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Supervisors slapped with Brown Act complaint 

A Paso Robles rural landowner is claiming the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors skirted the Brown Act at its March 7 meeting.

In a March 8 complaint to the County Counsel's Office, Laurie Gage alleged that the Board of Supervisors made "substantive" changes to the county's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) strategy even though the board's agenda didn't indicate any new direction or action.

The action in question—related to SGMA, the state law addressing groundwater basin sustainability—essentially makes the county responsible for an additional $6.1 million of basin management costs through 2022.

"I believe these changes are in effect a Brown Act violation as they are neither minor nor inconsequential," wrote Gage, whose property overlies the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin. "Please consider placing the item on a future board agenda and properly noticing and receiving public comment."

The March 7 agenda item was titled as, "Receive an update on the implementation of SGMA Strategy." After the board heard a staff presentation and closed public comment, 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold held up a copy of the SGMA Strategy inked with edits. Arnold made a motion to forgo a proposed property tax increase on landowners overlying the groundwater basins but not represented by a water district or other agency to fund their share of the management efforts.

Board Chairman John Peschong seconded Arnold's motion, and a contentious discussion among the supervisors followed. The ensuing vote was 3-2 in favor of the policy change, with supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill dissenting.

SLO County Counsel Rita Neal said her office is "thoroughly reviewing and researching" Gage's complaint and would provide legal advice to the board sometime before March 17.

The Board of Supervisors last made an amendment to the SGMA Strategy on Nov. 1, 2016, but the agenda item for that meeting was titled, "Receive an update and provide direction on the implementation of the SGMA Strategy."

SGMA places requirements on six stressed water basins in SLO County. County staff projects the total cost of developing groundwater management plans at $16.3 million, which includes $4.8 million in expected cost sharing from other agencies.

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