Water, Rent, Taxes, and ahem!

Bruce Curtis delivers the County Perspective, April 2018

Wields Water: I shouldn’t really let the little things bug me, but I do: Junk mail that gives me a deadline; a produce bin of half-rotten, two-dollar avocados. Commercials at movie theaters.

My dad used to get upset when the Dodgers game interfered with

his scheduled nap. When my family was young and I’d gotten laid off, I told him how I wished my smallest problems were as small as his biggest; now I’m doing the old-age control-issue thing.

When water is discussed, everyone in California has control issues. Who actually controls water? That generally comes down to who has the biggest stick, and here that means San Luis Obispo County’s five elected supervisors. 

In early March, the board was loud and clear: it wasn’t about to give up any of its control to Estrella-El Pomar-Creston water district, even though nearly 400 area residents signed a petition demanding the county include them in any water policy decisions affecting the Paso Robles/Salinas aquifer. The board’s 3-2 vote permanently sidelined the group.

You’ll recall that all this came to a head after eight years of drought when the state of California invoked the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act against us. In essence, they said, ‘you SLO county guys organize how you’ll manage your groundwater resources because you’re over-using them. Oh, and by the way, if you don’t do it in time, we will.’

That got landowners scrambling, especially big users, farmers and winegrowers. Neighbors clashed with neighbors in the ensuing water war, until the county played its’ big government card, telling Estrella-El Pomar-Creston, ‘hey, don’t worry about it, we’ve got this.’

That wasn’t the decision local landowners wanted. Their outcry was prompt: San Luis Obispo County was using their power to make a water grab. 

With support from county staff, the county farm bureau and the Paso Robles Wine Alliance backed Estrella-El Pomar-Creston; they’d already sent the board a tersely-worded letter:

“Farm Bureau strongly believes in local control, (and landowner control is as local as can be), and in the ability of the EPC to be able to sustainably manage, protect, and even enhance the groundwater resource and at the same time, satisfy the requirements of SGMA…”

Where will it go from here? Nowhere, very fast.

If you can’t beat ‘em, tax ‘em: Voters will get to decide on a 10 percent pot tax after supervisors put that measure on the June ballot.

Remember when they told us that legalized marijuana would drive down prices and eliminate crime? With the potential of millions in new revenue, County Tax Collector Jim Erb must have had dollar signs in his eyes when he recommended a tariff so stiff that growers and sellers say it will drive customers back to street pushers. 

The effect of such a tax is largely moot at this point; the county has yet to issue a commercial cannabis license, but the public sector’s vultures are circling and they all have dollar signs in their eyes; California already charges $9.25 tax per ounce of buds, $2.75/oz. for leaves. That doesn’t include sales tax or a 15 percent excise tax on other marijuana “activities”, whatever that means. 

San Diego medpot dispensary Torrey Holistic estimates their customers will see prices go from $51 to $63 an ounce, and their taxes don’t include San Luis Obispo’s proposed 10 percent toll. If it passes, several local pot businesses say they’ll be driven out of business as customers flee to…cheaper—ahem—traditional pot sellers.

Okay, setting aside the morals of government making money off marijuana users; is it such a hot idea to hand politicians up to $28 million in new revenue with almost zero accountability?

Rent Ravage: California’s exodus isn’t exactly a news flash, but you may not know that San Luis Obispo County is driving the flight as hard as possible, according to a recent news report.

We all heard recently about a national magazine giving California an “F” in quality of life, largely based on our toxic social climate, but the real issue behind the golden state’s emigrant stampede isn’t a bumper crop of triggered snowflakes, it is the high cost of living, especially rent, which has gone up more than 54 percent just in the past five years. That is more than any other county in California, according to real estate web tracker, Zillow.

To be clear, rents here are still lower—much lower than in some other counties, but our average monthly rental rate for a two bedroom apartment in San Luis Obispo County is $2,300/mo; 80 percent higher than the national average. 

How about neighboring counties? Well, two-bedroom apartments rent for $800 – $1,000 in neighboring Kern county, while in San Francisco, even one-percenters would seize over that city’s average $4,350 per month — enough to cover the mortgage on a $830,000 home — for  a simple two bedroom apartment. The only good news for our northern neighbors is those rates are actually down 4 percent from 2016. 

Jobs are plentiful but wages simply haven’t kept up, driving families out of the Central Coast. Economists at a recent economic summit in San Luis Obispo said the disparity is at the root of a job market where normally lucrative positions are going begging; people simply cannot afford to live here. 

Teachers are a prime example; with starting salaries around $51,000, they simply move on. County school superintendent Jim Brescia penned a state report addressing educational issues such as the loss of teachers. He says the county could hire 47 new teachers tomorrow, and that deficit will only go up.

Yet many central coast residents still oppose development. A local newspaper ran a recent editorial vehemently opposing a 16,000 new home development in Avila Beach. Such a project would invariably put downward pressure on home prices and by connection, rents. But if locals don’t want new homes built… 

Then exactly how do you make housing affordable without building houses and apartments? Well, uh…uhm… [clears throat.]