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Pismo Beach expansion postponed

Doubts about the water supply cast a shadow over development

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The latest round in the fight over the future of the City of Pismo Beach ended in a tie last month, and it remains to be seen who will have the advantage when the conflict resumes.

A county regulatory board postponed making a decision at its Jan. 19 meeting on whether to allow the latest expansion to take place.

LITTLE PISMO :  If all is planned, this plot of land could be enveloped into the city of Pismo Beach and developed. But locals and some county officials say there aren’t enough resources to support the houses, golf course, and convention center developers have planned. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • LITTLE PISMO : If all is planned, this plot of land could be enveloped into the city of Pismo Beach and developed. But locals and some county officials say there aren’t enough resources to support the houses, golf course, and convention center developers have planned.

The Los Robles Del Mar project sits on a small plot of land just north of the city border, where builders hope to erect a 312-unit housing development. The stakes are high: Much of the city hierarchy seems desperate to add vast tracts of open, undeveloped land just outside the municipal boundary. For years, developers have been eager to develop the land and dramatically increase the size of the city.

Many people on both sides of the issue believe the fate of Los Robles Del Mar may be a bellwether on the city’s future expansion into Price Canyon. Developers are hoping to develop the area, a pastoral valley north of Pismo Beach, and fill the lush hills with hundreds of houses, a golf course, and a convention center.

“As goes Los Robles [Del Mar], so goes Price Canyon,” said a Pismo Beach official who didn’t want his name used in this story.

With the developers’ financial heft supporting the expansion movement, annexation and development plans have sailed through the Pismo Beach City Council. Pismo Beach, like nearly every city suffering through the harsh financial times, is desperate for new sources of income. The council and many city officials seem giddy at the prospect of increased tax revenues to pay for projects and rising employee costs.

There are two big problems with the city expansion campaign: The plans need to be approved by the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), and there’s growing public resistance to the projects slated to fill out the expanded sections of the city.

LAFCO determines spheres of influence and has the responsibility of protecting the region against suburban sprawl. The group has so far been reluctant to approve the proposed Pismo expansion and seems to be more responsive to the protestations of residents than city officials.

Public resistance to expansion seems to be growing. More than 115 people wrote to LAFCO to protest the annexation. None of the writers spoke in support of the development.

Los Robles Del Mar has been before LAFCO before. The agency rejected the project in 2004 because the developers hadn’t secured enough water to provide for the future residents. Now developers have bought water rights from another property and say there are available resources. This time around, LAFCO staffers agreed with the developers’ water estimates and recommended approving the project.

Still, some people are convinced there are problems with the new water supply.

“The city of Pismo Beach and the surrounding areas are already stressed for adequate water and services infrastructure,” Pismo Beach resident Jack Gelb said in an e-mail to New Times. “A new, large, questionably supplied development seems foolish.”

Still, there are more issues with the water supply. The property that’s supposed to supply water to Los Robles Del Mar is in foreclosure. The latest auction selling one of the liens on the property took place at the county courthouse steps on Jan. 27. There were no bidders.

However, Pismo Beach city officials have said repeatedly that the transfer of ownership should make no difference to the purchase of water.

Water supplies in South County cities are always precarious, and there are locals who doubt there’s enough for any Pismo expansion. Officials from the county and Five Cities have voiced doubts about Pismo Beach’s water supply.

Many speakers at the Jan. 19 LAFCO hearing presented their own interpretations of the water supply. The doubters seem to have convinced LAFCO commissioners to postpone the hearing until March 14 so they can get more information about the water supply.

County Supervisor and LAFCO commissioner Bruce Gibson said the commissioners need to look at the project in its entirety.

“We need to look at the total water supply of Pismo Beach,” he said. “Pismo Beach is not completely built out yet. Pismo has the right to [a certain amount of water], but will it really have enough water for all the expansion it is planning?”

Another challenging angle: City leaders and developers may want to increase Pismo’s housing stock, but will there really be enough residents to live in the new areas?

Unlike much of the rest of the county, the population of Pismo Beach is shrinking. The latest census found that the city had 7,655 residents in 2010, compared with 8,551 in 2000. Not only has the city shrunk by more than 10 percent, surveys found that as much as a quarter of the city’s houses are unoccupied and presumably used as vacation homes.

Send comments to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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