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Is an urgency ordinance for the Paso Robles water basin putting the cart before the horse? 

Supervisor Debbie Arnold raises questions about county’s emergency water ordinance

From the Soaring Eagle Press

Debbie Arnold

Supervisor Debbie Arnold

On Tuesday, August 6th, potential options for an Urgency Ordinance covering the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin, as presented and prepared by County staff, were discussed at the Board of Supervisors meeting. This first step in the process to potentially adopt an urgency ordinance was to determine whether or not there was some standing for the County to adopt one, and if so, give staff direction regarding what form the ordinance might take, as well as what options should be considered.

In essence, for the County to adopt an urgency measure or interim ordinance it must meet two criteria – the urgency ordinance must be necessary [1] “to protect the public safety, health, and welfare” and [2] any urgency measure “shall require a four-fifths vote of the legislative body for adoption.”

“Provided that the above procedural requirements are satisfied, your Board may adopt an Urgency Ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a permanent Title 22 amendment addressing groundwater use through land use regulation,” said the staff report for the agenda item.

Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill were both strongly in favor of proceeding with the proposed urgency ordinance and agreed that the Board of Supervisors needed to “act now”. First District Supervisor Frank Mecham questioned whether or not the urgency ordinance should cover the entire basin or just the hardest hit area around Paso Robles.

Only Supervisor Debbie Arnold questioned whether or not the Board was putting the cart before the horse and outlined her reasoning and strategic priorities:

  1. Top Priority must be assisting those residents with dry wells – urgency is required because wells are going dry, and therefore, urgency actions should focus first and foremost on dealing with dry wells. If wells weren’t dry, the decline of the basin would be a problem, not a crisis.
  2. Stop Waste – Waste is something that is occurring today, and is something we can stop immediately.
  3. Manage Demand – Urgency restrictions should be targeted and careful to avoid unintended consequences
  4. Public Process – When we are talking about people’s ability to access water on their property, their investments, their property values, their jobs and livelihoods,we must make time to listen and make sure we understand the full impacts of the decisions we are making.

Gibson said of Arnold’s concerns, “Let’s get this [urgency ordinance] done and then we can deal with the other.” The next step in this process will take place at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, August 27th.

Delve a little deeper into the water basin issue

  • To read the full text of Arnold’s “Strategic Priorities” and direction to staff for the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin Urgency Ordinance, please click on the link above.
  • To read an article on the Groundwater Basin by 1st District Supervisor Frank Mecham, please click here.
  • According to the staff report presented by Kami Griffin, the Assistant Director of the San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department, Section 65858 of the California Government Code sets forth the circumstances under which a County may adopt an interim ordinance as an urgency measure.
  • The staff report went on to say that, “An interim ordinance must contain legislative findings that there is a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare, and that the approval of additional subdivisions, use permits, variances, building permits, or any other applicable entitlement for use which is required in order to comply with a zoning ordinance would result in that threat to public health, safety, or welfare.”
  • But the options for the urgency ordinance as outlined in the staff report did nothing to specifically address relief for those who had run out of water – or might run out in the near future (see Attachment C – Sample Ordinance Language).
  • To learn more about the various groups either advocating for an urgency ordinance or for other solutions, please click on the name of the following groups – PRO Water Equity and the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions or PRAAGS.



Paso Robles water issues


About the author: Publisher Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or follow his blog.