The fate of Morro Bay's iconic stacks is no longer in the city's hands, as the City Council voted on Oct. 26 to relinquish its power to maintain the stacks.
In a June memorandum of understanding, Morro Bay and Vistra—the company that owns the stacks—came to an agreement that the city could opt to keep the stacks if it wanted. But, by doing so, the city would also have to take on the full financial liability for the structures. Alternatively, the city could let Vistra do what it wishes—which the company has stated is to demolish the stacks.
- File Photo Courtesy Of Vistra
- GOODBYE STACKS Morro Bay City Council gave up the city's power to keep the iconic stacks, meaning property owner Vistra will demolish them.
"So based on the simple economics ... the staff recommends that the City Council authorize staff to send a letter to Vistra expressing our interest in not exercising that option and take that off the table," said Morro Bay City Manager Scott Collins at an Oct. 26 City Council meeting.
Mayor John Headding supported the staff recommendation.
"I absolutely believe that the cost associated with that would be insurmountable for the city," Headding said. "We do know that the cost to maintain these stacks would be something that, in my mind, would put the city in a very dismal financial condition."
Councilmember Dawn Addis added that the Facts About the Stacks forum, held Sept. 8 and attended by about 200 community members, seemed to push most residents' opinions toward letting Vistra tear down the stacks. Addis said that, of the emails she's received since the event, essentially no one has expressed a desire to keep the structures.
"Public sentiment has really changed, and I think as leaders it's up to us to really listen closely to that," she said.
Many of the residents who wrote to the City Council about the topic supported the stacks coming down, citing the financial burden the stacks would create if the city assumed liability for them. But others lamented the apparent lack of public engagement over the decision.
Morro Bay resident Sean Green wrote in a letter to the council that while Facts About the Stacks was a successful information session, it was not an opportunity for public comment. The city hired a moderator to relay the public's questions to the panelists during the forum, rather than allowing people to ask questions themselves.
"Though I personally believe the stacks should and will come down in the near future, bypassing the public engagement process directly contradicts council's stated goal to 'improve communication and engagement with the community,'" Green wrote, "and gives many residents good reason to worry about the speed at which large-scale development of battery plant infrastructure is moving forward without their knowledge or consent."
City Manager Collins emphasized during the Oct. 26 meeting that "[the] forum and this council meeting is not addressing the proposed battery storage project. ... There will be other opportunities for public information and comment on that."
Councilmember Jeff Heller expressed similar concerns about the process being rushed.
"We have another year to look at this option, and I feel like we're kind of rushing to judgement here without really looking closely at the possible reuse," he said.
The council voted 4-1 to release its authority over the stacks, with Heller being the only dissenting vote. Δ