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San Luis County supervisors start 2011 with the big stuff

San Luis Obispo County supervisors held their first 2011 meeting Tuesday and immediately signaled that they plan to deal with high-profile, controversial issues in coming weeks, including recent medical marijuana arrests, graffiti, SmartMeters and flooding in Oceano.

All that is on top of money worries — a budget shortfall that supervisors expect to get worse when Gov. Jerry Brown announces his state budget and its likely negative effect on counties.

On Tuesday, supervisors listened to a parade of citizens speak on various issues.

Medical marijuana

Several people complained at the meeting about the arrest Dec. 28 of 12 county residents who were allegedly selling marijuana through mobile dispensaries.

The arrests, undertaken by the San Luis Obispo County Narcotics Task Force, took place six days before Pat Hedges, a fierce opponent of marijuana use, ended his 12-year tenure as sheriff.

Ian Parkinson was sworn in Monday to replace Hedges, and Supervisor Bruce Gibson said Tuesday he wants the board to meet with Parkinson to discuss “a rational approach” to dealing with medical marijuana. Supervisor Jim Patterson concurred.

Gibson and Patterson spoke after several people involved with the arrests shared their views, including Rachel Tamagni of Paso Robles, who said the arrests were “humiliating and stressful.” She said those selling marijuana were doing so for medicinal reasons, had the proper business licenses and paid taxes.

Linda Hill of Americans for Safe Access called the arrests “despicable” and “morally an outrage,” adding that “medical cannabis (goes) to patients who are suffering.”

Craig Steffens sarcastically “thanked” law enforcement for targeting medical marijuana and not methamphetamine or cocaine and for spending “our tax dollars going after grandmothers and putting children in Child Protective Services.”

Supervisors did not announce a date for their meeting with Parkinson.

SmartMeters

Several people also asked the board to look into a growing chorus of concern about SmartMeters, which are being installed by PG&E throughout the state. Installation is taking place in North County and will work its way south over the next year.

Complaints have surfaced nationwide over radiation, privacy, cost, security and jobs — meter readers are being replaced by the technology, although PG&E says it has found other jobs for 80 percent of those workers.

Among those asking supervisors to put a temporary halt to installations were former Morro Bay City Councilwoman Betty Winholtz and former county supervisor candidate Judy Vick.

Vick said 23 cities and three counties have formally questioned installation of the meters. Supervisor Frank Mecham said he had a SmartMeter installed and his electricity bill doubled.

Supervisor Jim Patterson said he would like the county to follow-up on the complaints, although, as with the medical marijuana, supervisors set no firm date for a public discussion.

“I think we will” take a closer look, Supervisor Adam Hill told The Tribune after the meeting. Both supervisors hope to meet with residents and PG&E, and they are exploring a state Senate bill that allows people to opt out of SmartMeters.

The utility meters are part of a nationwide effort to upgrade the energy grid. SmartMeters are meant to conserve energy. They are called “smart” because they track electricity and gas use and wirelessly transmit data to utilities. They give an hourly read on energy use — information that is available to the homeowner, who can adjust the use accordingly.

Flooding in Oceano

Several speakers complained about recent flooding in one section of Oceano, asking whether it could have been prevented and demanding to know what the government will do to prevent it from happening again.

Supervisors Paul Teixeira and Hill said they will head to Oceano later this week to meet with residents and local leaders and assess the situation.

Graffiti ordinance

Supervisors also set a formal hearing for Jan. 25 for an anti-graffiti ordinance. The recommendations in the proposed ordinance cover everything from education to prevent graffiti to cleanup and who will pay for it.

It suggests civil liability for parents, restitution and community service for the vandals. It also posits a reward for those who turn in graffiti artists.

Some speakers said they do not care for a provision that would give property owners 72 hours to clean up graffiti, arguing that it amounts to them being victimized twice.

Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business suggested the county consider using homeless people to clean up the paint.

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