Cayucos viewshed law overturned on appeal

A controversial law dealing with views and land use in and around the hills of Cayucos has been rescinded by order of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Judge Martin Tangeman upheld a Sierra Club appeal of the county’s Cayucos Fringe Viewshed ordinance, which county supervisors passed on a 3-1 vote in late December 2007 after five years of heated debate. The Sierra Club filed its suit against the county the following month.

“There was something for everyone — from chambers of commerce to the Sierra Club — to hate about the ordinance, which gives a pretty good idea of the spectrum of opposition to it,” said Andrew Christie, director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The settlement between the county and the Sierra Club, filed May 18, not only nullifies the Cayucos ordinance, but calls for a comprehensive, countywide approach to viewshed protection.

Individual ordinances protect views of the Seven Sisters peaks between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay along Highway 1, the Edna Valley, Salinas River and ridges east of Nipomo.

According to the settlement, building permit rules for the Cayucos viewshed will now revert to pre-ordinance standards until countywide standards are adopted.

Viewshed ordinances are intended to protect the public’s views of ridgetops without taking away property rights from landowners. They don’t prohibit development as much as strictly regulate it.

The supervisors’ ordinance — which was penned by a now-defunct property rights group called Protect Our Property Rights — offered view protection of Cayucos ridgetops only if they were within a mile of Highway 1.

But the county Planning Commission had urged the board to include Old Creek Road, Santa Rita Road and Highway 46 from Old Creek Road to just short of Highway 1 as part of the ordinance.

In the final tally, then-Supervisors Jerry Lenthall and Harry Ovitt, along with current Supervisor Katcho Achadjian, voted to reduce protection from the commission’s 47,000 acres to 3,910 acres — about one-twelfth the area.

Achadjian, one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for state Assembly in the June 8 primary, didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

“The ironic thing is that the ordinance set the bar so low that it became obvious that the viewshed was a good thing to protect,” said Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who is campaigning in the June race for a second term. “It’s also a good thing that we’ll now have one (viewshed) ordinance with a consistent set of standards rather than fractured ordinances. This gives us a fresh start to protect the viewsheds we all enjoy.”