A proposed county ordinance to protect scenic views in the rural hills above Cayucos has been rewritten by property owners' groups to apply to a much smaller area.
The SLO County Board of Supervisors was asked at its March 20 meeting to support a new version of the Cayucos viewshed ordinance, which was circulated by Supervisor Harry Ovitt the night before the meeting but had not been seen by the public.
The proposed view protection measures have been a controversial issue since last May, when a new group of landowners called Protect Our Property Rights (POPR) joined forces with the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen's Association to oppose the concept. The groups submitted their own, much less restrictive ordinance, which has been going through staff analysis since last summer.
Designed to reduce the visual impacts of new development in the rural areas near the coast, the original proposal covered Old Creek Road and Santa Rita Road, as well as Highway 1 on both sides of Cayucos. It called for restrictions on new buildings on prominent ridgelines, landscape screening, height limits, and other measures to protect scenic resources.
On the eve of the meeting, however, the landowners' groups and Supervisor Ovitt submitted a different ordinance, which eliminates Old Creek and Santa Rita roads.
"The board can modify the ordinance and take out Santa Rita and Old Creek roads," Ovitt said. "Otherwise, this language is in what was introduced in May and in June."
Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who owns land on Old Creek Road and is awaiting a ruling from the Fair Political Practices Commission, recused himself from voting and spoke as a member of the public. He complained that introducing the change without proper public notice was "a considerable mistake especially if the ordinance was drafted by private interests in closed-session meetings.
"The Farm Bureau and POPR developed this in secret," he fumed, adding that the original ordinance was of "fundamental importance" to local scenic resources, by protecting some of the most pristine areas in the county.
Some members of the public, including Sue Luft of North County Watch and Eric Greening, testified during the consent-agenda item that the newest Farm Bureau version had not been available for the public to read before the meeting.
"This is a private group making public law. They're making an end run around the public process," Adam Hill said during public comment.
Joy Fitzhugh of the Farm Bureau said the public had been given "plenty of time," since the groups had first submitted their version of an ordinance last summer. That version included Old Creek and Santa Rita roads.
Supervisor Jim Patterson and Katcho Achadjian asked for the item to be continued to April 3 for more discussion, which was approved.
"We can tango any way we want to, but is it the right footsteps? I want everything in front of us first, so no one can say, 'This was discussed behind our back, we didn't have an opportunity to come,'" Achadjian said.