The Cambrian

How a citizens committee in Cambria is working to preserve open space

View north up the coast from Cambria’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
View north up the coast from Cambria’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

A committee updating Cambria’s plan to reduce future building on vacant properties — a critical step toward mitigating impacts from the community services district’s water project to ensure that development and population growth are limited — so far has identified various efforts underway to preserve open space.

Among them:

▪  Owners of 788 properties — called APNs, or assessor’s parcel numbers — have voluntarily merged their parcels with other properties, according to San Luis Obispo County planning records.

▪  The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County has transferred 140 APNs to CSD ownership through the transfer-of-development rights program. (Other parcels are in the process of being transferred, Daniel Bohlman, conservation director for the conservancy, told members of the Buildout Reduction Program Citizens Committee on Aug. 9.)

▪  Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust has retired 24 APNs totaling 35 acres (though Connie Gannon, Greenspace executive director, said Aug. 9 she believes that number may be higher).

▪  The CCSD has retired 51 APNs totaling 21 acres.

▪  The community retired 440 acres in what’s now called the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which is considered an oceanfront, forested jewel of the Central Coast.

Now the committee must compile those figures in a way that helps it determine how many vacant parcels are left that could be developed in the future, including the 665 or so that remain on the CSD’s official “water wait list.” They will summarize current and potential water connections.

Data in the executive summary of work completed so far by the citizens committee will be included in environmental studies about the Cambria Community Services District’s Sustainable Water Project. That draft environmental impact report is to be released in late August for a 45-day review by the public and regulatory and other agencies.

The district has applied for a permit to operate the plant permanently for all current and potential customers, rather than just for existing accounts during droughts and water shortages, as specified by the county’s emergency permit under which the project was built.

788 Number of properties in which owners have voluntarily merged their parcels with other properties in an effort to preserve open space.

District officials hope information in the committee’s summary will help the CSD quantify ways to mitigate any impacts from the plant, especially those from any future growth and development.

The two-page citizens committee’s summary includes findings that the group’s 10 volunteer members have accumulated during the past three months; it also notes some of the tasks that aren’t yet finished.

Their work will provide a framework for retiring undeveloped APNs within the district’s urban boundaries to help limit development and population growth consistent with the North Coast Area Plan.

Though there are no current efforts to change the cap, opponents often say it could be changed by any future board. Doing so, however, would take a public vote and actions by other governmental agencies to change the boundaries and add more territory to the district, according to a previous CCSD board’s actions.

A 2003 district action limits residential water connections within the community to 4,650.

In addition to reviewing and updating the underlying data, the citizens committee will try to identify how to retire and maintain any undeveloped APNs and recommend charges or new approaches, or any further steps the district could take.

Committee members hope to have completed those tasks by late this year.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, members also focused on the complex issue of how to compensate any property owners whose lots could not be developed, and where the district might find that money.

Consulting by phone with Bohlman, committee members concentrated on how to divvy up among them the research on how the district, the community and property owners might retire development rights on vacant properties.

Each committee members is to rank and group the suggested options and bring them to the next meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the Cambria Fire Station, 2850 Burton Drive. They’re also to recommend which options might be added or subtracted from the draft list.

Further reporting on the final parcel/lot counts will be the focus of the first meeting in September, Chairman Ted Siegler said. That date hasn’t been set yet.

Once the committee completes all of those tasks and submit its final recommendations, members expect to shift into oversight mode, verifying that the citizens committee is functioning as expected and making sure none of its provisions and requirements fall through the cracks.