The problem of harmful fugitive dust blowing onto the Nipomo Mesa from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area continues to divide the South County. Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson stepped into the divisive issue, and it nearly blew her off the San Luis Obispo County air pollution control board.
Following a heated discussion on Aug. 5, the Grover Beach City Council voted 3-2 to allow Peterson to stay on the panel that oversees the county Air Pollution Control District (APCD). Council members Bill Nicolls and Jeff Lee cast the two votes to remove the mayor as the city’s representative. The council appeared evenly split until a visibly conflicted Mayor Pro Tem Karen Bright broke the stalemate.
“I believe that Mayor Peterson will do what we ask of her to do,” Bright said, referring to Peterson’s pledge to weigh APCD matters objectively in the future. “I’m going to put my faith in her.”
Peterson promised objectivity, but didn’t mince words about who brought about her censure. She said SLO County supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson “strongly lobbied” the City Council to remove her from the APCD board.
“How many e-mails have you received from supervisors Hill and Gibson?” Peterson asked Nicolls and Lee.
Lee responded, “The asking of that question has solidified my position.”
Both Hill and Gibson sit on the APCD board and support a controversial dust control rule adopted by the agency in 2011. Rule 1001 allows the APCD to fine California State Parks if dust blowing off the motorized recreation area exceeds state and federal standards. Even though that happened 70 times during 2012, State Parks never actually paid any fines to the APCD.
The petition circulated by Peterson contained several misstated facts, according to APCD executive officer Larry Allen. Hill criticized Peterson prior to the Aug. 5 council meeting for what he called her part in disseminating bad information.
“What’s best for the public is to move on from the political drama stirred up for reasons that still trouble me,” Hill wrote to New Times on Aug. 6. “We have an obligation to reduce the dust pollution and at the same time, it should be understood that there is absolutely no effort to close the recreation area.”
The row over the mayor’s spot on the APCD board began about a month ago. Peterson angered some of her fellow council members when she publicly took a hard line on the dust issue without first consulting them. A majority of council members voted July 15 to consider a new representative after Peterson circulated a petition to revoke the dust rule. The revocation issue landed on the agenda of a July 24 APCD board meeting that never took place due to a lack of a quorum.
Nicolls remarked during the Aug. 5 meeting that Peterson overstepped her bounds by using her official position to publicly lobby for dust rule reform.
“This whole issue is not about differing opinions,” he said. “I think she has damaged her credibility with this community.”
The meeting lasted several hours as both sides rallied a procession of speakers to comment on the appointment.
Peterson’s supporters identified themselves with signs and brought a petition with the signatures of 400 people they claimed signed in opposition to changing the appointment. Former mayor Peter Keith and SLO County Supervisor Debbie Arnold also spoke in favor of keeping Peterson on the board.