Voters to decide whether to limit Price Canyon development

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

Pismo Beach voters will help determine the future of development in Price Canyon this November.

The bucolic area — located outside city limits but in an area that could one day be annexed to Pismo Beach — has been the site of much debate over the past few years.

Recently, large developments proposed for hundreds of acres on either side of Price Canyon Road prompted nearly 1,000 Pismo Beach residents to sign a petition limiting what types of development could occur there.

The petition had enough valid signatures, and the Pismo Beach City Council faced two options: adopt it as an amendment to the city’s general plan, or put it before voters.

The council chose the latter option, voting 4-0 on Tuesday to place the initiative on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. Councilman Kris Vardas was absent.

The council also voted 3-1, with Councilman Erik Howell dissenting, to have the city attorney prepare an impartial analysis of the measure. The council also decided not to submit any arguments against the measure, though another opponent may do so.

“I don’t think the city should be in the business of putting arguments for or against on a citizen initiative,” Councilman Erik Howell said. “I think we should … leave it to the opponents and proponents of the initiative.”

The council’s action sets up what is likely to become a contentious showdown between property owners in Price Canyon, who have proposed large developments there, and supporters of more limited development, which include members of Save Price Canyon.

The measure would amend the city’s general plan to allow dry farming, grazing, parks, trails, schools, public buildings and limited residential development on about 1,140 acres. The initiative would apply if the land is annexed into the city of Pismo Beach; it would have no impact if the land remained in the county and was developed under county regulations.

The land is currently zoned for rural or agricultural uses; some is used for grazing and dry farming.

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. The minimum parcel size would be 40 acres, with no more than two homes allowed on each parcel.

In June, the council directed city staff prepare a report showing potential impacts of the measure, if passed. The report states, for example, that much of Pismo Beach is already developed and opportunities to build low-income housing on large parcels of land are limited.

“As a result, affordable housing opportunities within the city of Pismo Beach may be further constrained by the strict limitation on the number of residences per parcel under the initiative,” the report states. “Further regional housing allocations from the state … could require that densities within the city increase in order to meet burgeoning housing needs.”

Save Price Canyon members wrote a rebuttal to this and several other points, stating: “There (are) still many buildable lots within the city limits. We do not have ‘burgeoning housing needs.’ There are plenty of lots for state allocation requirements.”

The staff report also states that the limited land uses under this measure could result in less revenue for the city long-term, since some of the uses currently permitted in that area — including a hotel, conference center and golf course — would not be permitted.

But, the report adds, the city doesn’t rely on money generated from any area outside city limits to fund operations, ongoing programs and services.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting asked the council to adopt the measure, while others, including supporters and opponents, urged the council to put it before voters.

“There are a lot of people who live here who are registered voters who do not want mega-developments, particularly in Price Canyon,” said Sheila Blake, who submitted the initiative. “It is not a zero-growth initiative. You can put in schools, you can put in parks.”

Two representatives for Price Canyon property owners, meanwhile, voiced their opposition.

“It is a special interest-crafted means to prevent development in Price Canyon,” said Dave Watson, a planning consultant for Spanish Springs. “The initiative is flawed, and those flaws will be democratically decided this November.”

The Spanish Springs project included hundreds of homes, a 150-room hotel, a 10,000-square-foot conference center and a nine-hole golf course on about 960 acres.

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