 2012 at 08:09 AM
Susan, the Post will not publish this or any of my letters. The letter below was a response to an article 1/18 that had patently false information about my LWV 1/12 presentation. Not only was the letter not published, but two more hit pieces have been published on me and Measure A in the Post. I spoke last night at the City Council Open Forum and was critical of the bad information the Post puts forward as "news." After tomorrow's election, the Post will no doubt have another garbage news item on front page about opponents of Measure A, or myself. At least they spell my name right.


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