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A citizen group's repeal could come at a cost to Morro Bay residents 

Morro Bay pushed through discussions about 17 possible locations before it finally pinned down the South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1 site for its water reclamation facility. But the location is unacceptable to a group of residents who are petitioning the city's decision to purchase the site of the future facility.

City officials say the petition won't halt the project, but it could cost residents more money.

click to enlarge NO SLOWING DOWN Morro Bay Mayor John Headding said at an October City Council meeting that the city's water reclamation facility project will continue moving forward despite efforts by Citizens for Affordable Living to pass a referendum. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE CITY OF MORRO BAY
  • Image Courtesy Of The City Of Morro Bay
  • NO SLOWING DOWN Morro Bay Mayor John Headding said at an October City Council meeting that the city's water reclamation facility project will continue moving forward despite efforts by Citizens for Affordable Living to pass a referendum.

Morro Bay Mayor John Headding started the Oct. 8 City Council meeting by addressing the petition and the group behind it, Citizens for Affordable Living.

"I believe their true purpose however is not to stop the annexation, it is a bad-faith, last-ditch effort to stop the project," Headding said. "This reflects the disturbing trend by Citizens for Affordable Living to delay the project and make it more expensive."

In August, the City Council adopted an ordinance to annex 27.6 acres of the South Bay Boulevard and Highway 1 site (SLO County-owned property) to the city and zone it as a public facility for construction and operation of the water reclamation facility. Then the city would have complete control of the project site and wouldn't have to pay taxes to the county.

City Manager Scott Collins told New Times that Morro Bay has been working on moving this project forward since 2003, before his time with the city. The facility now has approval from the city, county, and California Coastal Commission.

"So basically, this whole thing was wrapped up in a bow," Collins said.

In September, Citizens for Affordable Living filed a referendum petition against the approved ordinance and handed the city more than 1,100 petition signatures.

In response to the referendum, the city is currently working with the SLO County Office of Elections and Voting to count and validate the signatures. Ten percent of registered voters or 748 valid signatures are needed in order for the city to consider axing its adopted ordinance or putting the repeal on the ballot.

Collins said if the facility site isn't annexed, the city will still locate and operate the water facility at the approved location, but it will raise the project costs and affect property taxes. The city is currently investigating how much more it would cost.

New Times reached out to Citizens for Affordable Living but did not hear back before press time.

"Some of the concerns they were saying is it's going to pollute the [Morro Bay National Estuary] and there's better lower-cost options somewhere else. Some mythological other project, that's out there that no one's ever been able to put on paper and show us in the community that actually would be less," Collins said. "Those were some of the things we've heard people were told when they were signing these petitions for referendum."

Collins acknowledged that the approximately $126 million water facility as well as recent additional water and sewer surcharges ($41 a month per single-family household) aren't cheap.

In an effort to help, the city is one of two agencies in the county offering a utility discount program to qualified residents for a 10 percent reduction in their bill. The program was extended to residents who live in apartments and mobile homes.

The point of the water treatment facility project, he said, has always been to provide clean, safe, and reliable water; it's what the project will deliver.

"This is a needed project for current and future generations that could supply up to 80 percent of our drinking water needs," he said.

The project would also provide a buffer against a potential future drought. Collins said the State Water Project delivers ample water to the city currently, but in a drought situation, that could cease to exist.

Slowing down the project or changing its location could also jeopardize millions of dollars in federal and state funding. Morro Bay's current sewage plant doesn't comply with state requirements, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board mandated the city to construct a new wastewater treatment facility at an inland location by 2023. If the city doesn't meet that deadline, the agency could fine Morro Bay $50,000 per month.

"Folks, I'm going to tell you that [Citizens for Affordable Living] is not working for you or to make this project more affordable," Headding said at the City Council meeting. Δ

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