An important new citizens’ committee gathered for its first meeting Monday, April 18, in part to discuss the group’s major challenges and responsibilities.
Among those assignments are defining how many of the remaining vacant lots in Cambria are truly suitable as home sites, and identifying where the Cambria Community Services District might find the money to buy up the development rights for some of them.
The district’s Buildout Reduction Program (BRP) Citizens’ Committee held a special meeting so members could elect a chairperson (Ted Siegler, unanimously) and introduce each member’s alternate.
The group also received guidance from CSD General Manager Jerry Gruber, Board of Directors President Gail Robinette and Director Greg Sanders.
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Robinette and Sanders serve on an ad hoc committee working on the environmental impact report (EIR) for the district’s sustainable water facility (formerly emergency water supply project).
Nearly a decade ago, both Robinette and Sanders were involved when the district’s current BRP was drafted and adopted, she as a member of the original Citizens Finance Committee in 2006, and Sanders as a district board member.
The three CSD reps repeatedly stressed at the nearly two-hour April 18 meeting that the updated buildout reduction program will be a vital element in the water facility’s EIR, which in turn is a crucial component of the district’s plan to get a permanent permit to operate the facility at any time, rather than just during water-shortage emergencies.
The latter is the current restriction, according to the emergency permit the county issued to the district to build the plant in 2014, based on the CSD’s estimates that, without the facility, the community could have run out of water during the drought.
Gruber called the committee’s work “a priority.”
BRP is “a way to maintain a balance between potential growth and the sustained availability of public services, according to the 2006 executive summary of the program.
The summary said the program was designed to bolster the district’s “continuing effort to reduce buildout potential in Cambria,” noting that “the effort is in alignment with an earlier Coastal Commission recommendation made” in 2001 during a review of the county’s Local Coastal Program. The district’s goal “of not exceeding a total of 4,650 existing and outstanding residential connections” also is included in the county’s community plan for Cambria, part of the North Coast Area Plan.
BRP “seeks to retire or merge enough potential building sites so that there is a near match between those who are authorized to build” under the 4,650 cap, “and the number of suitable building sites,” an effort estimated in the summary to take more than 20 years.
Since then, some of the anticipated ways of paying for BRP were later considered impractical or were not allowed by regulatory changes. That’s one reason the current committee must focus so heavily on how to pay for the program that’s considered so important to the district’s overall plan for water supply.
However, some buildout reduction has been achieved, according to a CSD staff report for an April 8 meeting at which each board member nominated a BRP committee member. The report said 162 lots have been acquired through the land conservancy, 623 lots have been merged with other parcels and other lots have been retired as a requirement when water-wait list positions are transferred from one parcel to another.
A public draft of the EIR is to be ready by sometime in August, the CSD officials estimated.
With that timeline looming, committee members know they have but 60 to 90 days (at the outside) to submit recommendations on how to update, revise and finance the BRP.
The current schedule is for the committee to meet every two weeks, with the next meeting set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the Cambria Fire Station, 2850 Burton Drive. The next meeting would be May 18. However, additional meetings can be called at any time, and the first-and-third-Tuesday schedule could be modified.
The meetings are open to the public because, as a standing committee, the group must operate under the guidelines of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, the “sunshine” act that requires open meetings for local legislative bodies. In other words, public agencies are to conduct their business in public (other than those actions that are allowed to be discussed and voted upon in closed sessions).
That also means two committee members can work together on an issue, but they can’t draw in other members to create a working team.
Members and alternates
BRP committee members and their alternates are:
▪ Committee chairman Siegler’s alternate is Cindy Steidel, a member of the North Coast Advisory Council.
▪ The alternate for Mel McColloch, Cambria Chamber of Commerce board president, is chamber board member Sue Robinson, although she may assume more responsibility, depending on McColloch’s medical treatments.
▪ Crosby Swartz chairs the Cambria Forest Committee. His alternate is wife Laura Swartz, treasurer of the Forest Committee and former owner of several businesses.
▪ Alternate for political organizer Alison Groves is Bob Sfarzo, participant in the North Coast Advisory Council’s land use and traffic committees.
▪ Attorney Mark Rochefort’s alternate is Greg Hunter, retired chief financial officer for corporations.
Nine of the 10 committee members were at the meeting. Rochefort was absent, but Hunter submitted a list of 24 questions Rochefort feels should be answered if the committee is to provide a complete report back to the CSD board.
His questions cover such topics as: the status of BRP and various wait lists for water service; how many lots have been retired through various programs; if the water facility will provide enough water for 4,650 connections; legal restrictions on CCSD’s service area; details about water meters and rates; the capacity of the water project; and various statistical, land-use and code questions for county officials, land appraisers and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, including about two special areas covered by the conservancy’s lot-acquisition-and-retirement program.
Glenn Lajoie is vice president of planning and environmental science at Michael Baker Associates, the consulting firm that’s preparing the water facility’s EIR. Lajoie told committee members by teleconference that he has been consulting with the district on environmental, water and wastewater issues since 1990, and was “deeply involved with the launch of BRP back in 2005.” The plan “continues to be an important part of our project.”
Lajoie will participate by phone in as many of the committee’s meetings as possible, Gruber said, as will county planner Airlin Singewald. District counsel Tim Carmel also could advise the group.
Soon, the district is to provide to each committee member with a binder holding the current BRP, an administrative draft of the updated EIR and other documents.