Cambria water hookups on slow track

Though connections are approved, new processes and rules must be established

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 25, 2013 

Nancy Rettler and her husband bought property in Cambria in 1988 and are number 70 on the community’s 665-name wait list for a water service hookup.

“We came up every year on our anniversary,” she said at a meeting last week, choking back tears. “We intended to raise our daughter here. She’s now in grad school.”

“It does get a little emotional when you see your life tick away,” noted Marie Marisco, who said she didn’t walk with a cane when she and her husband, Frank, bought their land, but does now.

They were among several Cambria lot owners and others who applauded vigorously after Cambria Community Services District directors voted unanimously Thursday to move toward issuing a few new water service hookups for the first time in more than a decade.

The handout of new water connections won’t happen quickly. Before the process can begin on the first new home-building project under the program, the board still has many hurdles to overcome — including establishing the rules for the conservation program itself and how and when the district can start handing out the intent to serve letters.

Technically, the district’s water-supply state of emergency remains in effect because the district still has not found an additional source of water.

So the district plans on a “conserve to build” program similar to that used in Nipomo, Paso Robles and Los Osos — a process often accepted by the California Coastal Commission and included in the county North Coast Area Plan.

The district maintains its recently approved conservation plan will ensure any newly built house will, in effect, get enough water for its estimated use through conservation implemented elsewhere.

Conservation measures include rebates for low-wateruse appliances, providing free low-flow showerheads, retrofitting fixtures in schools and coin-laundry washers and allowing builders to buy water-saving credits.

Even after the services district issues intent-toserve letters, no construction can begin until planning officials with the county and Coastal Commission also give the go-ahead. County planners have said the district must go through reviews mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act — a position rejected by the district.

Tired of waiting

Last week’s vote came after nearly an hour of occasionally fervent and emotionally charged testimony by 22 public speakers. Fourteen spoke in favor, eight against.

A dozen said they’ve been queued up for as long as a quarter century, waiting to build on their land.

Board President Mike Thompson read excerpts from 25 letters submitted, including one from a woman in the military who wrote that she bought her lot in 1999 and said, “The only thing that kept me going was my dream of returning to Cambria.”

Clift said the vote represents the board’s commitment to the conservation program.

He and other directors said they know those who object to the plan may file appeals or lawsuits to keep it from being implemented.

But, Clift said, “I’m comfortable all we are doing is exercising our legal authority to set rules under the (state code) 350. … We’re matching our behavior and actions to actions already approved by the county and Coastal Commission.”

Tina Dickason and Christine Heinrichs were among speakers who raised the possibility of legal action. Attorney Cynthia Hawley of Land-Watch of San Luis Obispo County, a former district director, also testified, saying that the board’s action requires CEQA review to prove the program won’t damage the environment.

Several who spoke against the district action said its own attorney had strongly advised in a March 24, 2011, memo that the board not release intent-to-serve letters. That memo “contradicts everything you’ve said today,” Hawley said.

Speakers Mary Webb and Elizabeth Bettenhausen objected to a lack of specificity, including how many connections are meant by “a limited number of connections” and how exactly the district will show how much water has been saved and prove the savings will persist.

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