Kayaker billed for rescue

The kayaker who attempted to paddle the flooded San Luis Obispo creek during a storm on Jan. 9 has been billed for his rescue. Ethan Donahue is the first victim to be charged for a rescue under a new state law that allows public agencies to charge for emergency responses.

Donahue and a friend had set out to paddle from the SLO Mission to the ocean. He had paddled about two blocks when he capsized and exited his boat, eventually climbing to a perch underneath the Broad Street bridge.

Donahue’s kayaking partner retrieved his boat and finished the paddle to the ocean.

As reported by New Times (“High and dry,� Feb. 3-10), Donahue maintains that not only was his rescue unnecessary, but also that it is not applicable under the new law.

According to a memorandum from SLO City Attorney Jonathan Lowell, there were two questions that needed to be answered in order to bill Donahue: Was the emergency response appropriate and did the kayaker enter “an area a reasonable person under the circumstances should have known was closed to the public.�

Lowell determined that the response from the rescue personnel was adequate, citing a situation that occurred a few years ago where someone took cover under a bridge on Marsh Street and was then swept away and drowned.

Lowell added, “The kayaker … told the media he is an experienced kayaker and knew what he was doing — this is not relevant.� According to Lowell, the standard is whether a “reasonable person� should have known the creek was closed, not a “reasonable ‘experienced kayaker.’�

Donahue was billed for $1,000. The rescue cost the city of San Luis $4,500.




DA drops fraternity drug death case

The SLO District Attorney’s office has determined that it does not have enough evidence to file charges against three Cal Poly students who were with fellow Sigma Chi fraternity member Brian Gillis the night he died of a drug overdose.

According to Deputy District Attorney Steve Brown, many of the witnesses were under the influence of drugs and alcohol and could not be trusted as reliable sources of information.

But Gillis’ mother, Patricia Gillis, feels like the district attorney’s office is ignoring some important facts, and called its final report “bogus and inaccurate.�

“The report has many inaccuracies in it, especially information from the [civil suit] depositions and cell phone records. They are a joke. I would never send out a report in the condition they did, inaccuracies, spelling and grammar mistakes.�

Based on sworn depositions made by Brian’s fellow Sigma Chi members, Patricia feels that those members concealed the true facts surrounding his son’s death.

Brian died in April 2002 after taking a fatal amount of GHB — a colorless, odorless designer drug that creates a euphoric sensation. Patricia alleges, and conflicting accounts in the sworn depositions seem to assert, that after Brian lost consciousness he was driven to his apartment in his own truck, carried up three flights of stairs by his Sigma Chi brothers, and was left, dead or dying, on his dorm room bed.

“No one’s going to kill my son and get away with it,� Patricia told New Times last month.

Patricia and the county-wide, nonprofit Crime Stoppers program are still offering a $5,000 reward for any new information about Brian’s death.

To make an anonymous tip, call 1-800-549-STOP or 549-7867.



First Bank of SLO cashes in for $60.8 M

Pacific Capital Bancorp of Santa Barbara and First Bancshares Inc., the holding company for First Bank of San Luis Obispo (FSLO), have jointly announced their agreement on a deal by which Pacific Capital will acquire FSLO in an all-cash deal of approximately $60.8 million.

Through this acquisition, Pacific Capital will complete its strong presence in every county on California’s Central Coast, and FSLO shareholders will walk away with a tidy sum of cash in their pockets. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2005 following regulatory and FSLO shareholder approval.

With $280 million in assets, FSLO is one of the leading community banks in San Luis Obispo County. Established in 1980, FSLO currently has two branches in the city of San Luis Obispo and has announced plans to open a branch in Paso Robles in late 2005 or early 2006.

FSLO’s vice chairman and chief executive officer, David R. Booker, and president and chief operating officer Reese T. Davies, will continue to oversee the operations of FSLO, which will become an additional branch of Pacific Capital Bank, N.A.



Sky-high sewer bids shock Los Osos

With the announcement of construction bids on perhaps the county’s most contentious project, Los Osos sewer opponents now have 40 million more reasons to object. At $116 million, the lowest combination of bids at last Thursday’s meeting was a far cry from the CSD’s estimates of $78 million. Add to that the cost of land acquisition, and the entire project now comes with a price tag of more than $150 million.

The CSD will meet on Thursday, March 3 to review the bids and vote on whether to accept or reject.

Even before these bids were announced, anti-sewer activists like CSD board member Lisa Schicker were objecting to the project’s price, claiming that it would lead to an “economic cleansing� of the quirky coastal community. Now those fears are gaining credibility.

“[The bids] are just too high and [there’s] not enough of them,� Schicker said, referring to the fact that only three of the 11 qualified contractors ended up bidding on the job.

The sewer’s reputation as a political hot potato is believed to have scared off many contractors. Strict prerequisites for participating in the bidding were also a factor. Companies had to demonstrate experience in building projects of this magnitude, which effectively ruled out every contractor in SLO County.

Gail McPherson works with the Los Osos Technical Task Force and also opposes the downtown sewer. She is hopeful that the “sticker shock� will signal the community that this project needs to be stopped. The recall movement — an initiative to oust the three pro-sewer members of the CSD — has already received a definitive boost in reaction to these new prices, McPherson said.

Citizens and board members continue to argue about how this price translates into a monthly cost for Los Osos residents. The CSD previously said that sewer customers would not pay more than $176 a month. McPherson insists that the costs of paying back loans and maintaining the service would amount to at least $206, or as much as $225 a month.

Meanwhile, a request by the Los Osos Technical Task Force and the Concerned Citizens of Los Osos to revoke a coastal development permit still hangs in the balance.

Coastal Commission planner Steve Monowitz recognizes legitimate concerns and issues in the request, but does not believe there are grounds for revocation at this time. In order to meet the criteria for revocation, it must be proven not only that the CSD was intentionally dishonest in respect to evidence in favor of the project, but also that accurate information would have led to a different action.

Monowitz’s staff is preparing a report for the commission’s next meeting, April 13-15. At that time, the commission will hold a public hearing and vote on the case. In the meantime, Monowitz does not intend to suspend the permit.



Maldonado asks state to reimburse county for Jackson trial

Amid a lull in the chaos surrounding opening statements for the Michael Jackson trial, Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson introduced a plan to help Santa Barbara County bear the burden of the superstar’s courtroom drama.

During the Feb. 28 press conference, held in a Santa Maria court complex courtyard, Maldonado said he understands the monetary limitations the county and city are facing.

“At the end of the day, I tell you as a former mayor of this town, I understand the constraints of the budget,� the senator said.

He explained that the county sheriff’s department has had to pull officers off the streets and out of administrative positions to handle security for the trial.

The senator further explained that the state reimbursed San Luis Obispo County for costs associated with the 2001 murder trial of Rex Allan Krebs.

“Santa Barbara County has been under the gun with the cost of the [Michael Jackson] investigation and trial,� Sheriff Anderson added. “It’s important that the state step up and reimburse [the county] for this kind of investigation because it’s not normal.�

Maldonado said his bill doesn’t request a specific dollar amount because the trial is ongoing.

“I’m asking for a full reimbursement. As the trial continues, we’ll know more,� he said. “This thing could get bigger than expected and go longer than expected.

“The bottom line is it’s a hardship for the county,� Maldonado said.

—A.R. ³


This week’s news was compiled and reported on by staff writers John Peabody, Abraham Hyatt, and Jeff Hornaday. Santa Maria Sun News Editor Andrea Rooks contributed.

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