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What the County's talking about this week 

Kayaker says he won’t pay for rescue

Ethan Donahue, who was rescued by the San Luis Obispo city fire department on Jan. 9 after attempting to kayak the flooded SLO creek, is refusing to pay for the rescue. Donahue is the first person to be billed for a rescue under a new state law that holds victims liable for their rescue costs.

“I’m not going to pay it,� said Donahue, who reviewed his case with a volunteer lawyer at Cal Poly. “They have logical flaws in multiple layers of their argument.�

Donahue was trying to kayak from the Mission to the ocean when he flipped and then climbed to safety under the Broad Street bridge. His kayaking partner retrieved his boat and finished the paddle to the sea. Another friend of Donahue’s was onshore, communicating with him when rescue personal arrived.

Donahue said the rescue was appreciated but not needed. He added that he unsuccessfully attempted to deny the rescue. Donahue, a rock climber and outdoor enthusiast, has also criticized the technique of the rescue personnel.

The city billed Donahue $1,000 for the rescue, roughly one-quarter of the total rescue cost. City Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe recommended the $1,000 bill to the city attorney in order to send a message that the city will use the new law in the future. Under a previous law, victims could be billed up to $1,000 for their rescues.

Under the law, anybody who “intentionally� or knowingly enters an area that is closed to the public, or that a “reasonable� person should have known was closed, is liable for the expense of his or her rescue.

City Attorney Jonathan Lowell said if Donahue doesn’t pay the bill in 60 days then the matter will be sent to a collection agency. The collection agency may then bring a civil action on behalf of the city. Then a judge would hear arguments from Donahue about the legitimacy of the debt.



CSD seeks to lower sewer bids

After receiving higher than expected bids for the community’s contentious wastewater treatment facility, the Los Osos CSD last week voted to hold off on selecting a bid. At $116 million, the lowest combined bids came in almost $40 million more than estimates from the engineering firm Montgomery Watson Harza. This raises the total price of the project to nearly $150 million, costing residents around $2,500 a year.

After another emotionally charged CSD meeting on Thursday, March 3, following more than two hours of public comment, both for and against the sewer, the board asked General Manager Bruce Buel to take a closer look at the bids and reconvene on April 7.

In the meantime, Buel is expected to determine whether any of the bids is truly competitive, and whether there’s any way to lower the bids by including more contractors to break the project into smaller parts.



Foundation helps ex juvenile hall teens

A local foundation is currently accepting applications for the Dorothy Ross Memorial Scholarship — a scholarship for teens who’ve spent time in juvenile hall and are now pursuing an education.

Dorothy Ross was a juvenile hall volunteer, who, together with her daughter, established an endowment at the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation before her death in 1999. Since then, 10 local teens have received $1,000 scholarships.

Applicants must have spent time in juvenile hall and must now be attending classes through a community college, university, or vocational school. Application deadline is April 1. For information, call 543-2323 or log on to



Costco groundbreaking commences

In the end no fairy shrimp could stop the retail store from being built. Crews broke ground for SLO’s newest big-box retail store this week: Costco.

The new Costco store will be located next to Home Depot on Los Osos Valley Road. When completed in late August, the store will be 140,000 square feet and is estimated to bring between $300,000 and $500,000 in new sales tax revenue, said Shelly Stanwyck, SLO economic development manger.

The required realignment of Calle Joaquin as required by the city will likely take place in a couple of months after the Army Corps of Engineers issues permits, said Stanwyck. This summer Costco is expected to start hiring employees for the new store.



Natural Café to occupy ‘jinxed’ downtown SLO location

What many people believe to be that jinxed corner location at Broad and Higuera in downtown SLO will soon be home to a new restaurant.

It’s the same spot that housed the original Earthling bookstore, which moved across the street and eventually went out of business. In 2000 a much maligned Carl’s Jr. set up shop, surrounded by large picture windows that were deliberately smashed by vandals most of the time. Its departure left space for what was to become Milagro’s, a Mexican eatery that failed miserably.

Undaunted by such mystical mumbo-jumbo, the owners of the Natural Café, a healthy-style and locally produced fast food restaurant with a Mexican flavor and fare, which has carved a niche for itself in the Santa Barbara area for the past 12 years, is taking up the challenge.

With three established locations under its belt, Natural Café is opening up two new venues, one in Westlake Village and the other here in San Luis Obispo.

“The quality of our food and low prices … that’s what makes us successful,� said Dan Sturtevant, regional general manager and the guy who will operate the SLO location.

“We specialize in organic produce, breads, and tortillas and top quality chicken, turkey, and fish. Vegetarians will also enjoy the fare, as our menu is extensive and very popular,� said Sturtevant.

Natural Café is just that, not a store. It is similar to a buffet in that you order, pay, sit, and serve yourself.

“No waiters or servers, and that is what keeps prices down,� said Sturtevant.

Takeout orders are down to a science. Local wines and beers of all kinds are available, as are organic drinks and an array of natural smoothies.

“Everyone said our Goleta location on Hollister was jinxed and it would never work, but it did with a little luck and lots of hard work.�

Sturtevant is so confident he’s already eyeing north SLO County and Santa Maria.

Natural Café is expected to open and dispel the jinx this coming June.


This week’s news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Jeff Hornaday, John Peabody, and Abraham Hyatt. Managing Editor King Harris contributed.

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