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Pismo Beach City Council reverses its Spanish Springs decision 

Faced with financing an election over a controversial development project that’s not yet even approved, Pismo Beach took a step back on Spanish Springs.

The City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 3 to rescind its partial approval of the 961-acre Price Canyon development project. The decision means the city can’t, by law, approve Spanish Springs within the next 12 months.

Several council members worried that allowing the Spanish Springs dispute to take the form of battling campaigns would reprise the quarrelling that’s taken place in the beach town over the past year.

“I don’t want this to go to a vote,” said Mayor Shelly Higginbotham. “I do think this has had some negative effects in our community.”

Much of the discord took place after an eight-hour June 18 hearing where the council took a step toward project approval. However, that meeting left much undecided, most notably the critical choice of whether to annex the Spanish Springs project site into the city. Annexation would also require approval by an outside agency: the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Opponents of the project took their first opportunity to challenge Spanish Springs on July 16, submitting a petition containing more than the 546 signatures needed to force a municipal referendum.

Looking to avoid a premature election, Spanish Springs developer West Coast Housing Partners recently asked the council to reverse the changes it made to Pismo’s master planning document on June 18.

“Please understand that this is not because we think the council was substantively wrong,” West Coast representative Steve Hester wrote in an Aug. 26 letter. “Rather, our support for rescinding the resolution stems from the fact that an election on the policies would be highly inefficient and legally problematic.”

The anticipated cost of the would-be Spanish Springs referendum depended on when the council would have scheduled it. Pismo could have placed it on the June 2014 primary ballot (cost: $35,000) or on the Nov. 2014 general election ballot ($8,000). A standalone vote at some other time would have cost the city between $55,000 and $75,000.

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