Master plan could help Morro Bay

jtarica@thetribunenews.comAugust 11, 2012 

Morro Bay seems to be at the center of a lot of potentially transformative chatter these days.

First you’ve got the debate about the future of the sewage treatment plant.

Then, this week we learned of the grant money that will fund construction of a bike and pedestrian bridge over Morro Creek.

Meanwhile, looming ever present in the background, is the discussion about what, if anything, will be done about the antiquated power plant.

All of these topics focus on some valuable areas of land near the bay and beach, which, if used wisely, could provide Morro Bay with all sorts of exciting opportunities to boost its tourism industry.

If it were up to me, I would try to view them all with the kind of master-planned approach that can be tackled in pieces over the course of several years, one day providing an overall waterfront experience that reaches from Tidelands Park to Highway 41, undoing the currently misplaced industrial uses that detract from the charm of the harbor town.

Let’s face it: Power and sewer plants are lousy uses for prime coastal land. They were lousy uses when they were built. They’re even lousier now, at the end of their usable lives.

Yes, these ideas would cost money — lots of money — but what better time than now to imagine the future that might be possible?

If Morro Bay were a municipality in the land of Joetopia, here’s what I would do:

The sewer plant

Get rid of it. Move it. Anywhere off the beach is fine.

Treating sewage has got to be one of the worst uses for property that’s only a couple of blocks from the ocean.

As it is now, this facility is tucked between a variety of recreational properties, including motels, a city park and an RV resort.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of a nice weekend of camping at the beach, it doesn’t include eating my picnic lunch beside a vast repository of human waste.

If you feel better justifying a move because of some potential tsunami threat, that’s fine.

In any case, the poo must shoo.

The power plant

Let’s build a town next to a monolithic natural landmark. This is a good idea.

Then let’s build a monolithic manmade landmark next to the natural one and ruin the view. This is a bad idea.

The Morro Bay Power Plant is old, costly to operate and mostly useless, with two of four generators mothballed and owner Dynegy in a bankruptcy reorganization.

On top of that, the cooling system kills too many baby fish and needs a major upgrade by 2015.

All of these negatives provide a chance for one big positive, which is to level the stacks and open that property, with its bay and rock views, to better public uses.

How about a linear park or a promenade of shops and cafes?

The new bridge

Access across Morro Creek for cyclists and pedestrians is a cool thing, but paving the road and building a full bridge for cars would have been better.

Imagine if you were able to drive in from Highway 41, cruise along the dunes and then pop out right on the bay?

As it is now, getting to the Embarcadero from north of the creek is a bit of a chore and requires traveling back to Highway 1, through town, and out to the water again.

Many a time we have visited Morro Strand from Highway 41 only to leave without going into Morro Bay because the access is troublesome.

I wonder how many tourist dollars are lost because of that difficulty.

Morro Rock

I have one more proposal, and it’s a dramatic one. You will either think I’m a complete genius or a total idiot.

I think it’s long overdue for Morro Bay to take greater advantage of the Rock as a scenic destination.

The fact that all you can do now is drive up to its base and look up is not nearly maximizing this landmark’s potential.

Why are the birds the only ones who get to enjoy the view from the top?

My proposal: a chair lift.

Imagine a modest little operation in the parking lot, shuttling tourists up the back side to a viewing platform on top, while all the rest of the area remains protected for our feathered friends.

Think of the kind of money-making tourist draw that could be, kind of like the gondola in Palm Springs.

People would come from all around, happy to pay for this one-of-a-kind experience.

I can see the big picture now: new access to the Embarcadero, two major eyesores replaced with shops, restaurants and parks, and a stunning new ride up the Gibraltar of the Pacific.

This isn’t too outlandish. I like it.

After all, I could have suggested a rotating five-star restaurant on Morro Rock with a zip line ride down.

Now that would be crazy. Maybe.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at jtarica@thetribunenews.com.

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