I wanted to take some time to address a commentary that was published in the Aug. 10 edition of the New Times by a group of Morro Bay residents and business owners who dismissed Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation (CEBP)’s attempts to preserve current land use zoning on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero.
Notice how the byline of that letter simply reads “A Group of Morro Bay Citizens.” Should they have formed a non-profit organization or a political action committee like the CEBP did, they would have to be transparent about their contributors, donations and allegiances. Allow me to disclose what they didn’t disclose in their ridiculous letter.
Former mayors and letter co-signers Jamie Irons and John Headding helped lay down the foundation for Vistra Energy to pursue redevelopment of the old Morro Bay Power Plant site. Vistra arrived in Morro Bay and entered into discussions with the City of Morro Bay in 2018 when Irons was mayor. In 2021, the City of Morro Bay and Vistra Energy approved a settlement agreement when Headding was mayor. Though the settlement agreement included “[an] opportunity for robust community conversation and engagement about the future of the MBPP site,” it did not include an opportunity for robust community conversation on what residents wanted to see on that property. The City approved a settlement that literally ceded local control on land use policy to a Texas-based energy company with renewable energy that is scientifically obsolete and environmentally unsustainable.
Before the initiative was conceived, former Mayor Irons, letter co-signers Glenn Silloway and former Morro Bay Councilwoman Marlys McPherson have made public comment and submitted agenda correspondence that argued for re-zoning the MBPP site to light industrial use, which effectively paves the way for the controversial battery storage facility to move forward. This is advocacy that benefits only one party and that’s Vistra, not Morro Bay. This zoning change diverges from the zoning as classified in our City’s Master Plan, which was approved by the City Council under Irons and Headding’s leadership. But suddenly, when residents are calling for that zoning to be preserved pursuant to the Master Plan through an initiative, it’s suddenly a “deceptive” land use freeze, which is incredibly disingenuous.
The talking points this group makes are confusing but revealing of their intentions.
For instance, this group cites California law AB 205 (2021), signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in June 2022, that “creates an alternative permitting process for renewable energy, storage, and transmission projects that eliminates the need for local approval,” and they seemingly endorse Vistra using AB 205 to push the project through against community opposition; they seemingly advocate this non-consensual approach while lamenting the initiative itself would somehow “reduce community input and control.” But they don’t say what kind of community input and control would be sufficient for their lofty standards. This is uniquely rich coming from a group that supported an ill-fated parcel tax measure the community overwhelmingly rejected and they supported making key decisions on the now-completed Water Resources Facility in lieu of public hearings. In both instances, they approached the community with an agenda instead of leading by community consensus.
In their letter, they talk about “beneficial development,” but awkwardly steer clear of defining what they mean by “beneficial development.” If they’re precluding visitor-serving development on that property, what “plausible” land use possibility is left? For them, the answer is the proposed battery storage facility. But they don’t have the political courage to make such a controversial endorsement. Why? Because they know exactly how divisive that proposal is. Initiative organizers managed to collect a significant amount of signatures within a rushed timeframe precisely because a large chunk of our population does not want this facility in Morro Bay. The outcome of this measure will send a strong message to Governor Newsom: No means no.
What’s the deal with former mayors astroturfing for Vistra Energy, an out-of-state energy company that refuses to read the tea leaves in Morro Bay? And why is Vistra so uncomfortably silent on the community backlash?
They talk about “deception” while omitting important context. Several of the letter co-signers have lobbied in support of Vistra’s project. Behind closed doors and at public comment, they’ve argued for changing the zoning use of that property all while calling the initiative measure “deceptive” for merely adhering to the City’s original vision — all for Vistra’s benefit, not ours. How is that not deceptive?
Sadly, this is typical pattern and practice for the Irons-Headding administration. The “sit back and take it” approach to governing is from a bygone era where community input is perceived as a nuisance, not a necessity; where taxpayer money is spent at a rate that’s progressively faster than money that taxpayers earn. Transparency is only provided for political convenience, not clarity. Their lack of transparency in disclosing their self-interests and self-dealing — acting in their own interests rather than in the interests of the community — is profound. And their collective cowardice to stand by the battery storage project underscores their disingenuousness. It’s the kind of disingenuousness that Morro Bay voters soundly rejected before and will do so again by supporting the initiative.