Eight months after county Supervisor Paul Teixeira floated the idea to dissolve the two South County advisory groups in his district, some members of one of the organizations are wondering if he’s trying to do it again — albeit in a much quieter fashion.
Though he’s under no obligation to do so, Teixeira has not provided funding to the South County Advisory Council, nor has he responded in writing to a request for money from the volunteer organization representing the Nipomo area.
The SCAC is struggling without the funds, which go toward administrative expenses such as office supplies, maintaining a website and renting a post office box, Chairman Dan Woodson said.
But Teixeira said Friday that he told the council’s treasurer earlier this year that he would not give the group — or any advisory councils in his district — money, and cited budget concerns as the reason.
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“We don’t have the money,” Teixeira said. “If they needed the money before they went out and spent it, then they should have told us.”
Woodson acknowledged that the funds are not guaranteed. Teixeira, like the four other supervisors, can give money with board approval to organizations out of a fund for district community projects.
But getting funds has never been a problem before. In the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years, when Katcho Achadjian was the district supervisor, the council requested and received $2,000 each year.
Two other supervisors — Bruce Gibson and Jim Patterson — have given money this fiscal year to advisory councils in their districts after receiving a request. Supervisors Adam Hill and Frank Mecham said they have financially supported advisory councils in their districts in the past.
The county’s 11 advisory councils were created in 1996 to advise planners and county supervisors on proposed plans and developments in their communities.
They are legally separate entities from the county and do not have land-use powers, nor are their recommendations to supervisors or planning commissioners binding.
Their original intent was to bring together a broad cross section of the community to keep supervisors on top of things in their districts. But over the years, there have been reports of friction and upheaval, as well as concerns that the groups could be taken over by a special interest.
Despite the hiccups, several supervisors said this week that the councils are an asset to the county.
“I learn a lot by going,” said Mecham, who attends monthly meetings in San Miguel, Shandon and Templeton. “We’re there to listen, and if they have questions, we answer them.”
Gibson, who has advisory councils in Cambria, Cayucos and Los Osos (and served on the Cayucos council from 1994-2003), said attending their meetings gives him insight into each community’s thinking and makes him available to constituents who have specific concerns.
The councils “represent town-hall meetings that are a basic part of grass-roots democracy,” he wrote in an email. “Their meetings can be contentious and the discussions somewhat inefficient, but that’s often the nature of the public process. When they work well, it’s a great thing to see.”
The supervisors each have $23,438 in community project funds to distribute each fiscal year to local organizations. Any money that is not spent rolls over into the next fiscal year, said Nikki Schmidt, a county administrative analyst.
The county does not have any legal requirement to fund the advisory councils, though there has been a long-standing practice of supervisors proposing and receiving board approval to use community project funds for that purpose, San Luis Obispo County Counsel Warren Jensen wrote in an email.
From July 1 through Nov. 3, the supervisors have collectively given out $71,411 in grants to various groups for projects. Patterson has distributed the most so far, with $18,925 given to 29 organizations such as the Creston Advisory Council (which got $1,000) and the Friends of the Santa Margarita Library (which received $1,500).
Mecham has given out the least, at $9,278 to 20 organizations. Of that, $2,000 went to the Paso Robles Pioneer Days Committee to help it put on the annual event. Mecham said he expects funding requests to start rolling in after the new year.
Teixeira has approved $12,461 worth of requests from 26 organizations. The largest amounts were $2,000 each to the Nipomo Chamber of Commerce to pay for use of a park during its annual Oktoberfest celebration and the Arroyo Grande Harvest Festival.
He gave smaller amounts to other groups, including the Friends of the Nipomo Library and the Nipomo High School Robotics Team, and made contributions along with other supervisors to organizations outside his district, such as the Templeton Fourth of July committee.
“I consider these others a great benefit to their communities,” he said. “People need that kind of stuff in these economic times, that they have a free event to go to.”
Conflict with Teixeira
The South County Advisory Council submitted a request in July for $1,200 — an amount the group believed it could survive on, Woodson said.
Woodson followed up on Sept. 26 with a letter to Teixeira. The SCAC has been fulfilling its duties without the usual grant from the supervisors’ office, he wrote, but has not received money or assurances on when — or if — it would be made available.
“The courtesy of a reply would be appreciated,” he concluded.
Teixeira said Friday he never saw the letter.
In the meantime, some council members have been covering costs with their own money, Woodson said. One member has spent about $150 on paper, toner and other supplies, and the group’s webmaster, who receives $50 a month, hasn’t been paid in several months, he said.
Teixeira has not attended an SCAC meeting since the spring.
He said recent conflicts with other events on the same night have prevented him from going and noted that he holds office hours in Nipomo every Thursday when SCAC members could meet with him.
The situation, however, has left SCAC members wondering whether Teixeira’s response (or lack of it) is an effort to force the group to disband or retribution for opposing his plan earlier this year to dissolve the organization.
Teixeira said that’s not the case, though he doesn’t think the SCAC represents a broad cross section of the community.
He is still working on a plan to form a new advisory group that would contain 10 to 11 members from throughout his district, which includes Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Oceano. By contrast, the SCAC has spots for 16 members (13 are filled) representing seven geographic areas of Nipomo and the Nipomo Mesa, and agriculture and public safety representatives.
In March, Teixeira proposed dissolving the SCAC, which is elected, and the Oceano Advisory Council, whose members represent various segments of the community.
“It’s not like I’m slapping them in the face,” he said. “We’re looking at doing a better idea. Putting together the advisory council could be more efficient and representative of the whole district.”
He withdrew his proposal, however, in the face of criticism from members of advisory groups from all over San Luis Obispo County.
Meanwhile, SCAC members may have to organize a fundraiser to keep operating. “I think we serve a good function,” Woodson said. “We’re trying to look at ordinances and regulations, trying to listen to the people. People see us as the basic building block of democracy.”
Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.