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Pismo sidelines drought-related building restrictions 

Pismo Beach developers can breath sigh of relief now that the City Council’s set aside a vote on drought restrictions that would’ve halted future development.

The policy, recommended by city staff, would have created a three-tiered system based on the severity of drought conditions and placed what was effectively a moratorium on new building and planning permits if those restrictions were triggered.

The council opted to wait until the end of the summer to vote on the issue. Then they could evaluate how other current water conservation measures fared.

The restrictive possibilities raised concerns among developers like Gary Grossman, who addressed the council at its May 19 meeting. Grossman, president of Costal Community Builder Inc., called the measures “fairly draconian,” and predicted they would have a negative impact on future construction projects.

“I can foresee a lot of applications in the direction we are heading downtown coming to a halt,” he said.

Some council members shared similar concerns about the restrictions. Councilman Erick Howell warned against shutting down the city’s “main economic engine.”

As of May 19, the city had 251 planning and building permits in the pipeline. If each project is approved and built, they would use roughly 78.8 acre-feet—or 25 million gallons—of water annually barring any water restrictions. Two hotel projects, which don’t have building permits yet, would draw 46.4 acre-feet—slightly more than 15.1 million gallons—barring any restrictions. The two hotels would account for roughly 58 percent of the total projected additional water use.

Councilmember Sheila Blake said Pismo residents currently following drought restrictions are starting to resent the city’s hotels.

“The perception is that the general public is getting hosed, and the hotels and the new developments are getting a pass,” Blake said at the meeting.

Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said she was tired of hotels being “vilified,” and urged the council to find a solution.

“Doggone it, we’ve got to find a middle ground here,” she said.

Instead of enacting the proposed restrictions, the council directed city staff to look into other measures. Those include requiring drought-tolerant landscaping with micro-irrigation for residential developments, and larger developments to offset their water use.

While the construction restrictions were set aside, the council did unanimously vote to declare a “critical water supply condition” in the city, directing staff to study additional water conservation measures, including mandating waterless urinals in commercial buildings, purchasing additional water for the city drought buffer, and switching out turf for artificial grass at some of the city’s parks.

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