Is SLO County staff working to reduce public participation?

April 22, 2019

Julie Tacker

By JULIE TACKER

As a countywide government watcher from Los Osos, I have been expecting the long-awaited Morro Bay sewer plant proposal to make its way through San Luis Obispo County’s approval process and perhaps to the California Coastal Commission. This would be the normal process, since the city has chosen a location outside city limits.

But now the city is wanting to skip the county approval process and move straight to the California Coastal Commission, in an item located on the SLO County Board of Supervisor agenda. If approved, this would greatly inhibit the public of its right to be heard locally. Public comment helps shape projects to better fit their community and mitigate impacts.

Under the same agenda number, staff is requesting that SLO County Planning Director Trevor Keith have the abilty to consoldate future permitting requests in the Coastal Zone.

The new planning director, just hired in August, would then have the authority to approve or deny consolidation of requests that are exempt from CEQA, at his discretion, without the benefit of a board hearing or public input. This authority will apply to all projects in the coastal zone, including the three coastal supervisorial districts, from San Simeon to Nipomo.

Many comparisons have been made between Los Osos’ wastewater woes and the Morro Bay situation. What hasn’t been articulated is that the local approvals for Los Osos took into consideration the full breadth of the public who ultimately live with the finished product, its impacts and paid handsomely for it.

The local approvals for Los Osos included 111 conditions crafted by the county planning commission. The Coastal Commission added just nine special conditions. The heavy lifting was done locally, benefiting the public and resulting in a superior project.

The permit consolidation request (item 16) is included on the consent agenda with 27 other items on the Board of Supervisors calendar for Tuesday. Consent calendars are for routine items, that are approved collectively and generally have little, or no public comment or concerns. This process is used for ordinary government duties, like awarding grants, standard contracts and appointing individuals to commissions and advisory boards.

The consent calendar is not the place for this consolidation request to be heard. Citizens of Morro Bay are already upset with the project and the matter should be taken up in a full hearing. This would allow the public access to their representatives with plenty of notice.

Both the city’s request for a consolidated permit and the county board, abdicating its authority to the Planning Director, fly in the face of the California Public Resources Code that recognizes the value of the public. Section 30601(a)(2) says, “The applicant, the appropriate local government, and the commission, which may agree through its executive director, consent to consolidate the permit action, provided that public participation is not substantially impaired by that review consolidation.”

The county’s approach to both these items impairs the public’s ability to participate. Both of these requests should be rescheduled and heard separately in properly noticed public hearings.


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LameCommenter

Morro Bay well summarized by your post, mb business owner. One day the MB/LO circuitous and tortured wastewater debacles and incredible waste of money done by a few tragically misguided and power mad elected officials will make a good college textbook on municipal affairs gone mad with misjudgment, arrogance, and mushroom cloud-sized stupidity inflicted on a populace.


Check Calif Gov. Code 61105 (2) (A) to see how Los Osos CSD board was stripped of it’s wastewater system construction authority (contrary to an authors claims posted below).


mercut1469

English spoken here?


mb business owner

We are in this mess, as a result of jamie irons, christine johnson and noah smuckler, three former city council members (interesting they are no longer serving), who asked the california coastal commission to deny the original sewer project some 5 years ago because they had a better plan that was only 20M more – whoops, i guess they meant only 100M more. Now the city finds themselves in a pickle and needs to move quickly (thus the consolidation request) to not lose funding or whatever they are selling now. Hopefully the BOS will allow the ill conceived project to go through the normal permitting process.


kayaknut

I doubt that the problems Morro Bay currently have only started 5 years ago. For most cities with similar problems the problems started more than a decade ago. Its just no group of elected or hired individuals have done much to fix them for a number of reasons but many just want to look at a group on the other side and claim they are the only ones to blame. There actually is enough blame for both sides


LameCommenter

It is oh so difficult to remain on topic of the BOS vote tomorrow given that the author doomed Los Osos to much higher monthly costs and the LOCSD board she sat on was STRIPPED of it’s wastewater authority by a rare UNANIMOUS vote of both houses of the California Legislature, however in this opinion article the author is solidly correct. There is no way such authority, even for small CEQA-exempt projects, should be vested in an administrative official.


The larger grief in all this is owning in Los Osos and sitting and observing Morro Bay “Los Os-ize” itself into a hideous and unneeded expense by not renovating it’s existing plant and sending some of it’s influent to the oversized (by .6MGD) Los Osos plant, which would by benefit of scale help rescue Los Osans a bit from their plant operating expense.


Morro Bay folk should take up the pitchforks and petition the Coastal Commission for a common sense refurbish of their existing plant, and boot their crazed, lunatic council, at a savings of MILLIONS.


Julie

Hey Lame,


The reason there are higher costs for Los Osos wastewater customers is because the 2005 board couldn’t wait for the recall election and proceeded with the force fit location for a sewer plant in the middle of town. The decisions made by that board, entering into contracts, tearing up the town, and then the county’s pursuit of the next stupidest location at the Toninin Ranch and settling the ARB Constructors lawsuit are what drove up the costs.


As for being “stripped” of it’s WW authority, that is simply not accurate, in fact, the LOCSD still has WW as a latent power — we can only hope that district doesn’t try to exercise it.


LameCommenter

Not accurate? “Latent power”.? My post is not accurate? LOCSD was stripped.

Start with: these excerpts of CURRENT LAW, Government Code 61105 (2) (A) (I) created by Senate Bill 263 by Strickland.

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:

(SIGNED BY GOVERNOR 07/02/2009 I believe.)

SECTION 1. Section 61105 of the Government Code is amended to read:


61105. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that the unique circumstances that exist in certain communities justify the enactment of special statutes for specific districts.


(2) (A) Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, on and after January 1, 2007, the Los Osos Community Services District shall not undertake any efforts to design, construct, and operate a community wastewater collection and treatment system within, or for the benefit of, the district.


Julie, I’d call that “being stripped of authority”. Looks pretty cut and dried to me. Your concept of “latent power” doesn’t appear in the section or any I can locate.


And quit blaming the Gustafson board for resolving nine lawsuits and contracting for a project WAY BEFORE your DISASTROUS recall seizure of power damaged the town. Your cohort won by a few votes and walked out back to a going, commenced, funded and sensible project and said “never mind” to tens of millions in signed contracts. I know you thought you knew “best” for the town, but please don’t try to re-write the history or EXPENSE of your disaster. Move on and be a good civic gadfly without denying the past, most of Los Osos is paying dearly for it.


Mike Morgan

Dear Lame, The Coastal Commission is an enforcement entity. Go ahead rattle their cage and you will pay millions more…not less.


Mjd

Folks,


As usual, our local government, which is supposed to represent the local people, uses their power to minimize or eliminate public input.


Shame on SLO County.


George Garrigues

“The heavy lifting was done locally, benefiting the public and resulting in a superior project.” Interesting thought. Of course, MB is a city, which means much of the heavy lift has already been done.


Julie

Morro Bay has done no lifting on the fact that their plan interferes with ambulance service to Los Osos.