Oceano board delays decision on whether to sell water rights

Oceano’s services district board again delayed a decision Wednesday night on whether to sell some of the community’s water.

In an emotionally charged meeting, one board member questioned publicly whether she should resign — but was urged by local residents not to do so.

A large audience packed the normally sparse meeting room to hear whether the Oceano Community Services District would move ahead with a plan to sell a developer water.

But before they had a chance to speak, near the beginning of the meeting, board member Mary Lucey spoke against selling water on a permanent basis.

“I cannot sit on a board that sells your water rights,” she said. “What’s best for you — for me to sit here and be one lone voice or to join you in solidarity on the streets” as a community activist?

The audience beseeched her to “sit and fight,” and other board members joined in urging her to stay.

The debate over whether to sell 100 acre-feet of Oceano’s water permanently to developer Larry Persons — who wants to build the Los Robles del Mar project just outside Pismo Beach — garnered the most comment and outrage.

In the past week, a handful of local residents gathered 577 signatures from residents opposing a district sale of water and seeking to be able to vote before the district moved ahead on a sale to any outside entity.

Terry Sweetland, one of the petitioners, reminded the board of some community members’ wishes: “A good amount of people are upset with the board.”

If the water sale goes through, he said, he may circulate a recall petition.

The proposal to sell water for the Pismo Beach development is one of three sales the board has discussed: negotiations with the developer of a large project in Price Canyon continue, as do talks with Arroyo Grande.

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams said the city is putting together a proposal to submit to Oceano; the council is interested in purchasing 150 acre-feet of water.

Persons has requested water for a project that would include 252 homes and 60 senior homes.

It was the third time he’d attended a board meeting and went away empty-handed, though talks continue.

The board voted 4-1, with Lucey dissenting, to have board President Jim Hill be part of the talks between Persons and the district.

Persons said the next step is to discuss with Hill whether the district really wants to sell water.

Hill, meanwhile, reminded the audience that the district would use the money from a water sale to pay for its infrastructure needs without burdening the community with a higher water rate increase than the one already proposed.

He also suggested that the developer should pay $1.5 million per 100 acre-feet of water, instead of the $500,000 being offered.