LAFCO consultant to testify against commission
June 4, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
A consultant hired by San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) will testify that the agency’s board disregarded expert testimony, and overstepped its authority in order to stifle a proposed development.
In March, LAFCO board members voted 5-2 to deny developer Larry Parsons’ request to annex the proposed 182-acre development called Los Robles Del Mar, into Pismo Beach. The reason cited by the board was an alleged lack of sufficient water supplies to support the project, and the developer subsequently filed a lawsuit. New developments are required to show they have an adequate source of water.
According to the lawsuit, several members of the LAFCO board abused their authority in order to promote their own political careers.
Several days before the meeting, on March 11, SLO County Supervisor and LAFCO Chairman Bruce Gibson held a fundraiser for SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill at Gibson’s ranch in Cayucos. Hill is running for re-election against Pismo Beach Councilman Ed Waage. Several vocal supporters of Hill opposed the project because of concerns of traffic, water, and limiting growth.
Three LAFCO commissioners – Gibson, Ed Eby, and Muril Clift – attended the fundraiser along with numerous opponents of Parsons’ project — many of whom donated money to Hill’s campaign. All three voted against the annexation three days after the fundraiser.
“Los Robles Del Mar is informed and believes and on that basis alleges that LAFCO chairman Gibson and Supervisor Hill improperly conspired together to deny the annexation in order to placate their anti-growth constituents and further their own political careers in an election year,” the lawsuit says.
During the March LAFCO meeting, Gibson led the charge against the future development of 300 homes, saying that state water is unreliable, while also promoting the controversial idea that seawater intrusion has put the groundwater supply at risk.
Gibson’s claims were in direct conflict with LAFCO’s staff recommendations, an environmental impact report, and a report by LAFCO consultant hydrologist Robert Shibatani that there was adequate water available to support the project.
Shortly after the vote, Hill, who sat in the front row during the LAFCO meeting, posted on his Facebook page that the project’s annexation had been rejected and proceeded to take credit for the denial.
Parsons’ lawsuit also notes how members of LAFCO used Gibson’s claim that state water was no more than 25 percent reliable when voting against the Pismo Beach annexation, arguing different scenarios when trying to promote state water projects they favored.
SLO County Supervisor and LAFCO Commissioner Jim Patterson voted against Parson’s project following Gibson’s claim that state water is no more than 25 percent reliable. Less than a week later, Patterson said at a SLO County Board of Supervisors’ meeting – trying to promote a water reliability plan he spearheaded – that state water is at least 60 percent reliable.
LAFCO Commissioner Ed Eby from the Nipomo Mesa Community Services District also voted to reject the Pismo Beach annexation, citing the “unreliability” of state water. However, at the same time Eby was promoting the construction of a $25 million pipeline to bring state water from Santa Maria to Nipomo.
Property owners in Nipomo and Santa Margarita recently rejected Patterson and Eby’s proposals.
History of Los Robles Del Mar
In 1987, LAFCO voted to place Parsons’ property under Pismo Beach’s sphere of influence, making the city the lead agency regarding the property.
In 2008, LAFCO’s experts determined on site wells provided an adequate water supply for the project. Even so, LAFCo commissioners rejected the project saying the project would deplete the aquifer. The commissioners told Parsons to purchase state water and bring the project back for approval.
In conflict with their earlier ruling on Parsons’ property, in 2011 LAFCO commissioners gave a private Christian school on an adjacent property permission to build a campus, using underground water from the same aquifer.
In 2011, Parsons spent $3.5 million purchasing 100-feet of state water.
At the March 2012 meeting where the commission rejected the annexation, LAFCO’s consultant Shibatani told commissioners that even without the 100 feet of water purchased by Parsons, the city had enough water to support the annexation of Parson’s property.
In his lawsuit, Parsons asks for approval of the proposed annexation, permission to use groundwater, receipt of an unspecified financial award, and legal fees paid by LAFCO. The city of Pismo Beach is listed as an interested party in the lawsuit but is not listed as a plaintiff or a responsible party if the court awards damages.
Parsons’ lawsuit provides only one side of the issue. Several members of LAFCO and the SLO County Board of Supervisors declined to comment because of ongoing litigation.