The on-again, off-again efforts to build a dormitory for Coast Guard Station Morro Bay appears to be back on again.
The City Council recently approved a “consent of landowner” agreement to let the Coast Guard develop a project to build a 2-story, roughly 1,400 square foot addition to its current headquarters located north of the North T-pier on The Embarcadero.
For years, Coast Guard officials have repeatedly come to the City with various schemes to add on to the station here, the lone USCG station from Monterey to Santa Barbara and spanning more than 130 miles of coastline.
Back in the late 1990s, local architect Jim Maul designed a large, 2-story Coast Guard HQ that would have included a new Harbor Office, sleeping quarters for the Coast Guard crew and a new public restroom. But that project never went anywhere.
Years later, they proposed taking over Coleman Beach and building a large dorm near where the Embarcadero turns west and heads out to Morro Rock.
Also called “Mother’s Beach” the little, calm-water patch of sand is a very popular spot for scuba divers, kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to enter the water. It’s also used for the Annual Morro Bay Triathlon. It’s one of just a few public beaches inside the harbor, excluding of course the Sandspit side of the harbor. The City Council understandably said “No” to that location.
And although the USCG, as a federal agency, could have simply used eminent domain and taken Coleman Beach, they decided not to rock the boat.
Given the needs of the station — like having to be close to the T-pier where their patrol boats are tied up, and needing to build male and female accommodations and the amenities of a modern station — their options were somewhat limited.
They came back to the City with a few options — to take over the harbor office site and build there, or to build on the east side of the existing building taking up about five parking spaces that are reserves for Coast Guard use. That appears to be the one they will be pursuing.
Harbor Director Eric Endersby said the Coast Guard would build the addition and then redo the building’s overall façade so it all blends in and matches. With the Harbor Department in need of a new office itself, the idea of giving them the current space and building something new is still the City’s preferred way to go but they need a way to pay for a new office.
Endersby said they were hoping the Coast Guard would agree to a yearly rent of $30,000-$35,000 that way they could use that money to fund a loan and build a new Harbor HQ, but Uncle Sam doesn’t want to do that.
Right now, the Coast Guard pays just $1 a year to lease the space of its current HQ, and they haven’t even paid that pittance for more than two decades.
Endersby said the Coast Guard does pay about $23,000 a year for its space on the North T-pier, which includes floating docks where its 47-foot motor lifeboats are tied up, and the end of the north arm of the T-pier, where they have a maintenance shop.
The Coast Guard is now doing a study to determine what “market rent” for the new addition and current HQ would be and they would supposedly offer to pay that to the City going forward.
As for permitting, Endersby said they would be submitting plans to the City but don’t have to go through the normal environmental review, as the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA does not apply to federal agencies.
Instead they undergo a National Environmental Protection Act or NEPA process, which is similar to CEQA.
Unlike everyone else, the Coast Guard doesn’t need a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction on the Waterfront, but will instead need to get a so-called finding of “federal consistency” meaning the project meets the requirements of the Coastal Act without having to go through the usual lengthy and costly CDP process.
And the budget is tight. Endersby said they have been appropriated some $1.6 million for the project and must have a contractor hired by the end of the current federal fiscal year, which would be Sept. 30, 2019 or risk losing the money.
Click here to see the project details: BN USCG HQ slide show
By Neil Farrell