San Luis Obispo County to add builder to Water Resources Advisory Committee

Should the county’s chief water advisory board include a developer?

County supervisors grappled with the question this week and answered “yes” — but they want to know more about how that person would be chosen.

The issue is not insignificant. The Water Resources Advisory Committee is the Board of Supervisors’ most important source for carefully deliberated information and recommendations about water.

And water — or the lack or shortage of it — burbles beneath virtually every policy decision the county makes on land use, housing or growth.

The committee already has 34 members, representing county supervisorial districts, cities, water districts and other agencies and organizations, such as Cuesta College, the California Men’s Colony and the Farm Bureau. Last year, it created slots for the environmental and agricultural communities.

However, attempts to add a representative for development interests have fallen short twice at the committee level.

Nonetheless, a new proposal to add the developer member and alternate was on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda Tuesday as a so-called consent item — one that supervisors generally do not discuss but approve as presented by their staff.

But Supervisor Bruce Gibson pulled it off for a closer look. He questioned why a 34-member committee needed another person, and Supervisor Adam Hill asked why earlier attempts to seat a developer had been met with reluctance.

Committee Chairman Mike Winn of Nipomo said some committee members were “uncomfortable with having a developer sitting at the table.” He said some feared developers on the committee might “simply close a blind eye to water shortages because they wanted to build a project.”

Winn, however, recommended that the new position be created.

Supervisor Jim Patterson, who once sat on the committee himself, said the developer voice is lacking and belongs on the committee.

“It’s a voice that we should hear from,” he said.

Gibson later told The Tribune that he worried the Central Coast Home Builders Association was “driving the process” and seemed “to be ... seeking a seat for itself.”

He said he feared the association would inject politics into what is supposed to be an advisory board.

Jerry Bunin, government affairs director for the Home Builders Association, told The Tribune that the association “want(s) to be part of the policy discussion” and believes it can add to the discussion about water.

As to politics, Bunin said, water has been a political issue for a long time.

In the end, supervisors approved the developer position but sent the proposal back to the water committee with instructions to come up with a more clearly defined process for choosing the new member, including outreach to the broader building community.

The committee will vet and recommend the new member, but supervisors will have the final say.