Allegations fly at board majority after Gibson, Hill lose groundwater vote

March 22, 2017

With control over the Paso Robles groundwater basin at stake, the minority on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, as well as its supporters, are levying allegations that the board majority violated the Brown Act. As a result, the board is now scheduled to redo a vote on groundwater policy and to hold a separate discussion on possibly recommending a criminal investigation into the board majority.

Thus far, the county’s top attorney has said it appears that the conservative board majority did not violate the Brown Act in its handling of the groundwater management issue. Yet, while the board discussed the controversy on Tuesday, County Counsel Rita Neal warned Supervisor Bruce Gibson that he was teetering on the edge of prompting the board to violate the Brown Act.

Ever since North County voters rejected a planned water district last year, Gibson and Supervisor Adam Hill have been pushing for the state to take over management of the Paso Robles groundwater basin. However, the current board majority opposes that idea and supports local control.

A 2014 California law requires counties or local districts to manage groundwater basins that are in overdraft or turn over the responsibility over to the state. The state law sets a June 30 deadline to create groundwater sustainability agencies to manage basins in overdraft.

On March 7, the board of supervisors voted 3-2 to assume responsibility for managing groundwater basins in the county, rather than turning over the duty to the state.

In the aftermath of the hearing, supporters of Gibson and Hill criticized the vote and some of their supporters accused the board majority of violating the Brown Act. Supporters of Gibson and Hill, including the San Luis Obispo Tribune, argued the vote took place during a “receive and file” item on the board agenda, and thus, the public was not given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision.

However, County Counsel Rita Neal said the board complied with the Brown Act in its March 7 vote on groundwater management policy.

Nonetheless, at Tuesday’s meeting, about 10 public speakers criticized the March 7 vote and accused the board of violating the Brown Act. The speakers, by in large, belong to the SLO Progressives, a group that has been rallying behind Gibson and Hill in recent months.

Following the public comment period, the board voted unanimously to redo the vote on groundwater management.

In a separate but related manner, the board discussed an allegation by a supporter of a state run water district that supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong violated the Brown Act by holding a serial meeting.

Paso Robles resident Laurie Gage forwarded a letter from Creston resident Greg Grewal that Gage said showed circumstantial evidence Arnold, Compton and Peschong privately agreed to adopt a new county policy on groundwater management.

In the letter, Grewal, who is Arnold’s appointee to the county Water Resources Advisory Committee, stated he had various confidential conversations with supervisors, and he knew the board would decide to maintain local control of groundwater management.

Both Compton and Peschong, however, told CalCoastNews they never met with Grewal to discuss the issue. Peschong also said during last year’s campaign, he participated in a total of 13 debates, and in every debate he stated he was against state management of local groundwater.

“It was not a secret,” Peschong said. “I have been saying for a year that I do not want California to take over our water districts.”

Nonetheless, Gibson and Hill said the serial meeting allegation warranted an investigation by the county district attorney’s office.

Gibson made a motion to forward the issue to the district attorney’s office. But, Neal then said voting to send the issue to the district attorney without the item being agendized could itself violate the Brown Act.

After receiving the county counsel’s warning, Gibson made a new motion to place a discussion on the alleged serial meeting on a future board agenda. The board then voted unanimously in favor of Gibson’s motion.

As a result of the two votes on the alleged Brown Act violations, on April 4, the board will both revote on the groundwater management policy and renew its discussion on the the purported serial meeting.

The Ralph M. Brown Act is a stringent California open-meetings law that requires legislative bodies to conduct their business in public view.


First- This Grewal guy is obviously a tool. Who writes a letter telling of “confidential” meetings they are having. From the article it sounds like Debbie didn’t deny these meetings. He is a liability.

Second- I think the vote was on the County paying for SGMA with existing funds or needing a vote to raise taxes.


Give Gibson and Hill each a six inch brush a fifty gallon of yellow paint put them on 101 and tell them to start painting themselves our of SLO County.


It doesn’t matter who spoke at the meeting. The important part is the item will be back on the agenda for a fair review, more public visibility, and more public comment.

The Supervisors took on more regulatory authority for themselves, yet they despise the regulatory authority of others. Is their real intent to force SLO County’s urban water users to pay an unequal share of years-long studies and litigation of the mismanaged groundwater basins?

Remember: Urban water use is already measured and managed. What a rip off!


Same old G&H $hit….different day.


I just like to chuckle when the government mandates “sustainability” – when it is government that is the least sustainable entity every devised.


Grewal’s in that group that believes their quiet title action will exempt them from SGMA requirements for the Paso Basin. His property doesn’t even overlie the basin, so he’s not subject to SGMA anyway and really doesn’t have a dog in this fight. As far as the confidential conversations he’s had with Debbie….well maybe Debbie should consider distancing herself from him if this is how he holds things in confidence.


Why in God’s name would you want to turn over control of anything…. to the state of California? Answer: Regressive socialist ideology…. and it never works.

Jorge Estrada

The bottom line is that this New Board majority has the same right to represent the public as the Old Board Majority. It is amazing that the Old Board majority was successful in squelching the radio broadcast of the Board of Supervisor’s meetings (almost like have private meetings with limited public) and the remaining residue of the Old Board are beside themselves when the New Board majority actually supports property rights and the local control of the ground water basins through our existing in-house County Flood Control District. The residue members of the Old Board believe that new taxes should be assessed on land owners who’s property overlies the basin without considering that the major water source for our cities is the Salinas River Dam, that river which fills our largest basins. The State Ground Management Act is mandated so un-mandated expense will somewhat diminish, like the free stuff that people move here for. Less for the residue and more for those who chose to pay taxes.


If I was Supervisor Arnold I would replace that Grewal person right away as they don’t seem to be very truthful or working with the Supervisor who appointed them to that position.

Gibson and Hill-Torrez can’t seem to get it through their noggins that the good people of SLO County voted against State control of the management of the groundwater basin. So get a clue you two foolio’s and go with the people’s will.