Opponents of the proposed Vistra-owned battery storage facility celebrated outside of the City Council meeting on Sept. 12 after the council voted to put their initiative on the upcoming November ballot.
“Congratulations to all the citizens that collected signatures, who signed the initiative and support the effort,” Betsy Gaudette-Cross said in a social media post that evening. “We did it!”
Her group—Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation—has worked since May to craft, gain signatures for, and push the initiative that would require a public vote for development on certain designated recreational properties within the city.
They argue that if passed, it would require construction of a battery storage facility on the former Morro Bay Power plant site to go to public vote.
Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation voiced their support for their proposal at the Sept. 12 meeting, asking the council to either adopt the initiative or put it on the ballot.
“Look around you and see all of these people who got enough signatures because we don’t want a ticking lithium ion bomb in our city,” one group member said during public comment. “My message to Vistra is very simple: Withdraw your application … or we are coming for you.”
Some residents, though, expressed concern over the initiative’s unintended effects.
Dawn Beattie wanted the council to consider doing more research on the initiative before putting it on the ballot or adopting it.
“If this ‘initiative’ were to pass, requiring a vote of citizens every time a potential change of land use to these designated areas was proposed, no more development would ensue in an important area of Morro Bay,” Beattie wrote in a public comment letter.
Bob Fowler expressed concern that while the intention of the initiative was good, it would strip residents’ input due to state laws.
According to Fowler, state Assembly Bill 205 could be triggered if voters denied Vistra from building the facility and Vistra appealed that denial to the California Energy Commission. That could leave residents reliant on the state to determine whether project denial was justified, effectively taking local control away.
“I don’t think that the initiative’s backers have taken into consideration the unintended consequences of this initiative,” Fowler said in a public comment letter. “A report by staff addressing … issues will be the council’s only opportunity to inform the electorate on the unintended consequences of the initiative.”
Citizens for Estero Bay Preservation members hope that the public will vote to adopt the initiative and they can move on to the next steps of planning something for that land other than the proposed facility.
“I reached out to opponents of the initiative [and said] we need to move past the [facility] and talk about what kind of projects and what kind of space we can have there,” a representative of the group said during public comment. “[But] we haven’t heard back from them.” Δ