Los Osos gets new growth and vacation rental policies



The unincorporated bayside town of Los Osos is another step closer to getting the greenlight to develop for the first time in decades—with a long road still ahead—after the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new Los Osos Community Plan on Dec. 15.

Several logistics are still pending—including the Coastal Commission's certification of the plan—but the board's approval marks a milestone in local efforts to lift a 32-year-old building moratorium in Los Osos brought on by water and wastewater issues.

"This is representing the vision of the community," 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said before voting.

NEW PLANS San Luis Obispo County approved a new plan for development in Los Osos on Dec. 15 for the first time in decades. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
  • Image Courtesy Of The U.S. Department Of Fish And Wildlife
  • NEW PLANS San Luis Obispo County approved a new plan for development in Los Osos on Dec. 15 for the first time in decades.

The plan charts 20 years of growth in Los Osos, estimating a 30 percent population increase to about 18,000 residents at build-out. It delays most types of housing development until local water agencies are able to advance a court-mandated plan to balance the Los Osos Valley Groundwater Basin. For at least the near term, it requires all new structures to be able to account for 200 percent of water demand.

SLO County jump-started its Los Osos growth plan following the completion of a wastewater treatment plant in 2015. For years prior, septic tanks contaminated the town's underlying groundwater. While the new sewer largely addressed that issue, seawater intrusion continues to threaten its lower aquifer.

"[Water] is obviously a topic of considerable concern. It has been for coming on most of 50 years in Los Osos," Gibson said. "The Los Osos groundwater basin must be managed for sustainability."

Just how the county plans on balancing growth and sustainability is an ongoing subject of community debate. The plan drew mixed—and sometimes passionate—reactions from residents and local agencies at the Dec. 15 meeting.

The Los Osos Community Services District (CSD), the community's largest water purveyor, warned in a letter to the county that the growth and water plans "are not in sync" and that the community plan "has the potential to perpetuate the poor land-use planning decisions made in the past." The letter urged the county to delay adopting the plan.

"The 2019 data indicates the groundwater basin's health is improving, but the CSD believes more careful analysis of the results is needed before proceeding with development," the CSD's letter reads.

Many Los Osos residents also opposed the plan with water concerns, like Michael Gille.

"There is no logic to this proposal except to satisfy political necessity. Long after most of the county officials and legislators have departed, local homeowners will continue to bear the burden of resulting horrendously expensive utilities," Gille wrote.

On the flip side, resident William Mehring commented that he's waited nearly 30 years to build on his empty lot in Los Osos. He lamented how the plan will exempt secondary dwelling units from its growth restrictions while he must continue to wait for several more years.

"I can't tell you how patient I have been and how upset I am about this possibility," Mehring, 63, wrote in a letter. "I will be dead before I can build."

In addition to approving the community plan, the Board of Supervisors also passed new vacation rental regulations for Los Osos on Dec. 15.

In a 3-2 vote, the board signed off on rules that cap the number of communitywide vacation rentals at 50, requiring a 500-foot buffer between them. Los Osos joins other unincorporated coastal communities like Avila Beach, Cayucos, and Cambria that have vacation rental ordinances. Δ


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