At one point during the epic all-day hearing on the Cayucos viewshed ordinance that transpired at the Aug. 21 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Dave Garth, CEO of the SLO Chamber of Commerce, rose to speak. He asked for the strongest level of protection for the natural landscape that represents this county's greatest asset and biggest tourism draw, and pointed out that protecting public views protects and enhances private property values a helpful point for all those who were complaining that any regulation of the way they use their property would surely cause the value of their property to decline. Several people who spoke afterward agreed with his comments.
Then Supervisor Katcho Achadjian did something extraordinary. He said "I find it interesting" the verbal trope that Katcho uses when he's preparing to score a rhetorical coup against a foe that "all the same people" who opposed the replacement of Diablo Canyon's steam generators, which the Chamber supported, were now supporting the Chamber on this issue. He then excoriated the environmental community for "using" the Chamber. Katcho also found it "interesting" that people who supported his opponent in his reelection campaign or opposed his appointment to the Coastal Commission were now asking for him to vote a certain way on this issue. ("There were a lot of efforts from North County I don't want to mention the person's names who happen to be here to call a Nipomo person who is also in the audience to say 'would you run against Mr. Achadjian, we'll support you with money and manpower,' and now they're here today asking for my support. I find that very interesting.")
Dave Garth and the Chamber (and Katcho and the Board majority) were wrong about the mitigation-free replacement of Diablo Canyon's steam generators. And I might note that the SLO Chamber of Commerce e-newsletter has called County Planning Commissioner Sarah Christie about 17 kinds of a polecat. I might say that Dave is wrong there, too, and this is not the correct way to refer to a smart, dedicated public servant.
But I know that Dave is right about the Cayucos viewshed. It's an irreplaceable natural treasure, and the ordinance Katcho and his friends picked for it is a worthless, insulting sham. That's why Dave and I and the SLO Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Club agree with the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council, North County Watch, and the hundreds of residents who have been trooping up to the microphone for the last two years as the board has tried to shake them off with continuances and delays and politically stacked discussion groups.
But Katcho made it clear: It's not about the issues. For all matters that come before the board, he said in front of God and the video cameras, the issue is whether you love Katcho or not, and if you love Katcho, how do you show your love? You are asking Katcho for a favor his vote so what have you done for Katcho? If you have crossed Katcho, why would he do you a favor? And presumably, if he does this favor for you, then someday, and that day may never come, he may ask a favor in return.
Voters owe Supervisor Achadjian a debt for this candid, Don Corleone-esque glimpse into the smoke-filled room that is the natural political habitat of the Three Amigos, the pro-development board majority of Achadjian, Ovitt, and Lenthall.
For the Amigos, not just the issues but basic facts seem to be irrelevant, a point Supervisor Ovitt drove home at that meeting when he expressed his preference for the minutes of the 2002 board meeting that began the process of exploring viewshed protections for the area. The abbreviated minutes of that meeting and the board resolution appeared to limit that area to the Highway 1 corridor. County staff had listened to the full tape of the 2002 meeting and determined that the proposed ordinance clearly reflected the reality of the board's intention to study protection throughout the planning area. But the inaccurate minutes provided Ovitt with political cover. (But even had the minutes of that meeting been correct in claiming the proposed action was to be restricted to Highway 1, the current board has the discretion to enact whatever ordinance it thinks best, regardless.)
Ovitt went on to say that he doesn't like GIS mapping technology and the satellite photos that prove all the draft ordinances were fatally flawed in their basic methodology. He dismissed the technology and the evidence and the need for a Planning Commission review.
The matter of Supervisor Lenthall's failed consensus-seeking viewshed committee came up. Lenthall had stacked the committee 3 to 1 in favor of the least-effective ordinance. Unsurprisingly, no compromise was forthcoming. At the Aug. 21 hearing, an admirer complimented Lenthall on at least achieving as much consensus as he did among Protect Our Property Rights (POPR), the Farm Bureau, and the Cattlemen's Association, which is like achieving consensus among blue-green, turquoise, and aquamarine. Supervisor Lenthall noted sadly that he has been "charged with a lot of things," pronounced himself a straight-shooter who never runs away from a problem, and excused himself for the failure of his consensus-seeking committee.
But the moment that revealed just how completely and directly this county's special interests control this Board of Supervisors came courtesy of Lenthall. But the moment that revealed just how completely and directly this county's special interests control this Board of Supervisors came courtesy of Lenthall, and provided the answer to the question: How much does it cost to purchase an opportunity to write a county ordinance? Only $1,000, if you're POPR attorney Charlie Daugherty. In April, Daugherty's office donated $1,000 to Supervisor Lenthall. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Lenthall pulled POPR attorney Charlie Daugherty's speaker request card last, giving him the final word in the public comment period, and later summoned Daugherty back to the podium, where he proceeded to function as de facto county counsel, conferring on specific amendments and wordsmithing of the ordinance that he had crafted for the benefit of his clients. Daugherty cleared the way for his clients, and for those who may later purchase their ag zoned land, to build hilltop mansions that will scar the landscape for generations.
This leads to an obvious question: Why bother having a planning department, staff reports, and public hearings if the board is going to let hired guns write the laws for us?
As two-thirds of the Three Amigos are up for re-election next year, this is an excellent time for everyone to be asking that question and demanding an answer.
Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. E-mail comments to him through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.