What the County's talking about this week

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Grinning Zavala gets 16 months for bomb threat

Wednesday morning, 18-year-old Jesus Zavala was sentenced to 16 months in state prison by a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge for making bomb threats to Nipomo High School.

He will also have to pay about $28,000 in restitution to the school to defray the costs and losses it accrued after evacuating 1,200 students.

His hands shackled at his side and his almost-shaved head shining under the courtroom’s florescent lights, Zavala smirked and grinned at the assembled television and newspaper cameras as his lawyer, the deputy district attorney, and Superior Court Judge John Trice reviewed details in the case.

“Is there something funny?� Trice snapped at Zavala at one point in the proceeding.

“No,� Zavala said, still smiling.

Zavala made three bomb threats to 911 on a rainy morning last December, prosecutors say, so that his friends who were at school could go party with him.

As part of a plea agreement, Zavala pleaded no contest to one count of phoning in a bomb threat and prosecutors dropped the other charges.



Hearst Ranch conservation plan finalized

The Hearst Ranch conservation project is complete. On Feb. 18, all property interests were officially and finally transferred. The state now legally owns the property, and the American Land Conservancy holds the conservation easement for the ranch.

“The deal is complete, the mechanical pieces happened,� said Jeff Stump, vice president for the Land Conservancy. “This project ensures that the ranch will stay intact.�

The $95 million deal will protect 18 miles of coastline and preserve the 82,000-acre coastal ranch. The state now owns outright 13 miles of the coastline. The other 5 miles is protected by an easement. The state paid $80 million to the Hearst Corp. and also added $15 million in tax breaks. Officials estimate the market value of the property to be $230 million.

Stump said this is easily one of the most significant conservation deals in California history. “As far as coastal ranches there is no comparison,� he said. “This opportunity doesn’t come often and maybe never [will] again.�

Aside from permanently protecting the acreage, the deal also allows Caltrans to move certain sections of Highway 1 inland and take out the old sections of the road. Stump said this will help protect the coastline.

Stump added there were small details to be ironed out, like the transfer of the offshore rocks off of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse from Hearst Corp. to the Bureau of Land Management. Before completely opening the coastline, State Parks will create a management plan for the area.

Under the agreement, Hearst will be able to build 27 new homes on the interior of the ranch and a 100-room inn at Old San Simeon Village. Although cattle will be moved from the coastal section, the ranch will still be a working cattle ranch.

“Basically we’re freezing what’s there today,� said Stump. He added that cattle can help keep out invasive species.

“We’re pleased that some of what we worked so hard to get into the deal in terms of conservation and public access made it in there,� said Karen Merriam, chair of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The public will now have the opportunity to see to it that the particulars of the agreement are implemented in the real world to the benefit of the community and the land.�

The American Land Conservancy will maintain an ongoing role in enforcement and maintaining the integrity of the conservation easement, said Stump.



Record rainfall totals predicted

SLO is on its way to receiving 40 inches of rainfall this year, a milestone that has only happened twice since 1992. And it’s not because of El Niño or La Niña, amigo.

It’s the year of the “cut-off low,� said John Lindsey, marine meteorologist at the Diablo Canyon power plant. A cut-off low is basically a low-pressure system that gets cut off from the jet stream so it tends to linger longer than a usual low-pressure system, he said.

A series of cut-off lows have contributed to the 29 inches of rain that have been recorded at Diablo this year. Meteorologists record rain data from July through June.

Lindsey said that rain data can differ greatly locally. San Luis Obispo has recorded 29 inches of rain this year, San Simeon has recorded 33 inches of rain, and Arroyo Grande has received only 19 inches of rain.

Lindsey said he wouldn’t be surprised if we get 40 inches of rain this year. The last time SLO surpassed the 40-inch mark was in the ’97-’98 season, when it got 44 inches. On average SLO records 4 inches of rain in February and 3.9 in March, but if the cut-off lows keep coming, 40 inches could be possible.



Blakeslee submits Diablo study bill

On Feb 22, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee submitted a bill to study the long-term viability of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The proposed study would examine the seismic- and tsunami-related threats to the plant.

The licenses for the twin reactors at Diablo expire in 2023 and 2025, so Blakeslee said that it would be prudent to begin researching the future of the plant now to avoid making decisions in crisis-management mode. Part of the proposed study will include looking at the feasibility of converting the nuclear plant to a natural gas plant.

The study will also examine regulatory relief options that would make converting the plant to natural gas economically feasible for PG&E.

“The proposed study will simply seek to ensure that PG&E has been provided with all viable options so it can make the best decision possible as it approaches 2023,� said Blakeslee in a statement given to New Times.



Puck it

It’s not like Elizabeth MacQueen is on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list, but she is wanted.

Her ex-husband wants her, and the city of San Luis wants her. They want her money — 85 grand.

Elizabeth is the artist who sculpted San Luis Obispo’s beloved Puck, the bronze Shakespearean statue that spins around the Downtown Center.

A few years ago, Elizabeth put beloved Puck there on temporary display, hoping to find a buyer. She didn’t, so in 2002 she took Puck away, where he rested in the vineyards of Edna Valley.

Puck lovers everywhere said this will not do. So they raised 75 grand to purchase Puck, which, with 10 from the city, they did. From Elizabeth. Puck returned.

Done deal. End of story.

Not so fast. Enter Elizabeth’s ex-husband, Donald Baxter, who recently claimed Puck was really his. Part of the divorce settlement, you see.

So Baxter told the city, I want Puck back or 85 grand.

Attorneys for Baxter and the city said wait a minute, let’s make a deal. Let’s go after Elizabeth. After all, she sold a Puck that wasn’t hers anymore.

Donald, said the city to the ex, we’ll pay you 5 grand for your attorney’s fees. Then we’ll sue your ex-wife for 85 grand. We’ll take 10 off the top, you get the rest.

Done deal. End of story.

Not so fast.

Elizabeth is supposed to enter here, but she is nowhere to be found. The latest sightings seem to favor Costa Rica.

No matter, says Donald, her art is all over the place. We’ll get a lien.

Not quite the end, but it will do.

After all, who really cares, as long as our beloved Puck gets to stay out and play.



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

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