Grover Beach air board rift spills over to conference center project
December 30, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Following the removal of Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson from a regional air pollution board, an organization that supports off-road activity on the Oceano Dunes is planning to appeal the construction of an 11,000 square foot conference center and lodge in Grover Beach.
On Dec. 16, the Grover Beach City Council voted to remove Peterson from the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) Board of Directors after County Supervisor Adam Hill pressured council members to do so. In her one year on the APCD board, Peterson, to the dismay of Hill, frequently asked questions of district staff and campaigned for a repeal of the APCD’s dust rule.
If implemented, the dust rule would fine the California Department of Parks and Recreation $1,000 a day if it does not reduce the amount of dust blowing onto the Nipomo Mesa from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Friends of Oceano Dunes (Friends), an organization that promotes open access to the dunes, supports Peterson and opposes the dust rule. On Dec. 18, Friends President Jim Suty authored a letter to the council criticizing its decision to remove Peterson from the air board and stating it may no longer cooperate with the city as it proceeds with the conference center project.
“Unfortunately, your recent vote to remove Mayor Peterson from the APCD raises great concern and, in fact, has convinced us that our interests will not be protected or even addressed,” Suty wrote.
In response to the letter, Peterson called for a special, pre-New Years meeting, which will take place Monday at 6:30 p.m. Supporters of Peterson are expected to petition the council to reseat her on the APCD board.
Last December, the council unanimously approved a coastal development permit for construction of the conference center and lodge near the entrance to the Oceano Dunes at Highway 1 and Grand Ave. The project gained approval from the California Coastal Commission in April. However, the commission denied requests to build an equestrian facility with beachside parking for horse trailers across the street.
In the Friends letter to the council, Suty said that the organization has had and continues to have concerns about the project. The letter also requested that the council reseat Peterson on the air board, but it did not state any action Friends might take if the council refuses to do so.
On Thursday, Suty told CalCoastNews that Friends of the Dunes would appeal the conference center project regardless of whether or not Peterson regains her seat on the air board.
“Friends of Oceano Dunes is going to appeal,” Suty said. “The project is going to be appealed whether or not she gets back on.”
Suty did not specify to which body the organization would submit the appeal.
Friends opposes the removal of the equestrian staging area from the project, as well as the removal of an RV dump station. Both will lead to increased congestion, Suty said. Additionally, project planners have not adequately mitigated expected delays in access to the dunes during construction, he said.
Friends previously took the APCD to court over the dust rule, arguing the district used flawed scientific practices and failed to prove off-road activity on the dunes has caused an increase in pollution on the Nipomo Mesa. San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall ruled against Friends’ claim in April.
Over the summer, Peterson petitioned residents and her fellow council member to support a repeal of the dust rule. The dust rule threatens the existence of the off-road riding area on the dunes because it requires state parks to maintain a permit from the APCD to operate the vehicle zone, Peterson said.
Dust rule proponents responded by calling for her removal from the board.
In August, the council voted 3-2 to keep her on the board. But, the council swung in opposition to Peterson during the Dec. 16 meeting in which Hill lobbied for her removal.
Shortly before the meeting, Hill placed gold medallions on each of the council members’ chairs. The medallions had Hill’s name and position on one side and the San Luis Obispo County Seal on the other.
During public comment, Hill reminded the council that Grover Beach receives county funds and instructed council members to call him if they needed financial assistance.
“If any of you have needs or things, feel free,” Hill said. “My office is always happy to provide community funds for the city or for any nonprofits that the city or you’re involved with.”
Later that night, the council replaced Peterson with Councilwoman Karen Bright, the city’s previous APCD board representative.