Cayucos viewshed ordinance repealed

A local law originally designed to protect views of the North Coast — but instead ended up causing a governmental furor — has died quietly.

The so-called Cayucos Fringe Viewshed Ordinance went quietly into oblivion during the Board of Supervisors’ morning hearing Tuesday.

It passed in December 2007, but only after months of frenzied hearings that split various interests in the county.

The law’s repeal was on the supervisors’ consent calendar, which is where they place matters they do not intend to discuss.

Supervisors had little choice. The Sierra Club had sued the county when the ordinance passed, and a settlement was announced in May. That drove the next-to-last stake in the heart of the ordinance.

The decision does not mean supervisors have given up on protecting views of the county’s hillsides. They still are mindful of protecting views, not only for aesthetic reasons, but also because those views are considered by many as important to the county’s tourism industry and economy.However, this time around the supervisors will address the question on a countywide basis and work out the details as part of the update of their General Plan — the blueprint for regulating development.

Supervisor Adam Hill said the board wants less drama and more quiet competence in its current effort.

“The desire is to come up with something workable that makes sense,” Hill said. “We want to do things in a more deliberate way. It shouldn’t be a fight.”

If the new ordinance, which is in the works with no timetable, is shaped as peacefully as Hill hopes, it will provide a sharp contrast to the fireworks in 2007. “The whole process seemed like an egregious way to go about creating an ordinance,” Hill said. “It left a bad taste in people’s mouths.”

The North Coast viewshed ordinance seized the attention of government watchers between 2005 and 2007, sucking in environmentalists, property rights fundamentalists and good-government advocates.

There were charges, counter charges and accusations of the government taking over private property. As the Sierra Club and its environmentalist allies sought to strengthen the law, a group called Protect Our Property Rights jumped in and tried to keep the county from writing too sweeping an ordinance.

POPR had a heavy say in the final, watered-down ordinance, which left the other side livid.The day of the vote, the three supervisors who supported the law — Jerry Lenthall, Harry Ovitt and Katcho Achadjian — sustained a withering two-hour attack from a parade of people who wanted stronger protections.

They were accused of sandbagging, selling out, lacking credibility and shunning good advice. Opponents of the watered-down ordinance vowed to take political action against the trio. Ovitt and Lenthall were up for re-election in 2008, and six months after the viewshed vote, both were thrown out of office in the June primary — although they remained lame-duck supervisors through the following January. Hill replaced Lenthall, and then-Paso Robles Mayor Frank Mecham took over for Ovitt. Achadjian did not immediately face re-election but is now running for the state Assembly in the 33rd District seat.