Wednesday May 22, 2013
Fear and Loathing at MCAS El Toro: Report From the Restoration Advisory BoardRoger Butow Salem-News.com
“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” - For What It’s Worth Buffalo Springfield
(LAGUNA BEACH) - NOBODY DOES IT BADDER
After attending the preliminary tech Sub-Committee (SC) meeting January 28th 2009, followed by the general stakeholders congregation last week, here are my personal observations and perceptions, for what THEY’RE worth. The leaders proved the adage about power corrupting absolutely.
Into the heart of darkness, ending up feeling like Martin Sheen (The horror, the horror) in Apocalypse Now.
Jean Paul Satre claimed that Hell wasn’t fire and brimstone, just being stuck for eternity with incompatible or boring people. This obscene partnership of governmental and private development green-washing group epitomizes those people.
First, I’m not a naïve rookie, I’ve attended over 1,000 of these environmental dog and pony shows, gosh, I’ve even been a facilitator at some-----I’m also qualified and in a unique position because:
(1) I was stationed at El Toro 1966-67 (Mabs-37, later Wers-37),
(2) Attended the early rounds of RAB meetings,
(3) Attended initial base conversion gatherings of non-profit reps, government and interested parties who wished to create a “Great Park” from some of the available open space acreage, and
(4) I’m the leader of a high profile watchdog group plus an eco-consultant, specializing in hydrology, water hydraulics and water quality. My forte is polluted or contaminated wastewater as it’s discharged into our streams and ocean, known in the trade as “effluent.”
Deepest apologies to Dickens, but maybe I should call the preliminary tech gig scheduled for 90 minutes prior to the general one a coffee clutch, “A Tale of One Committee“ and furthermore, acknowledging the fiasco of my attendance: “It was the worst of times.”
There was no written agenda, so it pretty much took on the feel of gossip, meandering and unfocused; a chaotic and lax BS session.
You half-expected them to utter “Hey, how ‘bout them Cowboys, huh?” I went in skeptically, with low expectations. They didn’t disappoint me, convening 15 minutes late.
There was neither work product nor resolution of obvious conflicts, although billed to the taxpayer’s expense account, Wandering like Moses for the first half-hour, I began reflecting upon that “cruel and unusual punishment” section of the law. At minute 45 this brain-dulling, Chinese water torture morphed into a firing squad, yours truly the target----With the Chair acting as rabid executioner.
The last 15 minutes made my first kidney stones passed last spring seem nirvanic in comparison.
The first 30 minutes were typified by obfuscation, they mimed a pinball machine (follow the bouncing ball), more like a snipe hunt, they tossed remediation short-hand verbiage like hand grenades, maybe trying to lose or distract me, arrogantly assuming I didn’t know the industry acronyms, the multiple site references and get lost. Then it was hammer time.
They say that when a fish starts dying it begins rotting at the head, in this case the so-called public oversight Chair, Lake Forest City Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph----Who I’ve subsequently dubbed “Rude-olph”for reasons you’ll soon see. Ever wonder what would happen if they mixed the genes of the Marquis de Sade with Tomaso de Torquemada? Hey, YOU know the SC Chair too, dontcha!
Perhaps a result of attrition, disinterest or default, maybe due to simple tenure or longevity, she has held that position for years, But if the master of your ship is more like Captain Queeg of The Caine Mutiny you’re in for the wild ride, a meeting rife with meandering, random side bars, dead-end inquiries by yours truly.
She did grind and gnash her teeth, pulled at her hair, she must have forgotten the little steel balls and left them at home. Maybe, like Margaret Thatcher. she had impossibly grown her own. She certainly spent an inordinate amount of time busting mine.
Pardon the Shakespearian analogy, but this WAS a very serious endeavor at launch back when, and Ms. Rude-olph has allowed it to digress, to degenerate, to de-evolve, becoming “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Years ago, this was a vibrantly dialectic group of about 12-15 people representing a cross-section of interests. Now, it’s 3 people going through the motions, punching the people’s clock with a heavy-handed Iron Maiden in charge.
I actually thought I’d get answers to questions about the existing toxicity and adverse environmental impacts of the base rehab. Like the Big Dig in Boston, apparently once the hole is dug (think Vietnam and Iraq) there’s no turning back, no admission of culpability, no one allowed to demand accountability, no one entity or party to petition for ultimate responsibility. The buck stops, “miraculously,” nowhere. Franz Kafka (The Trial) would be proud.
Marcia danced, she whirled, she feigned, she jabbed, she made sure nothing substantive was discussed. The attendance at the SC meeting was stellar (4 people), and defaulting back to the chairperson selection mentality, only the two USEPA and Cal/EPA Project Managers attended besides Ms. R. and myself.
Pretty important think tank, huh? What started out as a packed conference room years ago has shrunk to what could have been held in a breakfast nook. I soon discovered that I must have been the only NGO watchdog rep to ever attend, let alone ask pointed, hard questions. I was as welcomed as a drinking fountain advertising free VOC’s and perchlorate from your local Uncle Sam well and aquifer!
By the end I wished they’d passed me the Jimmie Jones kool-aid…It was that painful. Death, where is thy sting?
Ironically, the State and federal guys were mildly informative---When Ms. R. let me get in a word or question edgewise. Whenever I got something going, she chastised me and intervened like OJ’s attorneys. Considering there was no agenda, it took on the auspices of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode. At least now I know the answer to a Zen-like question: What IS the sound of one committee collapsing?
Ms. R. spent 90% of our time exhibiting an incredible gamut of acting modes, moving seamlessly between emotional ego solos like:
(a) Feigned outrage at my hiatus,
(b) Incensed at my challenges regarding full disclosure of contaminants use, abuse, remediation and removal, (c) A real drama queen, the histrionics flowed, with her standing up abruptly and shouting at me, how dare I question the rehab, etc. etc.,
(d) Mouth foam-flecked, waving inches-thick “CYA” docs in heavy binders, as if they justify failures or lapses, studies and reports that merely prove the government’s ability to produce paper might eventually outstrip the planet’s ability to produce more trees,
(e) Filibustering to the point of “Methinks the lady doth protesteth too much”, to (f) Generally demeaning, denigrating and disrespecting the very public element I have represented for over 10 years.
What a wonderfully inspiring WELCOME HOME party. I’m no shrink, but I felt that she exhibited the classic tendencies of a paranoid person, or was I onto something more sinister? Not all grammar school teachers regress, become this infantile, do they? I know a few and wasn’t aware this could happen off the job. Then again almost ALL public officials eventually see themselves narcissistically as gods or masters, superior to the riff-raff they “humbly” serve and protect.
Fool and gentleman that I am, I kept apologizing to see if she’d calm down----My oblations only evoked MORE temper tantrums. I gave up and left at the buzzer, perhaps her real agenda.
Afterwards, walking out, I realized how unprecedented this had been. There can’t be this much smoke and yet no fire(s) burning. What are these people hiding, why were they so easily threatened, what buttons exactly did I push? On to the general meeting convening in a few minutes, I discovered the night had already peaked.
At least this meeting had a spiffy looking, multi-colored written agenda.
The contrast was hysterical if the subjects and my information-gathering mission weren’t so important Do the agencies go to mortuary conventions, insomnia workshops looking for public speaking reps?
Ms. R.’s wackiness would have been interesting at this one. It was difficult not to sleep through this.
Bland to the Bone
The highlight was their re-election of the same old/same old Chairs. This, at last, was the answer to the mystical question haunting us all: Why God created the snooze alarm. Other than the sussuration of muttered reports, this half-filled venue was like a tomb of the dead. NOTHING happening here.
Joined by an astute cohort of mine from the “good guys and dolls” side, I almost asked her to kick my leg and awaken me if anything important happened. Ironically, the two EPA dudes from the SC strutted and fretted their time upon the stage, asked for questions and got bupkus, zilch.
Disinterest? Boredom? Asleep at the wheel? Hello, is there ANYBODY out there?
Further rousing the crowd to their collective yawning feet, Ms. R. gave an inspiring, monotenouslytoned SC report that obliquely noted my participation, but even though she knew I was present she referred to me in the third person. She also low-balled my points of interest or concern, blew them off like small irritating houseflies. Really.
The Germans say: “Einmal ist keinmal,” one time is no time, if it happens once it’s as if it never happened. So Ms. R. also answered that burning esoteric, existential question: If an environmental activist falls in a meeting does he make a sound? Unlike the movie, in her mind I WAS the man who wasn’t there.
Fortunately, back at the SC meeting the EPA dudes coughed up the other buck-passing contacts who, I quote, “MIGHT be able to help.” One week later, after separate email inquiries transmitted to 3 critical agency contacts and zero replies, I’m still “Waiting for Godot,” knowing I’m no closer to the truths and information I seek, no closer to solving any riddles regarding the use and abuse of VOC’s and perchlorate, no closer to discovering if the strategies for removal and eco-remediation are/were flawed, failures or successes.
I’m a persistent masochist, I will go back to the next meetings on April 15th, knowing now how Zippy the Pinhead from ZAP Comix felt when he uttered “Are we having fun yet?” Confrontational activism, like old age, ain’t no place for sissies. Personally, my mentor is that incredible molecule I spend so much time around: Water. It is tenacious, relentless, finds its destination no matter how many impediments you place in its way!
Roger E. Butow is Founder and Executive Director of Clean Water Now! cleanwaternow.com. He is a So Cal native, a 43-year resident of South Orange County and lives with his cat Zoey in a tiny surf shack near his favorite beach. To reach him: email@example.com.
Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.
Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.
Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.
Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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