Response to the ‘Deceptive’ New Times Letter to the Editor

Morro Rock After Sunset

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.

7 thoughts on “Response to the ‘Deceptive’ New Times Letter to the Editor”

  1. So glad we have people like Aaron taking the initiative to call out the political maneuverings behind the scenes in matters that are of great consequence to us.

  2. Your response is interesting and provides a lot of background about the proposed BESS. However you don’t address the statements made in the letter that the CA Dept. Of Toxic Substances Control actual has forbidden hotels, motels, or other human-related development on the site due to existing pollution. This is something I never heard at the CEBP initiative meeting. CEBP didn’t mention that the cost of cleanup would be so prohibitive that the land could NOT actually be used in a “visitor-serving” manner, which only leaves commercial uses. But I agree with you and with CEBP that MB City Council shouldn’t be able to make these kinds of giant decisions about the future of the Embarcadero and the City of MB with a mere 3-2 majority, and no vote of the citizens.

    1. I didn’t address the CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control because I heard two conflicting opinions from them. I read their letter where they expressed concern about visitor-serving development. But I also heard from TSC staff who told me visitor-serving development was possible, but the cleanup involved would be extensive. I’m waiting to get a final determination from them on where they stand. And when I do, I will weigh in.

  3. Judy Lynn Setting

    Thank you, Aaron for exposing the “closed-session”, Vistra collusions, omit public input and criminal, shenanigans the Irons/Headding team has been forcing upon us, the Morro Bay invested taxpayers.
    Using their “deed restrictions”, PG&E has taken the “cheap” way out of cleaning up after themselves.
    FYI: I have DTSC information from their Project Manager, Yang Dong that sheds light and a ray of sunshine on the Power Plant Property and cleanup is contingent on land use designation. I asked them how it is possible that PG&E is able to leave us a toxic-industrial mess. A combo residential/commercial designation may just solve the problem.
    Let’s all remember that just because Vistra has said they will take down the buildings and stacks doesn’t mean they will….they left themselves a very inexpensive out….if they don’t take them down by 2028 they will give the city $3mil. We know that isn’t near enough to demo or maintain them.
    Email from Yang Dong:

    Dong, Yang@DTSC
    Jun 29, 2023, 2:31 PM
    to Duane@DTSC, me

    Hi Judy,

    I apologize for the confusion. I would like to provide you with a clearer answer to your questions.

    Regarding your first question, PG&E is not held liable for cleaning up the soil to its original state. As you mentioned, Morro Bay’s general plan has designated the land use as Visitor Serving Commercial. DTSC does not have the authority to direct PG&E to clean up the land to a residential level when it is zoned for commercial use. Additionally, we do not have the authority to compel the City of Morro Bay to change the zoning from commercial to residential. DTSC’s responsibility is to ensure that the chosen remedy is protective of human health and the environment in a short and long term. We do not mandate that everything be cleaned up to its original condition. If the City of Morro Bay decides to change the zoning to residential, then DTSC can potentially utilize the CACA to request that PG&E clean up to a residential level.

    Regarding your second question, the toxic buildings has not yet been investigated or determined to be toxic. Once the power building and stacks are demolished, the investigation will take place. It is anticipated that the demolition could occur within the next five years (by 2028).

    I hope this provides a clear explanation. If you have any further questions, please let me know.


    Yang Dong (She/Her/Hers)
    Project Manager
    Military Sites and Corrective Action Unit
    Department of Toxic Substances Control
    8800 Cal Center Drive
    Sacramento CA 95826
    California Environmental Protection Agency

  4. The value of the approximately 72 acres of land that Vistra owns is difficult to know. However a 3.8 acre parcel next to the High School was just listed at $3.8 million. Vistra can sell the land, discounted for the clean up cost, and still be way ahead. This can be done similar to what was done in Avila.

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