A developer has filed a lawsuit against the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission alleging the agency board abused its discretion and limited authority by denying a request to annex his property into Pismo Beach.
The lawsuit also alleges the LAFCO board’s action was controlled by a vocal group of local residents, their elected representative Supervisor Adam Hill, and Bruce Gibson, a county supervisor who chairs the board — a claim that several elected officials denied. None were named as individual defendants in the suit.
Larry Persons, president of Simi Valley-based Pacific Harbor Homes, has been trying for more than 25 years to develop a 154-acre property on the city’s eastern edge.
Approval would have paved the way for Persons to move forward with plans for a development known as Los Robles del Mar, including 252 single-family houses and 60 senior citizen residences on a site bordered by Oak Park Boulevard, east of James Way.
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Concerns over water derailed his plans in March, when LAFCO commissioners voted 5-2 to deny Pismo Beach’s request to annex the property to the city.
The board took its final vote in April, finding the reliability and sustainability of the city’s water supply is uncertain and would limit its ability to provide water to current or future residents in certain situations, such as a drought or if state water supplies were curtailed.
The civil lawsuit was filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on May 8 by Central Coast Development, the partnership that owns the property (Pacific Harbor Homes is one of the partners). It asks the court to rescind and nullify that decision and adopt a new resolution approving the annexation without any conditions, including allowing Persons’ use of onsite wells.
The lawsuit argues the findings approved by the LAFCO board are inconsistent with and directly contradict the city’s water supply planning documents and information presented by an independent consultant the agency had hired.
“LAFCO based its decision on pre-existing personal and political motivations and trumped-up concerns about the sufficiency of the city’s water supplies under a doomsday scenario, rather than an objective analysis of the evidence,” the lawsuit states.
A civil lawsuit represents only one side of a dispute.
Ray Biering, LAFCO’s legal counsel, said he could not discuss the lawsuit and “can’t try it in the paper.”
“I believe the LAFCO decision is supported by the administrative record,” he added. “I believe LAFCO will defend the matter vigorously.”The court’s decision will be limited to the administrative record, Biering said, including all staff reports, public comments and other documents presented to the LAFCO commission — not any alleged political motivations.
The LAFCO board first considered an annexation request for Persons’ property in 2008. At the time, he proposed to use wells on his property to supply water to the project. LAFCO rejected the plan, saying the underground aquifer does not have enough water for Los Robles del Mar.
In the meantime, in early 2011, LAFCO gave the private Coastal Christian School the go-ahead to build a new campus on an additional 28 acres at the same location. The school will be served with water from an onsite well.
Persons’ company then spent $3.5 million to purchase 100 acre-feet of state water from another property owner, Pismo-98 LLC, which owned rights to some of the city’s state water allocation.
At two hearings earlier this year, the LAFCO board heard from numerous residents opposed to the project with worries about increased traffic, whether the city needs more housing, and, of course, whether the project had enough water to serve it in the decades ahead.
Some residents and a few commissioners supplied their own calculations to show they believed more water was needed, though Pismo Beach Public Works Director Dwayne Chisam maintained the water supply would be sufficient to serve the development.
The lawsuit also claims that Supervisors Hill and Gibson are close friends and “improperly conspired together to deny the annexation in order to placate their anti-growth constituents and further their own political careers in an election year.”
Hill is running for re-election against Pismo Beach Councilman Ed Waage.
The suit claims that LAFCO Commissioner Ed Eby, a Nipomo Community Services District board member, agreed to deny the annexation in exchange for the support of Gibson and Hill on the district’s project to build a pipeline to bring water to the Nipomo Mesa from Santa Maria.
“There’s no evidence to substantiate those claims because they aren’t true,” Hill said Thursday. Hill also objected to the assertion that he’s anti-development and added that he and Gibson have differed in their votes on various development projects.
Gibson said he could not comment because of the ongoing litigation but added that “I am completely confident that LAFCO made the right decision on that annexation and that it’s a fully justified decision.”
Eby also rejected the allegations. “I never talked to Hill about this at all, and I never talked to Gibson outside of the open LAFCO hearings,” he said. “I don’t know how Hill fits in this at all. He’s not on LAFCO and no one told me what he thought about it.”
The suit also alleges Eby has made differing statements on the reliability of state water for the Pismo Beach annexation and the pipeline project in Nipomo.
Eby said Thursday his largest concerns about Pismo Beach’s water centered on whether the city could access its full supply of groundwater and if it was relying in part on a recycled water program that is not yet in place.
Relying solely on state water, or any one water source, is unwise for any jurisdiction, Eby said.
“They were using sources of water in their calculation that I just didn’t think they had,” he said.