Bouquets and Brickbats

Atascadero shouldn’t pay for FEMA’s mistake

July 12, 2013 

The rotunda of the historic Atascadero City Administration Building is covered to protect the structure from rain while seismic retrofitting is under way.


Oops! FEMA now says it erred when it gave the city of Atascadero nearly $2.7 million to relocate city offices following the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. That mistake could leave the city scrambling to repay the money.

Some background: The $2.65 million was part of a $26.3 million relief package the city received following the quake, which damaged the historic rotunda building so badly that city offices had to be relocated.

The offices were eventually moved into a former bowling alley owned by the city’s now-defunct Redevelopment Agency. So, the city was essentially paying rent to its own redevelopment agency, and being reimbursed by FEMA.

City Manager Rachelle Rickard said the arrangement was discussed with FEMA ahead of time, and the agency gave its OK. But an audit by the Office of Inspector General found it to be a “less-than-arms-length transaction” and disallowed the payment. FEMA agreed with the Inspector General.

The city plans to appeal the decision. That’s wise. Given the fickleness of FEMA, it may reverse itself once again.

We understand that mistakes happen, but a small municipality should not be stuck with a huge bill because the feds got it wrong. For fumbling the figures, FEMA gets whacked with an eraser-topped brickbat.

Quick action on North County water

In lieu of a bouquet, we raise a goblet of groundwater to the county Board of Supervisors for taking preliminary action on the North County groundwater crisis. On Tuesday, the board directed county staff to return in late July or early August with a list of options aimed at stabilizing the Paso Robles groundwater basin, which has been strained, in large part, by the burgeoning wine-grape industry.

To revive the basin, several restrictions have been discussed, including a moratorium on new vineyards, mandatory ag conservation measures, a ban on large agricultural ponds and limits on groundwater pumping.

Keep in mind, the board’s decision to direct staff to look into the issue is just a first step. Nothing will change unless supervisors have the gumption to adopt an urgency ordinance with strong teeth. Given Frank Mecham’s and Debbie Arnold’s stated preference for a cautious approach, that could be a challenge — especially since the death of Paul Teixeira has left the board without a fifth member. Because urgency ordinances require at least four votes for approval, that means emergency water restrictions will have to be adopted unanimously.

That’s going to be tall order, but for the time being, we’ll shake off the pessimism and toast the board with glasses half-full of a vintage that’s becoming ever more precious in California: good, old-fashioned water.

Bedbugs spell trouble for shelter

Between bedbugs and bees, SLO’s had a trying week.

Bees invaded the Fremont theater, prompting a temporary shutdown there.

In a much more serious development, the discovery of bedbugs at the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter made it necessary to close that facility and call in a pest control crew. Overflow shelters operated by local churches were shut down as well, so that cots could be treated.

Some shelter residents temporarily relocated to the Prado Day Center, but because it’s smaller, about 20 people were left without a place to stay.

The Maxine Lewis Shelter is expected to re-open tonight. We’re glad to hear it — and we offer a huge, hang-in-there bouquet to all who had a hand in getting the bugs out.

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