Soaked in San Luis



Three more days of rain have wreaked further death and destruction on SLO County.
A week after a rain-swollen creek took the life of David Calvin Finley, Audrey Richards was killed when the sailboat she was in ran aground off of San Simeon. Responding to the distress call, one of the small Coast Guard boats dispatched to the scene ran into nearby rocks and was smashed by high seas. A second boat was sent in to help. None of the rescuers were killed. Richard’s companion, Donald Upton, survived after making it to the beach with the help of Richard Stacey, a volunteer with the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team.

SLO County rescuers were also busy plucking a stranded kayaker from a raging SLO Creek. Firefighters rescued Ethan Donahue from a perch below the Broad Street bridge. Donahue was paddling with friends down the flooded creek when he flipped and was unable to roll up. He ejected from his kayak and scrambled up a wall under the bridge.

The storm also caused power outages, minor mudslides, and brought down numerous trees.

“There was no real damage, no major mudslides, no major bridges out,� said Glen Priddy, spokesman for SLO County Public Works. “Some of our rural roads were closed awhile, but we got them cleaned up. A lot of guys got overtime [pay].�

It’s not all bad news though. According to Frank Honeycutt, SLO County water resources engineer, the precipitation recharged much of the county’s water supplies. Santa Margarita Lake, the city’s main source of water, is completely full and water is spilling out of the spillway. Honeycutt said Lopez Lake, which provides the Five Cities area with water, is about 75 percent full and Lake Nacimiento is about 70 percent full.

Honeycutt said he wasn’t sure if the rains recharged the groundwater supplies in the North County. About the various county water sources, he added, “Some are looking pretty good and some are looking really good.�


Proposed split shouldn’t touch SLO County

If Santa Barbara County actually splits in two, what does that mean for its northern neighbor?

San Luis Obispo County residents and government entities likely won’t notice much change if its nearest neighbor to the south morphs into Mission County. At least, that’s the opinion of two members of the Mission County Formation Review Commission, the governor-appointed group charged with outlining impacts and other salient details regarding the new county’s inception.

“I seriously doubt if it would have any major impact on SLO County — it would be a separate county that would operate on its own,� were the first words out of commissioner Dick Frank’s mouth.

However, there might be a period when a fledgling Mission County would depend a little on its neighbors, said Frank, a SLO County resident.

“It might be possible that for the first few years, they might want to contract for the services of sheriff and possibly the jail,� Frank said of Mission County. “But in the long run, I don’t see it having any impact on SLO County, neither positive nor negative.�

SLO County’s assistant director for planning and building, Pat Beck, said that she hadn’t heard that Mission County could seek to share services. In fact, she talked to lawyers and administrators and found that they don’t envision any impacts to SLO County.

“We haven’t taken an active role in the process,� she said.

Jack Boysen, a county formation commissioner from Santa Maria, echoed Frank’s and Beck’s assessment.

“I don’t think that the land-use decisions and the environmental decisions made in Mission County are going to be that much different than they are in the existing Santa Barbara County, at least for the foreseeable future,� Boysen said.

This is the third time since 1978 that Santa Barbara County residents have tried to split. The first attempt was defeated when it got to the ballot; the second attempt never even made it that far.

But this attempt, while highly contentious, is slowly plugging along.

In 2003, the Citizens for County Organization Inc. [CFOCO] gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure that would allow the state to study the feasibility of new county. The group wanted to call it Mission County.

When CFOCO’s measure passed last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger created the five-member Mission County Formation Review Commission — two people from the new county, two people from the old, and a fifth neutral person — and they’ve been busy drafting new political boundaries and studying if Mission County could survive financially.

They have until May to turn their findings in to the governor.

Joyce Howerton, former Lompoc mayor, has been a vehement opponent of the split since the beginning. Recently, she pointed out to the Santa Maria Sun
problems she saw in the review commission’s work.

“Santa Maria would basically have three supervisors — is anybody surprised on that one?� she said. “I think the whole county split idea is just a power grab.�

And she’s not the only one questioning the metaphysical implications of the split. County formation commissioner Boysen said it’s difficult to predict what sorts of social impacts a new county would have on its northerly neighbor. Existing relationships are good between Santa Barbara and SLO counties, both Boysen and Frank noted, helped by the similarities in their socioeconomic statuses.

“Both SLO and Santa Barbara counties are very rich counties. They’re very close in population and service levels,� Boysen said. “The relationships are excellent primarily because they’re coming from a very similar level.�

Frank added that southern SLO and northern Santa Barbara counties are even more similar than their outlying halves.

“Some feel that if we were to re-form these counties all over again, that southern SLO County and northern Santa Barbara County would have been a more logical [county] than having SLO and Santa Barbara where they’re at,� Frank said. “That’s if you could look back 100 years and say that’s what we really should have done.�

Those similarities may change, however, if Mission County enters the scene.

“It would not be anywhere near as wealthy as SLO and Santa Barbara counties,� Boysen said. “You’d have a more average county sandwiched between two very wealthy counties — it would be a very interesting social study to see that develop.�

Regardless of whether the Mission County Formation Review Commission finds that the new county could indeed stand alone, the issue will go on the ballot in June 2006.

Staff Writer Abraham Hyatt can be reached at Santa Maria Sun News Editor Andrea Rooks can be reached at


Getting their goose
A petition is hatched to limit hunting in Morro Bay

If Mandy Davis gets her way, this time next year hunting for fowl in the Morro Bay estuary will be limited to three days a week during hunting season. But Davis knows she’s up against a powerful and organized group of hunters who aren’t keen about her plans. Currently, the 90-day duck-hunting season begins every
year in early November. There’s a one-bird-a-day limit and hunters may only carry 25 shells, a restriction that is unique to Morro Bay. The season for the black brant goose is even shorter. Davis, who owns an ecotourism kayak company and manages the Morro Bay
State Park marina, wants to see less bird hunting in the bay. She said if the Fish
and Game Commission, which sets hunting and fishing regulations, adopts her
proposal, there will be three major advantages: improved safety for recreational boaters, a healthier bird population, and an improved economy built off the natural beauty of Morro Bay,

But hunters disagree. They say that they already compromised their hunting privileges when the hunting season was cut down in the early 1990s.

“We used to be allowed 90 days [for the black brant], then it went to 60, now we’re at 30,� said Gene Johe of the Black Brant Group, a hunting/conservation group. Johe said that he favors hunting black brants, a small goose that migrates from Alaska to Mexico with a rest stop in Morro Bay. The black brant hunting season annually runs through Dec. 9.

“We want to maintain our hunting tradition, but we don’t want everyone pissed off at us,� he said. Johe said if certain days are restricted during the season it would have greater effects then most realize.

“If you hit a bad week of storms, you can’t go out,� he said.

But according to Davis, the reduction of hunting days is a reflection of a growing trend away from hunting and toward ecotourism in Morro Bay.

“We’re asking for a compromise solution,� Davis said. The demographics have changed in the last 10 years and there are more recreational users in the bay, she said, and this creates safety issues that didn’t exist before.

Her plan would allow hunting three days a week and extend the normal 90-day season by 10 days.

Johe said he would agree to “hunting days� in exchange for an earlier start time and 10 extra days added to the season. Currently hunters are restricted from hunting before 8 a.m. This is a problem because kayakers show up for morning trips at the same time hunters are going out, said Johe. He would much rather have an earlier start time to avoid overlap.

“Most of the hunters would be out of the Bay before others are going out,� he said.

According to Rick Algert, Morro Bay Harbor director, the city of Morro Bay does not have regulatory power over hunting laws. Similarly, the hunting zone is outside of the Morro Bay city limits. The city might revisit the issue and decide to back Davis’ efforts if there is enough public support.

Davis hope her petition will encourage the city of Morro Bay, the Los Osos CSD, the National Estuary Program, and the Department of Parks and Recreation to “take a stand and adopt [a] compromise solution [to] the Department of Fish and Game … before the onset of the 2005 hunting season.�

At Monday’s meeting the City Council learned at least one thing about hunting on the bay, said Algert. Hunting is a volatile issue. It isn’t as passive as surfing, kayaking, birding, or swimming.

Nonetheless, Algert said, “Hunting is one of the many recreational uses on the bay.�

Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at


Roadhouse goes up in smoke

While most of state was struggling to combat rain, snow, and mud, the Last Stage West, located on Highway 41 between Atascadero and Morro Bay, was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of Monday, Jan. 10.

The fire was reported at 12:32 a.m., and the California Department of Forestry (CDF) battled the blaze for roughly an hour and a half but was unable to save the landmark steakhouse and live-music venue, which has been declared a total loss, with damages estimated at $200,000.

CDF Battalion Chief Tim Becklen has identified a portable heating unit as the most probable cause of the fire. After the building sustained significant water damage resulting from heavy rains on Thursday, Jan. 6, the restaurant’s owners spent the weekend removing their musical equipment and covering the roof with a temporary tarp. They then brought in a propane heater to help dry out the building.

“I believe it’s related to that piece of equipment, because it’s located near the point of origin,� Becklen said.

Becklen described the unit as a five-gallon propane tank with a heating element hung off to the side. As the level of propane diminished, the center of gravity likely shifted causing the unit to tip over. It’s unclear how old the propane tank was and whether it had a safety switch common on newer fixtures.

Carmon Brittain, who opened the restaurant in 1995 with her husband, Bob, remains optimistic following the disaster. “We’re looking forward to doing something — I’m not sure what.�

Despite the tragedy for her family business, Brittain has been overwhelmed by the show of support from her friends and the community. And when she considers the many thousands of victims in the Asian tsunami, she remembers how much she has to be thankful for.

Brittain started playing folk music with her husband, also known as Buffalo Bob, back in the ’60s. Always keeping up with the times, they moved into bluegrass in the ’70s and New Age music in the ’80s. In the ’90s, they decided they were ready to quit touring and settle down in Atascadero, which is why they chose the name Last Stage West.

Because the restaurant was the Brittains’ only source of income, she explained, they really don’t have a choice but to try to rebuild the business.

“I’d really like to have my friends and customers around me again. It’s such a wonderful way to make a living,� Brittain said.



Grover woman linked to SB County killing

When UC Santa Barbara graduate student Jarrod Davidson was killed about six months ago, police found a potted Persian violet and gift card on the front steps of the Goleta home where he was shot.

Last week, police officials confirmed that Davidson’s former mother-in-law had been linked to DNA found on the plant. Malinda Jones of Grover Beach was arrested last Thursday on murder charges.

At the time of his death, Davidson was involved in an ugly custody dispute with his ex-wife, Kelee Davidson, over their daughter. Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Chris Pappas said that when his department compared the DNA found on the plant with Kelee Davidson’s, it was a close but not perfect match.

Last week, investigators with Pappas’ department obtained DNA samples from both Jones and her husband, who has not been listed as a suspect in the killing.

As of press time, Kelee Davidson could not be reached for comment.

— A.H.


Southbound train service canceled

The skies have cleared and the freeways are flowing, but Southern California Amtrak service is at a standstill.

Sarah Swain, spokeswoman for Amtrak, said that there is no service from San Luis Obispo to L.A. or San Diego because of “some mudslides, some trees on the tracks, some flooding, etc.�

Other news organizations have reported that a large sinkhole and a number of large boulders have caused further damage to the track, but Swain could not confirm that information.

As for when the tracks will reopen, there is no definitive date.

“We’re working on it,� said Swain.




Tsunami relief

Relief efforts for victims of the tsunami disaster continue in San Luis Obispo.

Local bakeries from around the county are holding a giant bake sale to help raise money for the American Red Cross Tsunami/Earthquake Relief Fund.

The sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15 in the parking lot in front of Wal-Mart at 1168 W. Branch St., in Arroyo Grande. Red Cross Emergency Services Director Elizabeth Osborn says, “The bake sale is an opportunity for businesses, families, and individuals to make a difference.�

Meathead Movers and other local businesses are gaining in their effort to raise $100,000 for tsunami relief. Businesses are offering a portion of their proceeds on their products or services. Details are posted on a web site: All money is being donated to UNICEF and international nonprofit organizations. ³


This week’s news was compiled and reported on by Staff Writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday. Managing Editor King Harris contributed.



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