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What the county's talking about this week

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PD identifies transient killed in fire

San Luis Obispo Police Department investigators say there were no signs of foul play in the death of 41-year-old William King of San Luis Obispo.

Three fellow transients discovered King’s badly burned body and tent near the Highway 101 offramp at Los Osos Valley Road last Saturday at about 2 a.m. Investigators believe King was smoking and fell asleep.

An autopsy has been completed and the results of toxicology tests are still pending.



Protests filed against Duke

Both the city of Morro Bay and the Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion (CAPE) have filed protests with the California Public Utilities (PUC) Commission over Duke’s recent deal with PG&E to buy energy produced at the Morro Bay Plant. The protests are essentially requests to see the contract reached between Duke and PG&E.

Under the contract, PG&E has exclusive rights to the energy generated at the natural-gas-burning plant in Morro Bay though 2007. Duke has applauded the deal because it will allow the corporation to keep its 29 Morro Bay employees. The plant will continue to operate on an on-demand basis.

Both the city and CAPE want to see the new contract to determine what impacts the proposed deal would have on the city and the environment. PG&E has asked the PUC to approve the contract by April 4.

Duke has not reached a deal with the city over its outfall lease, which expired Nov. 15. The plant uses water from the ocean for cooling; the water is then discharged into the ocean. The city is responsible for overseeing the lease on behalf of the State Tidelands Trust.

In a press release, CAPE states that Duke has failed to comply with new government regulations, has delayed a hearing on an extension for a federal operating permit, must undergo air quality review, and that Duke’s operation without the outfall lease is illegal.

Jack McCurdy of CAPE said that they want to see the contract to see how Duke and PG&E can justify operating without an outfall lease.

CAPE is opposed to Duke’s current plan to modernize its current plant. According to CAPE, the proposed plant will have devastating effects on the environment, killing between 17 percent and 33 percent of young fish and crabs in the estuary.

Morro Bay city officials have speculated that Duke will sell the plant. Duke officials have continually said they will do whatever it takes to keep the plant economically viable.

Duke and the city of Morro Bay have been unable to reach an agreement over the outfall lease. Duke has offered the city significantly less money for the lease than the city has said would be reasonable. The eventual demolition of the plant has also been a sticking point in negotiations. The city wants Duke responsible for the removal of the plant, which is estimated to cost between $30-$50 million.



SLO tries to address transient ‘problem’

A group made up of San Luis Obispo city employees, business-organization members, and police officers has reconvened in an effort to curb what it says is a growing problem with panhandlers and transients in the downtown area.

Under the auspices of the City Council, the Transient Task Force originally formed to deal with transients who were gathering around bathrooms near the intersection of Higuera and Broad streets.

Betsy Kiser, the city’s principal administrative analyst and the task force’s facilitator, said the group removed a public telephone, put up fencing and plants, increased police presence and lighting, and even asked a nearby music store to put up a speaker and play music. The combination of changes kept people from gathering and the task force disbanded.

But recent complaints from the city’s children’s museum and an increase in complaints from businesses along Higuera brought the group together again. Now, said Kiser, “we’re just trying to stay one step ahead of the problem.�

Kiser said the city is limited in what it can do, but it is looking to see whether it can legally enhance some of its existing ordinances. For example, while camping in parks is already illegal, the task force is looking at whether the city can bar people from even having a sleeping bag with them when they’re at the park.

“It’s a problem,� Kiser said. “We feel like we shuffle people around. But as long as we shuffle people around, no one business is too severely impacted.�



Foul play suspected in case of missing weathervane

A symbol of civic pride has gone missing, and the San Luis Obispo Police Department is calling for the public’s help in relocating an ornamental rooster that’s been considered a symbol of this community since 1873. Most recently perched atop the former courthouse at 976 Osos, the copper and gold leaf weathervane was reported missing from its roost on Friday, March 11.

Rob Bryn, spokesman for the SLOPD, speculated that the glistening fowl was probably taken as a souvenir or as some sort of prank.

“But the county, because of its historic value, would really like to have it back,� Bryn said.

The police hope that more publicity will generate some leads or possibly a guilty conscience that would lead to the rooster’s return. The feathered friend was pilfered once before, about 25 years ago, but was safely returned with the help of smooth-talking radio personality Homer Odom.



Locals celebrate same-sex marriage ruling

After a San Francisco judge threw out California’s ban on same-sex marriage this week, a group of between 30 and 40 people gathered in front of the county’s government center to celebrate.

They waved rainbow flags and placards reading “freedom to marry,� and talked about how the ruling was a step forward for equal-rights advocates.

“I think everybody working for this cause right now needed a little boost,� said David Kilburn, who helped organize the rally. “[This] showed us that we really do have a strong coalition here.�

Many were surprised by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer’s ruling because of his faith — he’s Catholic — and the fact that he was appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. But in Kramer’s 27-page opinion, he invoked a civil-rights theme from the early half of the last century. “The idea that marriage-like rights without marriage … smacks of a concept long rejected by the courts — separate but equal,� Kramer wrote.

This ruling is just the first step in what will be a long, long fight for both pro- and anti-same-sex marriage advocates and activists.

“We’re straight to the Supreme Court now,� said Kilburn.



SLO Airport launches additional service

America West Airlines has announced that it will be expanding its regional jet service from San Luis Obispo to Phoenix, Ariz., beginning Friday,
March 18. With this addition, America West now has three daily roundtrips to Phoenix and one roundtrip flight to Las Vegas. The new flight will arrive at 2:58 p.m. and depart at 3:30.

“The flights out of here are extremely full,� said Klaaje Nairne, airport manager. “We’ve got the people to fill the seats, and business is good.�

Along with America West, SLO Airport is also serviced by United Express and American Eagle, with a total of 19 daily roundtrips to and from L.A., San Francisco, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. A runway extension scheduled for completion in 2006 or 2007 will open services to additional destinations.



Locals plan anniversary war protest

It’s been two years since U.S. forces invaded Iraq, and locals upset about the war are joining an international day of protests this weekend to mark the occasion. “Not Another Dime for War� will be held March 18-19. On March 19 there will be a walk/march starting at Mitchell Park at 1 p.m. Other events are planned as well. For more info, contact slodown@sbc
global.net. ³



This week’s news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday.


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