Change is hard, but a long time coming for Los Osos

June 17, 2024

Julie Tacker


The headlines read, “Building moratorium could be lifted” and then “Coastal Commission approves plan to lift Los Osos building moratorium.” What reporters didn’t say is that there is not a “building moratorium” presently or in the recent past.

The only actual building moratorium was established in 1983 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board when it passed Resolution 83-13. Over the ensuing five years, the County of San Luis Obispo, as the land use authority, allowed approximately 1,150 homes to be built in Los Osos (230 homes a year) using septic systems. Since 1988, septic systems were prohibited in the urban area, also known as the prohibition zone.

The impacts of this rapid development harmed our only source of water, the groundwater basin. The issues were two-fold, one, with little to no understanding of “water conservation,” the first generation of low flow toilets were mandated in California in 1992. The fixtures in the pre-1988 homes were water hogs, each flush used anywhere from 3 to 6 gallons of water to do one’s business and showerheads gobbled up to 5 gallons per minute. This was a tremendously wasteful time.

Two, the nitrates in our waste such as human, soaps and fertilizers, were polluting our upper aquifer, a section of the basin we had once used for drinking. The plan is to use this part of the aquifer again someday once diluted and meets potable standards.

The infamous Los Osos sewer wars were never really about sewage, they were always about water quality and quantity.

In 2016, the prohibition on septic systems was addressed with the construction of the $200 million Los Osos Recycled Water Facility (LOWRF) was built and operational.

A de facto moratorium, specific to the prohibition zone, was a result of the Coastal Commission condition of approval dubbed “special condition six” which was attached to the water recycling facility permit that required demonstration that the groundwater basin could sustain new development, with buildout limits before new hook ups would be allowed.

With the efforts outlined below, the county presented its evidence on June 13th, and was able to convince the Coastal Commission that we, as a community, have more than met the test.

Over the last two decades, since Los Osos water purveyors litigated and settled by a court approved judgement, millions of dollars and thousands of man/woman-hours, have contributed to the Los Osos Groundwater Basin Management Plan, including citizen input.

The 2023 Annual Monitoring Report shows the Herculean efforts by all involved have been successful in adapting groundwater well pumping schemes, replacing thousands of high flow plumbing fixtures, and retiring old wells and building new ones, to preserve and care for the basin. The monitoring and management trends are favorable.

In 1972, the population of Los Osos was approximately 3,500 and groundwater production by water purveyors was about 970-acre feet per year. Then peak urban demand soared to 2,560-acre feet in 1988 and has dropped to 1,016-acre feet in 2022 — a reduction of more than 60%.

Today, Los Osos uses essentially the same amount of water it did in 1972, currently with a population of 14,200. There is still water to be conserved, new development, at its cost, will be required to off-set its water use by 2:1. New development will actually save more water for Los Osos than it uses today.  In addition, new development is slated to pay for the majority of costs associated with adding State Water as a second source for Los Osos which will complement our groundwater supply.

The 1% residential growth rate the county will approve in the near term equates to approximately 60 new homes (a combined mix of multi-family and single-family) per year. With today’s high cost of construction and interest rates, it is unlikely we would see 60 homes under construction in any given year.

There are several public process steps ahead for the County before any new permits for vacant parcels are considered.  The County’s Resource Management System will be amended to reduce Los Osos’ Level of Severity III, to a less severe state, the Growth Management Ordinance will need to be amended to reflect this new growth rate, and jump-start the Los Osos Habitat Conservation Plan, all of this takes time.

New development brings revenue to the county. These new homes will pay their fair share of the LOWRF, reducing the cost to the current users. The new development will increase property tax revenue and pay impact fees to the county to provide park, school, traffic, habitat conservation, and public facilities (for library and emergency services) to be utilized for infrastructure improvements and further establish and maintain the greenbelt in Los Osos that we all use and enjoy.

Change is hard, but a long time coming for Los Osos.


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This is a scam a long time in the making. We were told to save water, which we did. The result of saving water was to give that the water companies a justification for raising their prices so that they could take care of the pipes. The county is operating in the red; another way to help out that problem is to increase the tax base by building more houses; I don’t see the timing as being coincidental. I don’t see the Los Osos water supply as being stable, particularly since there are so many unmetered wells. The message I’m taking away from all this is to fight back in the only way we can: waste as much water as you can afford.

The definition of chutzpah is Julie Tacker taking credit for everything she opposed every step of the way.

There are property owners in Los Osos who’ve not been allowed to develop their property… imagine that you purchased a vacant lot in Los Osos for your dream home and then you were told you couldn’t build on that property… and you have sat and watched for years as your property falls in value…

Or you wanted to add on to your home and put in a new bathroom and were told no… people please think about this and place yourself in their shoes…

All of you folks in Cabrillo estates who enjoy your ocean view homes are very fortunate when the county allowed those homes to be built… I lived here back then and can remember the fight that caused….

“In their shoes”. So; enough money to have bought property in the first place, enough money to make additions to their already owned homes, and an investment that in reality should have been researched more thoroughly… My sympathies and ability to put myself( a 30 year local struggling to stick around) in their shoes is minimal.

If this goes through… 10 years from now there will be no one from this town, left in this town. Who’s really being served here? The greed and insincerity behind this push to basically destroy the place for money is gross.

I wouldn’t worry about this. Existing homeowners who are locked into low property taxes likely won’t leave. Those that need to move for medical reasons, or those that pass away, can leave their homes to their heirs, some of whom may choose to stay in the community. The problem for would be homebuyers in Los Osos now, and the central coast in general, is that home prices have increased 50-100% in the past 3 years. That alone priced out everyone except the wealthy, high six figure earners, and people who have existing home equity that can be used to buy there. The lifting of the moratorium won’t make much of a difference unless many of the new homes built are large, luxury homes that significantly increase the average price per square foot for the town. If that happens, existing older homes will be worth more as tear downs (for land value) than as a home someone would buy to live in. This has been happening all over Southern California, which has caused many previously affordable areas to become completely gentrified and now only affordable to the super wealthy. Hopefully that doesn’t happen in Los Osos.

Where does the author own property? Seems like there should be a declaration of interests somewhere in the opinion piece.

She owns two properties in Los Osos. She was previously a director on the CSD board and is a member of the Los Osos Community Advisory Council Land Use Committee.

Another outcome of the terrible SLO County Fiscal policy and enormous budget shortfalls

I just want to say, THANK YOU!! Thank you Julie for caring enough about our communities to keep your watchful eye! You have been a true asset to this county. Whenever I hear your name, whenever you are involved, I do a little “Go Julie” happy dance! Thank you for doing what many of us think needs to be done, but life, laziness, lack of finesse get in the way.