Special favors benefit SLO County supervisor, anger his neighbors

April 24, 2022

SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson


San Luis Obispo County has a reputation for rigorously enforcing building and land use regulations. But, when it came to Supervisor Bruce Gibson, county staff skirted both planning regulations and state law to allow him to build a 727-square-foot addition and 208-square-foot deck.

When the special treatment was uncovered, SLO County staff, (1) took documents from the file offline, (2) said the documents did not exist, (3) said they were not sure where the documents were and could have been lost, and, (4) that there were no documents for property exemptions for the project.

When Gibson’s home was built decades ago in Cayucos, it was placed less than 2 feet from the property line, which currently makes it a legal non-conforming structure. The minimum set back requirement is 3 feet for a conforming structure, while 4 feet is usually required.

During the process of approving the project, county documents showed a 23-inch setback.

While Gibson legally can occupy his home, SLO County Title 23.09.030, requires that a non-conforming structure be brought into compliance before it can be altered or increased.

Initially, when Gibson decided to add on to his home, he asked his next-door neighbor Jack Keely to let him buy a slice of his property for $2,000, which would have made Gibson’s home a conforming structure. Keely declined the offer, he  said.

Gibson then threatened to get a lot line adjustment, Keely said.

But no lot line adjustment was made, and, in 2016 Gibson applied to the county for a permit for a complete remodel and to add a two-story addition on to the back of his house.

That should have resulted in the county mailing notices to all neighbors within 300 feet of Gibson’s property. Keely said he never received a notice.

After learning Gibson’s remodel plan would block her home’s view of the Pacific Ocean and Morro Rock, Carol Knapp sought a hearing. She dropped her request after being told that she would likely lose her bid to stop Gibson’s project, according to records from the planning hearing on April 21, 2017.

Even though it usually takes three to four months to schedule a hearing with the planning department, Gibson’s project went in front of the hearing officer in less than six weeks.

And while projects are typically listed by the property owner’s name, in this case, Gibson’s name was not listed on the hearing calendar. Instead, the name listed was “Smith.” As a result, no one other than two county staffers attended the SLO County Planning Department hearing.

During the April 21, 2017 hearing, Terry Wahler, a county project manager, asked hearing officer Rob Fitzroy to approve Gibson’s plan for the 727 square foot addition, a 208 square-foot deck and an interior remodel. He said the project complied with all county regulations.

During his slide show, Wahler showed a drawing that lists the side setback next to Keely’s home as 23 inches, according to records on the county meeting website.

“This is an aerial of the site, and as you can see, it is a little snug on the side setbacks, but there is plenty of room for this addition in the center rear of the project site,” Wahler said during his presentation.

Saying that the project met all requirements, Fitzroy then moved to approve.

The county signed off on the project about a year and a half ago. Gibson then put a shale and concrete walkway that covered part of Keely’s property.

After Keely ordered Gibson to stop encroaching on his lot, Keely paid for a survey which showed Gibson’s encroachment. He tried to hire a lawyer to sue the county supervisor, but four attorneys turned him down noting Gibson’s position of power, he said.

Recently, Gibson had his walkway cut from Keely’s property. Keely is planning to put a fence along the property line to stop Gibson from further encroaching on his property, he said.

Jack Keely’s home

Since the project’s approval, all documents related to the project — DRC 2016-00077 — were taken offline while the permit application cover page remains on the county’s website. The few documents available, show the project was signed off on even though requirements such as having the addition setback four feet from the property line were not met.

According to California law, county planning documents are public records. In response to a request to see the permit file, planning department staffer Deanna Pategue first said the file did not exist, before saying most of the file was missing. She then provided the seven remaining file pages: the findings, conditions of approval and the notice of final county action.

“Contact the planner, he would know what he did with the records,” Pategue said.

Even though the county is legally required to retain planning records, Wahler said he was not sure where he put them, and that he doesn’t like people showing up at the desk and asking to see records.

“We cannot just find them, we have so many,” Wahler said. “What if it is lost and we can’t find it.”

Wahler called back, and said County Counsel Rita Neal said reporters can only get records through her.

In response to a Public Records Request for any exemptions the county awarded the project, and questions about the non-conforming home, Neal responded that there were no documents available and that the property was a conforming use.

“There are no documents responsive to your request because there was no exemption. The single family house is in residential zoning,” Neal wrote in an email. “According to our local coastal program, it is a principally permitted and thus a legal and conforming use.”

But the home’s zoning does not affect its status as a non-conforming structure.

Neal also falsely claimed there were no exemptions given to the project, although CalCoastNews had obtained a March 21, 2017, document which showed that Wahler gave Gibson a categorical (CEQA) exemption, according to the county document.

Gibson’s response to questions about the non-conforming structure and issues with Keely was to forward Neal’s email.

Neal then sent a second email, on Saturday afternoon, saying that her interpretation of Title 23 is that is does allow for adding on to a legal non-conforming structure.

“Proposed alterations or expansions consistent with all applicable provisions of this title (Title 23), when accompanied by any additional alterations necessary to bring the entire building or structure into conformity with all applicable provisions of Title 19 of this code.”

Title 23.09.030 requires 3 feet side setbacks.

Even though county officials say there are no issues with the project, about five county planning department employees visited Gibson’s home on Friday, Keely said.

Elected in 2006, Gibson is the longest-serving member of the SLO County Board of Supervisors. He is currently running for reelection.

Keely recently hung two large banners on his home, asking his neighbors to vote for Bruce Jones, one of Gibson’s opponents, for District 2 supervisor.

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People like Bruce Gibson, who have been impeding individual property rights for 30+ years in the name of open space(I got mine, you ain’t getting yours) they get special treatment in small localities in Ca. Don’t like it…..move….that’s all you can do in this groovy land called California. As a longtime contractor, I speak from experience.

So Bruce has been on the BOS for umpteen years and finally did something wrong? No, I’d say it’s a part of local political culture to abuse power like Bruce did. It has nothing to do with conservative vs. liberal, but has everything to do with the fact that local elected officials typically lack ethics and morals, and thus take advantage of the system when they can. It’s always been that way, and from the looks of the bottom feeders running for office this time around, it’s going to continue being that way for quite some time.

Every city or county I’ve ever built in has always had a 5’ minimum set back.

Bruce took an interest in the EWS project for Cambria . Maybe worth investigating his role along with SLO staff. Just a suggestion

Even on a simple issue like this, the corruption shines through. Now you have to wonder when there is an item involving real money, like for example the IWMA debacle, what have they all done to not only ignore the rules, but rely upon corrupt staff, to cover things up. Wade Horton knows who his master is and his job is to cover the master’s backside at all cost.

Who else is waiting for The Trib to come to Gibson’s defense and print their side of the story?

This statement is really disturbing: “Wahler said. “What if it is lost and we can’t find it.”” That means the county planning dept. has no chain of custody procedure where someone must sign-out the file, so the dept knows whose hands the file has passed through. How can Wahler jump to the conclusion that the file is lost when there are still some items in the folder? Wahler didn’t state instead, What if it is lost or STOLEN? Why not entertain nefarious activity? Who has keys and unescorted access? Does Gibson ever go behind the counter or do his county office keys give him access to the planning dept.? Did Neal ask the Sheriff to investigate yet? Since Gibson is being paid by the county and the planning file is missing things, doesn’t Gibson have the concern or benevolence for the planning dept. to save face of a missing file by trying to help the planning dept. re-populate the file since they share the same employer? None of this though, stops a necessary audit, a causal investigation, resultant procedural intervention and training to keep it from occurring again.

“Keely recently hung two large banners on his home, asking his neighbors to vote for Bruce Jones.” That seems to be what this tiff is about!

The story does highlight a serious record-keeping issue locally. I’ve run into the same sort of “lost it, can’t find it, doesn’t exist” response when trying to get records I’ve previously viewed from the Slocity planners. They’ve become expert at losing things they want to lose. This has to stop.

As for some of the other allegations of the story, they reflect some misunderstanding of planning matters by the author. A legal non-conforming structure can have a conforming addition — allowing that is law, not a “favor.” A “categorical exemption” is not something over which planners have discretion — it’s automatic, by law.

And arguing whether a setback is 23″ or two feet (24″) is just silly. Surveys aren’t accurate enough for that sort of distinction.

You may need to reread the article, it says the minimum setback is 3 ft., 36″ inches, and normally 4ft, so a 23″ setback is wrong by 13″, not 1″ as you claim, so not silly.