Election 2012

Future of Price Canyon key in race for Pismo Beach City Council

City Council candidates express varying views on land’s potential annexation and development

clambert@thetribunenews.comOctober 24, 2012 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said how many years City Manager Kevin M. Rice will have served in the post. He will have worked nine years when he steps down, not eight.

A front-page story published Thursday about the Pismo Beach City Council race incorrectly said how many years City Manager Kevin M. Rice will have served in the post. He will have worked nine years when he steps down, not eight.

One of the key issues in the Pismo Beach City Council race involves a large area of land that’s likely to stay undeveloped for years.

But the long-term fate of several properties in Price Canyon depends in part on who is elected to the council in November. Two seats are open; in addition, Mayor Shelly Higginbotham is running unopposed for re-election.

The next council will consider a proposal, known as Spanish Springs, which could add hundreds of homes and hotel rooms to 961 acres north of Pismo Beach’s city limits.

The council will also focus on issues within the city’s boundaries, including improving its downtown, preventing bluff erosion and hiring a new city manager to succeed Kevin M. Rice, who is retiring after nine years in the post.

Five candidates are running for two seats on the council: incumbent Ed Waage, a former emergency planning manager at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant; DJ White, a property manager and chairman of the city’s Planning Commission; Kevin Kreowski, a business owner and former agent with the U.S. Border Patrol; Erik Howell, a 17-year member of the Lucia Mar Unified School District board; and Sheila Blake, a retired airline supervisor.

When asked their opinion on top issues facing the city, many candidates pointed to development — in Price Canyon as well as other areas — as a significant challenge.

Several of the candidates questioned whether there are enough resources, including water, or whether there is even a demand for the proposal.

“There is no burning demand for properties in the canyon,” said Blake, who has been critical of the proposal. Blake, 70, added that she’s not against development, but is opposed to sprawl and doesn’t believe the development would be a good fit.

She said more focus should be made on improving downtown and experimenting with ways to attract tourists year-round, such as closing some streets during the off-season to allow restaurants and cafes more room for al fresco dining. 

Kreowski, 52, and Howell, 45, are also concerned about the plan.

Kreowski, who owns Port Harford Chandlery and Pub, doesn’t believe there’s enough water right now to support the plan. If the project does obtain a reliable, sustainable water supply, he said, “then we could move on to talking about traffic and environmental (issues).”

Kreowski suggested that instead of trying to annex land in Price Canyon, Pismo Beach should turn its focus to trying to incorporate Avila Beach.

Howell said he has serious reservations about the proposal, including concerns about water, traffic and “adding new homes to the current inventory when property values are down within the city.”

“Why are we rushing to approve this project today?” Howell asked.

He also wants the city to put utility lines underground in Shell Beach.

As a planning commissioner, White, 45, voted this month to recommend that the City Council approve documents guiding development in the Price Canyon area. 

But he said if elected, he’d hear both sides of the issue with an open mind before rendering judgment. The Price Canyon area is the logical area for the city to expand, he said.

“My feeling is you do need to plan for the future,” White said. “You’ve got to look 15 to 20 years down the road. Do I think the city should take control of that property as opposed to the county having control of it? Yes, I do.”

If the property owners decided to develop the three properties in the Spanish Springs proposal through the county with its current land-use designations as rural and agricultural, only 40 residential units could be built, according to documents from the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, which considers annexation requests.

White also suggested the city revisit its fees paid in lieu of providing parking so downtown business owners who want to renovate their properties aren’t dissuaded from doing so by the high cost of parking fees ($36,000 per space).

Waage, 69, supported developing an economic impact report on development in Price Canyon and voted with the rest of the council in favor of an agreement with the county that will guide cooperative planning in the area.

He said the Price Canyon proposal has issues, such as traffic, that need to be explored, adding: “I’d like to help the city define what should go in there; whatever goes in there I’d like to have the city have control over it.”

Public safety is one of Waage’s top priorities, and he wants to ensure all areas of the city take steps to reduce fire hazards.

For her part, Higginbotham, 55, agreed that cities have to grow, and Pismo Beach is no exception.

“I don’t take it lightly that whatever happens out there will forever change the look of that corridor,” she said. “We have to think of the region as a whole.”

Campaign contributions

Campaign finance forms on file with the city show how much the candidates have raised through 

Sept. 30. Kreowski did not report any contributions or expenditures. Higginbotham reported only one expenditure of $170 to put her name on the November ballot. 

Blake has raised $6,757, including a $100 donation from Supervisor Adam Hill and a $4,000 loan to herself.  

Howell has brought in $7,420, including $2,000 in loans from himself and Lucia Mar school board member Mark Millis. He also received a $100 contribution from Friends of Adam Hill, $200 from Lucia Mar Superintendent Jim Hoge-boom, and $500 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

Waage reported $8,584 in contributions, including a $3,200 loan from himself. He received $200 from Katcho Achadjian for Assembly 2012; $2,000 from the Lincoln Club of San Luis Obispo County, which supports Republican candidates in partisan and nonpartisan office; $100 from Meridian Pacific, a political consulting firm with an office in Templeton; and $500 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.

White has received $7,239, including a $1,000 loan to himself. He received $100 from Higginbotham; $500 from the county’s Lincoln Club; $800 from the Committee to Elect Ted Ehring (a Pismo Councilman who is not running for re-election); and $2,500 from Four Seasons Livestock LLC, a cattle operation owned by Darren Shetler, who also is part-owner of a 258-acre parcel in Price Canyon. The property is not part of the Spanish Springs proposal, but could be annexed to the city and developed separately.

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