Avila panned for lack of website

Avila Beach residents searching online for information about their community services district quickly run into a snag.

The district, which provides water, sewer, street lighting and fire protection services, does not yet maintain a website, despite saying it would do so three years ago.

The county civil grand jury focused on the Avila Beach district in part of a report assessing the transparency of the county’s 15 community services districts by analyzing how easily local residents can find information online.

Two other, smaller services districts also do not have websites: Creston Hills Ranch, which says it does not have a budget; and Linne Road, with an annual budget of $60,000. Both services districts focus on road improvements and maintenance.

The grand jury’s report comes about six months after legislation took effect, requiring districts with websites to post their board meeting agendas online. The state’s open-meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, requires agendas be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public. It does not indicate that a California local agency is required to have a website.

While the other services districts do have websites, less than half post their budgets or meeting minutes online.

However, the report noted that the Avila Beach district’s “absence of a website seems odd because this district performs many vital functions and operates with a large budget” of about $1.1 million.

John Wallace, who has served as general manager of the Avila Beach district since 1996, said a consultant has been working on a district website for the past six to nine months. He expects it to launch in the next 30 to 45 days.

In late 2008, another local agency, the San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, also noted the district would benefit from a website.

At the time, district officials said they had budgeted funds and planned to do so the following fiscal year.

“It’s an expensive endeavor, so there were higher priorities at the time,” Wallace said this past week. “We did budget funds for it this past year.”

The district serves about 400 residents and has an office at 191 San Miguel St. next to the post office. Its agendas are posted at the post office and the district office.

Jurors recommended some districts should post or fix links to board agendas, budgets and approved board minutes on their websites. Districts have until Sept. 20 to respond.

The full report can be found at http://slocourts.net/grand_jury/reports.