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Creek setback suffers setback 

Opponents of Atascadero's new creek setback ordinance have scored what they say is a victory for private property rights and the action has some setback supporters questioning whether to keep fighting.

In a press release, City Clerk Marcia Torgerson announced that she had approved a referendum petition to appeal an amendment to the city's general plan, passed in May, extending no-build zones around certain rivers and creeks.

The petition needed about 1,600 verified signatures. It's to be presented to the City Council at a July 24 meeting, which will leave the council with the choice of deciding whether to repeal the resolution they could then decide to write a new version or to call for an election on the matter. If it is repealed, a previous 20-foot setback would remain in place.

The cost of an election would be relatively small if the measure went on the regularly scheduled

Nov. 8, 2008, ballot but it could cost about $65,000 if officials decide to hold a special ballot.

The contested amendment generally prohibits new building within 35 feet of existing "reservation" boundaries along Atascadero, Graves, and Boulder creeks, out of environmental concerns. It sets up a process for exemptions once certain environmental studies have been done. It would also prohibit building within 35 feet of the Salinas River's high-water mark.

Jolene Horn, a real estate agent who was one of the primary organizers of the petition effort, said she's "thrilled," but also "relieved" by the news.

"This is not about real estate agents or developers or people trying to line their pockets or anything else," she said. "This is about private property rights."

But Cindy Sasur, a supporter of the larger setback, said opponents may well lose through winning. She noted that while the previous 20-foot setback is smaller, it's also stricter in key areas, such as the process for rebuilding a home that burns down within the setback zone.

"They've lost all the amenities the City Council put in there for them," she said. "It's all gone, for the sake of a handful of people."

Sasur also said she doesn't believe all the signatures were fairly obtained.

Meanwhile, other setback supporters are getting tired of the whole matter.

Activist David Broadwater said he was so disappointed with the council's recent tepid reaction to a proposal of his to hold an open town-hall-style meeting on the setbacks, he wonders if officials are serious about addressing the issue.

"Frankly," Broadwater said, "I'm feeling ready to throw in the towel."


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