Vote counting finished, swearing in begins


This week the county released the final tally for an election with a record number of votes. And on Wednesday, the San Luis Obispo City Council convened for a humor-filled, and sometimes emotional, farewell to longtime city official Ken Schwartz.

After hearing Mayor Dave Romero read a proclamation thanking Schwartz for his decades of service and naming Jan. 14 as “Ken Schwartz Day,� the five-time mayor of San Luis Obispo briefly spoke about his long tenure.

When he finished, the city workers, police officers, and family members that were packed into the chamber rose to their feet in a long, standing ovation.

The city clerk then swore in Romero, returning council member Christine Mulholland, and new council member Paul Brown.

After Brown took his new seat at the front of the chamber, he joked, saying that he loved being a City Council member because every one liked him since he yet to make any controversial decisions.

He quickly sobered and compared his role as Schwartz’s replacement as feeling like he “was walking around in his father’s shoes.�

“Having to replace Ken is one of the most humbling experiences of my life,� he said.

At the meeting, council member John Ewan was picked as the city’s new vice-mayor.

Other winners were also confirmed this week: Jerry Lenthall won a seat as the county’s 3rd District supervisor by 425 votes. Patty Andreen was his opponent. In Morro Bay, Janice Peters won as the city’s mayor, and Melody DeMeritt and William Peirce were elected to the council. See page 12 for more on how the council appointed its final member.

Down in Guadalupe, Lupe Alvarez maintained his lead over incumbent Sam Arca to win the mayor’s seat. The day after the election a mere five votes separated the two men, but after weeks of counting, Alvarez ended up with 730 votes and Arca with 696.

In other election news, Sam Blakeslee, the newly elected Republican state assemblyman, has announced that he will resign as a Cuesta College trustee on Dec. 5 — the day before he’s sworn in.

Cuesta officials say they will take applications for a new trustee that they will appoint, and hope to make a decision before early February.

—Abraham Hyatt

Federal stall delays Lake Nacimiento dam work A public works project known as the Salinas Valley Water Project has been delayed until 2006.

Approved by Salinas Valley property owners in April 2003, the $18.8 million project’s main focus is to stop saltwater from infiltrating Monterey County groundwater. It will also provide for changes to the Lake Nacimiento Dam spillway that will allow more water to flow from the lake during the summer.

Officials with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that will issue the final permit, say the delay is due to confusion surrounding how much water will flow down the river once the project is finished.


Duke in operation despite lack of outfall lease

Duke Energy’s natural gas power plant went online last week, even though the company does not have an outfall lease with the city. Duke’s lease agreement with the city ended on Nov. 15 following many rounds of talks to work out an agreement before the lease ended.

The city and Duke have been in negotiations for years regarding the company’s plan for modernization. The city leases the land for outfall pipes to Duke. The outfall is where the water that is used to cool the plant is discharged. The outfall is controversial because it uses water from an environmentally sensitive area.

“We have operated since the lease expired,� said Pat Mullen, Duke spokesman. “Within the last two weeks the plant has been online for a couple of days.�

The plant is currently operating without a lease, said Rob Schultz, Morro Bay city attorney. If the state calls and needs power, the plant will go online, said Mullen.

“They’re in violation and they have no lease,� said Schultz. If Duke were to continue to operate without a lease, then the city would likely file a lawsuit to evict. Regardles of whether Duke and the City agree to a new lease, Duke will be forced to compensate the city for the unpaid rent that started Nov. 15.

Both Schultz, and Bob Hendrix, Morro Bay city manager, were unfazed by the plant’s operations. Duke’s lease agreement is not like that of a normal rental agreement, where a new tenant would be lined up to replace the old tenant, said Hendrix.

The city is responsible for administering the estuary on behalf of the State Lands Commission, and the issue is between Duke and the city, said Robert Lynch, division chief of land management for the State Lands Commission.

“That city is the administrator of the grant; it does not have to report directly [to the State Lands Commission],� he said.

SLO cops announce decoy alcohol stings

San Luis Obispo’s police department recently announced that it had teamed up with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and will be conducting several minor-decoy operations around the city over the next 18 months.

The agencies will use pre-selected minors between the ages of 18 and 19. They’ll enter retail liquor licensee establishments, attempt to purchase alcohol, and will have to answer truthfully if asked their age.

Anyone who sells to the teens will face a $250 fine and up to 32 hours of community service for a first violation. In addition, the ABC can fine the business or suspend or permanently revoke its liquor license.


14-year-old girl charged with two misdemeanors

The Monterey County district attorney has charged the 14-year-old driver following a Sept. 7 crash that killed three Paso teens.

The girl was in a coma for unknown period of time following the crash. As New Times reported in its Nov. 4-11 issue, the girl would likely be charged if and when she recovered.

The King City crash killed Jose Mora, 18, Maria Crawford, 14, and Jessica LaBarbera, 15, all of Paso Robles. The girl was driving a car belonging to Mora when she apparently lost control, crossing into the opposite lane. The car was then hit by a sport utility vehicle. The driver and passengers in the SUV were not seriously injured. The accident occurred while the students were away from school during lunch hour.

According to Scott Farrar of the CHP, if a defendant is injured, whether or not they are pressed with charges usually depends on if they’re physically capable of facing them.

The girl was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license. She will be tried in juvenile court and could face a sentence in a CYA facility.


Central Coast newspapers may be sold

The owner of the Santa Maria Times and several other Central Coast newspapers appears to be on the block. Newspaper and media publisher Pulitzer Inc. confirms it’s looking vigorously into that possibility.

According to a company statement, “Pulitzer is currently engaged in the process of exploring a range of strategic alternatives to enhance shareholder value, including a possible sale of the company.�

Pulitzer made it clear that no formal decisions have been made nor have any agreements been reached. But the statement did say the company has retained Goldman, Sachs, and Co. as financial adviser to assist in its review.

Pulitzer Inc. operates and publishes two major metropolitan papers: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Arizona Daily Star, 12 daily newspapers, and 65 weekly publications. Central Coast holdings include the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record, Adobe Press in Nipomo, Times Press Recorder in Arroyo Grande, and the most recently acquired Santa Ynez Valley News.


Seniors all right after fire

Senior citizens who were forced out of the Gifford Rentals senior housing complex in Atascadero by a fire on Nov. 24 are safe. The Red Cross has placed nine individuals in nearby hotels and the rest of the 24 affected by the fire are staying with friends and family.

The fire apparently started around 9 p.m. when one of the residents left Christmas lights on a couch. Smoke alarms went off but the complex did not have sprinklers, which could have limited the damage done to the building.

The nine seniors without a place to go were placed in hotels the night of the fire, said Kelly Van Buren, public support director for the Red Cross. The Red Cross can supply the victims with food, medications, and whatever else they may need, including help with rent if the residents need longer-term housing. Caseworkers are communicating with the victims daily to insure they are all right. Van Buren is hoping that the residents will be able to move back to the housing complex soon.

“Fire season is the winter, so it’s not exactly surprising,� said Van Buren.

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

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