Morro Bay’s Politics are Stupid

An Editorial

I love my hometown, and am very happy and lucky to live here, but sometimes I read in the newspaper about local politics and have to just roll my eyes. When we first moved here, Duke Energy owned the power plant that serves as one of our city’s land marks. In return for being allowed to operate here, Duke had some kind of contract with the city where they gave all of us locals a break in our electric bills and paid the city a stipend every year. Then, no sooner than we moved in, Duke became the center of a huge controversy that made no sense to me.

Apparently, the power plant had to be upgraded. It uses water from the estuary to cool its generators, or whatever (I don’t know all the technical details), and in the process the water gets heated. This hot water is then released back into the bay. There is some sort of fish guard to keep sea critters from getting sucked in, though if you are a microscopic plankton you are kind of doomed. The upgraded version would have kept the hot-water cooling system, which has been there since the plant was built in 1955. A number of activists took issue with this, wanting some kind of dry-cooling system installed to replace the water-based one. The idea was that changing the water temperature around the power plant disrupted the “delicate ecosystem” of the estuary.

Here’s the thing. The cooling system these activists proposed would have been much more expensive and much less efficient. I am all for making those kinds of sacrifices for the environment if they are actually necessary. When was this plant built? Oh, yeah. 1955. Presumably, since the estuary is still thriving and full of life, the cooling system isn’t having that negative of an impact.

After years of debates back and forth, Duke decided “forget this” and left. They sold the power plant, meaning that the city lost needed revenue and all of our electric bills jumped. Way to go.

And just as the city lost all of this revenue and faced a huge budget deficit, they decided to spend a million dollars on street lamps in the downtown area. Where very few businesses are open after 6 pm.

While this argument over the power plant was happening, the city also had a huge controversy over where dogs could play and poop. No, really. There was a huge demand by dog owners to have a dog park in Morro Bay. But nobody could agree on just where to put it. So, the city council and planning commission spent the next few years arguing back and forth over just where to put the thing. By the time they finally approved it, one council member remarked, “When we first started talking about this, my dog was young and healthy. He has since died of old age.”

A few years later, Morro Bay decided it needed to revitalize its image for the tourists, who are the foundation of our little economy. So, they made the reasonable decision to apply for a redevelopment agency or RDA, a mechanism the state uses to allow cities to get money to renovate and improve neighborhoods. Sounds good. Except they hired the stupidest consultants I have ever seen to plan out the project. My dad works at the county planning department, and passed around the map of the proposed “redevelopment zone” to his co-workers. They couldn’t believe what they were looking at.

The redevelopment zone ignored the downtown and waterfront completely, the very areas the RDA was supposed to aid. Instead, it focused on the residential neighborhoods, marking people’s houses for alleged “blight”. Such “blight” did not fit the state-mandated legal definition of blight. They were marking places because of the quality of the cars in the driveway, for crying out loud. The city council’s response: “We can change the redevelopment zone as we go.” Great. So why did you hire these consultants in the first place? Aren’t they supposed to mark areas for redevelopment for you so you don’t have to do it yourself?

This is one case where I got the word out and encouraged people to go to the city council meeting. The council did decide, by a narrow 3-2 vote, not to pursue the RDA plan. So, the city finally came to its senses, right?

Well, then we had sewer problems. See, by law we have to upgrade our sewer system by a certain deadline. The city’s first proposal came from a company that had connections with some council members. Their plan would have required building ON A STATE-PROTECTED BEACH and dumping runoff DIRECTLY INTO THE SEA. Then, at the last minute, a second company came in with a proposal that would have been cheaper and more eco-friendly (not that this was difficult to accomplish). The city went with the first bidder with the connections. The one that would have dumped sewage into the ocean.

Naturally, the California Coastal Commission, which has the power to veto anything along the waterfront in order to protect the environment, said “absolutely no flippin’ way.” What else were they going to say? Naturally, this would wake the city council up and force them to reconsider their sewer upgrade plans. Oh, wait, no it didn’t. The city council instead decided to hire a lobbyist to try to bribe the Commission into changing its mind.

And now, the city is wrapped up in a pointless debate about the fate of two or three non-native eucalyptus trees along a sidewalk on Main Street. They are spending valuable time they could be using to come up with a new sewer upgrade plan to instead decided if those trees should be cut down or just trimmed.

So, yeah. I love my hometown, but our local politics are stupid.