Morro Bay residents win referendum petition against city hall

October 23, 2019


The citizens of Morro Bay have won the right to vote on a referendum challenging a city ordinance that allows annexation of a property where the city plans to build a $126 million sewer plant.

The proponents of the referendum, Citizens for Affordable Living, object to the city moving its waste facility to a 27 acre property near the watershed of the Morro Bay Estuary. The land for the proposed sewer plant and its high-pressure pipeline is situated a half mile from the estuary and the Back Bay, which is designated a marine protected area.

“Sewage leaks or spills will have direct flow to this area via an adjacent creek that joins Chorro Creek, one of the estuary’s two tributaries,” the grassroots group of residents said in an email. “Concern was heightened recently when PG&E announced its rolling blackouts. That’s how Puget Sound was wasted in July 2019: power outages caused two sewer plants to fail within one week of each other, dumping a total of 4.5 million gallons.”

In addition, the group has voiced concerns over what they believe to be unchecked costs. The city has already spent over $10 million on the project, even though they have not yet purchased the property or started construction.

City Manager Scott Collins said the expenditures show the city is being diligent in its approach. City funds were spent on studies, consultants, an environmental impact report and a coastal development permit.

“It has been an ethical approach,” Collins said.

The group is also concerned with soaring sewer rates. The group has suggested three other sites they believe are better suited for a sewer plant, and because the locations would substantially cut costs.

“The city likes to state that Morro Bay’s ‘water and sewer rates are on par with our neighbors.’ The statement does not match data in the May 2019 Atascadero City Council staff report,” the group said in an email. “Even prior to the latest rate increase, Morro Bay had the most expensive sewer rates of any SLO County city.”

For decades, developers have worked to gain approval to build a housing development on a 400 acre site near the corner of South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1. The city’s plan to purchase 27 acres of the property for the sewer plant, and construct and maintain infrastructure including roads, will significantly cut developer Tri-W’s costs, the group said.

“No other site has the need for the additional number of new pipelines, additional number of new pump stations, additional number of easements and encroachments as the South Bay Boulevard site,” the group said in an email. “To eliminate the $40 million cost of this 3.5-mile pipeline conveyance system would be a savings. That’s $40 a month less on a family bill.”

Before selecting the South Bay Boulevard site, city officials looked at 17 different properties, comparing costs, impacts, technical feasibility, and the property owner’s willingness to sell, Collins said.

“The citizens have had significant say at many meetings,” Collins said, painting Citizens for Affordable Living as a small but vocal group of residents.

On Oct. 22, the San Luis Obispo County Clerk Recorder’s Office verified 894 valid signatures out of the more than 1,000 collected. On Nov. 12, the Morro Bay City Council will have to choose between rescinding plans to annex the South Bay Boulevard property or putting the decision out to a vote of the people at either the March 2020 primary or the Nov. 2020 general election.

Regardless, Collins said the city will close on the South Bay Boulevard property within the next week or two, and will likely begin construction before the public votes on the referendum. While city officials would prefer to annex the property, they can build the sewer plant on county land, Collins said.

“The council majority has said they plan to move forward regardless of the moratorium,” Collins said. “If the referendum passes, we will pay property tax. If we annex, we do not have to pay property tax and we control the property.”

Betty Winholtz, a member of Citizens for Affordable Living, disagrees, saying county officials can elect to waive property taxes on land used for public utility purposes.

“They can keep it in the county, but they are doing it against the will of the people who recognize the estuary is more important than that,” Winholtz said. “When the public votes as a majority against Collins, is he still going to call us a minority.”



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So now the bigger question is what should Morro Bay do now?

The most affordable thing would be to upgrade the existing plant within the confines of the existing structures as needed. Without the effluent volume from Cayucos that became much easier:}

The Plant already made State Standards 98% of the time, except mainly when the plant recieved high flows during rain events. Deal aggressively with their infiltration and intrusion problem that causes the lack of meeting standards that 2% of the time

If it did need to be moved, put it at the more preferred site, at least by engineering realities, across the creek at the Old PG&E power plant site. They could raise the elevation of a plant built there and the existing infrastructure would be close by, as well as maintaining the 60% gravity flow that the existing plant now enjoys. Just the energy savings alone would be enormous!!!

Jamie Irons and his brethren took a pie in the sky idealistic approach, without the pragmatic reality that needed to be part of the decision making process, at the time saying it wouldn’t cost that much, that wasn’t true then, it’s really not true now:(


Yes, upgrading the existing plant is the only choice that involves municipal sanity and common sense. But there is ALSO a simple answer to the rain high flows, and you won’t find a Grade IV operator anywhere who agrees with me, however…I’ve seen it……

The rain flows are simply NOT COLLECTOR INFILTRATION.. I bought a rental years ago and it dawned on me, seeing one, so many sump pump and rain gutter flows are routed for convenience (though illegally) into a house sewer clean out. Doing so avoids having to run a pipe to a legal discharge such as a curb cut or outlet. Remove them by inspecting the town (which will itself, yes, cause an outcry) and watch the rain surges go incredibly down, and the plant should meet the standard Boldguy cites as 98%.


Good call Lame, yes illegal hook ups are a problem as well, and one of the reasons that flows spike during rail events! Add that to the fact that Morro Bay has not done much Sewer Main replacement, especially in areas that are known to have high amounts of I&I. I don’t think Morro Bay has done any smoke testing in years, which is one of the best ways to find those illegal hook ups as well as other problems:(

The City of Berkeley was recently hit with a cease and desist order due to their I&I problem,so that is something to look forward to, a problem that may be required to be fixed anyway and has the ability to make the Plant problem go away or make it much more manageable!!!


Morro Bay has a Fix-It Ticket. FULL STOP

The Fix: Do absolutely nothing and wait for the flows and loads to drop, thereby allowing the current facility to meet current and 2022 CCRWQCB 30-30-30 NPDES permit discharge limits, after Cayucos’ departure.

Morro Bay “should” work to achieve a reclaimed water source, but “reclaimed water” is not a USEPA requirement, nor is it a CCRWQCB requirement and MUST NOT be used as a pretext to financially rape the Citizens of Morro Bay for the benefit of an industry and their financial interests.

I am impressed by the knowledgeable folks comments regarding Morro Bay’s Fix-it Ticket:

Those who believe government, not so much.

This is from yesterday’s discussion:

It would seem that many are confused with the technical and legal intent and the effect of a Coastal Development Permit:

-A CDP is just an acknowledgement that the proposed project has been reviewed by and accepted as meeting the requirements of the Coastal Commission in their capacity as defined but the Coastal Act;

-It would seem that some would have us believe that the CCC has the authority to issue a Building Permit as defined by both the City and County Local Coastal Plan(s);

-If the WRF is to be constructed within the unincorporated area of the COSLO, it should have Building Permit from the County;

-If it is to be constructed on lands owned by the City of Morro Bay but not annexed into the City, it should still have a Building Permit from the County;

-If the City successfully annexes the land, the jurisdictional responsibility would fall on the City.

In the final analysis, the liability for the design/build aspects of the WRF as proposed at SBB will become the responsibility of the California registered Civil Engineer(s) signing the construction documents and the Company constructing the physical improvements. In order to determine the meaning of “Permittee” in the CDP, we need to have a better understanding of the contractual relationship between the City of Morro Bay and its Contractor(s) and Engineer(s).

Where are those contract documents? Who are the Parties to the Contracts? Does the “Contractor” actually have the financial resources needed to provide adequate responsibility for the project, or is Filanc,B&V just a shell entity devoid of any real assets. Will they be posting a surety and completion Bond from a AAA rated Construction Bonding Company that will provide the necessary financial backing to fulfill the specific and implied requirements of the CDP? Without complete and approved (by whom-the CCC) construction documents, how will we know we are getting what we are paying for in our contract(s)?

It appears to me that the City’s recent creation of a separate CA Corporation to hold the revenues derived from the WIFIA and SRF Loans as well as be the assignee of all of the Ratepayer funds previously part of the City’s Enterprise Funds, is not so much to protect the City from a failure of the WRF but to protect the Lenders (WIFIA and SRF) from the financial failure of the City. In my experience when you need to know what somebody is doing or trying to do “Follow the Money”.

Will this new Morro Bay Enterprise Corp (MBEC) be the entity paying the contractors for the WRF etc.?

What level of Public oversight will we have over the MB Enterprise Corp?:

-Considering that almost everything done so far by the City has been excluded via “Closed Session”

-Will we expect more or less financial transparency if/when the WRF comes under the control of the MBEC?

Morro Bay has a Fix-It Ticket. FULL STOP

mb business owner

Go back to jamie irons, christine johnson and noah smuckler who were the individuals who stopped the original renovation of the plant. In 2015 these are the individuals who are responsible for the cluster that we now find ourselves in. Funny how none of these individuals are involved in government anymore and likely can’t even be found. But if you happen to see them in Morro Bay, thank them for the 150M dollar project that we’re going to have to pay for.


I do not know why the groups who are against the current site are not using the City’s own site selection studies to point out that the wastewater treatment facility that is used by the California Men’s Colony would now be the #1 alternative after the Hwy 41 sites are not being considered. I just don’t get it.


The Citizens for Affordable Living are about to make the cost of Morro Bays sewer unaffordable…some folks just will not learn from the past…we all sat and watched what happened in Los Osos with a group just like this one….you are not helping anyone CFAL….don’t be too smart by half…

We need a sewer that will work and get approved by all agencies involved…every delay needlessly takes money from the pockets of the residents of Morro Bay…

Kevin Rice

Rambunctious, that’s a good laugh! Jamie Irons blew up all hope for an affordable sewer with his juvenile and reckless destruction of the former plan that was years in the making. Consequently, Cayucos pulled out, leaving MB stranded on an island. An attempt to recall Irons warned of $100 sewer bill increases. Now that has come to pass…and it will be even more than $100 with the current aholes like Headding effing the town into the ground.

It is laughable, then, for anyone to purport cost and delay are the result of nearly 1,000 sane citizens trying to stop the rape in progress.


Well said, Kevin.

Very, very well said.


What you have mentioned is in the past….I’m thinking about future rate hikes that will make this one look small in comparison….and what’s laughable is thinking that stopping progress now and changing course will be more affordable…


Geez, they wanted to put the Los Osos Sewer plant right next to the library on LOVR! No sane person wanted that!


The sewer brawl in Los Osos was years in the making before the middle of town site was approved…the fact is any site and every site that was proposed was never good enough for anti sewer groups…lets remember the history of the Los Osos sewer battle correctly…and lets learn from it…lets not make the same mistakes here in Morro Bay…


Oh come on, what’s the worst that could happen? (sarcasm)


At one point MB asked every plant superintendent or utilities director to come to a think tank meeting. The purpose of the discussion was ponder other sires including the current one. The unanimous vote was to rebuild where the current plant is. This was based off cost, future operational challenges and a other consideration. Somebody needs to get a hold of this and challenge the current thought of relocation. This bit about tidal surges and sea rise is horse shit.Its another Cloisters development in the dream state. If it was a consideration then Pismo, Cambria, Cayucos, Avila and Oceano’s plant should be relocated to higher ground as well.


I’m glad to see that the referendum passed, yay for the residents of Morro Bay!!!

Morro Bay has already spent 10 Million on this project with nothing to show for it. I’ll bet that’s why Cayucos Sanitary district pulled out of their long time partnership with Morro Bay. Cayucos has started Construction of their stand alone treatment plant at a cost of $25,000.000, including purchasing the land. Morro Bay’s Plant is expected to cost around $150,000,000. The cost for the original upgrade to the existing Plant was right around $35,000,000, shared between the two community’s. The Morro Bay City Council at the time publicly said that it wouldn’t cost that much more to move the plant, especially with Cayucos paying a hefty share of the cost, how wrong they were:(

So many Morro Bay residents have drank the Kool-Aid, that the plant needed to be moved, because of the proximity to the Beach, wrong then, wrong now, at least two plants have been permitted and up graded that are as close or closer to the Beach!

Moving it is a Environmental disaster, 60% of the flow of effluent to the existing plant is by gravity, the new plant would be 100% pumped to the plant, plus 100% of the treated effluent being pumped back to the outfall line, the energy costs alone will be staggering:(

If Morro bay would of consulted with there partner instead of being dictatorial to them, this whole thing could of been averted, either by going through the process of upgrading the existing plant, or joining them at the Plant that Cayucos is Building, my understanding is that the Cayucos Plant could of added enough capacity for Morro bay for an additional $50,000,000!!!

Instead they pissed away $10,000,000 on this boondoggle:(


Well put, Snoid and Boldguy but with only a few dozen upvotes, how is Morro Bay NOW going to save itself from calamitous over-spending by a blind, stupefyingly-dumb, unconscionable city council and a typically council-driven arrogant city manager? Your point about the tidal flood risk being illusory horse fecal is correct, and the tens of pointless millions should go to upgrading the existing plant. It’s not too late but the public would have to show up by the thousands with pitchforks and tar (figuratively speaking) at this point in the debacle. Like Los Osos, the uncalled for missteps will be easy to autopsy later, once the stupid plant is built, and Morro Bay seniors are priced out of town by the Irons arrogance and municipal sabotage.

I’m so sorry to see Morro Bay incur the monthly costs of Los Osos or worse, basically from the similar misdirection by elected officials and a public understandably too busy with life to grasp and REVERSE the thermonuclear scale of the idiocy of their elected leaders.