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Oceano plan to sell water protested

A group of Oceano activists, upset that the Oceano Community Services District is negotiating to sell some of its water supply, plan to circulate a petition that could stop permanent sales of water — unless the community’s registered voters agree to sell it.

The idea for the petition was born out of fears over whether Oceano will have enough water for the future if the district sells some of that water to developers or other cities.

The concern, in part, comes from conflicting reports on water supply and population, which predict different levels of growth and water needs.

“People are concerned —they want to know what’s going on,” said resident Terry Sweetland, one of the five people who have published a notice signaling their intention to circulate a petition. “It’s a gut feeling that something’s wrong.”

Water sales

The district’s negotiations to sell 300 acre-feet of water to two separate developers — about 15 percent of the community’s water supply — is important not only to Oceano property owners, but to Pismo Beach, which could add nearly 1,000 homes if two projects located just outside city limits move ahead.

Oceano district officials say it’s necessary to sell some water to avoid steeper increases in water and sewer rates than are already being proposed. They also say the funds will enable them to make some needed upgrades to its infrastructure, such as replacing aging water mains.

Also at issue is exactly how much water the community may need in the future, and whether Oceano could actually receive the entire 1,953 acre-feet of water allocated to it from three sources: Lopez Lake, groundwater and state water.

The district uses about 900 acre-feet of water a year. An acre-foot is enough water to serve several single-family homes for a year.

Oceano Community Services District General Manager Raffaele Montemurro, acting on direction from the district board, is negotiating with two separate developers: John King, who hopes to purchase 200 acre-feet of water for a development in Price Canyon, and Larry Persons, who wants 100 acre-feet for the stalled Los Robles del Mar development.

Both are outside Pismo Beach, but within that city’s sphere of influence — meaning they could be annexed into the city. Los Robles del Mar would add 252 homes, senior housing and a private school on 182 acres outside city limits, bordering Oak Park Boulevard.

The San Luis Obispo County Local Agency Formation Commission, which must approve such annexations, in 2008 denied the Los Robles del Mar annexation because there wasn’t enough water to meet the needs of the proposed development.

In a previous interview, David Church, the commission’s executive director, said that 100 acre-feet of water would likely cover the project’s water demand.

The Price Canyon proposal includes 697 homes (including 500 single-family homes and 197 multi-family units), 200 hotel rooms, 280 acres of vineyards, 28 acres of parks and a nine-hole golf course on 1,700 acres off Price Canyon Road.

Arroyo Grande is also interested in purchasing 150 acre-feet of water from Oceano, but the district board has not agreed to move ahead with negotiations.

Petition

More than two dozen Oceano residents attended the district’s most recent meeting to urge board members only to lease water on a temporary basis instead of selling it permanently. Some also suggested the district should go to voters to determine whether they want to sell water.

Now, five Oceano residents plan to circulate a petition that, if successful, would require the district’s residents to approve any sale of permanent water.

A notice of the residents’ intention, which is published in The Tribune today, is signed by Terry Sweetland, Pamela Dean, Cathy Young, William Smith and Greg Jenkins. They maintain that permanent water sales to developers and entities outside Oceano would be “putting Oceano’s future growth and sustainability at risk.”

They claim that the district board is pushing the sales through as quickly as possible, without impact studies, staff reports or the input of the district’s engineer.

“Oceano ratepayers should have the right to be fully informed and the right to vote on water sales that affect our future,” the notice states.

The residents also dispute the amount of water Oceano has available and will need in the future.

According to a review of municipal services by the Local Agency Formation Commission in 2003, Oceano needs 1,175 acre-feet of water to meet the estimated demand for future build out. The future population is estimated at 9,601 residents — about 2,300 additional people.

But according to the Oceano district’s water master plan, completed in 2009, the district needs 1,419 acre-feet at buildout, to accommodate an estimated 12,855 residents.

If Oceano’s master plan is correct and the district moved ahead with selling water to the two developers and Arroyo Grande — 450 acre-feet in total — then the district would have only 84 acre-feet of water left.

The concern is centered on fear that the district won’t get all of its state water. If another drought comes along, the state could limit how much of the 750 acre-feet the community is allocated. In all, the district calculates it has 1,953 acre-feet from all sources. If the community sold 450 acre-feet to the developers and Arroyo Grande and the state delivered only a third of what Oceano is owed, the community would only have 1,003, which is not enough to meet demand at buildout under the water master plan.

“We don’t know if we have enough water for ourselves,” said Dean, a former Oceano district board member.

The district has asked the county for clarification on the future population estimate.

An updated estimate of the community’s buildout will be included in the county’s update of part of its general plan, said county Supervising Planner Mike Wulkan. A report will be available in a few weeks.

The water master plan also analyzes the reliability of the district’s three water sources and concludes that state water can be considered fairly unreliable. The report estimates that Oceano’s reliable water supply is only 1,503 acre-feet, not 1,953.

The next step for the Oceano residents is to file the notice of intention with the county Clerk-Recorder’s office; then they have 180 days to collect about 340 signatures from residents registered to vote in Oceano.

If the signatures are valid and the petition is certified, the Oceano district board could either adopt the ordinance as proposed, or put it on a ballot, said county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.

If board members choose the latter option, the measure could go to voters in the next regular election — November 2012 — or during a stand-alone special election. The district could also hold an election in conjunction with a statewide special election, if Gov. Jerry Brown calls a special election in June for voters to consider his proposal to continue the current tax rate structure.

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