SLO County policy changes under fire

July 28, 2014

countyBy JOSH FRIEDMAN

San Luis Obispo County planners are attempting to strengthen a highly contested section of the county general plan that allows officials to restrict private land and water use in times of drought and other resource shortages.

The county Resource Management System (RMS), currently under review by the planning commission, contains a package of updated regulatory guidelines that are reviving debate over drought issues in the greater Paso Robles area. Proposed changes to the planning guidelines have implications, though, throughout the county and could also alter residential development.

Though the county does not have jurisdiction over highway interchanges, it could, under the proposal, designate areas with insufficient interchanges as being under level 3 resource severity. That designation would allow the board of supervisors to enact development moratorium in communities with deteriorating interchanges.

For instance, if the board were to declare the highways 101 and 46 interchange a level 3 resource, it could enact a moratorium on development in Templeton.

During the all-day discussion of the proposed RMS changes, SLO County Planning Commissioner Eric Meyer said these policies could be used to restrict development and to encourage people to ride bicycles rather than cars. Meyer is also on the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition Board.

“Sometimes, by widening roads we are just creating traffic and encouraging more intense development,” Meyer said. “Maybe we should be allowing roads to fail, because that road failing means that areas kind of done to some degree.”

The RMS, which comprises a section of the county’s general plan, instructs the county board of supervisors to institute urgency measures to curb existing or anticipated resource shortages. The RMS monitors water supply, wastewater disposal, roads, schools, air quality and parks and rates their depletion on a 1 to 3 scale.

When a resource reaches level 3 severity, as recently occurred with the water supply in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, RMS guidelines within the general plan call for the supervisors to implement regulations like land and water use moratorium. The supervisors followed suit a year ago when they enacted an urgency ordinance banning all agricultural and residential development in the basin that is not accompanied by water conservation projects equal in size.

Although the supervisors adopted the urgency ordinance, they did not agree on a key component within it. The supervisors deadlocked over a 2:1 water offset policy recommended by county staff.

If enacted, the 2:1 offset policy would mean that new developments in the Paso Robles basin must be accompanied by conservation projects that save twice as much water as the new crops or houses use. Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill supported the proposal, but supervisors Debbie Arnold and Frank Meacham opposed it.

The board settled instead on a 1:1 policy. The 1:1 mandate still requires people desiring to make use of their property to retrofit existing homes elsewhere in the basin or to purchase existing agricultural land and rid it of farming activity.

Despite the board agreement on a 1:1 policy, county planners are now recommending that the supervisors adopt a 2:1 policy in the updated RMS. The policy could affect all areas under level 3 drought designations.

In addition to the Paso Robles basin, which spans much of North County, the Los Osos and Nipomo Mesa communities also have level 3 groundwater shortages. Other communities, like Cambria, are teetering with level 3 designations.

When the planning commission held a hearing on the RMS revisions on Thursday, one public commenter, Richard Margetson, argued for even stricter measures in Los Osos. Margetson suggested that a 4:1 water conservation to consumption policy might be needed in the community.

With the addition of Caren Ray to the board of supervisors, majority support could exist for a countywide 2:1 policy in drought stricken areas.

But, Arnold has already indicated that she will oppose the measure. She said the 2:1 offset makes unreasonable demands of property owners.

“You’re going to have to go retrofit things until you have negative water usage in order to use your property,” Arnold said.

Arnold also disputes the process in which the RMS update is occurring. At last week’s board of supervisors meeting, she questioned why staff is conducting the RMS revision at the direction of a previous board of supervisors.

The board last instructed staff in 2009 to revise the RMS. Two supervisorial seats have changed hands since then.

County Administrator Dan Buckshi responded to Arnold by saying that the county may still follow policies dating back to 1850 and that staff responds to board instructions until directed otherwise.

In addition to the water offset policy, staff revisions to the RMS call for mandatory metering of wells in level 3 groundwater basins. Planners suggest that the board adopt a guideline requiring meters on all new or replacement wells and requiring that the owners of the wells report their water usage to the county.

The board majority has already voice support for enacting such a policy in the Paso Robles basin.

Many property owners, though, oppose the proposal. Planning commissioner Don Campbell said Thursday that the board chamber would be overflowing with people when the county tries to meter farmers’ wells.

Outside of water management policy, planners proposed one major change to the RMS. Staff suggested including freeway and highway interchanges as a type of depleting resource that the county would monitor.

The planning commission spent several hours Thursday combing over details of the revised RMS. It did not complete its review of the document, though.

The updated RMS will return to the planning commission on September 11 before going to the board of supervisors for final approval.


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wineguyjc

The county can’t wait to tax residents within the proposed water district. Just think, once they tax us, they will increase employee salaries and benefits. Sounds like a great deal,…. for someone.


slojustice

These changes I am sure, will be as effective as the water moratorium.


justchuck

Maybe by narrowing the salaries of these parasites in office we can widen the roads so people who care about effecting change can run and not worry about their remuneration.


obispan

Commissioner Campbell warns of hundreds in the board chambers because he does not even want the debate to occur. See the litigation over the Santa Paula and Santa Maria “inexhaustible” basins in recent decades and recent years respectively. Yer gettin’ your meter. Will it be before or after the Resnick’s either take or do not take control of the basin? The Aussies just bought all the Mojave basin water, a one shot deal left over from when the Mojave desert was a rainforest. Same for the Paradise Valley basin NE of Vegas. Development, not sustainability, is the model and Ventura County and then Orange County is the future. You think water should be abundant and affordable. The developers and the Resnick’s (Sue Luft) think differently.


Mr. Holly

Here we go. Everyone ride a bicycle and everything will be ok. Whoever appointed this kook should be analyzed too.

So let’s put the burden on the homeowners and developers to help fix this water problem. Just another no growth policy. It’s very evident that most of the north county water problem is the result of the extensive vineyard planting and use of water. Why don’t they REALLY put some restrictions on these vineyards and make all new vineyards be head pruned where minimal no water is used after maturity? That’s a simple question with an obvious answer-not enough profit. Once again big money and big donors will prevail and the little guy will get S–t on again.


MaryMalone

I think a 2:1 water conservation offset is exactly what is needed.


A problem with a program of plumbing retrofit is that in most of the county there is very little left to retrofit…certainly, not enough to offset any development projects. In addition, even for very small housing or business projects, it would take way more effort than developers want to bother with to find enough homes to retrofit to offset the intended new development.


In addition, most developers are not savvy when it comes to designing retrofit projects, and so the offset funds in some retrofit programs were wasted on ineffective and poorly designed, retrofit programs.


A county-approved approach used by the Nipomo CSD was to have developers wanting to build within NCSD’s boundaries would give the development-offset money to NCSD. Really.


The plan was for NCSD’ s water conservation program director to design a program to be administered by the program director.


Shortly after the developer contributions started rolling in, NCSD fired the water conservation program director and stopped efforts at a plumbing retrofit program, or any other efforts at a water conservation program.


The funds from the developers given to NCSD were placed in an NCSD account, under the auspices of their financial administrator.


So at a time when the Nipomo Mesa groundwater basin is in perilous overdraft, risking saltwater intrusion, NCSD still doesn’t have a water conservation program or a program to use the developer offset funds to achieve water conservation on the Nipomo Mesa…even though there were developer funds accepted by NCSD specifically for that purpose.


No_More_Anger

This guy Meyers is dangerous for this community. If it doesn’t grow, it will rot and that is what he is suggesting about our roads, let them rot! How do these idiots get in positions of power?

Compton is the answer, Ray is a death sentence for this county.


MaryMalone

Roads don’t “rot” if they are maintained.


This is a reality that the City of Paso Robles doesn’t understand, but it is true.


So the existing roads will likely remain in use, if the are adequately maintained.


No_More_Anger

This is what Myers said, the SLO Planning Commissioner:“Sometimes, by widening roads we are just creating traffic and encouraging more intense development,” Meyer said. “Maybe we should be allowing roads to fail, because that road failing means that that areas kind of done to some degree.”


Roads to fail = rot. What part f this don’t you understand?


MaryMalone

Reality check:


The county would not want to trigger liability litigation if the BOS allowed the roads to degrade to an unsafe condition.


So I think Mr. Meyers was talking out of his kiester.


Reality Check

This revision of the General Plan is another example of over reach and interference in the land use by private owners.


How many of us are going to ride our bicycles over the grade to and from work? (An image of “Dressed for Success” workers biking to work over the Cuesta or Onterio grades; arriving at work disheveled, sweaty and smelling “gamey” just struck me as I read the article)


Look at the consistently nearly empty buses that are another supposed alternate means of transportation to alleviate traffic. That’s a real sign that people want to drive their own vehicles to work.


Not expanding certain bottle necks: REALLY? There are almost daily accidents in what is fondly called “Pismo Straits” where the 3rd lane over Onterio Grade ends just before the Spyglass exit. The mad cap weaving and braking creates mega danger to all the commuters and holiday travelers. Commuters: raise your hands, if you just LOVE the frequent commute hour traffic jams!


For those of us who don’t bicycle or ride the bus (there are lots of good reasons to be named), neglect / purposeful undermining of road expansions is malpractice by the Board of Supervisors. It’s also a “taking” of private property without compensation when restrictions on building are arbitrarily placed in an effort to force alternate transportation choices and alternate life style choices.


Elections have consequences: Vote for a supervisor candidate who will support well reasoned well studied solutions to this County’s most critical issues. I’m voting for Lynn Compton!


racket

Grammer Cop:


“Two supervisorial seats have changed hands since then” is clearly incorrect. Should read “Two supervisorial seats have changed asses since then.”