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Caring for Cayucos

The community has been very clear about wanting the Vets Hall restored

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I read the article about the Cayucos Veterans Hall in the Sept. 23 edition of New Times ("Cayucos seeks more funding for Vets Hall restoration") and the new community effort to raise money and send the county a message that this community wants its hall fixed. As a resident of Cayucos and a member of the Cayucos Lions Club, I would like to add some information from my perspective.

There are two components in caring for the hall. The first is the physical maintenance of the building, and the county has been responsible for that. The closure was the result of not maintaining the hall and letting it fall into such disrepair over time that the only option was to close it. The same thing happened with the Cayucos Pier. For me, this clearly demonstrates a lack of commitment and responsibility by SLO County for these historic cornerstones of our community.

The other component of caring for the hall is managing the use of the building for events. Once the hall is reopened, the article stated that the county will manage the hall and that the Lions rent it out occasionally. These brief sentences deserve some consideration, because I do not believe that management of the hall by the county represents the best for Cayucos, coupled with the the way in which the hall and pier were maintained under county oversight, forcing the closure of both. During the last five years the adjacent barbecue area has been rented out only "occasionally" because the hall itself was closed! The fact is that the Cayucos Lions Club has managed the hall for the last 40 years (at no cost to the county) based on a long-standing agreement, and the Lions have been an excellent steward of the hall and for the community. The Lions kept the rental costs affordable for our community, and all the income raised went directly back into Cayucos and our neighboring communities, including Morro Bay, Atascadero, and fire relief for further outlying towns. I believe the county sees the opportunity to take control and use this income for purposes other than for the benefit of our local coastal towns.

Here are some facts about the management of the Vets Hall under the Cayucos Lions:

During the seven years prior to the closure in 2016, the Cayucos Lions managed the hall and paid the monthly bills. The Lions used the Vets Hall income to funnel more than $125,000 into programs that benefitted the community. These programs included scholarships, free swim passes for those in need, the food bank, beach playground equipment, building and maintaining the skate park, fire department equipment and defibrillators, maintenance of the sculpture at the entrance to the pier, installation of the concrete patio in the picnic area behind the hall, pier restoration, and the list goes on. My question is: What is the county planning to do with the money when they take it over?

After the hall was closed, there were monthly bills that still needed to be paid, even though the hall was not able to generate income for the community. The Cayucos Lions were led to believe that the agreement with the Lions would continue and the Lions would manage the Hall after it was reopened. In good faith the Lions continued to pay these monthly bills for the county, as they had always done as part of the agreement. These bills include electric, gas, sewer, garbage, security, etc., and they amount to more than $46,000 during the last five years. In my opinion, if the county has chosen not to honor their word, then they should refund that money to the Lions so that it can be used for our community.

Regarding a demonstration of community interest in the hall and in sending the county a "message" about Cayucos' commitment, the Lions raised $115,000 in the first few years after closure for fitting-out the hall once it was repaired. This money is for tables, chairs, cookware, window coverings, etc.—all the things needed to use the hall. The county knows about this money and the efforts already made. It is still sitting there, waiting to be used for that purpose. In my opinion, the county already got that message several years ago. Now they want yet another message to refresh their memory.

In conclusion, I believe that the only thing that Cayucos wants is a useable building. I personally don't want a lavish restoration and unneeded "improvements" and artist's renderings that have been on display for the last three years. Keep it simple: The hall represents a solid business plan that will generate an excellent income stream for the community. After witnessing the closure of the pier and the hall due to the county's inability to maintain them, I am opposed to the county taking management of the hall out of local hands and doing it themselves. The Lions have demonstrated decades of good stewardship and proven fiscal responsibility for the hall.

I think the county should be ashamed for letting this issue go unresolved for five years and for its decision to backtrack on how the hall has been managed for the last four decades. For me, the county has sent the town a clear message: "Cayucos, raise the money yourselves to fix your hall, and then we're going to take the hall away from you and use the income for what we want."

I applaud the Cayucos community for forming a Veterans Hall Restoration committee, and I will be sending in my family's donation after I finish this letter. Δ

Phil Kiesewetter is a Cayucos resident and member of the Cayucos Lions Club. Send a response to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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