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Residents concerned over North Morro Bay hillside 

It happened more than two decades ago, but North Morro Bay resident Mel Honda still remembers that day clearly.

"In the winter of '95 we had a bunch of rain," Honda said. "One day I woke up and the police were driving by, they were looking up at the hill. Towards the top there was a big crack, really big. ... The earth moved. We had a big scarp at the top of the hill, and then at the bottom, the soil pushed out and created a toe. Some people had damage to their homes and the roads and whatnot. It was scary."

click to enlarge IN THE HILLS Morro Bay residents are concerned about a potential annexation on the northern end of the city, and what it could mean for future development. - SCREENSHOT COURTESY OF APPLE MAPS
  • Screenshot Courtesy Of Apple Maps
  • IN THE HILLS Morro Bay residents are concerned about a potential annexation on the northern end of the city, and what it could mean for future development.

After the landslide, Honda remembers, a geologist attended a neighborhood meeting and said the unstable hillside shouldn't be developed.

Honda's house is on Panorama Drive, right next door to a group of five lots that the city of Morro Bay is looking to annex from the county—which has residents like Honda concerned.

Morro Bay completed its general plan update process in mid-2021, and part of that process was identifying potential expansion areas—one being the Panorama lots, which are under unincorporated county jurisdiction. This allowed the city to then submit an application to LAFCO in June 2021 for a sphere of influence amendment, which must happen before a city can annex property. The agency approved the amendment on Jan. 20, 2022.

"The intent of bringing the lots into the [sphere of influence] and eventually into the city through annexation is to maintain local control over development of the lots and to preserve the slopes above the city in an undeveloped state," a LAFCO staff report states.

The report continues that each of the Panorama lots could accommodate one single family residence, up to five homes total, plus an accessory dwelling unit on each property. This is what troubles locals like Honda.

"These hills should not be built on," Honda said. "My concern is, you disturb this hillside ... and the hill starts sliding down, and it keeps sliding down. That's just going to happen here. This whole hill is just not stable."

Rob Fitzroy, executive officer of LAFCO, believes people are confused about the process. While the sphere of influence amendment was approved, he said a lot of other steps would have to happen before anything can actually be built on the lots.

"We understand all the concerns, and all the concerns are valid," Fitzroy said. "They're just not something that we can legally consider at this point in the process, because they're ... issues related to development, which nobody knows at this point. No one has come forward with a proposal: There's no proposal on file for what would actually be occurring on those sites."

Before any development happens, the city would be required to do site-specific environmental analysis through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Fitzroy said. Proposals would have to go through the city's entitlement process, the city Planning Commission, the City Council, and then the California Coastal Commission.

"All of this would go through the typical public hearing processes, at which time everyone who has concerns can express their comments and concerns," Fitzroy said.

At some point in the process, Fitzroy added, it's possible that development will be deemed unfeasible. But before environmental analysis is done for the lots specifically, he said, there's no way to know whether development is safe or not.

Morro Bay Community Development Director Scot Graham said the move to annex the land comes back to the city's desire to control its own destiny.

"The county's rules and policies and ordinances allow for greater development than we would allow in those locations," Graham said. "We want to preserve the slopes."

Though the city doesn't have any development proposals on the table yet—and is still many steps away from that stage in the process—the sphere of influence amendment makes residents like Honda uneasy.

"The city goes, 'We want to take it over because we'll have more control.' Well, the problem with that is ... none of these guys were here when this hill moved," Honda said. "They have no history here. I've been here on the Central Coast since the '70s. I don't want to take the risk." Δ

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