Are Morro Bay officials attempting to chip away at Measure D?

August 20, 2016


A Morro Bay law popularly known as “Measure D” is once again under serious assault by city government.

Measure D can be modified or removed from the municipal code only by a vote of the people. It appears that there is an attempt underway to circumvent the will of the people by “interpreting” Measure D to suit the agenda of one or more of Morro Bay’s elected officials.

In 1981, Morro Bay fishermen Joe Giannini and Ed Ewing crafted Measure D to protect the local fishing industry. The measure sets aside the waterfront lease sites between Beach Street and Target Rock for uses “primarily for the purpose of serving or facilitating licensed commercial fishing activities or noncommercial recreational fishing activities, or is clearly incidental thereto.”

Arguments in favor of the measure included: “This area is known throughout the world as the essence of Morro Bay, and its future should not be left to five council members subject to changing political pressures and self-interests. Measure D is short, direct, and easily understandable.” and “The opponents know what it means and they fear it because it takes away their power to give financial favors to their friends.”

Voters agreed and the measure passed and became part of the Morro Bay Municipal Code.

It appeared that Giannini and Ewing had scored a major victory. Unfortunately, they hadn’t counted on opposition tactics that have been used repeatedly over the years:

1) If you don’t like the law, just ignore it, and

2) “Interpret” the law in whatever way is necessary to support city government’s agenda.

Measure D has been violated repeatedly using both of these approaches.

“For purposes of illustration only, and not by way of limitation, no approval shall be granted for any new passenger for hire boats or supporting facilities, or for any new restaurant, café, gift shop or other retail establishments serving the general public, and any existing such uses shall hereafter be considered nonconforming and shall not be expanded or enlarged,” Measure D says.

The meaning of these statements is very clear to most people. Yet, businesses in the Measure D area have illegally expanded and new businesses having little or nothing to do with fishing have appeared. This was done with full knowledge and support of city government.

The most recent assault on Measure D comes in the form of a planning commission project, evidently chartered by elected officials, to come up with a new interpretation of the law. It appears to some residents that the push to reinterpret the measure is nothing more than a scheme to change the law without a vote of the people, with an ultimate goal of legitimizing existing and planned future violations. This attempt at an end run around the law has not gone unnoticed.

On Aug. 16, the planning commission began discussions of Measure D. During public comment, all speakers supported the measure and several speakers made clear their displeasure with the city’s failure to respect the law.

Morro Bay resident George Leage told the commissioners that there have been and are many violations of Measure D, and noted that they are not the fault of the business people. They are the fault of city government, which allowed the violations to occur.

Discussions demonstrated a diversity of opinion. Staff and commissioner Tefft were adamant that the law was not clear. Commissioner Sadowski said it was very clear, and just needed to be enforced. Commissioner Ingraffia said the commission should be reading what is written, and not trying to read in things that are not there. He also appeared to suggest that the real issue underlying the situation might be a need or desire for more income from the lease sites.

Revenues from the sites go to the harbor department. In the past, the city has been accused of illegally siphoning off income from these sites for other purposes.

Money does seem to be at the root of the issue today. Many have long suspected that the city’s agenda is to weaken Measure D to pave the way for major development in the area that is supposed to be reserved for commercial fishing.

Whether city government or the fishermen and their supporters will win this latest battle remains to be seen.

Even if formal reinterpretation of Measure D can be stopped, the law is being interpreted by city staff on an ongoing basis – something that was made very clear by staff comments at the August 16 meeting. City and harbor district staff work with potential lease site holders to determine what kinds of business will be established on the sites, and to negotiate contracts. By the time the planning commission and the public hear about a project, it is very close to being a “done deal.”

It has been suggested that planning commission hearings, with the opportunity for public input, should be held before any contract negotiations take place. This might put a stop to violations of a law passed by the people to protect the town’s fishing industry.

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The only people who sabatoged the wastewater treatment plant were the voters who voted for Irons and his fellow council people.

You seem to have forgotten the mess the prior administration made of the earlier attempt to build a plant. First, was the huge waste of money. For example, AFTER they spent $300,000 on a facility master plan, somebody realized maybe they should have done a flood hazard study for the site.

The study showed major problems, which were already pretty obvious. The study even said that Hanson’s helped the plant by moving around concrete blocks to divert flood waters away from the existing plant. Yet, these people wanted to build a new plant right next door!

The CCC wrote the City a 12-page letter in response to the EIR for the project. Among other things, it said, “Given the significant issues raised by the proposed project and the range of issues it raises with the certified LCP and the Coastal Act, including the location of this major new infrastructure project in an extremely hazardous and sensitive area, the reduced wastewater treatment capacity, and the lack of a significant water reclamation program, we respectfully request that the project be re-envisioned in terms of alternative siting and design, and that the DEIR be revised and recirculated to address our concerns, including with respect to a more robust identification of project alternatives that can better address the LCP and the Coastal Act.”

It should have been pretty obvious at that point that the CCC would NEVER allow a the plant or the site that Yates and his Council were pushing for, but that didn’t stop our intrepid City government. They pressed on anyway. At one point, Yates even tried to fire the whole Planning Commission because they wouldn’t support this ill-fated scheme.

So, there was a lot of very expensive “sabotage” going on long before the current crew took over. They inherited a mess and, unfortunately, didn’t manage to fix it. Hopefully the next group will do better – and I’m assuming here that we can get rid of Irons, and can get some people in there who know something about wastewater issues and project management.

Wrong again. That letter was from the CCC staff. Staff makes reccomendations and, on many occasions, the Coastal Commission decides against staff. Irons, by requesting that they deny the project, created a situation where the taxpayers will never know whether or not the proposal would have passed. Yates pressed on anyway because he was trying to save the citizens of Morro Bay a lot of money. The Coastal Commission was very upset when Irons made that request!

This is getting far afield of Measure D, but I will respond to your comment as it is incorrect.

The CCC was NOT upset when Irons made the request and clearly would have denied the project regardless of what Irons said. In fact, the CCC chair, Mary Shallenberger, later wrote a letter to the editor of the Trib. The following is quoted from that letter:

“At the time, I was frustrated that the commission was in the position of having to deny a project that should have been denied by the local government. The newly elected mayor was not to blame but bore the brunt of my frustration because he was representing the city at the hearing. True culpability lay with the former City Council majority and the city’s consultants, who advised the city to press ahead, at great expense to all concerned, with an ill-conceived project.

The commission made a fully informed decision, supported by your sitting mayor. Our staff recommended denial of the permit, and commissioners agreed because the project as designed clearly failed to meet the requirements of the California Coastal Act and Morro Bay’s Local Coastal Program.

The mayor and current City Council should be commended for diligently acting on the strong message the commission sent: Alternative locations for the plant must be identified and thoroughly analyzed before seeking a Coastal Development Permit.”

Note that she was talking about the COMMISSION’s view on the subject ,not that of staff. The proposed plant just would not have worked on that site – the design was just too vulnerable to hazards, and the CCC recognized that.

Anyone who wants to see what really happpened should watch the Coastal Commission meeting where Irons asked them to deny the project. It was more that obvious by Shallenburger and other commissioner’s comments that they were because they weren’t allowed to vote on the project. The letter was, after the fact, a CYA because of politcal considerations only.

Also, Irons went directly against Cayucos’ wishes and that was the beginning of the end of cooperation between the two towns. To add insult to injury, Buckingham later wrote an arrogant staff report that finished any chance there was of having Cayucos help pay for the WWTF.

so linda you now realize that the person you totally supported for mayor tuned out to be a lemon along with johnson and smuckler that have no ability to make their own decisions but go along with irons. the decisions this group has made have been so detrimental to the city, i hope we can recover. in my opinion while measure d is very important, there are 15 other issues that are just as important. i just wonder why smucker is not running as i recall he reported he was going to be in office until the sewer plant was finished – guess he’s rethinking?

My guess is that he’s preparing to run for Gibson’s seat on the BOS in two years. They did all they can to make things worse and then they left the taxpayers to deal with the consequences.

Irons has indeed turned out to be a “lemon”. So, basically, we replaced one lemon with another one. Many people figured the last Mayor and Council were so awful that pretty much ANYBODY would be better than they were, and the new kids looked pretty good by comparison. That’s why the old guard was voted out by such a huge majority in 2012, and voted down again in 2014.

As it has turned out, things are as bad as before. The last Council and their senior staff were controlled by special interests and the people of Morro Bay ended up subsidizing those interests. Now, we have Irons controlled by special interests, and in turn controlling the Council, and the result is the same.

I believe I may know why Smukler and Johnson always went along with Irons – based on a couple of conversations, one with Irons himself. His mantra was that everyone had to stand together or the old guard would get back in, and things would be as bad as before. Alas, it looks like they fell for it.

My guess is that Smukler wants to get out now so his name will not be associated with the sewer plant project. I remember people from the old guard said they would find a way to sabotage that project from behind the scenes, and make sure that it would never get off the ground. That may be part of the cause of the project’s failure, but I think there are others, too.

I agree with taxpayer that Smukler probably does plan to run for Supervisor in the future.