The Arroyo Grande City Council voted on March 23 that it will not sign a multi-city agreement with Grover Beach and Pismo Beach to move forward on the Central Coast Blue water project unless it includes a local hire provision—setting up a standoff between the three cities.
While Pismo's and Grover's city councils both signed the operating agreement and approved the recycled wastewater project's environmental impact report, Arroyo Grande council members took issue with its lack of commitment to a community workforce agreement, which would guarantee that local skilled workers are hired for the estimated $50 million project.
- File Photo By Aidan Mcgloin
- CENTRAL COAST BLUES Water Systems Consulting Engineer Dan Heimel leads a 2019 tour of a water recycling demonstration facility. The Central Coast Blue project would inject treated wastewater into the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin.
"In the most simple terms, it's about fighting for local jobs," Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Jimmy Paulding told New Times. "The dispute is that the provisions that ended up in the draft operating agreement were substantially watered down and talked about that the cities would make a good faith effort to ensure local hire, but that's not how community workforce agreements work. When you attached one of those to a large public works project, you're ensuring local hire."
The Central Coast Blue project, which has been in the planning stages for several years, centers on the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility in South County that would inject purified water into the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin to thwart seawater intrusion, boosting regional water supply.
The project's proposed operating agreement spells out the cost sharing responsiblities and oversight roles for the three cities, as the parternship moves toward the design and construction phase.
According to Paulding and the Arroyo Grande City Council, now is the best time for the city to take a stand to ensure that a community workforce agreement is included with the project. Once they finalize the operating agreement, the city will have signficantly less leverage to influence that conversation, councilmembers said.
"The city of Arroyo Grande ... we were going to be paying roughly 40 percent of the project cost," Paulding said. "As the largest financial stakeholder, I think our council made it clear—this was a 5-0 vote—that this is something we value, and now more than ever we need to do everything we can as policy makers to ensure we're hiring our local workforce."
In response to questions from New Times, Grover Beach City Manager Matt Bronson said that the city is also interested in a community workforce agreement, but said "there are financial, operational, legal, and political considerations that would need to be addressed." He expressed a preference for finalizing the operating agreement now, and negotiating a local hire provision in the months ahead.
The agencies also have deadlines to consider for the project, he said.
"With a key grant application deadline of April 23, it is imperative to have the operating agreement approved prior to this grant submittal deadline," Bronson said via email.
Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis said in a statement that "construction procurement" is "one of the decisions that remains to be made," adding that "decisions must be made that ensure the project is completed, while defending the rates the families and businesses pay." He did not elaborate on the city's position on community workforce agreements.
"Central Coast Blue is a regional project that ensures water resilience for our region," Lewis said. "Just a few short years ago, our water supplies became dangerously low due to drought conditions. We again are at the precipice of drought that will devastate the residents, busineses, and local economy of our communities."
While Paulding said Arroyo Grande knows that the cities, especially Pismo Beach, are "unhappy with our decision," the local hire issue is potentially a dealbreaker for the city. He said community workforce agreements are in use for other wastewater projects in SLO and the South SLO County Sanitation District.
"Say Pismo Beach doesn't want this, then I guess it'd be their choice to move forward with the project without us, if Grover was on board," Paulding said. "The city of Arroyo Grande would participate in a future time, in terms of acquiring water when needed. That's less than ideal. ... My hope is that this is something they will consider." Δ