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Cayucos gets $3.5 million loan for Vets Hall

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Cayucos' "nerve center" leaped closer to receiving a jump-start on Nov. 16 when the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors approved a $3.5 million loan to rehabilitate the coastal town's Veterans Hall.

Usually somber, the board chamber erupted with applause from more than 15 people—all representing Cayucos or its Lions and Lioness Clubs—when the supervisors passed their motion.

"For Cayucos residents, support means more than showing up for meetings. It also means putting money in the game," Greg Bettencourt, the chairman of a fundraising group called the Restore Cayucos Vets Hall Committee, said at the meeting.

AT LONG LAST After a five-year wait, members of the Cayucos Lions Club (pictured) celebrated reaching the $5.4 million financial goal to rehabilitate the town's closed Vets Hall. - PHOTO BY BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
  • Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
  • AT LONG LAST After a five-year wait, members of the Cayucos Lions Club (pictured) celebrated reaching the $5.4 million financial goal to rehabilitate the town's closed Vets Hall.

In fact, the group received donation pledges from community members up to $340,000, forming a significant part of the total $5.4 million budget required to renovate the Vets Hall, which has been closed since 2016 after site investigations found structural issues.

Cayucos also received an almost $2 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency in 2019. The incoming $3.5 million loan from SLO County pushed the total restoration funds well above the fiscal goal.

Phil Kiesewetter, a Cayucos resident and local Lions Club member, told New Times that an additional chunk of money exists.

"At the very beginning, we understood it would come down to the county saying, 'How much are you willing to do to get this hall restored?'" Kiesewetter said. "So, the Lions Club, in the first two years of its [Vets Hall] closure, raised $115,000. We still have that money set aside. We realized that that money could best be used to demonstrate that we're committed."

He added that this money would be used to outfit the refurbished hall with "curtains, chairs, pots, pans, and plates" among other items.

The Lions Club has been managing the Vets Hall for more than 40 years. In a letter to New Times, Kiesewetter mentioned that it funneled more than $125,000 of its income—from renting out the hall for weddings and public events—into scholarships, support for the food bank, and other services to help those in need.

The volunteer-driven club also paid monthly utility bills even while the hall was closed. Kiesewetter hopes they would be refunded for these utility expenses once SLO County Parks and Recreation takes over management and bill payment.

Parks and Rec Director Nick Franco told New Times that once renovated, income from renting out the hall would be used to pay off the $3.5 million loan. Kiesewetter and other Lions Club members worried that the county would hike rental prices, which the local group kept low.

Four of the five county supervisors approved the funds for the Vets Hall's restoration, with John Peschong calling it the "community jewel." Debbie Arnold was the lone dissenter, saying it was too expensive.

"I can't in good conscience, vote for ... the financial mechanism that you're asking for," she announced to the room prior to the vote.

A New Times reporter overheard a Cayucos representative expressing their frustration at Arnold's remark.

"What is she talking about?" they asked. "Did she not hear us when we said we'll be paying it back?" Δ

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