Petition to restrict Price Canyon development has enough signatures, clerk says

This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed.
This view looking south shows a portion of Price Canyon in 2011 where 961 acres could eventually be annexed into Pismo Beach and developed. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Some Pismo Beach residents have gathered enough valid signatures to force local leaders to either adopt new rules governing development in Price Canyon or place an initiative on the ballot in November.

The Pismo Beach City Council, faced with those options Tuesday, chose a third alternative: to have city staff compile a report on the initiative’s impact on agricultural lands, open space, traffic congestion, housing, its wastewater treatment plant and other issues.

The report has to be given to the council within 30 days, and then council members must decide within 10 days whether to place the initiative on the ballot or adopt it. A decision will likely be made at the council’s July 1 or July 15 meetings.

On Tuesday the council voted 3-1, with Councilman Erik Howell dissenting, to request the report. Councilwoman Mary Ann Reiss was absent.

Howell said he was concerned about the amount of time it would take city staff to complete the report.

“The fact of the matter is, I’m not at all convinced that this is the proper role for the city,” he added. “We have the initiative process in place for a reason. I think that this is one area where it’s important that the city government and the City Council step back and leave it to the marketplace of ideas.”

Other council members said the report would help the city and local residents to understand how the initiative would affect the city, including any financial impacts.

The measure would amend the city’s general plan (its blueprint for growth) to allow dry farming, grazing, parks, trails, schools, public buildings and limited residential development on about 1,140 acres in Price Canyon, which is outside city limits on either side of Price Canyon Road.

The land is currently zoned for rural or agricultural uses; some is used for grazing and dry farming. The landscape ranges from valleys to steep hillsides and rock outcroppings.

A new land-use designation for the area, called “watershed and resource management,” would only apply to projects seeking annexation into the city of Pismo Beach.

It would apply to four parcels in Price Canyon that are in the city’s “sphere of influence,” or the area in which the city is likely to expand. The designation could be rescinded or amended only by a vote of the people for a 30-year period.

The petition was filed by members of the Save Price Canyon group, who were primarily concerned with a large development called Spanish Springs. The proposal included hundreds of homes, a 150-room hotel, a 10,000-square-foot conference center and a nine-hole golf course.

Proponents of the initiative needed 517 valid signatures. They turned in 919 signatures, and the city clerk, based on a random sample, determined enough valid signatures existed.

Pismo Beach resident Sheila Blake said the petition was circulated by 25 unpaid people over the span of a month.

The developments proposed in Price Canyon were “the tipping point in the public’s realization that this may be the last stand in the battle to keep the things we value,” she said. “These undeveloped areas are upon the battlefield which we declare no more massive unwanted buildings or urban sprawl without our balloted approval.”

But representatives for Price Canyon property owners said the initiative clashes with the city’s general plan and is an attempt to prevent any development in that area.

“You’ve been presented with a very specific and very narrow view of what some individuals consider appropriate for Price Canyon,” said Dave Watson, a planning consultant for Spanish Springs. “Obviously November will be the time at which the community will have time to agree or disagree.”

Don Ritter, a representative for the owners of Pismo Ranch, a 250-acre parcel in Price Canyon, criticized residents for not responding to their requests to be included in initiative discussions.

“The organizers refused to include us and conspired to lock us out of the initiative process,” he said, asking them to withdraw the initiative and work with property owners.

Ritter also mentioned that the Pismo Ranch owners had submitted an application for a proposed development on their property, which includes hundreds of homes, retail space and a restaurant.

Pismo Beach Community Development Director Jon Biggs said Wednesday that the application was submitted about two years ago and not much work has been done recently to it.

The land would be subject to the initiative if it passed, Biggs said, because no project has been approved for the site.

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