Estero Bay News Briefs 4-11-2024

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

April 19, 2024

Battery Project EIR Discussed

The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for a battery energy storage plant proposed for the old Morro Bay Power Plant site, is on tap at two upcoming public meetings.

A citizens’ group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of Morro Bay & the Central Coast,” will be at the Morro Bay Library Meeting Room from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 20 for a public workshop on the DEIR. The goal is to help citizens understand the DEIR, which is several hundred pages, so they can make comments to the City. Often such comments can help make a project better.

The workshops will have a short orientation presentation, study the materials and additional resources, and give “helpful tips for making your letter effective,” reads a flyer for the event.

A second workshop is set for 2-4 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at the Library, 695 Harbor St. The meetings are free but space is limited. Pre-register by texting Jeanne Marie Colby at: (650) 773-1381.

The workshops on the DEIR could also be informative in advance of the November General Election when Morro Bay voters will decide Measure A-24.

That initiative concerns the zoning at the power plant and would force Vistra Energy to seek voter approval to change the property’s zoning if needed for the project to win approval. If A-24 passes, it could put up a significant speed bump to the project. 

The State Legislature however, passed a law last summer that gives Vistra a potential work-around on Measure A-24, and could remand the project to the California Energy Commission for approval.

Distracted Driving Awareness Month

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Law enforcement agencies are actively looking for drivers who are in violation of the state’s hands-free cell phone law.

According to the 2023 California Statewide Public Opinion Survey, more than 74% of drivers surveyed said that distracted driving because of texting was their biggest safety concern. In 2021, there were at least 140 people killed in distracted driving traffic crashes in California. The numbers are likely underreported because law enforcement officers may not always be able to tell that distraction was a factor in a crash.

Under current law, drivers are not allowed to hold a phone or electronic communications device while operating a vehicle, even when stopped at a red light. This includes talking, texting or using an app. Using a handheld cell phone while driving is punishable by a fine, and violating the hands-free law for a second time within 36 months of a prior conviction for the same offense will result in a point being added to a driver’s record.

If you have an important phone call, text or email, or are in a situation with other distractions, such as looking up directions, pull over to a safe parking spot to complete the task without putting yourself and others at risk. Other distractions can be eating, grooming, reaching for something that fell on the floor, putting on or taking off clothing, talking with passengers, or children in the back seat.

Funding for distracted driving enforcement is provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Utility Rate Transparency Bill Moves Forward

A new bill by Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-Morro Bay) to address soaring utility rates by increasing transparency to consumers successfully passed its first committee.

Assembly Bill 2847 passed out of the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee with bipartisan support.

“It’s no secret that energy rates are skyrocketing – impacting real people across California,” said Addis. “In just three years, residential electricity rates have increased 63% for PG&E customers and 52% for SoCal Edison customers. Californians deserve to know what to expect when they open their monthly energy bills and that all of the costs included in their bills are fair and reasonable. Having this critical information will ultimately help lower costs for ratepayers.”

Specifically, AB 2847 will establish new disclosure mandates for electric and gas utilities as they seek approval for long-term capital expenditures.

In July 2023, Assemblymember Addis advocated for the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reject overly high fixed utility rates proposed by investor-owned utilities. Last month, she urged the PUC to reject Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s request for interim rate relief, in order to prevent additional rate increases for Californians.

The bill now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

SCOTUS to Rule on Regulation of Homeless Encampments

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hold oral arguments on April 22 at 7 a.m. on the enforceability of state, county and local laws that prohibit camping on public property and whether those laws violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The SCOTUS decision in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson will have an impact on how cities and counties can manage homeless encampments.

Several cities throughout SLO County have recently passed ordinances which regulate how and where people experiencing homelessness can stay overnight on public property, according to the League of Women Voters SLO County. 

“These ordinances, which were adopted to comply with the guidance in Grants Pass v. Johnson, have been controversial and the subject of much public discussion,” said the LWV in a news release. “The court’s ruling in this case could affect how other cities address their own epidemics of homelessness, including those throughout San Luis Obispo County.”

Watch the SCOTUS oral argument at 7 a.m. PDT on April 22 at arguments/live.aspx.

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