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Compton's problem child: As Oceano's two advisory councils continue bickering, SLO County supervisors could pull the plug on one

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Twenty-six years after setting up advisory councils, the SLO County Board of Supervisors is about to discuss withdrawing recognition of one that has existed since the beginning.

Following years of belligerent interactions with its critics and bouts of infighting, the Oceano Advisory Council (OAC) is in jeopardy. On Dec. 6, supervisors will debate deauthorizing the council after 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton brought up the idea following a community-driven petition she received opposing the OAC's approach to a vacation rental ordinance.

MONEY MATTERS Donations from three members of the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano to 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton's primary campaign are similar to the amount of funding the group received for holiday events, according to the Oceano Advisory Council's Bonnie Ernst. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • MONEY MATTERS Donations from three members of the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano to 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton's primary campaign are similar to the amount of funding the group received for holiday events, according to the Oceano Advisory Council's Bonnie Ernst.

"Supervisor Compton has said in the past that the OAC has overreached its sphere of responsibility. We don't think the OAC represents her," council Vice Chair April Dury said. "No advisory council was created to represent a supervisor. You represent your community, and you only give your recommendation [to the supervisors]. No advisory council has government ability to make actual decisions."

The county adopted a policy on Dec. 10, 1996, to authorize advisory councils in 11 unincorporated areas. These regions were Avila Valley, Cayucos, South County, Santa Margarita, Shandon, Creston, North Coast, Los Osos, San Miguel, Templeton, and Oceano.

Advisory councils advise county decision makers on planning matters and make recommendations on proposed plans, ordinances, and developments based on the wishes of the community. Advisory councils don't make actual policy decisions.

"Advisory councils were created but they were not created for supervisors to pick the people that are on advisory councils, like the Planning Commission or the Airport Land Use Commission, who get to make actual decisions in the government," Dury said.

She added that she's not in favor of advisory councils being exempt from the Brown Act, which dictates that meetings of public bodies must be "open and public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting, except as otherwise provided in this chapter."

"I think, personally, that that was a mistake on the county's side, in that advisory councils now and not at any time had any requirement to turn over documents and abide by the Brown Act in any way," she said.

Advisory councils in the region are counseled by a county-issued handbook from 2013, which recommends that advisory councils follow the Brown Act. Dury thinks it needs to be updated. Because advisory councils work on land use projects within the boundaries of the communities they represent, the handbook states that they're supposed to work with the county Planning Department. That department appoints a liaison to each council. But Dury said that the OAC lost contact with its liaison at the end of 2021.

"As our liaison, they have certain requirements to help us," she said. "They're supposed to be a resource for general questions—haven't seen them for a year. They're supposed to attend our community meetings—haven't seen them."

Mark LaRue, the county's deputy director of planning, told New Times that of the county's 14 advisory councils, the OAC, the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano (VACO), and the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council don't have liaisons.

"These vacancies are due to recent staff departures, and a new liaison will be assigned as soon as new staff is trained," he said. "Planning management is available to attend any [advisory council] meeting on an interim basis if requested in advance by the [council] chairperson."

He added that the handbook from 2013 is still relevant and applicable, but changes are expected.

"The handbook may be updated in 2023 for future training," LaRue said. "Training has historically been provided annually but was suspended due to the COVID pandemic. The last training took place in July 2019, and new [advisory council] training is tentatively scheduled for February/March 2023."

However, a representative of Oceano's new advisory council, VACO, thinks that not having a current liaison shouldn't be a problem. Adam Verdin, a VACO member and co-owner of Old Juan's Cantina, told New Times that the county typically sends a liaison to answer questions a council may have when they deliberate on a project using a referral sheet with community input and a staff report. The council then writes up its thoughts on the project, and the referral sheet will contain contact information for county staff.

"I can see where it might be helpful, where maybe an advisory council may be doing something they're not supposed to be doing," he said. "I don't know how to put this more gently, but do you really need a liaison to not cuss people out?"

Verdin was referring to Dury's inflammatory social media posts and allegations from others that she insulted tourists and vacation rental owners. Dury maintained that she spoke in the capacity of an individual resident of Oceano and not as a top member on the advisory council.

VACO was formed in 2021, which some believe was an attempt to replace the more left-leaning OAC, according to previous New Times reporting.

POLITICAL MORASS More than a year after the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted to allow a second advisory council in Oceano, 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton is asking her colleagues to decertify the first. - COVER FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Cover File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • POLITICAL MORASS More than a year after the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted to allow a second advisory council in Oceano, 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton is asking her colleagues to decertify the first.

Dury added that Supervisor Compton unfairly favors VACO and that she hasn't attended any recent OAC meetings despite the council repeatedly sending her the agenda and invitations to sit in.

Compton didn't respond to New Times' multiple requests for comment.

Verdin said that VACO invited her to its community events, which she attended. He added that the OAC inserts itself into the political framework of SLO County, which is part of the problem.

"They're like a political action committee, like writing letters to Coastal Commission about OHV [off-highway vehicle driving]. It's tied to their mission, to ban OHV [driving]," he said. "They're passionate about it; there's nothing wrong with their viewpoint. But to me, and I think a lot of community members, this is not the purpose of an advisory council, to bolster your personal views."

A move to decertify an advisory council would be unprecedented in SLO County's advisory council history. The closest attempt was in 2011 when Compton's predecessor Paul Teixeira wanted to merge all of the advisory councils in the 4th District into one group, with members appointed by him. Teixeira retracted his proposal following mass community outcry.

The OAC is preparing documents to argue against decertification, Chair Charles Varni said during the Nov. 17 OAC meeting. At that meeting, council member Bonnie Ernst said that three members of VACO donated to Compton's primary election campaign to retain her supervisorial seat.

According to campaign finance documents for the primary, spanning 2021 and 2022, Verdin donated $1,750; VACO Chair and Oceano Community Services District Director Linda Austin gave $1,200; and VACO member and Rock and Roll Diner owner Marios Pouyioukkas contributed $125 to Compton's campaign. In total, the trio supplied $3,070 to Compton. At the Nov. 8 supervisors' meeting, VACO received $4,350 from District 4 Community Project Funds to bankroll their holiday community events and regular operational costs.

"VACO seems to have received funding proportional to what three of its members donated to Supervisor Compton's campaign in 2022. Since none of us in this council donated anything to her campaign, we received nothing," Ernst said at the Nov. 17 meeting. "Is that how the county really wants their advisory councils to be funded? If this happens to us now, could it happen to Los Osos and Avila?" Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at [email protected].

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