Grover mayor's vote on hotel may be conflict of interest, Mesa couple says

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comFebruary 1, 2013 

Debbie Peterson

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune Buy Photo

Are the city of Grover Beach and the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division business partners in a legal sense? And if they are, does that mean that a representative of the city cannot vote on any matter that would affect the financial well-being of the OHV?

Activists from the Nipomo Mesa, who are fighting dust that comes up from the Dunes, have raised the question with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office. The DA hasn’t answered yet, but his response could affect the city’s participation in decisions made by the local Air Pollution Control District.

Here is the reasoning of Larry and Arlene Versaw, who live on the Nipomo Mesa and are concerned about health impacts from the blowing dust:

Grover Beach and the OHV have a revenue-sharing joint powers agreement regarding a new hotel/convention center that is soon to be built at the west end of Grand Avenue, on property owned by state parks. The center could financially benefit both the city and the state.

But Grover Beach has a voting member — Mayor Debbie Peterson — on the countywide Air Pollution Control District board of directors. The state is party to a lawsuit against the district.

That could mean, the Versaws say, that Peterson has a conflict of interest if she votes.

In their letter, the Versaws ask that the district attorney determine whether a conflict of interest exists.

“It is hard to believe,” they wrote, “that one business partner voting on issues that would benefit or hinder the financial well-being of (the) other business partner, is acceptable, legal and ethical.”

The larger context is the battle over sand at the Dunes and its effect on the health of people on the Mesa. While there is widespread acknowledgment that sand travels from the Dunes to the Mesa, residents there and others say the off-road vehicles exacerbate the problem.

Off-roaders dispute that argument.

The Air Pollution Control District adopted a dust-control rule that requires the OHV park to reduce excessive dust emissions from the Dunes, and the off-roader lobbying group, Friends of the Oceano Dunes, sued. The state joined with the Friends of the Oceano Dunes.

In this context, the composition of the APCD board matters. Some directors have been critical of Air Pollution Control Officer Larry Allen as well as board member Adam Hill, a county supervisor, for being too adversarial to state parks representatives.

Two weeks ago, six of the board’s 12 members voted to pass over Hill’s routine ascension to the board’s chairmanship. Peterson was among those who voted against Hill, who had accused state parks of not negotiating in good faith.

Had Peterson not been allowed to vote because there is a conflict of interest, Hill would have become chairman on a 6-5 vote, and the local district’s stance would have presumably been more assertive in its dealings with the state.

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