Nipomo Deserves A Hotel

On Wednesday of last week, 2/27/08, The Nipomo  Community Services District (NCSD) had an opportunity to move the business and commercial community forward by granting an intent to serve letter to a 71 room hotel.  The directors punted, and delayed any decision until June.  That was the wrong decision.  The Tribune, has now weighed in with an editorial entitled Proposed Nipomo Hotel Deserves Water Service.  The Tribune agreed with the NCSD decision, but cautioned that the board should recognize the need for a hotel in Nipomo.  I agree with the Tribune that we do need a hotel in Nipomo; however, I disagree with the decision to delay, which I will explain below the jump.

The Tribune editorialized:

Editorial Opinion of The Tribune

Proposed Nipomo hotel deserves water service

Growing community will need taxes that more businesses would provide

When it comes to conserving scarce water resources, it’s better to err on the side of caution — which is why we support the Nipomo Community Services District for postponing a decision on granting water service to a proposed 71-room hotel.

The district’s board will reconsider the request in June, after it has the results of groundwater readings taken in the spring.

Certainly, the district’s board of directors is obligated to put the health of the basin first, especially since that remains Nipomo’s sole source of water.

But here’s our concern: After a nearly decade-long boom in homebuilding, we hope the district isn’t forced to deny water service to the businesses needed to serve the growing community.

That kind of lopsided development is bad from an economic standpoint; bad for the environment because it forces residents to drive further for shopping and services; and it’s just plain inconvenient for the growing number of residents and visitors to the community.

With a population of about 22,000 residents in the greater Nipomo area, the community is overdue for a hotel.

It does have a bed-and-breakfast inn, but Santa Maria and the Five Cities area are the closest places with a sizeable inventory of hotel rooms. That’s no doubt forcing visitors to those communities — which means less revenue for Nipomo.

If Nipomo is to ever have a real option of incorporating—an issue that’s been discussed, off and on, for years — it’s going to need the sales and bed taxes that more businesses will provide. But until it gets its water supply problem solved, that will continue to be a problem.

The district is moving forward on construction of a pipeline to Santa Maria, so it can import water from that city. That’s good.

But that project is expected to take three years, and in the meantime, Nipomo must continue to rely completely on the groundwater basin.

Until then, the community services district is going to have to be cautious in signing on new customers.We urge the agency to give priority to those services that are most needed—and we’d put a hotel among those at the top of the list.

The Tribune points out the obvious need for a hotel in Nipomo.  It will bring much needed local revenue to support Nipomo’s incorporation efforts.  It will help balance the growth our community has experienced which has overwhelming been residential over the last several years.  Now that the commercial is beginning to catch up with projects that Nipomo desperately needs, the NCSD Board falters.

The Tribune, and presumably the NCSD  Board implies we must be cautious in allowing new developments water because of Nipomo’s water situation.  This reasoning fails on several counts:

First, the water crisis in Nipomo is a politically created crisis that has little or no foundation in fact.  I have posted on this alleged crisis several times–which you can review here.  Others have also written on this on the Nipomo Community egroup.  It is a matter of record that the NCSD’s paid water conservationist,  Celeste Whitlow, has taken an aggressive and unsupportable stance by issuing misleading information to the public and the press–see here.  The questions the NCSD must answer if the public is to believe the current “the sky is falling” outlook are these:

Were the NCSD’s water experts who testified at trial all wrong in their analysis, data, and interpretation of that data?  Were all those hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not more) wasted on the studies used to support the NCSD’s legal position at trial?  Is the current data used by some with political agendas to stop or limit growth in Nipomo accurate?  If so, then why didn’t the NCSD’s water experts know of this other data at trial or prior to trial?  Why wasn’t this data more persuasive to convince the trier of fact that Nipomo’s water supply is in immediate danger of exhaustion and/or sea water intrusion?  Why isn’t the NCSD suing their water litigation counsel for legal malpractice because they got it all wrong?

Second, this same NCSD board approved an intent to serve letter for this very same project on 9/14/2005, for an even larger projected water use.  That intent to serve letter expired before the project could move forward.  So, had the project been able to meet all its deadlines in a timely manner this water allocation would have already been made.  Is the NCSD Board arguing that the water conditions have changed so significantly in the past two years that the basin no longer has the water sufficient for this project?

Third, the NCSD staff which makes the calculations, does the ground work, and makes the decisions on whether projects do or don’t deserve intent to serve letters actually recommended that the NCSD Board approve this intent to serve application on Wednesday.
And, it was an intent to serve recommendation for less water use than the prior intent to serve letter.  It was also based on conservative based estimates of actual water use by this proposed facility.  See the NCSD Board packet outlining all these facts here.

Fourth,  the NCSD Board walks a very dangerous line if it denies a project within its district boundaries an intent to serve letter without having met the conditions outlined in the California Water Code dealing with building moratoriums.  The NCSD has not met those guidelines for this or any other project, of which I am aware.  If I were Rob Marinai, I would be warming up litigation counsel in the bull pen for the June meeting, and perhaps even bring him to the board meeting to help make the case for that intent to serve letter.

Yes, the Tribune is correct that the NCSD Board  is obligated to put the health of the basin first, especially since that remains Nipomo’s sole source of water; however, given the facts established at the water litigation trial, and the fact this very same project has already been approved by this same board, it is quite unlikely the 71 room hotel will put the health of the Santa Maria Water basin in any jeopardy.  I welcome any responses by the NCSD, or community at large.

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7 thoughts on “Nipomo Deserves A Hotel

  1. In response to my initial post above, Susie Hermerck, past SCAC President posted to the Nipomo egroup the following on 3/5/08 at 8:13 a.m.

    Guy and others:

    As an old timer of Nipomo, I also feel that the Hotel should not have been denied. When the NCSD first started up, in order to get going, they needed people to sign up to the district. Many of those vacant parcels that are included in the district belonged to owners that helped the NCSD in their start-up. Even though the owner of this project is a newcomer, I can’t help but feel that the NCSD Board made a big error in their denial. This property was re-zoned in 1990-91 and at that time the NCSD was aware of the possible uses for that property. As far as I am concerned they should have set aside this water for that future use. Just because a property owner didn’t jump on the development wagon at that time should not punish them now. This property has been in the district since the beginning and should be granted the respect and water rights that it deserves. The houses that these very directors live in are the ones that should have been denied……..they are the newcomers

    Susie Hermreck

  2. Terry Buterbaugh responded on 3/5/08 at 2:33 p.m. with the following:

    Guy
    Does the NCSD have a problem seeing the future of Nipomo? Delays are not a solution, there will be a hotel in Nipomo decided on greater issues ($) than water allocations. Growth is the future; managing it, not delaying it, should be our first priority. Water issues will be solved with the same $ to allow that growth to happen.

    Our planning today should be for the development of additional water resources far beyond what the basin has to offer. Let’s not wait for the problem to evolve, or provide short term solutions for the next couple years, let’s start working on the greater solution for the next generation or two for Nipomo residents.
    Terry

  3. On 3/5/08 at 10:10 a.m., Ed Eby, an NCSD Director posted his own response, entitled Nipomo Deserves Water:

    On January 6, 2008, Nipomo got a wake-up call. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) published a report estimating the
    future groundwater in storage above mean sea level (GWS) under the Nipomo Mesa. Their study showed that if we receive the same rainfall
    that has occurred over the past 32 years, our GWS would be zero in 12 years. This means the average well water level on the Nipomo Mesa
    would be at sea level, inviting sea-water intrusion to permanently contaminate our aquifer. Even before the average level is reached,
    local regions of sea-water intrusion would be experienced. If all urban users on the Mesa immediately cut their water consumption by
    50% (a highly unlikely circumstance) this period could be extended to 14 years. In other words, “urban conservation alone will not be
    sufficient to maintain the (safe level of) GWS.” Rainfall less than the 32 year pattern would shorten the period to sea-water intrusion.

    The solution to the problem is quickly importing supplemental water to support the current uses depleting our water supply. The NCSD’s
    plan is to import up to 3,000 acre-feet of water per year by pipeline from Santa Maria. We have a schedule that shows this can be accomplished in three years. The most critical milestones that must must be reached before we have a viable project are:

    1. Complete negotiations on an updated Memorandum of Understanding
    with Santa Maria (scheduled for late April 2008)

    2. Secure land right-of-way for pipeline (May 2009)

    3. Execute purchase agreement with Santa Maria (November 2009) Other important tasks are to secure permits and funding for the project.

    Until we have more confidence that we have a pipeline project that meets our schedule (We have already had a three year delay from the
    schedule proposed in 2004.), it is prudent for the NCSD to limit allocations of new water connections. Our first responsibility is to provide water to current customers. If we had three consecutive years of sparse rainfall like last year we could not do that. Our GWS would be zero.

    SAIC is going to measure the GWS, after the bulk of our winter rains, in the spring. Their report to us in June will give us a measure of confidence in the safety of resuming new water
    connections. At that time we will consider if it is fair to the current NCSD customers to accelerate the depletion of the aquifer without supplemental water in the pipeline. The risk, of course, is
    that another delay in the supplemental water schedule will go beyond the total depletion of GWS.

    It is unfortunate that these realities interfere with some development schedules, but the risk to the current NCSD customers must be considered first.

    Ed Eby

  4. On 3/5/08 at 11:48 a.m., Jim Harrison, also an NCSD Director, responded to Ed Eby’s post with a differing point of view:

    I would like to make one thing very clear while I do not agree with Ed’s interpretation of the reports we have received from SAIC, and I am not happy with SAIC reaching a conclusion with only half the information needed to make an informed decision. I do agree that the mesa has a water problem but I do not believe that we have any evidence that would make it a crisis in the next 12 to 14 years. The NCSD’s own hydrologist said in court that there was enough water to serve the mesa at the present consumption until 2030 if no more rain were to fall on the mesa, we all know that we will get some rain in the next twenty two years. With only half of the necessary information to make any informed projection some people are saying that we will run out of water in 12 to 14 years.

    If you look at the ground water in storage I can not find any justification from the information that SAIC has provided us that would lean credence to the 12 and 14 year water crisis that Ed refers to.

    I sometimes get the feeling that some of our people want to stop any growth any way possible if manufacturing a water crisis will do the trick they are willing to do so. SAIC giving us only half the facts in January to indicate that we should panic is one example. They did give us all the information that the board asked for but not all that we should have asked for.
    When you look at the fall as well as the spring water in storage there is in my opinion not enough evidence to support halting of the intent to serve letters.

    What I see is a chronic problem that will be solved when we get the supplemental water however there is not in my opinion enough evidence to justify not issuing intent to serve letters to the amount of Acre Feet yearly your Board has voted to allow new water connections.

    Jim Harrison

  5. On 3/5/08, at 10:53 a.m. Marianne Buckmeyer, of Save the Mesa wrote a related post entitled Nipomo Deserves a Hotel at what cost?

    Does anyone know what the cost would be for the will serve letter for such a hotel? Is this the same cost as it would be for a development such as Chestnut Villas?

    If there is water for just “one more” development, who decides which development gets the water? Does it come down to: Is it for a project on the Von’s side of the freeway where all the shopping centers are going or does it go to the other side of the freeway over to Old Town to become an anchor where they need some business on that side to encourage foot traffic there?

    Just curious.

    Marianne

  6. On 3/5/08 at 4:02 p.m., Susie Hermreck, past SCAC President responded to Marianne as follows:

    Marianne, et al:

    The vote for denial of this project which is following the West Tefft Street Design Standards that have been adopted and also has come back with water conservation policies which shows the project will be using less water than originally requested, sets a bad precedence for any project within the district boundaries. You have doomed Old Towne to remain what it is, with no hope for the future. You have effectively put the small businessmen who live and care about this community out of business and opened the door for the big developer with lawyers on retainers to do what they want and how they want. NCSD has been advocating water conservation for the last year, yet they get a project that wants to comply and they shut the door. What sort of example does that set and how can you say you are protecting the current users when parcels within the district are not allowed the very water that was supposed to be provided to them. The “Chestnut Villas ” are still going to be built……….what you have gotten rid of are the small projects that would have been an enhancement to services and the building of a tax base that would eventually free us from SLO County Planning control

    Susie Hermreck

  7. On 3/5/08 at 9:51 p.m., I responded to Ed Eby’s post as follows:

    Ed Eby wrote:

    On January 6, 2008, Nipomo got a wake-up call. Science Applications
    International Corporation (SAIC) published a report estimating the
    future groundwater in storage above mean sea level (GWS) under the
    Nipomo Mesa. Their study showed that if we receive the same rainfall
    that has occurred over the past 32 years, our GWS would be zero in 12
    years.

    Ed,

    Nipomo has water. What we are in short supply of here in Nipomo, is the truth. We have lots of hyperbole, incredible amounts of scare tactics and misrepresentations–but precious little truth. So this is the same SAIC whose representative, Robert Beeby, the NCSD Water Expert who testified at deposition and at trial as follows:

    1. The stipulated judgment adequately provides for the management of the water resources, both surface and ground water of Santa Maria Basin.

    2. In general, the availability of local service water, local ground water and imported water, along with the existing infrastructure, is sufficient to meet the water demands of the Basin through 2030. This opinion is based on implementation of technically sound management principles and maintenance as set forth in the stipulation.

    3. Local areas may require special attention from the technical experts of the three management committees because of differing hydrogeologic characteristics among the three management areas.

    4. It is highly unlikely that the availability of groundwater resources to the contesting parties will be significantly impacted by anticipated growth in the Nipomo or Santa Maria Management Areas.

    5. There are presently 2,500,000 [as of 2002 (Alroth, 2002)] acre-feet in ground water storage above mean sea level in the Santa Maria Basin. This would meet the projected water level demands at 2030 levels for 15 years without replenishment. There has never been zero recharge or rainfall for any annual period for the entire period of record.

    6. There are presently 84,000 acre-feet (Year 2000) in ground water storage above mean sea level in the Nipomo in the Nipomo Mesa Management area. This would meet the projected water demands at 2030 levels for 5 years without replenishment. There has never been zero recharge or rainfall for any annual period for the entire period of record.

    It seems your interpretation of whatever data it is upon which you rely has an incredible disconnect to the actual sworn trial testimony–by the same SAIC experts the NCSD paid with rate payer monies. Ed, Jesse is right. The time to prove that Nipomo was out of water was during the water litigation trial. It didn’t happen, because there was no verifiable, objective, or admissible evidence to persuade a well trained, neutral trier of fact. No matter how many times you say the sky is falling, or, the water is going, will not make it so.

    Ed further writes:

    Until we have more confidence that we have a pipeline project that
    meets our schedule (We have already had a three year delay from the
    schedule proposed in 2004.), it is prudent for the NCSD to limit
    allocations of new water connections. Our first responsibility is
    to provide water to current customers.

    Except that’s not what the Water Code allows you to do. To stop providing intent to serve letters to projects within the district you need much more than your “confidence level.” You need verifiable water studies supporting the denial of intent to serve letters. This NCSD Board has not complied with that provision of the Water Code. The Board’s refusal to provide or delay in granting intent to serve letters is playing with fire, and subjects the NCSD to endless, expensive litigation, and an incredible waste of rate payer money. Your first responsibility is to provide water to current customers, AND to provide intent to serve letters to projects which have qualified under the law to obtain those intent to serve letters. And, I repeat that this project had already been granted such an intent to serve letter by this same NCSD board.

    Ed further writes:

    If we had three consecutive years of sparse rainfall like last year we could not do that. Our
    GWS would be zero.

    Nonsense! Had you been able to prove that at trial, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. There would have been a building moratorium in place long before now. The time has come for the NCSD to stop ignoring the facts proved at trial, as though they don’t even exist. The time has come for the NCSD to stop scaring the public about the water supply. It is wrong for the federal government to cook the books and mislead the public into war. It is equally wrong for the local water board to rely on incomplete studies and strained data interpretation, to mislead the public about Nipomo’s water supply. We are not running out of water in 12 years. That was not the conclusion of the NCSD water (or any other) expert at trial. Nipomo has water. What it lacks is the truth about the water supply.

    Regards,

    Guy Murray

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