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Coastal Commission to decide fate of Cambria affordable housing project 

Three residents appealed SLO County's approval of an affordable housing project in Cambria to the California Coastal Commission, which found substantial issues with the proposed 33-unit apartment complex at its meeting on Sept. 11.

Peoples' Self-Help Housing is going to continue to fight for the project as part of a commitment to the Cambria community, the nonprofit's CEO John Fowler told New Times.

click to enlarge UP IN THE AIR A 33-unit apartment complex in Cambria is proposed at the existing location of the 24-unit multi-family Schoolhouse Lane Apartments. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • Photo Courtesy Of Slo County
  • UP IN THE AIR A 33-unit apartment complex in Cambria is proposed at the existing location of the 24-unit multi-family Schoolhouse Lane Apartments.

"We have people who are working in Cambria that don't have a home, that are couch surfing, living with relatives, or commuting long distances. That cuts into their family budgets, food, and medical costs. We know the need in Cambria is huge so we're not giving up, we're not deterred at all," Fowler said.

According to the Coastal Commission staff report, SLO County's approval of the project raises issues about Cambria's water resources and sensitive habitat because "the county did not determine that there was an adequate sustainable water supply to serve the project."

At a Jan. 10 SLO County Planning Commission meeting, Airlin Singewald, a senior planner in the SLO County Planning and Building Department, said that the proposed project wouldn't use more water, as the Cambria Community Services District (CSD) sets aside retrofit points for a development like this.

Cambria's retrofit program requires new construction to offset its water demand by purchasing retrofit points or actually retrofitting noncompliant water fixtures within the district's boundaries.

The commission found that the retrofit program itself appears inadequate, the staff report states, and unable to ensure that the proposed water increases would be offset, which is required by the local coastal plan (LCP).

Brian O'Neill, the commission's coastal program analyst, said the main issue with the project relates to impacts on San Simeon and Santa Rosa creeks—where the CSD gets its water.

"All the information we have available to us demonstrates that the existing water extractions have had, and continue to have, adverse impacts to these sensitive creek habitats," O'Neill said. "Our view is that the county's [local coastal plan] prohibits new water connections until such time that it can be shown the existing water extractions do not have adverse impacts to the creeks or when the CSD can secure a new sustainable water supply."

He said the commission's action was solely related to whether the appeals raised issues about conformance with the local coastal plan when it comes to maintaining an adequate water supply and protecting sensitive habitats.

"The commission did not make final conclusions regarding the project. Those final determinations will not be made until the de novo portion of the hearing," O'Neill said

A de novo hearing essentially sends the appealed project back to the Coastal Commission as if was starting over in the process, which doesn't give Peoples' Self-Help Housing a set date to plead their case. Fowler said it could take anywhere from one to two years before the project goes before the Coastal Commission.

"We are confident that we will win this appeal. This is a process we understand quite well, these are appellants that we understand quite well, and we have support of the district and the county. We have all the local support that we need and we just need to carry that through to the commission," he said. ∆

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