The face of Pismo Beach will continue to change throughout 2016, Mayor Shelly Higginbotham says, as a number of developments get fully underway, and the city continues to push for its long-heralded regional water project to help ease the weight of water conservation pressing on the tourist town.
Last year, the City Council approved several new major developments, Higginbotham said, and many of those are expected to begin construction this year.
“It was a huge year for development,” she said. “The economy is growing, and there is just a lot of interest in getting projects done. I think finally the lending institutions are open again and people are willing to take that risk again. Probably they were ready a couple of years ago, but it takes time to put everything in place.”
Of those, the Shell Beach Streetscape Project is “probably the biggest,” she said, with close seconds being the two hotels approved for downtown Pismo Beach (both approvals were unsuccessfully appealed to the California Coastal Commission).
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Moving forward into this year, Pismo Beach residents will see construction begin on those projects, Higginbotham said, starting with moving overhead utilities underground along Shell Beach Road. The two hotel projects — Inn at the Pier and Beachwalk Resort — will both likely be under construction this year, which could temporarily cause some delays and congestion in that area, she noted.
“There will be a lot of construction going on downtown, and we’ll have to figure out the timing of that,” she said.
The Pismo Beach Pier had approximately 800,000 visitors between January and February last year.
Additionally, the city is looking to invest about $3 million into updating the pier, which had 800,000 visitors during 2015, Higginbotham said.
“We’ve done work in the past on both ends, but the middle hasn’t had much work done on it yet, so we want to go in and shore up the pilings and make sure those are in good shape,” she said. “Like I said, 800,000 people, that shows that is an important attraction for people downtown.”
Higginbotham said the city also will examine the bait shack on the pier and possibly whether to move it. All construction on the pier will be subject to the weather, she said, so a timeline of when the improvements would take place is still uncertain.
“I think those are huge,” she said. “Between streetscape, the pier and those hotels, it’s going to be really busy for our small city.”
Another project keeping the city busy into 2016 will be its Pismo Beach Regional Groundwater Sustainability Program.
In April 2015, the City Council approved its Recycled Water Facilities Planning Study, which examined how the Five Cities could preserve and increase its water supply. The study concluded the best option would be to update the Pismo Beach sewage treatment plant to a higher tertiary level so effluent could be injected into the Santa Maria groundwater basin to replenish it and prevent seawater intrusion at coastal wells.
Between streetscape, the pier and those hotels, it’s going to be really busy for our small city.
Shelly Higginbotham, Pismo Beach mayor
The city has conducted significant outreach to other regional agencies to partner with Pismo Beach to pay for, manage and benefit from the facility, and it will be continuing that outreach into 2016. The city is also working on determining how the project could be governed and managed, considering it is a regional project.
Once fully realized, the project could recycle up to 950 acre-feet of water (or 309.6 million gallons) per year.
“Moving forward with the upgrade to the wastewater recycling plant was huge,” Higginbotham said. “We’ve got about a million bucks into that already. And we’ve got commitments and interests from most of our neighboring cities to continue to work on that, so that’s good. That’ll be huge.”
The water project is part of a push by the city in recent years to find more water sources and increase conservation amid one of the state’s worst droughts on record. Following the governor’s water conservation mandate in 2014, Pismo Beach was asked to reduce its water use by 24 percent over its 2013 numbers.
Higginbotham said so far the city and its residents have performed admirably in reducing their water consumption.
“Just the fact that we got so many people in the community to conserve water and — except for one month, we met or exceeded the governor’s mandate.” she said. “That was surprising, especially considering we are a city with a large number of hotel rooms and so many people visiting.”
As far as other smaller plans for the city in 2016, Higginbotham joked that she’d like to have more meetings like the one in December in which kids from the Happy Time Preschool brought poinsettias to the City Council.
“That was just the cutest thing,” she said. “We’ll have to have them come back again.”