After soundly defeating efforts to â€œSave the Dreamâ€? and repeatedly failing to resuscitate the promise, the bitterly divided community of Los Osos is now tiptoeing into a perilous quagmire of contaminated groundwater, disappearing funding, and imminent bankruptcy.
On Friday, Jan. 6, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board imposed a penalty of $6.6 million against the intransigent CSD for failing to follow the water boardâ€™s timeline for construction of the state- mandated sewer project. That hefty fine comes on top of demands by the state for the repayment of $6.5 million in SRF (State Revolving Fund) money last month, as well as $5-6 million in claims from discontented construction contractors.
CSD Director Julie Tacker denies rumors of any plans to sell off property to pay off the districtâ€™s mounting debt. Her answer to the water board fines is simple: â€œWeâ€™re not paying them.â€?
The fines are being held in abeyance pending appeals in state superior court, and Tacker is confident that the court will rule in the CSDâ€™s favor because she says the water board has no authority to levy punitive fines.
Sheâ€™s equally sanguine about the SRF claim, which also awaits its day in court. The CSD says the state breached the SRF contract, and the state claims the CSD breached it, Tacker explains. Ultimately a court will have to decide.
CSD Interim General Manager Dan Bleskey says that the board is studying the possibility of selling the land. That property remains the districtâ€™s largest asset, and in its current financial state, the board has to consider every option, Bleskey said. But he made it clear that the district has not entered sales negotiations with anyone, and has not even had the land appraised yet.
Real estate experts in the area are skeptical about the true value of the land, which was originally purchased for about $7 million. With so many restrictions on construction and so many unanswered questions, the purchase would be a great risk.
Should the district decide to sell the Tri-W and Broderson properties, it would be legally hampered by the fact the land was bought with bond money. The CSD can only sell that land to raise money for the purchase of a new sewer site, but not to pay fines and debts.
Also, the CSD purchased the land at Broderson as mitigation for construction on Tri-W ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area), so obtaining permits to build anything on Broderson would be next to impossible.
Richard Margetson, a local real estate professional, points out that since construction was already initiated at Tri-W, all of that ESHA has been destroyed. So the land might be more buildable and therefore more valuable, Margetson speculated, now that the ESHA has been bulldozed. But thatâ€™s just one of many unanswered questions, he says.
â€œI would be very leery if I was representing a buyer or if I was a buyer,â€? notes Los Osos realtor Jerry Gregory. â€œTo me it has no value because I canâ€™t build on it.â€?