Move-the-sewer movement loses ground
The popular movement to relocate Los Osos' notorious sewer project took a double whammy this week with unfavorable rulings on both the move-the-sewer initiative and the CSD's ability to sign construction contracts.
After issuing a temporary stay against spending state loan money last month, the Ventura appellate court lifted the stay June 22 and dismissed the requirement of a four-fifths vote. With the board bitterly divided 3-2 in favor of proceeding with the downtown sewer, a four-fifths consensus would have been impossible. Now, a simple majority will allow the board to move forward and sign contracts.
Minority board member Julie Tacker expressed her disappointment over the decision but explained that there are a total of 83 conditions that must be met before the Coastal Commission will approve construction, and that's likely to take several weeks.
Also this week, Superior Court Judge Douglas Hilton Tuesday delivered a blow to Los Osos' Measure B-05, ordering a hearing to determine the validity of that ballot initiative, which proposes to relocate the community's contentious sewer plant.
In a seemingly contradictory move, the CSD scheduled a Sept. 27 special election last month, and then immediately filed to have measure B-05 removed from the ballot. The CSD, represented by Jon Seitz, maintains that the sewer location is an administrative rather than legislative issue, and therefore not subject to voter approval. They also claim that the initiative - brainchild of longtime Los Osos resident and CASE (Citizens for a Safe Environment) President Al Barrow - is vague and misleading.
"The judicial system is interfering with the [democratic] process," Barrow opined.
Julie Biggs, who represents the move-the-sewer groups in both of these cases, was very frustrated by Judge Hilton's ruling. The standard for challenging a measure prior to election is to prove the measure clearly invalid, Biggs explained. And this initiative, written by Biggs' own law firm, Burke, Williams & Sorensen, does not meet those criteria, she said.
Justice Hilton called for a hearing to be held July 14, based on grounds of urgency. Seitz cited the limited availability of state loan monies and a strict timetable for construction. The State Water Quality Board mandated that Los Osos build a wastewater treatment facility nearly 30 years ago.
Director Tacker expects the CSD to rush forward this summer with contracts and construction in order to persuade the community that they are committed to the downtown project.
"It's most unfortunate that the community will not be able to vote on this before the groundbreaking," Tacker said.
But even after the Sept. 27 recall vote - which has not been subjected to any legal challenges - Tacker believes "It will still be cheaper to move [the sewer]."
Marketplace taken to county
Ernie Dalidio has done as he said he would and taken the Marketplace development project to the county. In late April, San Luis Obispo residents voted down the project in a special referendum vote. Dalidio kept his application for the retail development on file with the county in case the city voted down the project.
"We're starting initial phases of reopening the application with the county," said Dalidio. "It's the same basic project."
Dalidio must first work with the planning and building department before the county board of supervisors can approve it but he is optimistic about the results.
Kami Griffin, of the SLO County Planning and Building Department, confirmed that Dalidio has reopened the Marketplace development application.
According to Griffin, county staff will go to the board of supervisors in August for direction on the project. The board can basically do anything it wants. Possible options include: directing staff to process the application, directing staff to study the project more before processing the application, and outright denying the project.
Dalidio was optimistic about working with the county. "I think it's going to be a better center," he said. "We won't have the restrictions we had before."
County Mental Health wants your help in spending special tax money
A ballot initiative in last November's election, proposing an additional 1 percent tax on annual incomes above $1 million to benefit mental health services, was a no-brainer for most conscionable voters. Californians approved Proposition 63, also called the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) or the "millionaire tax," and now San Luis Obispo County has an extra $2.3 million earmarked for mental health.
This new revenue comes as a windfall to Mental Health Services in all of California's 58 counties, and in SLO it represents an almost 10 percent increase in the county's Mental Health budget. But what's most unusual about this money is the process by which it will be spent.
Rather than being told by Sacramento exactly where to allocate the $2 million, each county is required to engage in an extensive public dialogue in which the community decides where the money should go.
San Luis Obispo has already held 23 focus groups, and more than 150 people - including doctors, patients, parents, and law enforcement - have attended public forums throughout the county. County Mental Health is also conducting a comprehensive survey to gauge the public's priorities on this sensitive issue. Anyone is eligible to participate in the survey, which runs through June 30 at www.opinionstudies.com.
"No decisions will be made until this input process is done," explained Dale Magee, coordinator for the Mental Health Services Act Community Planning Project.
In what Magee calls "a very authentic process," the public will participate directly in determining which areas of the current system need "tuning up."
The state has identified certain approved services, but the only requirement is that the money go toward enhancing and expanding existing programs. It cannot be used to supplant money in the existing budget.
So far, Magee said, the public input has verified and validated the idea that people want more care besides medication. The public has shown interest in recovery programs and follow-up care, people with mental illness have expressed a desire to be more productive and self-sufficient, and, of vital importance to Magee, Mental Health staff has demonstrated a real willingness to change.
Fifty-five Paso lots sold in less than a week
Even as rumors of a real estate bubble swell to unparalleled proportions, Paso Robles has just broken a new sales record. Last Thursday, 55 undeveloped lots went on the market, and by Tuesday, Ed Steinbeck of Re/Max Parkside Real Estate reported that all but one of the lots were sold.
"That's just unprecedented in Paso Robles," said Greg Kudlick, a certified financial planner based in the North County.
Located near the Wal-Mart shopping center, the 55 lots ranged in price from $230,000 to $290,000; mostly around a quarter-million, Steinbeck said.
Steinbeck explained the phenomenal land rush as a simple matter of short supply and "pent-up demand."
There are almost no vacant lots for sale within the city, and, Steinbeck observed, "This is exactly what people were looking for."
Most of the parcels were purchased by individual builders, in blocks of one, two, or three. According to Steinbeck, only one developer is purchasing more than four lots.
New energy bill enlightens solar power
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and REC Solar based in Los Osos are applauding a recently proposed senate energy bill that includes tax credits for solar power installations. For the first time since 1982, homeowners who chose to go solar could claim a 30 percent credit - of up to $2,000 - to offset the costs their eco-friendly energy systems. Businesses that convert to solar would also qualify for a 30 percent tax credit, sans the 2K cap.
Heather Zwaduk of REC Solar praised the new legislation making solar energy affordable to more people. The law could go into effect next year. For a typical single-family household with a monthly electric bill of around $100, it costs about $15,000 to install a complete solar energy system.
Solar users are currently subsidized by a California tax credit and state rebate program that cover about 30 percent of a system's price. Those state programs are expected to expire in 2006, making the federal legislation all the more critical for both solar consumers and providers.
SLO fire chief Knabe moves on
San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe is moving on to bigger and brighter fire engines in Southern California. He will take over as chief of the Fullerton Fire Department next month. Knabe has been chief of the San Luis Obispo Fire Department for three years, and said leaving San Luis Obispo was a difficult decision.
"I just don't think there's a better area then San Luis Obispo, just as far as the natural beauty," said Knabe. "And the people are just extremely friendly."
For the last three years Knabe has been commuting from SLO to Simi Valley on the weekends to see his family. His new job will allow him to make daily commutes instead. Knabe said that affording a house big enough for his family, which includes four children, his mother-in-law, and his wife, was part of the reason he decided to take the new job. Knabe also has one child who does not live with him.
"Obviously with my salary I could get a home somewhere (in SLO County), but with my wife and my kids I need a larger house," said Knabe.
Knabe said he's going to miss a lot of things about SLO, like the people, the coffee shop that has his drink ready for him in the morning, and the beauty of the area.
"This is not an easy decision for me," said Knabe. "I was hoping that a house would come along or a piece of property - just something that would allow me to stay here, and that just never came to fruition. And the package they offered me in Fullerton ... you could tell they really wanted me.
"The relationships that I've developed with the community and the people in this town; it's going to be tough to find somewhere else."
Chowchilla busnapper denied parole at CMC
Richard Allen Schoenfeld was denied parole for the 19th time on June 21. Schoenfeld is serving a life sentence at the California Men's Colony for kidnapping and burying a busload of schoolchildren in 1976.
Schoenfeld, his brother James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Newhall Woods hijacked a school bus in Chowchilla then transferred their victims to vans and buried them 100 miles north at a quarry. While the kidnappers were demanding a ransom, the driver of the bus and a few other victims escaped and summoned help.
Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in six days later. All three men are serving life sentences at the California Men's Colony.
This week's news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Jeff Hornaday and John Peabody.