In less than a week, we will know whether the effort to recall me as mayor of Morro Bay will pass the signature-gathering hurdle. We will know whether or not the recall proponents convinced more than 1,700 Morro Bay citizens to place the recall on the June 2014 ballot — the same ballot where voters will already have the ability to decide to elect me for another two-year term as mayor.
The recall process began Sept. 12, 2013, at a City Council meeting I initiated to discuss employment of the city manager and city attorney. To legally and ethically have this discussion with more than one other council member, I requested a properly noticed closed-session meeting under the Brown Act.
As mayor, I cannot act alone and a majority vote, 3 out of 5, is needed to take action. No meeting could have been held without the consent of at least two other council members, and I received consent for the meeting from Councilwoman Christine Johnson and Councilman Noah Smukler.
Prior to closed session on Sept. 12, I publicly asked my fellow council members to consider whether or not we had the right people in the key positions of city manager and city attorney. After careful deliberation over three months, this question was answered when the council negotiated separation agreements with both employees. The agreements were negotiated in good faith and with consideration of their employment longevity.
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To move forward in the short term, we’ve hired a competent, effective interim city attorney and recently we’ve appointed our capable administrative services director as acting city manager while the council actively pursues the next steps to secure legal services and a full-time city manager.
A reason stated for the recall is my presentation at the January 2013 California Coastal Commission (CCC) hearing where I spoke on behalf of the city regarding submittal of our permit to build a new wastewater treatment plant at its current location.
Prior to the hearing, the newly elected Morro Bay City Council discussed the CCC staff recommendation to deny the project and a majority of the council (myself, Christine Johnson, Smukler) voted to adopt a resolution supporting the CCC staff recommendation to deny the project. To request a withdrawal of the project, as proposed by Cayucos was, in my opinion, an uncertainty that left our community going nowhere.
My responsibility as mayor was to deliver the city’s message to the CCC knowing that it was the commissioners’ decision whether to follow staff’s recommendation to deny the project or choose to approve it.
Prior to my election, I committed to moving forward with the CCC decision regardless of an approval or denial because to fight a CCC denial and bear the financial cost of litigation for an uncertain outcome was not an acceptable option either. Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously denied the project as is widely known.
As a new project takes shape, we have already completed a thorough alternative location analysis, including a study of costs as they relate to water reclamation opportunities. A letter from CCC staff commended this council’s efforts thus far, especially regarding future water reclamation.
A small city like ours cannot afford missed opportunities, as each one represents wasted time, money and resources. We cannot make excuses but must work with talented staff to execute the policies and visions adopted by council.
Moving forward, Morro Bay must tackle the long-neglected responsibility of updating our city’s General Plan and Local Coastal Plan. These are vital planning documents for Morro Bay and provide the “vision” we have for Morro Bay’s future. Written in the 1980s, both documents are sorely in need of updating. Without updated planning documents, Morro Bay will continually struggle to efficiently and effectively develop beneficial projects, including both community projects and projects that encourage private enterprise and job creation. Past city councils attempted to update the plans, but did not follow through on Coastal Commission recommended revisions. In the end, city resources and time were wasted, thousands of dollars were spent and no updates were made.
I have pledged to focus on updating our General Plan/Local Coastal Plan; a goal set by this council at the beginning of 2013. That’s why I’m excited about the city being awarded a $250,000 grant from The Ocean Protection Council to fund General Plan update studies.
I will work to revive other projects popular with residents such as the Downtown Specific Plan (a Cal Poly collaboration) and connection improvements between downtown and the Embarcadero at Centennial Staircase.
Our pedestrian/bike bridge over Morro Creek is progressing and moving closer to fruition. The bridge will unify our city by providing a safe, scenic and car-free option for travel between North Morro Bay and the Embarcadero/ Downtown. It’s my hope that this project can be a springboard for similar projects citywide.
Change is difficult. But it is necessary for a community to stay vibrant and healthy. I’m excited to tackle challenges together with the citizens of Morro Bay and have not let the recall distract me from my obligations. Regardless of the outcome of the recall, I’ll be running for re-election in June and will work tirelessly to realize Morro Bay’s potential.
Jamie Irons is mayor of Morro Bay.