In 2007, historic newsmakers, rabble rousers, opinion spouters, and characters from near and far all found their way into the pages of New Times for the second, third, fourth, fifth--up to maybe the dozenth or hundredth time.
You'll recognize them all: Sheriff Pat Hedges. Wal-Mart. Ernie Dalidio. Tom Copeland. Medical marijuana. They've made headlines for years, and all signs seem to be pointing to them making headlines for years to come.
To be fair, 2007 did mark major developments for some classic stand-bys--including what could be the final phase of sewer development in Los Osos--but if this year's trend holds true, you'll see most (if not all) of the familiar players throughout 2008 and beyond.
The new year dawned on a safecracking attempt on San Luis Obispo's Fredericks Street. The crime appeared to be linked to at least one prior robbery--involving medicinal marijuana--at the same house. Officers publicly connected the victim of the earlier robbery to Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay, foreshadowing legal action soon to descend upon the cannabis provider.
The threat of cease-and-desist orders hung over a group of Los Osos residents and their septic systems, prompting homeowners to worry about possible future fines.
As the month wound to a close, CSU Faculty Union members picketed at Cal Poly, Santa Margarita residents braced themselves for the impact of new development, and SLO Code Pink members flew to Washington, D.C., to join protests against the war.
On the water, the Morro Bay fishing community set sail in the face of change, meeting with scientists and decision-makers to help chart a course for the sustainable future of the industry. On the land, farmers and agriculture workers sought aid after a January freeze decimated crops and jobs.
The San Luis Obispo City Council approved taller buildings--up to six stories--for downtown SLO. Opponents of the new height limits worried that construction would cast a shadow over the town's charm.
Confident of its anti-Mardi Gras efforts of the past few years, the SLO Police Department scaled back its presence on Fat Tuesday and made fewer arrests than even a typical Tuesday night. The party was indeed over.
March was a month of colorful contrasts. Protestors donned all-white garments for a candlelight vigil, objecting to the presence of Daniel Pipes, who spoke at Cal Poly on "Israel, America, and Middle East Threats." Solid black walls and scaffolding marked construction on the Apple Store--complete with controversial frosted windows--in downtown San Luis Obispo. And protestors forewent the typical St. Patrick's Day green to wear pink while commemorating the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
- SEEING GREEN : The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department teamed up with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to raid the Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers medicinal marijuana dispensary in March. The shop eventually shut down, and its owner was arrested. He pleaded not guilty to charges associated with marijuana sales.
# Green carried through to McCarthy's shamrock holiday celebration, when bartenders served the last Jameson shots and glasses of Guinness at the establishment's historic Court Street location. Drinkers waited for hours to tip their last pint at the bar before it moved to its new home on Marsh Street.
Also in green news, the other shoe dropped for Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers in Morro Bay when members of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Narcotics Unit and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency teamed up to serve warrants at the business, as well as the home of owner Charles Lynch. The agents seized plants, computers, and money, and arrested a shop employee on suspicions relating to selling marijuana.
As March went out like a lamb, dusty farmers hoped for April showers. Over the dry winter, they watched pastures wither from green to brown and saw their cattle grow thin.
New Times discovered that local law enforcement agencies were dealing with dwindling resources, finding fewer applicants to fill thinning ranks. The world of medicine, however, was facing a glut of hopeful nurses, prompting Cuesta College to refuse to accept new applications for its registered nursing program.
Johnson Avenue residents and neighbors took up arms against a city proposal to annex and develop parcels on San Luis Obispo's hillsides, drawing the city's greenbelt into sharp focus.
Investigations also uncovered that a Paso Robles woman accused of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old boy was working outside of her formal job responsibilities at Flamson Middle School when the alleged incident occurred. She later pleaded no contest and was jailed.
Locals worried about death in May. Water supplies were dying, golf courses were dying, bees were dying. Everywhere you looked, something was dying--including rancher-turned-developer Ernie Dalidio's hopes that construction would begin on his fallow land anytime soon (see the infobox on page 12 for a summary of the year's Dalidio developments--or lack thereof).
The SLO County Board of Supervisors asked the Regional Water Quality Control Board to hold off on ordering thousands of Los Osos property owners to stop using their septic tanks by 2011. Failure to meet that deadline would result in harsh fines. The water board rejected the request and pushed forward with the orders, despite the lack of a definite plan for a sewer.
Two Atascadero councilmembers faced a recall attempt, communities around the county explored desalination in an attempt to ease water woes, and the Morro Bay marijuana dispensary closed its doors after its landlord said he was intimidated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
It looked like the Los Osos Community Services District was about to get a new general manager, but the leading contender backed out at the last minute. It looked like the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission would approve a Templeton-based medical marijuana dispensary, but a park near the proposed site sent the process into a series of delays that ultimately extended into 2008. It looked like Atascadero leaders might implement a controversial creek setback ordinance, but a successful petition drive turned it back.
Nature showed its tougher side as shark sightings closed the waters off of Avila Beach, a heat wave pressured the county into opening centers to keep people cool, and a fire flared in the hills above Cal Poly.
Cambria fire officials' attempts to reduce threats of blazes upset residents who didn't want to clear out brush. The San Luis Obispo City Council voted to limit funding to public access television, which was plagued with infighting and feuding families. A sex sting put a kinky spotlight on Pirate's Cove--or at least the nearby parking lot.
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County narcotics officers teamed up to seize 61,000 marijuana plants growing east of Twitchell Reservoir--the biggest bust ever for Santa Barbara County. In other ganja news, Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers' Charles Lynch was arrested and held for federal charges related to profits from selling pot. He later pleaded not guilty.
As the real estate market declined, opposition groups rose around
- BED TACTICS : In August, a long-running permit and zoning battle between the county and Sunny Acres owner Dan De Vaul took a public turn as residents of the self-styled sobriety center set up steel bunk beds along Los Osos Valley Road. They slept outdoors to draw attention to the facility, which they argue picks up where the county fails.
The San Luis Obispo City Council moved the Nacimiento Pipeline project forward, while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestled with a stalled state budget.
After hours of public comment related to a long-running viewshed ordinance issue, county supervisors voted to tentatively approve the least stringent of all options. And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Steve Diamond's adult-themed Grover Beach store could return its inventory to all adult-related items. The shop had previously been ordered to cut back on its explicit merchandise because of a "family-oriented" ordinance. City officials decided to appeal the federal court's decision, but later changed their mind.
August closed with a bang. A lightning storm struck the same night as the County Sheriff's Department, which teamed up with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to raid homes in Shandon and Paso Robles. Forty people were arrested, and a dozen were sent to Los Angeles for deportation proceedings.
- NATIONAL HOPEFUL : Dennis Kucinich, who hopes to get the Democratic presidential nomination, made a stop in San Luis Obispo in September. "This campaign isn't about a political version of American Idol," he said. "It's about taking us away from war and connecting us with the health of our nation and health in every way.
# New Times began operating out of a new location at the start of the month. If the number of people who still tell us how they went to the old building before they finally found us is any indication, a lot of you still don't know where we are. Once again, it's 1010 Marsh St. in downtown SLO.
The SLO City Council put its final stamp of approval on taller buildings in downtown San Luis Obispo, while the Copeland family scaled back their ambitious Chinatown project. But that news was overshadowed by a $1.25-million claim filed against the sheriff's department (see the infobox on page 11 for a summary of the situation).
No-fishing zones went into effect off the Central Coast, a Cal Poly-based group encouraged locals to think small when it comes to nano-ethics, and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich made a stop in San Luis Obispo.
- IN FLIGHT : Helicopters joined a battle to fight a fire that burned a little less than 100 acres in the hills above Cal Poly in October. Dorm dwellers received regular updates and some families were asked to evacuate, but the blaze was contained by the end of the day and no buildings were damaged.
# A startling murder-suicide shattered San Luis Obispo early in the month.
The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association took its first steps toward independence from the city, while the Atascadero recall effort came to a halt.
Various Central Coast communities saw Proposition 218 votes: Cambria residents successfully opposed a water rate hike, but Los Osos property owners approved a sewer assessment. With funding on the way, the county now must decide when, where, and how a sewer is actually built.
The San Luis Obispo City Council voted against annexing parcels above Johnson Avenue, and the Atascadero City Council voted against a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
New Times discovered an error in Supervisor Jerry Lenthall's tax exemptions, which he promptly fixed. He also proposed a 9-percent pay raise for himself and his fellow supervisors. Lenthall, Bruce Gibson, and Harry Ovitt approved a smaller increase for the board.
Cuesta figuratively shed light on local cultural and racial diversity--or lack thereof--in its search for a new president. The people behind the Carrizo Solar Energy Farm Project hoped to literally shed light on alternative energy. In contrast, an economic forecast predicted clouds looming over county workers, who can look forward to lagging economic growth and skyrocketing rents.
San Luis Obispo's Cultural Heritage Committee recommended preserving historic buildings standing in the path of the Copeland Chinatown Project. A City Council decision ultimately decided that maybe some of the bricks from the structures could be used in the new development.
After bouncing from board to advisory board, the North Coast viewshed ordinance made its way back to the Board of Supervisors, who again voted to adopt the least-restrictive option written by Protect Our Property Rights, a group backed by the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen's Association
County code enforcers began fining Dan De Vaul of Sunny Acres $500 a day for his unpermitted Christmas tree sales. The county also announced that De Vaul would get the bill for time employees spend dealing with the issue.
As the first big rains of the season washed potentially toxic run-off into monster waves, shoppers prepared for a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
INFO BOX #1
'IM IN UR HEAD, REMEMBRIN UR YEAR'
Ed. note: These are random bits from the last year of New Times translated into LOL Cat speak. If you're unfamiliar, check out www.icanhascheezburger.com.
"DO U WANTS US 2 GIT SEWR OR R U AFTR R BLOOD?" VAN EKEREN ASKD TEH PANEL. "WE R NOT UR ENEMY. WE WANTS UR COOPERASHUN, NOT UR VENGEANCE."
ACCORDIN 2 OFFICIALS WIF TEH SHERIFFS DEPARTMENT, WITNESEZ CLAIM 2 HAS SEEN CUARA SPRAY KAT WIF DISINFECTANT COMPOUND AFTR GROWIN FRUSTRATD DAT TEH ANIMAL WOULDNT LEEF ITZ CAGE. OW!
NEW TIEMS DISCOVERD DAT LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIEZ WUZ DEALIN WIF DWINDLIN RESOURCEZ OV THEIR OWN, FINDIN FEWR APPLICANTS 2 FILL THINNIN RANKZ.
"LETS NOT GO BAK 2 TEH DAIS OV BAKROOM DEALS," BRENNLR SED.
TEH COUNTYS ONLY MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSWY, THO TEH DECISHUN CONCERNIN ITZ MINOR-USE PERMIT WUZ HANDD OFF 2 ANOTHR GUBMENT ENTITY AT JUNE 15 MEETIN.
"I DIDNT C HIS PRIVATE PARTS. I JUS SAW HIS MOSHUN," SED STYLEZ 4 LES ASSISTANT MANAGR.
"I FINKZ ALL THEYRE DOIN IZ LOOKIN 4 CHANCE 2 BUST MAH BALLS CUZ OV WUT I DID WIF TEH BEDZ," HE SED.
INFO BOX #2
Policing the sheriff
On Oct. 13, 2006, Sheriff Pat Hedges and Sgt. Jay Donovan conspired to secretly videotape a meeting between Donovan and Gary Hoving, Hedges' chief deputy and longtime acquaintance.
# Everybody agrees on what happened, but things get a little murkier over the question of exactly why, and whether it was legal.
The event is now the keystone in an investigation by the state attorney general, a local independent investigation, a county review, and multiple lawsuits--including one by Hedges, who has asked the county to pay his legal bills.
Hedges has been asked by county supervisors and county officials to step down for the duration of the investigation, but he has refused. As an elected official, there are only certain circumstances in which he can be forced out.
Hedges, in legal filings, has said he was conducting a criminal investigation to see if Hoving had interfered with an inquiry into allegations involving the narcotics squad.
If true, that could excuse Hedges from any repercussions. It's generally illegal to eavesdrop on someone, but police are exempted if they are involved in a criminal investigation.
But county officials have emphasized in court and legal documents that they'd already considered and rejected Hedge's explanation before deciding that they wouldn't cover his legal fees. Police sources have said it would have been unusual for Hedges to lead the investigation--internal investigations are generally farmed out to other agencies.
What's next: Court documents are continuing to pile up, with Hedges and Donovan recently denying any illegalities. The attorney general's investigation continues. Hoving, saying the matter has made it impossible for him to work, has been on leave since August.
INFO BOX #3
Happy poo year!
For years, tests of the waters under the Pismo Beach Pier have revealed bacteria levels higher than at other locations in SLO County. The popular surf spot was the only one out of 20 tested by the county that didn't receive an A from Heal the Bay's annual California Beach Report. In 2007, the issue became a major stink on the Pismo Beach City Council agenda. The city blamed the conditions on pigeon defecation. Activist groups and scientists questioned that cause. Rules were made, and then quickly reversed. To say a lot of shit went down would just be silly sarcasm.
# Early in the year, Pismo Beach Pier waters repeatedly fail bacteria tests. Some surfers suffer diarrhea. City officials blame the birds.
On May 1, a video of a damaged underwater sewer main located between the Dolphin Cove Lodge and the Pier Plaza surfaces. County Hazardous Materials Supervisor Jeff Poel says, "It falls into the category of not a big deal." Though the blame is put on the pigeons, the Pismo Beach City Council approves an emergency allocation to repair the sewer. Surfers start to question the pigeon poop philosophy.
On June 5, the council bans people from feeding birds near the pier, but blaming the pigeons doesn't sit well with some. "We're tired of hearing that. We want to hear an open mind," said Jennifer Jozwiak, vice chairman of the San Luis Bay chapter of Surfrider Foundation.
On July 19, the council decides to hire a pest control company--for $30,000--to trap the birds and move them to a Paso Robles-based zoo program where they would be eaten. By the animals.
Sometime after that, the city receives a grant for Proposition 50 money (the Clean Beaches Initiative) and hires of team of Cal Poly scientists to determine the source of the fecal problem. Chris Kitts, one of the scientists, says, "People poop could be a problem."
On Aug. 21, after public protest, the council votes 3-2 to stop the trapping and eventual destruction of the pigeons. Pismo Beach City Council member Kris Vardas says, "We realize we maybe made a mistake." The council plans to capture the birds and relocate them to Cuyama.
For now, the pigeons get to live at the pier and take aim at surfers. The council ultimately decided to wait and see if the no-feeding ordinance cleans up the problem. They also decided to use a special vacuuming technique to remove the bird's dropping from the pier--in the past, they pressure-washed the poop off the pier and directly into the ocean. The Cal Poly study is expected to be finished in 2008.
INFO BOX #4
In November of 2006, county voters approved the Dalidio Ranch Project through Measure J, but Ernie Dalidio's battle to develop his family farm is far from over. The project's focus moved from the land, to the ballot, to the courts, and back to the land. Here's how it went down in 2007.
In mid February, a group calling itself Citizens for Planning Responsibly (CPR) was born and quickly allied with ECOSLO. The pair raised $40,000 and announced plans to fight Measure J in Court.
# On Feb. 28, CPR and ECOSLO petitioned the superior court of SLO County to evaluate the legality of Measure J.
On May 25, CPR and ECOSLO filed a suit against SLO County, alleging that Measure J--a vote by the people--was beyond the power of initiative. It created a specially zoned area that opponents say is inconsistent with the county's general plan. Most amendments to the general plan require review and approval by the Board of Supervisors.
On July 27, Dalidio fired back with a pair of complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission, one against the Downtown Association--a government body that promotes downtown business--and one against Responsible County Development LLC, alleging misconduct during both the measure A, B, and C campaigns and the Measure J campaign, respectively. The complaints are still being investigated.
On Aug. 31, the Dalidio camp followed up with a massive civil lawsuit, seeking unlimited damages against the same parties and as many as 500 unnamed "doe" defendants. To be clear, there are two separate lawsuits concerning the Dalidio project: a civil suit with Dalidio as the plaintiff, and an almost procedural suit with the county as the defendant. The civil suit included allegations of racketeering-related issues that would later land the case in federal court.
On Oct. 3, at the request of the defendants, the civil trial was moved to a federal court in Los Angeles. The move delayed all actions related to the civil suit, including the potential naming of "doe" defendants.
On Oct. 4, Dalidio's lawyers subpoenaed First Bank of SLO for records related to the Responsible County Planning LLC's contributions. The LLC protects the identity of its members, but Dalidio's lawyers have questioned the legitimacy of the organization.
On Nov. 2, CPR and ECOSLO had their case against the county heard, but no decision was made as to the legality of Measure J. The presiding judge made it clear that he would take advantage of the full 90 days provided by the law to return a judgment.
On Nov. 6, the city of San Luis Obispo--which is providing legal representation for the Downtown Association--filed a motion to dismiss several aspects of Dalidio's civil suit. City Attorney Jonathan Lowell said that suing the Downtown Association is essentially suing the city, and RICO charges can't be made against a public entity. A federal judge should hear more about this Jan 14.
On Nov 16, Dalidio signaled that he intends to develop the land by submitting a vesting track map to the county, which automatically triggers an Environmental Impact Report--which could take up to a year. In the meantime, both lawsuits still need to be resolved, and--if CPR and ECOSLO are successful--the project could be stopped in its tracks. Dalidio could then bring a new proposal to the city or county.
New Times staff compiled this story--and we never want to think about 2007 again. E-mail your memories to email@example.com.