The SLO County Board of Supervisors voted on May 8 to send the Regional Water Quality Control Board a letter requesting that the body hold off from issuing 4,400 Los Osos property owners an order to stop using their septic tanks by Jan. 1, 2011, or face harsh fines.
After reading the letter the next day, water board officials rejected the request.
"We've reviewed [the letter] and talked to the county about it," said Harvey Packard, the water board's enforcement coordinator. "We see where they're coming from and we understand their point of view, but we still think it's appropriate to issue individual enforcement."
The water board feels that the ultimatum dealt to Los Osos property owners is necessary because the board has been urging the unincorporated town to build a sewer for decades and hasn't yet seen much progress.
"They've been at this point several times in the past, whether to proceed with enforcement or let the community have another chance to comply," Packard said. "We think this enforcement is the last chance."
The water board planned to discuss plans for the sewer on May 10. In addition to the county's tax plan to pay for the sewer's construction, the board will discuss clean-up and abatement orders.
"There is one consequence no one thought about and that is, what happens to the property values if they have clean-up and abatement orders?" questioned Chuck Cesena, president of the Los Osos Community Services District.
Cesena testified at the May 8 Board of Supervisors meeting and urged them to send the letter to the water board in an attempt to postpone the individual enforcement actions. He called the orders a distraction at a time when the water board should be focusing on the county's process to determine just what project will be built.
Water board officials defend the need for the orders.
"If the county doesn't build a wastewater treatment system, then we will hold the individual residents responsible," Packard said.
Cesena argued, "The appropriate time for enforcement against an individual is after there is a sewer built. If there's no sewer, how can they punish the individual?"