The following commentary posted by permission. I think a public meeting to decide the fate of the Tri W property is in order as soon as plans for the sewer project finalize. The community needs to be thinking about and weigh in on what it wants – if anything – in the middle of the town. And what that will cost.
“Tri-W,” “Mid-Town,” “Sewer Park”, whatever you call it, it currently belongs to the wastewater Prohibition Zone of Los Osos, paid for by the 2001 $24 million sewer assessment. The $3,010,025 purchase by the 2003 Los Osos Community Services District Board (LOCSD) from Tri-W Enterprise, Inc., the three Williams brothers of local supermarket chain fame. The Williams Brother’s purchased the property from Morro Shores attempting to monopolize the grocery industry in Los Osos.
Centrally located downtown, the 11-acre former sewer site has become the most notorious property in the community. Complicated by 365 acres of watershed runoff that enters the site, percolates underground, and filtered through the soil before entering the bay through seeps, any development of the site will be challenged by the drainage patterns that crisscross the property.
Originally zoned for shops and offices, the site was proposed for a sewer plant disguised as a park received a zoning overlay of Public Facilities in 2002 to allow the LOCSD to build a sewer park in the center of the community. In the fall of 2005 the LOCSD fenced the property and proceeded with mass excavation of the site on September 15th in spite of the recall election that would unseat the majority board just days later on September 27th. Some would suggest the commencement of construction sealed the fate of that Board. One long time resident said, “If they had just waited for the election they might have kept their seats.”
Fast forward to today, with plenty of blame to go around, the site is unstable, the fence has fallen over, drainage fissures have eroded the sandy soils, invasive plants have taken root and Morro shoulderband snails have re-inhabited the site. Regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, are looking for a “global solution” and resolution to the mess left by the defunct sewer project.
County Park’s attempt at $5 million of Proposition 84 grant monies to purchase the site for desperately needed parkland was called off soon after the Coastal Commission found Substantial Issue with the wastewater project in January. County Public Works has offered in a recent proposal to the Coastal Commission to “stabilize” by re-grading the site into the series of retention basins approved in the defunct sewer project and “revegetate” the site with native plant material.
The 2007 special legislation (AB2701) handing over the wastewater project responsibility from the LOCSD to the County has provisions for all wastewater assets needed for the County’s project to be transferred to the County upon adopting a “Resolution of Determination Declaring the County’s Intent to Proceed with Construction and Operation of a Community Wastewater System” for Los Osos. If Tri-W is no longer needed for the wastewater project (two small pieces are going to be carved off for pump station purposes) it is understood that the property would be sold off as surplus and proceeds from a sale would be divided among the LOCSD’s creditors lined up in the LOCSD’s bankruptcy.
The under the radar efforts to acquire and/or repair the Tri-W site are admirable, but raise questions as to what really should happen with the property and how the public can participate. As the wastewater project nears its permit approval and the County positions itself to officially take the project, it would be prudent to have a community conversation about the property. Recognizing that the Public Facility zoning disappears when the property changes hands and the site no longer has the value it once had due to the decline in real estate values. Moreover, like all other vacant lots within the prohibition zone it is stripped of its ability to be developed in the near term due to the 20+ year sewer moratorium and defacto moratoriums on water and habitat issues.
It’s time to call for the question. It would be prudent to have the LOCSD and their attorney’s, Los Osos Community Advisory Council (LOCAC) County Public Works, County Parks, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Fish & Game and the California Coastal Commission at the table to discuss options and complexities of the property.
While the community may want a park in that location, where is the evidence to that effect? What kind of park? Passive, active or something in between? Are we ready to tax ourselves to purchase, permit, mitigate, build and maintain a park that has no water, sewer, or habitat mitigation (resulting in millions of dollars to an already economically challenged community)? What is the highest and best use for the property? What alternatives are available?
Ask your public officials to set a townhall meeting; invite the community to attend and hash out the details before the LOCSD bankruptcy makes the decision for us.
39 year resident of Los Osos