Citing the shaky state of water sources vital to Central Coast residents, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that a local agency acted within the law when it denied Pismo Beach’s request to annex a 182-acre property into the city last year.
Approval of the request would have paved the way for a residential development known as Los Robles del Mar, which included plans for about 250 single-family homes and 60 senior citizen residences on 154 acres.
“The fragility of the existing water supply on California’s Central Coast is an enduring, knotty problem that has often bumped up against the engines of development and economic growth,” Judge Charles S. Crandall wrote in the opening of his ruling.
After reviewing 4,140 pages connected to the case, Crandall wrote that the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission had considered “the potential harms to the public interest that might occur if the city’s and developer’s assumptions and predictions about water supply should not come to pass.”
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He determined that substantial evidence supported the LAFCO commissioners’ 5-2 vote to deny the annexation in March 2012.
David Church, the agency’s executive director, called the ruling a full victory for LAFCO and for the way the commissioners had reached their decision.
Larry Persons, president of Simi Valley-based Pacific Harbor Homes, has been trying for more than 25 years to develop the property on the city’s northeastern edge bordered by Oak Park Boulevard and east of James Way.
But concerns over water twice derailed his plans. In 2008, he proposed using on-site wells to supply water to the development, but LAFCO commissioners rejected the plan.
Persons then spent $3.5 million to purchase 100 acre-feet of state water from another property owner.
But the LAFCO board was still concerned about the availability of the city’s long-term water supply and questioned the reliability of state water, one of Pismo Beach’s three sources.
The lawsuit, filed in May 2012, asked the court to rescind and nullify LAFCO’s decision and adopt a new resolution approving the annexation without any conditions, including allowing Persons’ use of on-site wells.
Persons and Pismo Beach attorney David Fleishman could not be reached to comment Wednesday evening.
In the ruling, Crandall mentioned the city’s three sources of water.
“A careful review … establishes that periodic drought is now a reality in California, and the probability of drought must play an important factor when planning for further development on the Central Coast of California,” he wrote.
He added: “During drought years, when runoff from the Sierra is diminished, when there (is) a shortage of water in state reservoirs, and when drought results in reduced groundwater pumping, Pismo Beach may very well not be able to meet the needs of its residents.”
Pismo Beach had also mentioned work on water conservation and recycling programs that would supplement the city’s supply, but Crandall noted that while the city has had considerable discussion about a tertiary wastewater treatment plant, no action has been taken on any concrete plans.
(The proposed Spanish Springs development in Price Canyon plans to upgrade the city’s wastewater plant as part of its project.)
The Los Robles del Mar lawsuit also alleged the LAFCO board’s action was controlled by a vocal group of residents, their elected representative Supervisor Adam Hill, and Bruce Gibson, a county supervisor — a claim that several elected officials later denied. None were named as individual defendants in the suit.
Crandall did not mention that argument in his ruling.
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCounty Beat on Twitter.