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Morro Bay Planning Commission gets a mixed bag

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On Jan. 11, the Morro Bay City Council denied a request to completely reboot its Planning Commission. It also shot down a commission recommendation on a contentious sewer project.

Three commission members’ terms expire at the end of the month. Newly elected Mayor Bill Yates led the charge in an attempt to replace the remaining two commissioners with members more favorable to the overall business-friendly council majority. He argued that previous councils did the same in 1994 and again in 2005. In Yates’s written “council report,” he noted that the remaining members—chair John Diodati and Jamie Irons—probably wouldn’t “allow themselves to be ‘kept in check.’” Even with three new commissioners coming in, it would only take one person to change their mind before there would be a simple majority, Yates argued.

“I think they nitpick projects to death,” he said in public.

Commissioners are appointed, with staggered four-year terms. Former commission chair Nancy Johnson left after being elected to the City Council, and there are two seats set to expire Jan. 31. Diodati and Irons have two years left in their terms.

All but Councilman George Leage were unwilling to completely reseat the commission. However, councilmembers Johnson and Carla Borchard indicated they were unhappy with the commission’s renegade attitude.

“Verbally attacking staff on TV is never acceptable,” Johnson said, referencing when commissioners disagreed with city staffers over the Morro Bay/Cayucos Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade Project.

Despite their grumblings, neither Johnson nor Borchard would pull the trigger. Yates withdrew his request after realizing he didn’t have majority support. But he clashed with Councilman Noah Smukler, who was most opposed to the request.

“I feel that they actually deserve an apology,” Smukler said. “To me, I just think we’re trying to control this too much.”

Diodati told New Times he thought “the council majority made the right decision” and was hopeful there would be a “collaborative effort in 2011.”

On a 4-1 vote (Smukler voted no), however, the council also overrode the planning commission’s unanimous decision to deny the Environmental Impact Report for the wastewater project. Despite fervent public opposition to the proposed project—which would replace the existing treatment plant—councilmembers went against the commission’s decision to find alternative sites. The Regional Water Quality Control Board set a March 2014 deadline to improve the treatment systems in Morro Bay and Cayucos.

“Our advice would be: Don’t play chicken with the California Coastal Commission,” said Andrew Christie, Santa Lucia chapter director of the
Sierra Club.

Indeed, with the council’s decision to move forward, the project is headed for the Coastal Commission, which has identified concerns with the proposed location and environmental review.

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