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Looking Back on 2017

The Bay News covered a variety of stories in 2017, with employment dramas at Morro Bay City Hall, the City’s sewer project and marijuana regulations post Prop. 64, topping the list of the most oft covered stories.

There were double troubles in Cayucos with the school district thinking about major changes and the fire department beginning the process to dissolve, and each will run their course in 2018.

Los Osos was relatively calm for, well, Los Osos, as the gorilla looming over everyone was finally, mostly excised in 2016 with the completion of the community sewer. As is our custom every year, The Bay News takes a look back at the top stories we covered in the 26 issues of 2017, The Bay News’ 29th year in publication. Enjoy.

— Neil Farrell, Managing Editor

January

Morro Bay’s City Manager, David Buckingham, had a whirlwind half-year starting in December 2016, when it was discovered that he was a Top-5 finalist for a like job in Whitefish, Mont., a ski resort town on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. He said that the hostility of the November 2016 election — and a “get rid of the city manager” campaign theme — gave him pause and he decided to look for another job to protect his family’s future.

He didn’t get the Whitefish job, and in April he made the Top-2 (out of 60 applicants) for the city manager job in Vail, Colo., which he described as a “lifetime dream” job.

He didn’t get that job either, and on May 12, he lost his Morro Bay job, turning in his resignation effective June 26. However, the City Council made it effective immediately.

That put Finance Director, Craig Schmollinger, in charge as interim city manager for a couple of months until the Council brought in Marty Lomeli, a retired veteran city government professional, who led the search for a new permanent city manager.

The Los Osos Community Services District, which has had a revolving door on its general manager position, decided to hire a firm to manage the district, and the woman who took the job knew what she was in for. “This is a tough position,” said Renee Osborne, the new GM for the District. “I grew up here and I know Los Osos has been through a lot, and I can only imagine that if you’re not from here — you could get into a bad spot, if you don’t fully understand the community. You need to know the community, so you can understand their needs.”

Osborne came here at 19 to attend Cuesta College, and works for Grace Environmental Services. She came in as the District was working out bookkeeping issues from the previous administration, catching a lot of flack from critics and trying to implement a work program designed to ease the saltwater intrusion. The CSD also asked rate payers to approve water rate hikes to pay for it all. The CSD got its rate hike, several major projects were completed and the CSD staffers got modest raises, too.

Call it the “Dreadful Dredging” experience. The plan was for Ahtna Design-build Corporation of Irvine, Calif., under a $4.37 million contract with the Army Corps of Engineers, to come in and remove some 240,000 cubic yards of material from the harbor entrance channel and deposit it on Morro Strand Beach.

But everything went haywire from the beginning. Dredging operations were supposed to start in January but didn’t start until February and were put on hiatus by late April, after the contractor saw delays for weather, a major equipment failure, the death of one of their men to a heart attack, and ultimately bumping up against the annual snowy plover nesting season on Morro Strand.

With nesting season upon them, the State Parks Department ended the beach disposals, forcing Ahtna Design to snake a hose all the way out through the harbor mouth and about mile south to dispose of its material in the approved offshore disposal site. Their disposal pipe plugged and during a fierce storm a 1,500-foot section of pipe broke loose and eventually washed up on the Sandspit, where it remains.

The curtain rose in Morro Bay when the By the Sea Productions was given the OK by the City Planning Commission to stage live theater in the community room at St. Peter’s By the Sea Church in Morro Bay. It was the first time a live theater troupe has set up shop in Morro Bay. The troupe was formerly the Pewter Plough Playhouse Players in Cambria but moved when they lost their lease. There were concerns expressed by a couple of neighbors about cars and noise but they’ve produced several plays and reader’s theater performances with no troubles, so it looks like they’ll be here to stay.

A Morro Bay Police officer helped welcome the first local baby born in 2017. Ofc. Riddering was on patrol Friday, Jan. 13 about 6 a.m. in the 2800 block of Birch Ave., when he heard an unexpected scream pierce the neighborhood. Ofc. Luke Riddering stopped his cruiser to investigate and traced the screams to a home where a woman was in the throes of childbirth.

“Officer Riddering observed the baby’s head beginning to crown,” Dep. City Manager Ikani said. “An ambulance was dispatched and the officer began assisting the mom in the interim.” Acting Police Chief, Cmdr. Jody Cox said, “As soon as the ambulance arrived, the baby girl was born into the hands of Officer Riddering.”

SLO County Probation Department opened the first major expansion of the Juvenile Services Center since its construction in the early 1980’s, a $19 million project that modernized and expanded the facility to do more than simply incarcerate teen offenders. The County also opened in 2017 a new $41 million Women’s Jail.

In the waning days of his presidency, President Barack Obama expanded the California Coastal National Monument, extending protections to the Piedras Blancas Historic Light Station here in SLO County. Meanwhile, after Donald Trump became President, he ordered a review of federally protected lands that included the Carrizo Plains National Monument. But while other areas were shrunk, Carrizo Plains was left alone, for now.

A large landslide on Jan. 6 brought down a hillside on Highway 41 in the S-curves. Steve Balaban, Caltrans’ project engineer said at about 6 p.m. some 2,000 cubic yards of materials came down in a massive landslide that covered the roadway and stranded at least one vehicle. “That happened before the rain,” he said. “And then it started to rain.” Caltrans brought in a “Spider” excavator to knock down loose rocks and boulders in a controlled landslide. Caltrans draped the hillside with chain to knock down any rocks that want to come down this winter. The road was closed for more than a month.

February

The 2017, 12th Amgen Tour of California professional bike race held its Stage 3 race from a Pismo Beach start to Morro Bay finish on May 16 bringing the greatest cyclists in the world for largest professional race in the U.S. to the Central Coast again. It was the third time Pismo has hosted either a start or finish and the second for Morro Bay, which hosted a start in 2016. Alas, the Tour of California will skip entirely SLO County, due in large part to the continuing closure of Hwy 1 south of Gorda by the Mud Creek Slide.

A new permit put the Morro Bay Desalination Plant back in business after the Coastal Commission approved a new permit for the feed-water wells along the Embarcadero. First built in the early 1990s as a supplemental water source in the face of a prolonged drought, the plant on Atascadero Road has been used mainly when State Water Project deliveries have been unavailable. The plant is fully permitted to clean the groundwater from the Morro Basin and as an emergency supply only. If the City wants to turn it into a full-time treatment plant, it will need to get a new coastal development permit.

March


After the Cayucos Sanitary District decided to end its partnership with Morro Bay and build its own sewer treatment plant, progress in 2017 was at break-neck speed, at least by government standards. And by end of the year, the CSD had permits in hand for a plant on ranchland on Toro Creek Road, and plans to break ground in February 2018, with a 14-18-month construction period. The pace of the CSD’s project has far out-paced Morro Bay’s efforts.

For nearly 60 years it’s been a fixture on the Morro Bay Waterfront but the end is in sight for the Morro Bay Aquarium, as the lease is slated to expire in September 2018. The City has been working with Central Coast Aquarium of Avila Beach (CCA) on developing a new aquarium for several years now, and while the non-profit organization had a major breakthrough when it was pre-qualified for a $20 million USDA loan, it had to complete a feasibility study first.

In the end it came down to 200 pounds of cow cod. That’s how close the make-or-break point came for Tiffany and Capt. Rob Seitz, of the CFV South Bay, who for some 5 years were the only local trawl fishing boat to lease from the Morro Bay Community Quota Fund’s share of the overall allowable take of the U.S. West Coast Groundfish Fishery.

The Sietz’ pulled up stakes and returned to Astoria, Ore., and the Community Quota Fund went in search of a new boat to relocate here and land their fish on local docks. In May they announced that Capt. Kyle Pemberton of Half Moon Bay agreed to move his operation to Morro Bay in summer and work the Quota Fund’s holdings in the fishery. Capt. Pemberton worked the summer and fall and has since motored off to fish Dungeness crab, and is expected to come back after crab season and continue to bring the community fresh local seafood.

April

County Supervisors unanimously agreed to allocate money to get the ball rolling on fixing and re-opening the Cayucos Vet’s Hall. In May 2016 major structural problems were discovered in the circa 1870s building and it was closed for safety reasons. Last April, Supervisors hired Studio Design Group Architects, Inc., of San Luis Obispo, for Phase 1 of what’s officially called the “Cayucos Veterans Hall Rehabilitation Project,” by County Public Works. There’s been no word on when the Vet’s Hall, the real heart of the community, might reopen.

Hwy 1 had more than its share of problems in 2017, starting in January-February with the collapse of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and a massive landslide that buried the roadway and cut off Big Sur, was followed up with the even huger Mud Creek Slide south of Gorda. The roadway was closed most all of 2017, and will continue to be closed to through traffic perhaps throughout 2018. Caltrans replaced the bridge and cleared one slide area, but the Mud Creek Slide keeps the roadway closed and 5 million motorists a year from California’s most scenic and perhaps most famous stretch of highway. The closures have hit local tourism businesses hard and set tourism promotion agencies, like the Morro Bay Tourism Department, the County Tourism Marketing District and others working hard to try and bring folks to the area.

Morro Bay reached into the vaunted LAPD for just the 11th police chief in MBPD’s 52-year history. Chief Greg Allen started work on June 2 coming to Morro Bay from Greenfield, where he was the interim chief and after putting in more than 30 years with LAPD. Chief Allen took over for former Chief Amy Christey, who left in July 2016 to become police chief in Pacific Grove. Christey had been replaced by Interim Chief Larry Todd, and then Cmdr. Jody Cox, who took over for several months after Chief Todd left (retired police can only work so many hours under the terms of their retirements).

Chief Allen brings a wealth of experience in all phases of police work, and takes over a squad with veteran officers, with more than 300 total years of experience between them.

May

Dissention was in the air when the Morro Bay City Council got the sobering news that its $167 million new sewer plant and water recycling facility would cost a single family home using just 500 gallons of water, more than $240 a month for 30 years (a total of about $88,000). That was apparently just too costly to continue down this path, so the council put the brakes on the project, asked for a peer review of the work so far and the cost estimates. That study was critical of the cost estimates, the choice of technology and choice of the so-called “South Bay Site.” The project team came back with an analysis of three potential projects at three different sites, including an old cement plant on Atascadero Road, which came in cheapest and easiest to do. Nevertheless, the Council, after first paring down the project, and putting recycling component into Phase 2, lowering the costs to $150 million (including contingencies), which continues to draw opposition, in particular from a new citizen’s group, Citizens for Affordable Living or CAL.

A Cambria woman, Elizabeth Edith Shaw, 68, was arrested for suspicion of embezzlement, in a case deemed “Troubling” by the District Attorney.

According to Dep. D.A. Lee Cunningham (who retired at the end of the year), D.A. investigators and Sheriff’s detectives arrested Shaw for allegedly embezzling more than $1 million over a 12-year span from her former employer, Winsor Const., of Cambria. She would eventually be found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus 3 years of probation.

Morro Bay Police investigated a string of criminal incidents at Morro Bay High School that appeared to be centered around the auto shop. Schools Resource Officer, Maria Lomeli, said sometime over the weekend of April 7-9, unknown suspect(s) entered the old auto shop through an unlocked door and stole miscellaneous items, including several bicycles. A couple of junker cars in the shop yard were vandalized. Fortunately, the auto shop program had by then already moved into a beautiful new shop and on May 5, school officials officially opened the new shop. School District Superintendent, Dr. Eric Prater, welcomed all to “witness the grand opening of the finest auto shop in all of San Luis Obispo County.” The new shop stems from the Measure D school bond, and the old auto shop is undergoing a transformation into a new science and technology lab and classrooms.

Cayucos’ Trent Mitsuoka again triumphed at the world championships of speed shooting, and can lay claim to the title of “The fastest rifle shooter on the planet.” Mitsuoka won two divisions at the 2017 World Speed Shoot Championships held May 6-7 at the Hogue Action Pistol Range on Hwy 1 east of Morro Bay.

“It has been a great 15 years and it is time for a change,” said Dan Buckshi, bringing to an end his tenure as the County Administrative Officer, “…the current Board of Supervisors is very different than the Board that promoted me to the County Administrative Officer (CAO) position five years ago.” Buckshi took the City Manager position in Walnut Creek, Calif., in the Bay Area and was eventually replaced in November by County Public Works Director, Wade Horton.

June

During the rainiest winter in many years, Hwy 1 continued to take a beating when the Mud Creek Slide buried Hwy 1 under a million cubic yards, some 5 million tons of rock and debris, in the largest landslide the State has ever seen. It remains buried and Caltrans is working on building a new roadway to go around the state’s newest coastal peninsula.

Marijuana was on a lot of people’s minds in 2017, as the State, cities and counties began the process of coming up with regulations after passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016, which legalized the use and cultivation of, and possession of small amounts of marijuana by those 21-over. The City of Morro Bay spent much of the year on a marijuana ordinance, and the ordinance that the Council finally passed in November, allows just two medical-only dispensaries, and puts down onerous restrictions on homegrown gardens of weeden. The Council called it a good first step, critics called it out of touch with the industry and the spirit of Prop. 64. Nothing will happen until July 2018, when the council will take applications for the two dispensary licenses. And the Council also plans to put a taxation measure on the ballot sometime in 2018, as does SLO County, which passed an even more restrictive ordinance that prohibits any pot stores from opening in the unincorporated towns.

July

A Los Osos man who suffers from dementia wandered away from his home on June 29, but was found alive the next day by Sheriff’s searchers after an overnight search. The 69-year-old man wandered away from his home in the 2900 block of Clark Valley Rd., about 2 p.m. Thursday, June 29 and was reported missing at 9:10 p.m. that night. The report prompted a full search and rescue effort to be launched by the Sheriff’s Department, which found him alive, but suffering from dehydration and exposure.

Morro Bay’s beleaguered sewer project got a shot in the arm when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the City had been picked to apply for a big, low-interest loan directed at innovative infrastructure projects.

The EPA said Morro Bay was invited “to apply for an $82 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act [WIFIA] loan. The City of Morro Bay submitted a letter of interest to EPA in April 2017 and was selected from a group of projects that represent large and small communities from across the United States.” Of course the offer comes with a catch — namely the City has to be innovative which could mean recycling the wastewater (in an undetermined method at an unknown cost). Seeing the low interest loan offer as too good to pass up, the Council in the fall voted to stick with the South Bay Site at a new reduced cost estimate of $150 million (down from $167 Million) and to move forward quickly to ensure we get the loan.

City Hall shake-ups continued, when the Finance Director, Craig Schmollinger, resigned after just over a year in Morro Bay. His last day was Aug. 11. Schmollinger told The Bay News that he had some family issues that he must help with and decided to return to the San Diego Area, where he is originally from.

According to records kept by the Morro Bay Fire Department, the town got a total of 27.18 inches of rain from October 2016 through the end of April (plus a trace of rain that fell in early May), this after some 5 years of drought, touted as the worst in the State’s history. The rainy season ran from July 2016 to the end of June 2017, which means we are now in a new rain year.

Morro Bay’s total was some 11.18 inches more rain than the 16-inches that is considered normal rainfall, but below the 30-inches mark, when rainfall tends to cause movement on the local hills. According to PG&E meteorologist and newspaper columnist, John Lindsay, Baywood Park received 26.36 inches of rain.

August

A commercial fishing boat rests on the shore of “Abalones,” an obscure coastal trail and secluded beach off the north end of Ocean Avenue in Cayucos; stuck in the sand and the bureaucracy after running aground in an early morning fog.

The CFV “Point Estero,” ran aground in the early morning of Thursday, July 28, when equipment failure and a pea soup fog set them off course while heading home with a boatload of slime eels. With various government agencies — Coast Guard, State Parks, Fish & Wildlife Oil Spill Response Team took over; she could not be pulled off the beach. She sits there still, a gaping hole in the back deck and a hold filled with seawater. The State Lands Commission now owns the Point Estero, which they estimate will cost some $176,000 to salvage.

A project to bring a maritime museum to Morro Bay, while in the works for two decades, is finally shaping up and expects to open a small exhibit center on Front Street in February. The project has always stuck around but over the past few years, it’s really taken off. First the historic tugboat Alma was moved over, taking her place alongside the DSRV Avalon, and a 33-foot Coast Guard surf rollover boat.

Morro Bay Fire Department welcomed a new reserve firefighter to its ranks and new full time fire marshal, replacing long-time Fire Marshal, Tom Prowse, who had to give up a position he’s held for about 16 years and finally retire, after working more than 40 total years in the fire service. Fire Chief Steve Knuckles on Aug. 1 swore in new reservist, Peter Rivera and new Fire Marshal, Matt Vierra.

The suspicious death of a Bakersfield man and the odd manner in which his body was discovered in Cayucos provided one of the more bizarre stories of the year.

According to Sheriff’s spokesman, Tony Cipolla, at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, deputies on routine patrol came across a white Jeep Cherokee parked on the wrong side of the street with people sitting inside. They stopped to investigate.

“Deputies made contact with the occupants of the vehicle,” Cipolla said, “and noticed a strong odor coming from the back of the vehicle. Upon further investigation, a body was discovered in the back cargo area of the SUV.”

On Aug. 17, the Coroner’s Office identified the dead man as Donald Eugene Cunningham, 83 and a transient from Bakersfield. The man, 59, and woman, 50, were also transients from Bakersfield, and the girl was their 13-year-old daughter. It was revealed that Cunningham died in Bakersfield and the couple was taking him to the coast for “burial.” In the end, the couple had their charges reduced and the teenager was placed in foster care.

September

A popular young man’s death Aug. 18 while surfing off Moonstone Beach in Cambria sent shock waves of grief across the North Coast and down to Venice Beach.

Liam Alexander Taylor, 19, also known as “Skinny” and “Red” died at Moonstone, which is notorious for large waves over shallow water. Though fellow surfers pulled him from the water, he died at the hospital from a devastating head wound. He is survived in Cambria by his mother Shelley Triggs and little bother Koa, and in Venice Beach by his father Pat Taylor and stepmother Marjorie Weitzman Taylor. Skinny was a popular lifeguard, skater and surfer both in SLO County and Southern California and also worked with the County’s Junior Lifeguard Program in Cayucos, where he was both a friend and mentor to many local youngsters.

Volunteers flocking to Houston to help rescue thousands of stranded residents in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, were joined by one of Morro Bay’s harbor patrolmen. Dana Stein volunteered with the surf rescue training company, K38 Rescue International, taking vacation time off to help with the rescue efforts in what’s been called a once-in-800-years storm. When he returned to Morro Bay, Stein described his experience as, “Crazy.”

“We drove day and night to get there,” Stein said. “We had four new Kawasaki jet skis that were donated to the K38 Program” for the crew of a dozen volunteers, including K38 founder and team leader, Shawn Alladio.

The Cayucos Elementary School District held a town hall meeting in late September to re-open discussions on how to proceed with the issue of where Cayucos’ high school aged kids will and should attend high school.

The issue has been one the community has struggled with for many years, as under the current setup of school districts, Cayucos kids are supposed to attend Coast Union High in Cambria, but that hasn’t been the preferred option for some time.

A survey by the school district could only identify eight Cayucos kids going to Coast Union High. Most Cayucos teens — of which there are about 25 a year graduating 8th grade — attend Morro Bay High, which is not in the same school district and presents a problem, because the San Luis Coastal School District doesn’t get property taxes to cover those kids.

In December, a San Luis Coastal District ad hoc committee, looking into ways to cover an expected $8.9 million hole in the budget that will come with the closure of Diablo Canyon, recommended charging those students to attend the district schools, some $400,000 a year. No decision has been made, but the recommendation indicates the district’s accommodating policy might change.

It’s been struggling for several years with two nagging problems, and now it appears the moment of truth is at hand for the Cayucos Fire Department and the community will in 2018 face losing local control over its fire department to County Fire, which itself is run under contract by Cal Fire.

Cayucos Fire District Director, Steve Beightler said the issue boils down to two basic problems — money and personnel. As in, they don’t collect enough money through a special fire tax on property to properly staff and equip the department (A ballot measure to greatly increase those fees failed at the polls); and they’ve had trouble finding acceptable candidates for the “volunteer” department, which is really made up of reserve firefighter. The Local Agency Formation Commission should decide this spring what will become of the Cayucos Fire District and the fire department.

October

Calling it a matter of risk management, the Morro Bay City Council settled on the South Bay Site for its new wastewater treatment plant and recycling facility. On a double meeting day over some 6 total hours, the Council heard from business leaders, activist residents, environmental groups, and got a pretty persuasive argument from the project staff and consultants. In the end, the Council chose the South Bay Site, which was the most expensive site to date of the many potential sites seriously considered, but the site with the least resistance.

Local high school students and residents celebrated an historic day on Oct. 6, with the grand opening of the new swimming pool and aquatics facility at Morro Bay High School.

With hundreds of citizens and kids on hand, school officials thanked the voters for approving Measure D in 2014, which paid for this new pool, as well as remodeled classrooms, tennis courts, a new all weather track (a project that broke ground in December), a new auto shop, and a new science and technology center (begun Dec. 21 for $3.4 million, contractor is ACME Const., Inc.) — just at MBHS.

“Our adventure of change and progress is just beginning,” said MBHS Principal Kyle Pruitt. School Superintendent Dr. Eric Prater summed it up for everyone. “Isn’t this pool absolutely beautiful!?!” he said to a round of raucous applause.

Morro Bay High’s Audrey McClish won her third straight Los Padres League Cross Country Championship Nov. 1, and the Girls’ Varsity Team ran away with the LPL Championship for the first time since 2011, with all five scoring runners making either First or Second Team All-LPL.

A junior, McClish proved once again to be the best in the LPL. Emily Donahue of Santa Ynez was second and Morro Bay’s Analise Dempsey was third. The team qualified for the CIF Div. 4 Southern Section Meet and finished sixth in their Prelims heat and qualified for the Div. 4 Finals where they finished 12th out of 24 teams, the best finish for the girls team since 2011. McClish was eighth overall, earned All-CIF honors and qualified for the State Meet as an individual, where she finished 16th in Div. 4, posting the third fastest time ever for a Morro Bay High girl runner.

As for the team, McClish and Dempsey were First Team All-LPL, and Adrienne Frere, Mailani McKelvey, and Scout Biddleman — the teams only senior — made Second Team All-LPL.

Bank of America announced to its customers that it would close the Morro Bay branch after nearly 70 years in business locally. Customers of the branch, located at 390 Morro Bay Blvd., were notified by mail that the branch would close on Feb. 6, 2018. B of A has had a presence in Morro Bay since 1949. The impending closure raises interesting possibilities with regards to its possible reuse or redevelopment. The bank building is zoned commercial, however, the rear parking lot is R-4, which means nearly anything can be built on it. At least one local motel owner has expressed interest in the property for a new motel.

County Supervisors searched far and wide but ultimately decided to hire someone down the hall as the new County Administrative Officer. Supervisors promoted Public Works Director, Wade Horton, to the CAO job, replacing Dan Buckshi who left for Walnut Creek. Horton, who came to the County from the City of SLO, got a base salary of $223,900 with benefits — medical insurance, retirement and more — totaling $107,800, according to the County Administrative Office.

The Morro Bay City Council hired a new city manager, Scott Collins, and a new finance director, Jennifer Callaway Schrantz, within a week of each other. Both started in the first week of November.

The Cayucos Fire Department’s troubles went from smoldering to a flare up, after the Fire District Board found out they don’t have enough qualified people to respond to fire calls every day.

What it meant was that on days when they didn’t have a fire engineer on duty they would be unable to respond to fire calls and would have to rely on Cal Fire and Morro Bay Fire for help, according to Cayucos Fire District Board Member Steve Beightler.

Their interim fire chief told the Board that they don’t have enough “operators” to cover the city full time and that it would probably be sometime in mid-November before they could get more people hired and up to speed. The department’s medical aid capabilities were not affected.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson hired Dr. Joye M. Carter, MD, as the County’s first ever, full-time forensic pathologist, coming to the Central Coast from her previous job as chief medical examiner of Harris County, Texas. That’s the greater Houston Area, which was in the after-throes of being ravaged by Hurricane Harvey was as Dr. Carter started work in SLO County on Sept. 11. She took over for the County’s embattled former, contract, medical examiner, Dr. Gary Walter, who had an extremely tough year or so after he was involved in a DUI collision while en route to the County Morgue to conduct an autopsy.

November

A somewhat contrite County budget office admitted to making a nearly $10 million mistake in the County revenue projections for next fiscal year that take the budget from black to red ink. County officials said instead of an estimated $3 million to $5 million surplus, their corrected figures estimate a $2.8 million to $4.8 million deficit in FY 2018-19; at the worst case scenario, that means a $9.8 million difference.

Morro Bay will once again venture into the world of medical marijuana after the City Council approved an ordinance that would allow two medical pot dispensaries to open in specific commercial zones in the city. The lengthy ordinance (No. 612 of the muni code) restricts the way a person can grow his or her allowed six plants under Proposition 64, passed in November 2016, the law that legalized the evil weed beyond its medical uses and legalized it to simply party with. Morro Bay becomes just the second local city so far to allow dispensaries, though the others had OK’d medicinal weed delivery services. It’s Morro Bay’s second foray into the medical cannabis world, and the first since the 2006 raid of the previous dispensary to open here, Compassionate Caregivers.

December

The Morro Bay City Council let one of the major consultant contracts — for $1.35 million to Water Works Engineering Design Services — in its efforts to build a new sewer treatment plant, one that residents cautioned against but the Council decided unanimously was a necessary next step to keep the project moving. Water Works will design the facilities needed to convey raw sewage from the current Atascadero Road plant out to the new plant site at the terminus of South Bay Boulevard. Critics chided the City Council for moving too soon, when they should first find out if the Coastal Commission was going to allow any of the new facilities to be built west of Hwy 1. Which has apparently become the dividing line of what is in danger from coastal hazards and what is safe.

County Health Agency Director, Jeff Hamm, turned in his retirement papers effective in April. “It has been my great honor to serve the people of San Luis Obispo County for 36 years and lead the Health Agency for 11 years,” Hamm said in a statement, “but I’m looking forward to retirement and the next phase of my life. Our community is facing a growing number of health care system challenges and I agree with the Board that the Health Agency needs a fresh perspective to address them.” Among the nagging issues in 2017 concerned the County’s mental health services, particularly with regards to men and women who are incarcerated in the County Jails.

The Los Osos CSD Board approved setting up a system to manage the so-called, “Los Osos Low Income Assistance Fund,” some $169,000 provided by the National Estuary Program.

Meanwhile, the County is also working on an enforcement program for the more than 100 that simply haven’t done anything. “As of October 2017,”reads the report from County Deputy Public Works Director, Mark Hutchinson, “approximately 95-percent of the required connections have been made, leaving 245 properties unconnected. Of that number, 74 are awaiting connection through the County’s low-income connection program and 55 properties have active permits. Subtracting leaves 116 properties as the focus of this action [2.8% of required connections].”

The folks who have done nothing can expect to start hearing from the County Code Enforcement Office sometime in the spring, after Supervisors approve the enforcement plan.

Also on the Los Osos sewer front, residents struggling with paying their share of the project will get some help after County Supervisors approved a $7.5 million assistance program authorized by the State Legislature.

The “Low-Income User Fee Offset Program,” which was authorized under Assembly Bill 1125, introduced by former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian will help people with paying their monthly bills.

Morro Bay City Administrators had a mea culpa moment, admitting that a sizable mistake was made in accounting on the sewer replacement project and carried over to the current fiscal year budget.

New City Manager Scott Collins, in a public letter to the City Council that was added to the council agenda, said, “Reports provided to Council and the public in July 2017 regarding cash balance for the sewer fund were overstated. In July 2017, the reported balance of the projected FY 2016/17 year-end cash balance was estimated to be $8.3 million, a cumulative overstated amount of $2.68 million. This amount is balanced against other reporting errors and a double counting of large capital expense, equating to an $800,000 overestimation of available funds for the sewer fund.”

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