In 2011, the city of Morro Bay approved plans for the construction of a two-story home on a piece of private property often used by the community as open space. That decision sparked a lawsuit against the city with a confusing outcome that still upsets some members of the community.
A member of the community group Save the Park reached out to New Times following last week’s article “Morro Bay’s emergency fund pays for open space,” asking for a correction to what we reported as the outcome of that lawsuit. The article stated that a judge ruled in favor of the city. Turns out, it’s not exactly black and white.
A local nonprofit group, Save the Park, and a Portland-based wildlife conservation group, The Xerces Society, sued the city, claiming that the city didn’t have a sufficient environmental review of the property in question, 1 acre of land on Cerrito Peak. The lawsuit stated that the property was the site of archeological remains and a habitat for monarch butterflies.
Attorney Cynthia Hawley represented the conservation groups. She said while she was satisfied with the SLO Superior Court ruling in 2015, she and her clients were upset with the overall outcome.
“The whole process was extremely frustrating, and it just seemed like it only benefited the developer,” Hawley said.
The court initially mandated that the city revoke the previously approved construction plans, but Hawley said that the city never entirely revoked those plans. So the groups took the city back to court, asking the court to enforce its initial ruling. But the judge refused.
“It hasn’t been enforced, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Hawley said.
Morro Bay City Attorney Joseph Pannone said that after the judge’s final ruling the court found the city’s request for additional review of the property was sufficient.
“As long as the property owner could provide additional environmental review of the land, the city was able to suspend the existing land use entitlements,” Pannone said.
Those entitlements are the developmental rights previously approved by the city. Pannone said if an additional review of the environmental reports isn’t received by the city, those existing entitlements will expire on Sept. 18, 2017.
Property owner Janne Reddell said she did submit an additional report on the monarch butterfly habitat after the court ruling in 2016, but instead of conducting another environmental review of the site, she asked the city whether it was interested in purchasing the land to properly preserve it as an open space for the community.
Morro Bay decided to purchase Cerrito Peak for $350,000 with excess funds from its emergency reserve on May 23. The city’s ultimate goal is to sell the peak to a land preservation organization.