Since announcing that I was seriously considering a mayoral run in Morro Bay, I’ve had several residents reach out to me. Likewise, I’ve reached out to them and got a lot of great feedback. There are a lot of residents who have a lot to say. Then there is everyone else who goes about their daily lives, too preoccupied to stay on top of the issues happening at City Hall. In order to win, the goal is to essentially win over both camps. Otherwise, the community will always vote 51-to-49% and have a virtual split between two candidates — just like we’ve seen in previous mayoral races.
Easier said than done.
Getting involved in public service or seeking candidacy for public office can be a daunting task. Nobody said it was going to be easy. It’s a rather humbling process. Some residents were encouraging and some weren’t. And time and time again, I was reminded that our City issues aren’t so black and white, yay or nay. There are a lot of nuances to take into consideration as a candidate and an elected official. I’m going to go over what some of the largest issues are, what the community consensus is, and what are possible solutions to consider.
Morro Bay Water Reclamation Facility
We’re no longer in a position to debate where it should be located or what kind of facility we should have. Those factors are set in stone. In 2018, the community majority decided to move forward by not opposing rate increases pursuant to Proposition 218. Now, the question is whether or not the project can be financially sustainable enough to not raise rates in the foreseeable future. We’re looking at a project that’s blowing past cost expectations, budgets and deadlines. Our regulatory partners are watching closely as our current site exposes us to potential fines for violations and could impact the Morro Bay National Estuary. We have pipeline installation work that’s patchy at best, done by a subcontractor known for not fixing millions of dollars in damage to roads and drainage systems. We need stronger oversight of the project and stricter adherence to containing costs. As mayor, I would look at reinstating the Water Reclamation Facility Citizen Advisory Committee (WRFCAC), which was disbanded in 2019, and aggressively pursue additional financing for the project. For this public process to be successful, our City needs to strike a healthy balance between consultant input and public debate.
Morro Bay Vistra Energy Power Plant
Morro Bay is set to host the world’s largest energy storage system. Citizens applaud the ingenuity of bring in alternative, renewable sources of energy that commit to climate change goals. But with every large-scale infrastructure that’s proposed, there has to be a discussion that ventures beyond the PowerPoint Presentation. We haven’t seen much of a discussion about the environmental impacts such a facility would have, considering the fact Vistra’s often-cited example of their successful lithium-ion battery storage facility in Moss Landing has struggled to avoid shutdowns. And there are no clear answers as to why these shutdowns occurred. Under Morro Bay Mayor John Headding’s leadership, the City has largely avoided a cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment of the proposed Vistra Energy Power Plant — all in deference to Vistra. Since battery storage technology remains nascent, the City of Morro Bay must show caution and restraint. We can’t find ourselves constantly rolling out the red carpet for large corporations and special interests.
Morro Bay Harbor Dept. Financial Issues
There is a lot of debate going on here. Consensus clearly shows that residents want to see our harbor infrastructure improved, but the community is almost evenly divided on how to pay for these improvements. Despite being the primary caretaker of our waterfront, the Harbor Dept. remains in a $600,000 to $1,000,000 deficit and they’re looking for revenue sources. Friends of the Harbor Dept., a local nonprofit, is proposing a harbor infrastructure parcel tax. This tax applies to all Morro Bay parcel owners who aren’t harbor stakeholders. Proposing an additional tax on property taxes during a period of rising gas prices, utility bills, inflation and supply chain shortages is a tough sell. I would evaluate the feasibility of an Embarcadero transaction surcharge, Embarcadero parking passes, formation of a harbor district and additional revenue sources that would not impact property owners. I would also negotiate with Friends of the Harbor Dept. to form a compromise solution that addresses long-term sustainability of our waterfront.
North Morro Bay – Panorama Development
For years, North Morro Bay residents have expressed concern about development projects and environmental impacts that would take place in their high-density neighborhood. Residents are particularly concerned about Panorama Drive, a street that features a controversial development on top of a decommissioned U.S. Navy Jet Fuel Facility (3300 Panorama Drive project), a proposed development by Morro 94 LLC for a 61-unit subdivision in the same area, and a sphere of influence annexation of an unstable hillside at Panorama Drive that paves the way for development. Many North Morro Bay residents feel like they’re constantly under assault by the City of Morro Bay and believe their extensive stated opposition to these projects have largely been ignored. Under Morro Bay Community Development Director Scot Graham’s leadership, these various projects have steamrolled through without proactively conducting outreach to residents. As mayor, I would schedule public hearings and work diligently to establish safeguards that protect residents from irreparably harmful impacts to their homes.
Natural Healing Center – Helios Dayspring Investigation
By and large, Californians approve of commercial cannabis operations. The concern primarily revolves around cannabis operators and how they’re sometimes associated with corruption. When Morro Bay residents learned that local marijuana mogul Helios Dayspring was arrested and charged with bribing a county supervisor and filing a false income tax return, they were concerned about the public process leading to his Natural Healing Center dispensary getting approved here. How did they get from being one of the lowest scoring applicants to securing the permit? The City never explained that. However, they merely argued they had the legal discretion to do so and a local judge agreed. Complicating matters is the fact that Mayor John Headding and Councilwoman Dawn Addis attended a campaign fundraiser at Dayspring’s home in 2018 and have refused to comment on their entanglements with Dayspring. As mayor, I would support an independent investigation and ensure any future commercial cannabis permits undergo a stricter, more transparent process.
These are the main issues that were brought to my attention. After speaking with more residents, I will have a more robust assessment of the current state of Morro Bay.