A Land-Use Freeze Would Harm Morro Bay

A group called Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation (CEBP) is gathering signatures to place a measure on the March 2024 ballot to freeze the Visitor-Serving/Commercial land use designation for the power plant site and the Commercial/Recreational Fishing designation for the north Embarcadero (Measure D area) unless changed by a vote of the people. This action is a bad idea that would have harmful consequences for Morro Bay and would not provide the benefits the group claims.

CEBP says that this zoning freeze is needed to stop the development of the industrial Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) proposed by Vistra Corp and would lead to wonderful visitor-serving businesses on the power plant land. 

Neither of these claims is accurate. Here are some facts:

• Zoning alone cannot stop the BESS.  California law AB 205 (2021), signed by Governor Newsom in June 2022, creates an alternative permitting process for renewable energy, storage, and transmission projects that eliminates the need for local approval. This process managed by the CA Energy Commission is voluntary for the developer. Vistra will use AB 205: Morro Bay could not stop the BESS by itself. 

• This initiative would reduce community input and local control. The General Plan defines the land uses exactly the way the initiative proposes. But if it passes, the City Council cannot act and all the established processes for involving citizens will be bypassed in discussions about the BESS and any other land-use proposal for the affected parcels. The City would lose influence on the project and any community benefits.

• California DTSC prohibits visitor-serving development on the BESS site. The Division of Toxic Substances Control filed restrictive covenants with the county on July 21, 2022, that explicitly forbid uses such as hotels, motels, and other human-related development.

• Neither PG&E nor Vistra is legally obligated to clean up the site and no lawsuit could compel them to do so. PG&E, the first owner of the property, to reduce its liability placed deed restrictions that prohibit human-related uses that might expose people to dangerous contaminants (it is unknown what contaminants are under the plant and stacks). Subsequent owners also reduced their liability by accepting the restrictions as a condition of sale. 

• Even if the restrictions were lifted, there is no plausible visitor-serving use that would justify the large investment needed to clean up the power plant site. No company would pay Vistra for the property, pay $20 to $30 million to demolish the old plant (Vistra’s estimate), pay more money to remediate the polluted soil, and only then begin to invest in a business.

The initiative would drastically reduce beneficial developments through rigid zoning. The City Council should be able to consider any proposal that could help the City financially. 

Facts DO matter. Reject the petition to freeze land use. Preserve local control by our elected officials and our options to attract beneficial development for the future.

Submitted with approval by, Homer Alexander, Jeffrey Bacon, Dawn Beattie, Dave and Cindy Betonte, Ed and Monica Bischof, Casey Cordes, Tim Cowan, Ric Deschler, Bob Fowler, Cherise Hansson, John and Sue Headding, Jamie and Monica Irons, Lee Johnson, Dave and Liz Klinzman, Marlys McPherson, Frank and Lynda Merrill, Jeremiah and Trudy O’Brien, Ron Reisner, Doug Rogers, Glenn Silloway, Susan Stewart, Chuck and Donna Stoll, Bob and Carol Swain. All are Morro Bay residents except for Bob Fowler (Atascadero) and Susan Stewart (Los Osos) who own businesses in Morro Bay.

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