Commissioners at the Port San Luis Harbor District — the focus of a critical county civil grand jury inquiry earlier this year — responded this week that the report belittled the progress the district has made over the past few years.
“(D)espite six months of study, numerous records requests and multiple interviews and site visits, this report did not provide evidence to warrant the negative and editorial title, nor offer practical advice or suggestions not already implemented by the district,” Carolyn Moffatt, president of the district’s board, stated in a letter included with the district’s response to the report.
Commissioners voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve the response, which was sent to the county grand jury and San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall.
The grand jury report, “Port San Luis: A Tarnished Jewel,” questioned how the district prepares its financial reports and awards contracts to concessionaires and raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving harbor commissioners.
It also said the district could lose out on additional funding if too much sand prevents boats from launching.
District officials agreed that it’s difficult or impossible to launch a boat when the sport launch is sanded in and when the large boat launch is in shallow water — and that the district could lose money as a result.
But they said the grand jury disregarded district efforts to maintain the viability of the launches, by dredging and planning for future projects. The district has been continuously dredging both launches since March, Harbor Manager Steve McGrath said Thursday.
The district is seeking grants to rebuild and extend its large boat hoist 60 feet into deeper water. A 2007 study concluded the project would cost $700,000.
In a previous interview, McGrath said, “Our inability to launch boats has a greater (impact) on our public service function than on our bottom line.”
The harbor district was formed in 1954 and includes most of the county south of the Cuesta Grade, with the exception of Morro Bay and Los Osos.
Its five-member Board of Commissioners oversees a $4.1 million budget, two-thirds of which is funded by property taxes.
The district has in the past three years increased by 22 percent the amount of money it has raised in enterprise funds, or money that comes from the district’s business operations, such as the paid-parking lot in Avila Beach.
The enterprise funds have increased to $1.2 million from $1 million — a point commissioners felt was overlooked.
Commissioners felt the grand jury “didn’t recognize the overall picture and focused on some small areas,” McGrath said.
The recommendations from the civil grand jury are advisory only, but the district was required to respond to the report by Sept. 23.
Commissioners responded to several other points, including:
• The commission disagreed with the grand jury report’s claim that the district has no competitive bidding policy for concessionaires. One has been in place since April 2008.
• Commissioners agreed with a report recommendation that the district should promote the rental availability of an assembly room in its Gateway building.
• Commissioners will meet to further discuss the grand jury’s point on potential conflicts of interest before Dec. 21.
The report stated that harbor commissioners should not vote on issues involving a service provider with whom they have a business relationship, or on issues involving the San Luis Yacht Club if they are members.
To read the county grand jury’s report, go to www.slocourts.net/grand_jury.
To read the Port San Luis Harbor District’s response, go to www.portsanluis.com, click “Meeting Agendas and Minutes” and select the agenda from the Aug. 24 meeting.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by on Twitter following @SouthCountyBeat.