The Cambrian

Cambria CSD accepts 52 lots from Land Conservancy

Cambria’s services district has re-upped its lot-retirement arrangement with the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (LCSLO), after the program had been on hold for three years.

In the program, the conservancy acquires lots through donation or purchase in two areas of Cambria, mostly in and around Fern Canyon. Development rights are removed from the parcels, which then are donated as open space to the Cambria Community Services District.

After a presentation March 24 by Daniel Bohlman, LCSLO’s conservation director, and a lengthy discussion, CSD board members voted unanimously to reactivate the program and accept from LCSLO ownership of 52 lots.

However, the district directors delayed until a special April 8 meeting any decision on appointing a citizens committee to review funding options for future lot acquisitions under the district’s stalled Build-out Reduction Program (BRP).

It the directors want to form the committee, they said. However, they also want more time to consider whom to appoint, hear from others who might want to serve on the group, and flesh out the issues that the committee would study before sharing its advice with the district board.

The BRP is a crux of the revived arrangement with LCSLO, because reducing the scope of Cambria’s build-out is tied to the environmental impact report for the district’s sustainable water facility (formerly the emergency water supply project). Growth containment by reducing the number of lots available for development is also included in the North Coast Area Plan and state Coastal Commission documents.

The district is seeking a permanent permit to operate the water facility as needed, rather than being restricted to using it only in declared water-supply emergencies, according to district engineer Bob Gresens.

The lots

After the district takes ownership of the 52 lots, the land conservancy will hold conservation easements them, as it does on 110 other lots retired under the program in 2002 and 2006.

For a time on the newest batch, however, LCSLO will provide a total of about $3,000 annually for maintaining the lots, such as doing weed abatement and removing hazardous trees.

That’s approximately what the conservancy has spent each year for maintenance on the lots, Bohlman said.

He explained that, in an odd way, the drought has been helpful to the district’s future maintenance of those lots, because tree demise brought on by the lack of water meant “the land conservancy had to take the majority of the hazard trees down” on the 52 lots.

Some remaining trees likely will die and become a threat in the future, he said, but a lot of the hazards have already been removed.

The district’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission will discuss the lots at its regular April 5 meeting, set for 10 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.

Other actions

At the March 24 meeting, CCSD directors also:

▪  Delayed until April 21 any discussion or decision about holding all or some of their monthly meetings at night, as they had the March 24 meeting.

Changing the time on a permanent basis would require modifying the board’s bylaws, according to district counsel Tim Carmel. While directors plan to discuss at the April meeting whether or not they want bylaw changes eventually, they won’t make the decision that night.

At the March session, three audience members asked for night meetings. Two of them had asked previously for the change, saying they believed more people would attend evening sessions, especially younger people who work during the day.

Aimee Wyatt of the Bridge Street Inn had said earlier that in her seven years of governmental and community-organization experience, she’d learned that “no set time works for everyone in public meetings. … We tried to do both days and evenings.” She advocated “for some kind of varied meeting schedule.”

Some in the audience who did not speak raised their hands when asked by resident Christina Tobin during public comment whether they would support a move to night meetings. A local business owner also submitted a written statement, which was accepted but not read at the meeting. When asked later about the substance of her comment, Marcela Ponce confirmed that it was in support of night meetings.

At the peak of the March 24 meeting, there were about 30 members of the public in the audience, plus some family members and firefighters there at the outset, who were there to watch as new Cambria Fire Department firefighters Benjamin Shank and Michael Castellanos were sworn in.

By 8 p.m., 14 attendees remained at the meeting.

Shortly before the meeting ended at 10 p.m., Greg Sanders said most audience members had left before the board “got to the substantive issues” on the agenda.

▪  Approved on a 4-1 vote amending the agreement with Michael Baker International, the firm that is preparing the aforementioned environmental impact report.

Director Amanda Rice voted no, in part because, she said, “I continue to be frustrated by the whole EIR process,” how much time the district has spent and how much the CCSD already has paid for the plant and the EIR.

The amendment adds $121,580 for restructuring the EIR (including additional meetings and conference calls, many of them with the district’s ad hoc committee on the topic) and review, assessment and recommendations on how to improve the BRP.

Sanders said that EIR circles back to the need for an active build-out reduction plan that would address the potential for the plant to spur growth.

However, according to resident Mary Webb, the plant “could provide virtually unlimited growth. All it would take is a vote of the board to change the (limit on water) connections from 4,600 to 6,000 or more.” She said, “Bait and switch is finally here.”

▪  Accepted auditor Bob Crosby’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report of the district’s books for 2014-15.

He called that period a “radical year,” in which CCSD and new finance manager Patrick O’Reilly faced the fiscal Gordian knots of the drought and reduced water use and income, the need for a rate hike, a smaller staff, late receipt of more than $4 million in grant funds and, most vitally, making sure the community didn’t run out of water.

Crosby also reported that, as is the case with many cities and districts, CCSD faces a daunting long-term debt in previously unfunded, long-term future pensions and medical benefits for retirees. While acknowledging the debt, Crosby also praised the district for having taken aggressive “pay as you go” action a few years ago to cut future pension liabilities by having employees pay their full share.

“You guys are doing a good job from what I can see from a financial point of view,” Crosby said. He gave the district a “clean opinion” for the period.