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Port San Luis: Is it a "tarnished jewel?"

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A recent San Luis Obispo County grand jury report highlighted areas in which the Port San Luis Harbor District could improve the historic sea port.

According to the report, the grand jury investigated whether the district was operating efficiently and focused on areas that were later determined to need improvement, such as boatyard contract and operation, boat launch access, potential conflicts of interest regarding Harbor Commission members who are also customers of the boatyard, and cursory financial reports.

Harbor Manager Steve McGrath told New Times he has reviewed the report and agrees with some of the findings, but not all.

“The District is always looking for improvement, and we appreciated the effort of the grand jury,” McGrath said. “But with the title of the report, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the commission will take exception to that.”

Among the 10 findings in the report, the grand jury noted that the floating portion of the sports launch is frequently on land, the result of increased sand in the harbor basin, with water levels often insufficient to float a vessel. The report said income could be lost as a result.

The same was said of the mobile hoist-operated pier, which the jury said was in relatively shallow water, making it difficult—at times impossible—to haul or launch a large craft.

The jury recommended building an extension to both structures to keep them continuously accessible to boats, but also added the district has “declined to use its own funds to solve the problem.”

“The reality is that we don’t have $700,000 [the cost of an extension], but the grand jury says that we should fund the project, ” McGrath said. “We are actively seeking grants, but as of now the funds aren’t readily available.

“The jury addresses this issue as a matter of lost revenue,” he continued. “We want to extend these piers to provide better service—the revenue potential is not of as significant value. Our enterprise revenue come from our leases, camping, and mooring operations. This is a public service we want to do.”

The report also found missed income opportunities, such as rented public use of the assembly room in the Gateway Building, which the report said should be better promoted by the Harbor District.

The report also pointed out a lack of a competitive bidding policy for concessionaires, adding that harbor commissioners who own boats on the harbor often rely upon concessionaires’ services while voting on their contracts. Further conflict of interest was alleged in voting issues involving the private San Luis Yacht Club on the pier in Avila Beach. McGrath said there have only been two minor occasions when the commission voted on contractual agreements with the yacht club.

Finally, the report alleges district balance sheets and income statements provide only general information, use broad categories, and do not take into account the Avila Beach parking lot. The jury recommends providing greater detail in financial reports, such as containing line items for district assets such as each pier, each building, and each major piece of equipment.

“Our operations are well managed and well run,” McGrath said. “I believe that we are better run this year than we were last, and next year will be even better than this year.”

McGrath said the Harbor Commission will address the matter in their Aug. 24 meeting and will submit their responses to the grand jury by Sept. 23, as required.

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