San Luis Obispo county officials will hold a public hearing on the topic of groundwater basin management after a recent vote provoked allegations of Brown Act violations.
On March 7, the San Luis Obispo board of supervisors were updated on a 2014 state law that requires sustainable management of groundwater basins. In San Luis Obispo County there are groundwater basins in Paso Robles, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Los Osos, Cuyama and Santa Maria.
During the discussions, Supervisor Arnold made a motion to change policy and have the county serve as a managing agency - called groundwater sustainability agency, or GSA - of those basins. That meant all San Luis Obispo County residents would be paying for it, not just those who use each particular basin’s groundwater, such as big wineries. Supervisors Peschong and Compton supported Arnold’s effort and voted in favor.
The Brown Act mandates that items voted on at a public meeting must be announced 72 hours in advance and properly noticed so that people affected know to come to the meeting, speak up or take action. Some objected the GSA formation wasn’t in itself advertised as part of the agenda.
“What I strenuously object to the how of these changes. That strategy change affected every single property owner in the county, and should have been agendized and noticed appropriately per the Brown Act,” said Paso Robles resident Lori Gage.
“I’m speaking today about six million reasons why Paso Robles groundwater needs to be put to public comment,” said Los Osos resident Violet Cavanaugh. “Input from residents is essential in decision making about water and public services allocated through general funds and away from other areas in our community."
The Brown Act also forbids officials from communicating with each other outside of public meetings that leads to an agreement on how to vote on a particular item, called serial meetings. This week Supervisors Hill and Gibson suggested there should be an investigation into whether this happened leading up the vote on the county becoming the GSA.
The city’s attorney said she considered the March 7 vote to be “defensible,” but advised it would be prudent to schedule another public hearing. A public hearing and board discussion on a county GSA formation at the April 4 meeting.