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Vote for no growth 

Cambria's unsustainable water facility needs to be for emergencies only

After a period of over six years, the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) submitted its supposedly completed application for a regular coastal development permit (CDP) to the SLO County Planning and Building Department in July 2020. The initial application for a regular CDP was submitted in June 2014. Prior to that, the county issued an emergency permit in May 2014 to build the rush-to-judgment Emergency Water Supply Project, built in October 2014. The facility has been fraught with numerous problems, including the decommissioning of the brine waste evaporation pond, ordered by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, in addition to numerous fines from the same agency. Upon review by county planning, it was determined that only a small percent of the application was complete—after more than six years! The district anticipates having the regular CDP by this October/November, but it will be months, if not a year or more, before the requirements are met. The project will no doubt be appealed to the California Coastal Commission when and if approved by county planning and the Board of Supervisors.

The emergency water project is a brackish water desalination facility that was presented to the community in the form of a Proposition 218 rate increase, to pay for a $9 million project (with interest, $13.4 million). The intent of the project, as we Cambrians were led to believe, was to guarantee a supply of water during a level 3 drought emergency for current residents. The district was able to secure $4.3 million from Proposition 84 state funding, which we were informed would be used to pay down the loan. Not a penny went toward paying the loan. The very same day the check arrived from the state funding, the district's public information officer, Tom Gray (a candidate running for CCSD), issued a memo in which the project was given a different name: the Sustainable Water Facility. The purpose was changed from an emergency project to a project allowing for growth of 650 parcels, despite the fact that Cambria has been in declared water moratorium since 2001.

Cambrians have been footing the bill to allow for approximately 650 projects on a water wait list for folks to build their "dream" homes, or for speculation purposes, through significant rate increases to pay for the ever mounting issues associated with the facility. The district is currently in litigation (since 2018) with the firm that designed and built the project. The facility has been shut down since December 2016, and has not been used to produce water—we haven't needed it!

The major topic for Cambria CSD candidates (of which there are four) in this election will be growth vs. no growth, an Emergency Water Supply Project (as was originally intended and agreed to by a majority of Cambrians), or the Sustainable Water Facility, for growth. Cambrians never got to vote for the Sustainable Water Facility—that was decided for the community behind closed doors in 2015, and the CCSD followed through with that in the 2017 supplemental environmental impact report.

So the choice is to keep paying more and more for those who want to build here—in a town that is already overgrown, extremely vulnerable to fire, and in a year when fires rage throughout the state—or to complete the application for the emergency water supply project—for an emergency supply of water in times of drought—the reason it was supposedly built in the first place. I'll be voting for the two candidates who do not support growth, who want to protect our town, and want our ratepayer dollars spent on much-needed infrastructure: Karen Dean and Harry Farmer. I urge Cambrians who have had enough of this unsustainable project, costing us many more millions than we were led to believe, to do the same. Δ

Tina Dickason writes from Cambria. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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