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Morro Bay approves $67 million sewer contract—while a legal challenge looms 

The Morro Bay City Council took a big step forward on its new wastewater reclamation facility (WRF) on Oct. 23, voting unanimously to award a $67.2 million design and construction contract to Filanc/Black & Veatch, a San Diego-area firm.

click to enlarge SEWER IN THE WORKS Despite threats of litigations, the Morro Bay City Council awarded a $67.2 million design-build contract for its new wastewater treatment plant on Oct. 23, to replace its current oceanfront facility (pictured). - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • SEWER IN THE WORKS Despite threats of litigations, the Morro Bay City Council awarded a $67.2 million design-build contract for its new wastewater treatment plant on Oct. 23, to replace its current oceanfront facility (pictured).

"Signing a contract with the design-builder for the on-site WRF facilities is a key milestone," an Oct. 23 city staff report stated.

But as the city moves ahead with what's been a prolonged, contentious project, citizens that same evening threatened litigation to challenge the sewer/water rate increases that will fund the $128 million facility.

Residents opposing the WRF allege that the city declined to count approximately 1,000 votes in protest of the Sept. 11 rate hikes ($41 per single-family household) under Proposition 218. In response, the city claimed that those votes were either undated or marked with a date that was prior to its issuing of the proposed new rates, which disqualifies them. If more than half of affected property owners protested the rate increases, they could not have been approved.

Morro Bay resident Aaron Ochs, founder of the group Save Morro Bay that formed to oppose the WRF, told the council during public comment that the group would "do whatever is necessary legally to get those votes counted and validated."

"We don't want to go to court, but if that's what it takes, that's what I'm willing to do for the community," Ochs said during public comment. "I believe these voices that were thrown out should be heard. ... Nationwide, voter suppression is happening. It's happening in Georgia, Tennessee, and Kansas—but Morro Bay? It's happening right now in Morro Bay."

Ochs said Save Morro Bay has hired an attorney to review the protest ballots. Another anti-WRF group, Citizens for Affordable Living, posted on its Facebook page on Oct. 22 that it was, "accepting donations pertaining to 2018 Proposition 218. ... Make a note [on the donation] legal fees." That group did not return requests for comment from New Times.

Laura Murray, a Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorney, previously sent letters to the city warning that the protest vote was disputed and asking it to preserve records. She confirmed to New Times that "local concerned citizens" had sought independent counsel for "their legal challenge."

The threat of litigation isn't stopping Morro Bay from proceeding with the WRF project. City Manager Scott Collins told New Times that the city believes it's on solid legal ground and he added that even if the disputed protests are all counted, due to "errors or duplications" the number wouldn't likely surpass a majority threshold.

"Everybody's looked at this from a risk assessment perspective and are confident that if there was a legal challenge, it would fail," Collins said.

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