Cruisin’ the Milestones: ‘From the Summit to the Sea’ Rides Into Morro Bay Oct. 23rd

“From the Summit to the Sea” vintage-car caravan, Oct. 22-23, crosses the imaginary finish line in Morro Bay, but it all begins in Yosemite National Park, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and in Sacramento, where California State Parks is celebrating its 150th anniversary with the founding of Yosemite, the first State Park.

By ED OCHS

From the Summit to the Sea“From the Summit to the Sea” vintage-car caravan, Oct. 22-23, crosses the imaginary finish line in Morro Bay, but it all begins in Yosemite National Park, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and in Sacramento, where California State Parks is celebrating its 150th anniversary with the founding of Yosemite, the first State Park.

The 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant is a major benchmark, a big deal, and they’ve been getting ready for it for almost three years.

“We’ve been working with the National Park Service since January 2012 in preparation for the 150th anniversary year of the Yosemite Grant Act,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO, Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau in Oakhurst, Calif.

“This has been a huge collaborative effort between all four Yosemite gateway communities, California State Parks, National Park Service, Yosemite Conservancy and more,” Miss Salisbury said. “There are hundreds of events that have taken place or a still planned for the 150th anniversary beginning in September 2013 and continuing until December 31, 2014.

“The biggest events in our gateway—the south entrance, Highway 41—has been our Inaugural Yosemite Festival celebrating all that is Yosemite through art, history and education. This festival will continue to honor and bring awareness to Yosemite. Artists from all over Madera County displayed their Yosemite-themed art. Mono and Chukchansi tribes both were represented with booths about their culture.

“The south gate has had many ongoing events as well—the Sequoiascape Exhibit at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Yosemite ‘Rocks’ Artistic Learning series, Lure & Lore of Yosemite Exhibit at the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau in Oakhurst, ‘Tony Krizan—Yosemite’s Forgotten Trails’ hiking series, and more. We’ve had our local brewery, South Gate Brewing Company release a special 1864 Ale in October 2013 in honor of the anniversary. Two local wineries also bottled special labels and blends in honor of the Yosemite Grant.

“Sierra Art Trails, in October 2013, dedicated their open studio tour with over 100 artists of every medium to the Yosemite Grant and featured their artist tributes to Yosemite,” Miss Salisbury said.

Yosemite to Morro Bay

Summit to Sea logoWhen dozens of vintage-vehicle drivers start their engines on the morning of the 23rd in Yosemite they’ll find themselves at the summit of their journey headed for the sea, surrounded by arguably the most spectacular collection of scenery in America.

Said Miss Salisbury, “Just out of Oakhurst you’ll drive through the Sierra National Forest, see the Merced River run through the historic town of Wawona, witness the amazing cliffs and vistas along the road to Yosemite Valley and enter into the iconic world of Yosemite when you come out of the tunnel and see Tunnel View’s—one of the most photographed vistas in the World—the artwork of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half Dome and many more Yosemite landmarks. October offers an array of fall colors that will follow you along your journey.

“‘From the Summit to the Sea’ will bring the car enthusiasts back into Yosemite to remind them that there is so much to see and do. We are very excited for them to come in the ‘off season’ and see the beautiful fall colors.”

This panoramic event will certainly do its part to promote Yosemite tourism—an estimated 3.5 million visitors are expected this year—but it will do wonders to promote little Morro Bay, a proto 20th-century California fishing-village edging gingerly into the 21st century. In addition to being a naturalist’s seaside paradise, Morro Bay also happens to be a biking/kayaking/boating escape on some of the most dazzling, estuarine coastline and marine-life-rich ocean this side of Maui.

Compared to venerable Yosemite though, Morro Bay, 50 years a city, is the new kid on the block. Loosely midway between the Bay Area and L.A., off key Highways 1 and 101, Morro Bay is in a good spot for a lot of things that come down the highway these days.

“Morro Bay is ideally located for those classic car and motorcycle trips up the coast,” said Morro Bay’s Mayor, Jamie Irons. “This event takes advantage of a classic trip from the mountains to the sea, which is another amazing thing California has to offer, with Morro Bay being the finish line for that classic trip.

“The 50th celebration has been a full year and a lot of credit and recognition needs to go to the Morro Bay 50th Committee for working so hard to put it all together,” Mayor Irons said. “‘Summit to Sea’ is very cool and it’s always great to form partnerships. I’m happy to have two pinnacles be connected and promoted this way.”

When “Summit to Sea” participants conclude their journey at 565-foot-high Morro Rock  around sunset on that sparkling October day they’ll experience another classic race that’s unbeatable—sunset on the Pacific—and a warm reception in Morro Bay.

“October is one of Morro Bay’s most beautiful seasons,” said the Mayor. “I hope that the participants are greeted with October’s crisp, clear days, where the temperature has a subtle drop creating that clear horizon full of spectacular color as the sun is setting.”

Connecting the pinnacles

“From the Summit to the Sea” is the brainchild of Karin Moss of Moss Marketing Group, based in Morro Bay. Miss Moss attended some of the early planning meetings of Morro Bay’s 50th Anniversary Committee during her tenure as Director of Tourism in Morro Bay and shared some of her ideas and experiences with legacy events.

Miss Moss, who honed her marketing and promotional skills in the upper echelons of the music business, had previously been on the steering committee of the 25th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and recently produced the 10th anniversary of the death of Dale Earnhardt in conjunction with the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

To reach the broadest possible audience for “From the Summit to the Sea,” Miss Moss suggested partnering with California State Parks, with whom she had a previous relationship in the late ’90s when she was Executive Director of the California Sesquicentennial Foundation.

“Not only were they enthusiastic about partnering with Morro Bay but they appointed me to their statewide event committee,” Miss Moss said.

“I later realized that it was also the 150th Anniversary of Yosemite, and envisioned that creating an event linking Morro Bay to Yosemite via Highway 41 would resonate with the over 5 million tourists and visitors to the Yosemite website. It seemed like a natural partnership, and the theme ‘From the Summit to the Sea’ was launched.”

It wasn’t terribly hard getting the partners involved, she said, “because every one of them saw the vision from the beginning and wanted to be involved…

“I envision participants would have the same spirit of adventure that I do and could embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just the other day a woman registered from Pasadena and when I asked her how she found out about it she said, ‘at the beauty shop.’ I’m thrilled to know that our message is getting out there.”

Early on Moss saw the stars aligning for “From the Summit to the Sea,” because it’s all about California at its best, the California of classic cars, endless summers, rock music, surfing, beaches and grand State Parks.

“This partnership just seems like a natural one to promote Morro Bay, State Parks and Yosemite,” Miss Moss said, “and I feel confident that others will feel the same way by participating or, at the very least, joining us at sunset at The Rock on October 23 to welcome the many car aficionados and be part of the welcoming festivities.”

#

Sources and Resources:

Official Yosemite Grant 150th Anniversary website: http://www.nps.gov/yose/anniversary.

“From the Summit to the Sea” website: http://www.fromthesummittothesea.com

Official California State Park 150th Anniversary website: http://www.150.parks.ca.gov

Morro Bay 50th Anniversary: http://morrobay50th.com/


A Visitor’s Guide to Preserving Yosemite

What park visitors need to know that will help maintain and sustain the health and well-being of the park for visitors into the future.

  • Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures (not including the wonderful souvenirs you can buy in the gift shops).
  • Be aware of animals. Speeding kills bears, and feeding animals is not healthy for the animal (or you).
  • Teach your children about wilderness—the beauty and danger. Follow rules and read signs–they are for your protection and Yosemite’s preservation.
  • Talk to the rangers. They are a wealth of knowledge and can find answers to almost any question!
  • Read the Yosemite Guide handed out at the park entrance and see the exhibits. There is so much history and important sustainability information. The more you know the better your vacation will be and the healthier the park will be.

(Source: Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau)

#

 

Catch of the Day: Morro Bay Public Fish Market Opens in November

Come and get ‘em fresh off the boat at a savings – salmon, tuna, rockfish, lingcod, crab – when the Morro Bay Public Fish Market debuts in November in Tidelands Park.

crabsCome and get ‘em fresh off the boat at a savings – salmon, tuna, rockfish, lingcod, crab – when the Morro Bay Public Fish Market debuts in November in Tidelands Park. In a move that could boost tourism and attract fresh-fish-seeking locals, the Morro Bay City Council voted unanimously on August 26 to allow direct-to-the-public, ‘off-the-boat’ fish sales in Morro Bay. The council approved at one-year trail period for the venture. After one year, if the market is deemed successful, it will be continued indefinitely. Modeled after the successful local farmer markets, the fish market will provide a centralized location at Tidelands Park, with its side-tie boat docking, public parking and pedestrian access. According the August 26 city council staff report, “There is potential indirect positive fiscal impact by way of an economically healthier commercial fishing fleet.” Fishermen have been selling fish from their boat slips. The “Fishline” seafood mobile app will be part of an internet-based campaign to spread word of the market and specials to fresh-fish fin-atics. The city hopes the one-stop fish market will help publicize Morro Bay’s “working waterfront, sustainable fishing industry and rich estuarine setting,” and bring more visitors to the bay. Day and time of the first market have yet to be announced. More details should become available later this month.

'Beatlemania,' Fabulous Thunderbirds Headline Morro Bay Harbor Fest, Oct. 4-5

The 33rd Annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero, once again filling the waterfront with thousands of visitors enjoying live music, seafood, beer and wine, and a weekend of family fun by the bay.

The Thunderbirds
The Thunderbirds

The 33rd Annual Morro Bay Harbor Festival will be held on Saturday and Sunday, October 4-5, on Morro Bay’s Embarcadero, once again filling the waterfront with thousands of visitors enjoying live music, seafood, beer and wine, and a weekend of family fun by the bay.

Headlining the Festival’s musical lineup will be Beatlemania, one of the most popular “fab four” bands in the country, performing Saturday at 1:30 p.m., and legendary  blues-rockers, the Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Kim Wilson, who take the Dan Reddell Stage Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Top local bands in the weekend spotlight include Meet the Foppers (Billy and Charlie Foppiano), Burnin’ James & the Funky Flames and Captain Nasty on Saturday, and Vodu Lounge, R. Buckle Road and the Zongo All-Stars on Sunday.

The Festival will also again feature popular events like the oyster-eating contest, as well as shopping at art and crafts booths, the kids cove, and a wide variety of food treats including famous Morro Bay barbecued albacore kabobs, local wine and beer.

Tickets can be purchased in advance at a discount on the Festival’s website for $10 per adult, $5 for children ages 6-12, free for children 5 and under. Tickets purchased at the gate during the Festival will cost an additional $2 per ticket.

Sponsors, food vendors, vendors of art and crafts, memorabilia and maritime-themed gifts can participate this year by contacting the Festival office at (805) 772-1155 or by email: info@mbhf.com.

Festival proceeds benefit more than 30 nonprofit organizations throughout San Luis Obispo County who contribute volunteers to crew the event.

For more information visit the Harbor Festival website: www.mbhf.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/morrobayharborfestival; and
Twitter: @MBHarborFest.

A Resident's Qwik-Guide to New Water Restrictions in Morro Bay

Rainfall from February 2nd’s storm measured 1.12 inches in Morro Bay, a drop in an empty bucket. In may rain again soon. Two drops.

Rainfall from February 2nd’s storm measured 1.12 inches in Morro Bay, a drop in an empty bucket. It may rain again soon. Two drops.

A 100-year drought is sweeping California and threatening the state’s drinking water supply. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which supplies much of California with water during the dry season, was at just 12% of normal in late January. State water is dwindling to a trickle, and the outlook is dry… very dry.

When Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared the drought emergency on Jan. 17, he asked Californians to reduce their usage of water by 20%, As a direct result of the drought, Morro Bay residents must now observe strict, new mandatory guidelines to reduce water usage. The screws on water use could turn even tighter if drought conditions persist and present conservation levels prove insufficient.

Here are the restrictions and suggestions in a clam shell for Morro Bay residents:

  • Watering lawns and gardens is permitted ONLY on Tuesdays and Saturdays for odd-numbered property addresses, Wednesdays and Sundays for even-numbered property addresses.
  • Do NOT use potable water (drinkable water) for cleaning or washing boats, docks and marine facilities, or for driveways, patios, parking lots, sidewalks and other paved surfaces.
  • Do NOT wash cars with a hose, only pails.
  • Use automatic sprinkler systems only as needed. Use automatic shut-off hose nozzles.
  • Home water use should be limited. Take faster/shorter or start/stop showers.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and broken pipes.
  • Don’t install or use water fountains unless they use recycled water.
  • Restaurants will no longer provide water to customers unless requested.

Warning to flagrant water wasters: Users who fail to comply with conservation measures may have their water shut off by the city.

Drought Factoid No. 1: 2013 was the driest year in California in 119 years.

Drought Factoid No. 3: The four inches of rainfall recorded in Morro Bay in 2013 was the lowest total since measuring rainfall started about 40 years ago.

Readers with useful suggestions for conserving water, at home or business, are encouraged to share them in the comments section below.

Morro Bay Power Plant Pulls Plug After 60 Years

The tall smokestacks have taken their last puff. The venerable Morro Bay Power Plant, owned and operated by Houston-based Dynegy since 2007, will finally retire operations full-time on February 5th

[slideshow_deploy id=’2600′]


The tall smokestacks have taken their last puff.

The venerable Morro Bay Power Plant, owned and operated by Houston-based Dynegy since 2007, will finally retire operations full-time on February 5th.

That means the trio of 450-foot-high smokestacks will no longer produce smoke, but the giant chimneys won’t be coming down any time soon just because the plant is closing.

To many area residents, the power plant’s soaring smokestacks are as much a Morro Bay landmark as 575-foot-high Morro Rock; looming over the north end of the Embarcadero on Morro Bay, they’ve been a prominent part of Morro Bay’s skyline since the plant opened in 1955.

The plant, which has burned natural gas since the 1990s, has been winding down in recent years, but remained ready to meet summer peak energy demands. However, Dynegy presently has no contracts for its services, demand for independent energy on the open market has been sparse, and the plant is no longer cost-effective for Dynegy to operate.

While most Morro Bay residents welcome the pollutant-free air, safer marine environment and quieter waterfront as a result of the plant closing, not all agree on what to do with the smokestacks if and when Dynegy gives up on producing any form of energy at that location. Eyesores to demolish? Historical landmarks to preserve? That’s a debate for another time.

Meanwhile, Dynegy still holds the lease and says it’s actively exploring viable alternative uses for the location that benefit the state and community. The company believes it can continue to support energy and electricity needs at the site, including renewable energy, and play a part in Morro Bay’s future.

Morro Valley — Future Site of Morro Bay’s New Water Reclamation Facility

The City of Morro Bay has selected nearby rural Morro Valley as the site of the city’s proposed water reclamation facility.

[slideshow_deploy id=’2584′]

 

The City of Morro Bay has selected nearby rural Morro Valley as the site of the city’s proposed water reclamation facility.

The site’s proximity to Morro Bay homes and businesses was a key factor in its selection. Located within two miles of city limits off Highway 41, the site is actually four properties that stretch for a total of 663 acres, but less than half of that land is usable for the project because of elevation.

The topography is challenging. Much of the site consists of rolling, sharply sloping hills that rise in elevation from 60 feet by Highway 41, to 250 feet above sea level, which is too steep to cost-effectively pipe sewage up to a facility.

“There are substantial engineering challenges associated with pumping wastewater above elevations of roughly 250 feet above sea level, because multiple lift stations will likely be needed,” according to a city consultant’s 2103 project report.

“All parcels under consideration rise to elevations above 250 feet [up to 750-800 feet], but there is sufficient buildable land below this line to locate a new WRF. … That said, slopes and elevations may present secondary issues related to the cost of pumping, or grading concerns during construction.”

The facility probably will be constructed on relatively level Righetti property adjacent to Highway 41, within 600-1,000 feet of the highway. Avoiding the high elevation will make the facility partially visible to passing motorists on Highway 41.

The sprawling site is loosely shaped like a rectangle with a small notch in the center at the bottom. That “notch” is the 60-plus-unit, tree-cloaked Rancho Colina Mobile Home Park and 40-vehicle RV Park, which is surrounded by land available to the project. Construction activity and the facility itself will probably be visible to some park residents.

Occupying the site now are a few cows, sparse clumps of trees, a couple of aging ranch structures and rusted water tanks. Mostly, the site is open grasslands, non-irrigated grazing range mixed with some prime ag land, much like the rolling Morro Bay prime farmland on the east side of Highway 1.

Close to the eastern boundary of the site are growers Morro Creek Ranch Avocado, considered to be a potential customer for water reuse for irrigation, as well as other irrigated agricultural along Highway 41.

According to last November’s “New Water Reclamation Facility Report” update, authored by John F. Rickenbach Consulting, Morro Valley was a relatively lower cost option compared to other sites. It was also the highest ranked site with the fewest environmental impacts, i.e. avoiding flood zone and ESHA, because its inland location minimizes coastal policy impacts.

The Morro Valley site is comprised of several large “unconstrained” properties, particularly the Rancho Colina and Righetti properties. While that includes sufficient land area lower than the 250 feet above sea level required to build, the four combined parcels that make up the Morro Valley site offer limited plant site locations because of slopes and rising elevations along Highway 41.

The site evaluation was not without its cons. The location comes with the increased costs to extend infrastructure up Highway 41, and, apart from costs, there also will be impacts to prime ag soils on certain parts of some properties.

The plant, which the consultants at this early date roughly estimate will cost from $50 million to $100 million to complete, could begin construction in 2016 and go on line in 2018 or 2019.

So the cows won’t have to move any time soon.

Morro Bay Council Majority Moves to Fire Veteran City Manager and Attorney

A special closed-session meeting of the Morro Bay City Council packed the Veterans Memorial Hall at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Sept. 12 — on just 24-hour notice.

Two popular senior city staff members, the city’s top two administrators — City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Rob Schultz — had just received notice that they were about to be terminated, and the City Council was taking public comment on the matter before slipping behind closed doors to make their decision. Continue reading “Morro Bay Council Majority Moves to Fire Veteran City Manager and Attorney”

Giovanni DeGarimore: Wizard of the Waterfront

[slideshow id=18 template=caption]

If you want to meet one of the most successful businessmen in San Luis Obispo County, you will have to travel down to the waterfront in Morro Bay, to the historic Embarcadero, where the sea lions bellow, pelicans swoop low, and fishermen haul their catch on to the docks with cloud-swept Morro Rock behind them.

And you may have to walk half the length of the Embarcadero to find him, because he could be anywhere from the newly-opened Off The Hook restaurant, where he consults, to Giovanni’s Fish Market & Galley restaurant and STAX Wine Bar & Bistro, which he owns, to find someone who’s seen him, and you might only find that they’ve been looking for him as well.

Now some might say he’s elusive, and he may appear that way to anyone who doesn’t know his busy working rhythm and pace, but those who know him well know he’s a man of constant motion, and if you’re in constant motion, too, you’ll have no trouble finding him on the Embarcadero, where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean at the end of the continent, one of the most beautiful perches in the entire country.

So if you think finding Giovanni DeGarimore—Gio to his close friends—isn’t easy then you’d be doubly surprised by his openness and warm smile when you do catch up to him. He connects easily with people, and it’s impossible to talk to him very long without feeling his burning passion for his work, for good food, the ocean, and for Life with a capital “L” in general. Clear-eyed, congenial, articulate, he springs from tradition and represents the “New Guard” on Morro Bay’s tourist-fed Embarcadero. At 38 he’s young and a pier veteran, part of and highly respectful of waterfront history, and a sharp, up-to-date entrepreneur with a unique vision for the future of Morro Bay dining. His European sensibility, taste and sophistication sparkle on the Embarcadero where new ideas don’t always find an easy landing.

“My family’s been on the waterfront since the ’70s,” Gio said. “Central Coast Seafoods, which is the wholesale part of my family business, started here in 1973. Right before that my dad was an abalone diver. For 17 years he was diving abalone between here and Santa Barbara until one day my mom looked at him and said, ‘Hey, Mike, why don’t you try fishing something else?’ He said, ‘What do you want me to fish?’ and she said, ‘Why don’t you fish the fisherman? There are restaurants out here that need seafood…’

“I can’t help but think that she got that from a popular Bible verse where it says: ‘Go make fishers of men.’ She passed when I was eight, so I can’t ask her if that’s what she meant, but I have a good feeling that she did because she knew the Bible inside and out. So the translation was: ‘Fisher, go fish the fishermen.’ And he did. He realized he could start buying the fish. My dad just has this innate ability to run business. He’s the best businessman I’ve ever met. Everything I know about business I attribute to him.

“People now come to me,” he said. “That why I’m currently doing consulting for businesses. Because they want my knowledge, and I learned it all from my dad.”

After 17 years diving abalone, his father, Mike, opened Central Coast Seafoods, then the Finicky Fish I, Finicky Fish II, Finicky Fish III, the Fish Cooker in Paso Robles and the Avila Bay Seafood Company, and the family business grew “very big.” As his dad grew closer to retirement, they downsized to Central Coast Seafoods and Giovanni’s. Gio’s brothers ended up with Central Coast Seafood and he ended up with Gionvanni’s, which his father started in 1985. By the numbers that queue up there almost every day, Giovanni’s is the most popular tourist destination on the Embarcadero.

 

Growing up on the waterfront

 

Gio wasn’t actually born on the waterfront, but it was close. At that time, his father and mother were running Finicky Fish II, which is where the Thai Bounty boat next to Tognazzini’s used to be.

“My dad came back one day and there was a note on the door that said: ‘Gone to have a baby. Be back tomorrow.’ My mom had put that note on the door. She went off, had me in the hospital, and she was back to work at that little fish-shaped Finicky Fish building the next day, and I was in a wooden fish box in the back. My crib was a wooden fish box with rope handles and it had a little blanket lined in there, and I was there when I was one-day old. So I’ve been in the fish business since I was one-day old, and I started working as soon as I could see over the counter, probably eight years old when I started selling shrimp cocktails, cleaning abalone shells.”

Gio describes growing up on the waterfront in the ’70s as “kind of surreal. I have very vivid memories,” he said, “of grabbing a fresh baguette and a smoked salmon collar from the new smoker.

“I’d open the smoker and steal a salmon collar out and grab a piece of sourdough bread, and I’d grab my fishing pole and tackle box and go under the docks and fish for perch and smelt all day long, eating my bread and smoked fish. That’s what I did, day in and day out. I remember Mitch the manager would get so mad. ‘Don’t open the smoker!’ he said. ‘You’re letting all the smoke out!’”

In his teen Gio moved over to Finicky Fish III in Atascadero, where he lives, and that’s when he started cooking in the kitchen, making fish & chips when he was about 14 or 15. He began managing the restaurant by the time he was 18.

About eight years ago, Gio took over Giovanni’s and the marine fuel dock where they unload the fish—some to be exported to Japan, some shipped fresh back east, some shipped “anywhere in the world” as the sign advertises in the Fish Market. As established as Giovanni’s was, as prepared as he was for the job, it was still a daunting task riddled with expectations.

“Well, first thing, God, I had such big shoes to fill,” Gio said. “Here was my dad, my hero, the best businessman I ever knew. It was like, I’ve got to do this right! I mean, the whole world’s looking at me. He’s looking at me, more importantly. By that time my daughter was looking to me. So trying to be a role model for my daughter, trying to live up to my father’s expectations, and then trying to live up the community’s expectations, it was a huge burden on my shoulders.

“But I knew that my dad I put good procedures in place—I’d watched him my whole life. The business really was running itself in a good, healthy way for several years before I bought it, so I knew that as long as I didn’t go changing everything for the worst it would be fine.”

 

Hands-on, plugged in, taking off

 

“That being said, I’m never good enough just sitting on my laurels. I’m never OK with the status quo,” Gio said. Under pressure to now lead the business, not just manage it, his next-generation ingenuity began to emerge. As soon as he took over, the first thing he did was to start a Website. They didn’t even have Internet service then.

“This was only eight years ago so you can imagine, we were behind the gun,” he said. “I started with a small website that cost me about $800. It was really basic but it had pictures and you could order seafood by calling. It said on the website, ‘Want an order of seafood to go, call us.’ They’d call, we’d take their credit card number over the phone; we’d make them a package and take it up to the Morro Bay Mail Center and ship it off. We were doing, oh, three-four a month.

“Yesterday we sent out 50 boxes, and during the holidays we do around 100 boxes a day, so we have FedEx and UPS trucks that come to our business every day and we ship from here to Maine every day.”

They ship everything from live local Dungeness crabs, live local spot prawns, local sablefish, local rockcod, local halibut when in season, local tuna and local swordfish right now.

“This is local fish that we unload across our own dock. We cut it in our own house, we filet it, put it in a box, and send it off to Connecticut tomorrow—never frozen—and that’s why people love it. It’s from the boat to their door in one day. They love it and it works. So we’re seeing huge growth right now. We’re up 37% this year on our Internet sales alone.”

Gio was just starting to tap the Internet. Social media was beginning to take off and he was all over it.

“Social media wasn’t even really around eight years ago,” he said. “So I started that as soon as it was available. I just wanted to kind of put my twist on Giovanni’s, the next generation, if you will. My dad was very old school. You know, we had a list of phone numbers for people who wanted tuna when it was tuna season. Obviously I automated all that process so it’s on an email signup form. You get notification in your email box when the tuna boats come in. Then email moved on to social media.

“Now it’s Facebook, now you don’t even have to wait to check your email when you get home, now it’s on your phone. So you’ll be at work and say, oh, ‘look the tuna boat’s in at Giovanni’s, $299 for tuna. Let’s go there on the way home.’ It’s helped us succeed and grow during an economy of flat-at-best sales for most people. We’re just starting to see the economy slightly rebound but a lot of people are happy to be flat. We’ve actually shown positive growth every year since I’ve taken over… Every business in America should be doing this…”

Gio doesn’t claim the cutting edge. He recognizes there are certainly better technologies, but as far as making e-commerce work and applying the basic tools with staggering success, “I’m in the forefront,” he said. “I like to go with what I know works, but there’s a lot of people who just don’t take advantage of social media and marketing. It’s a very powerful tool. It equates to, for me, between email and social media, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in sales.

“That’s more than some businesses do in their storefront. I do more on the Internet than a lot of businesses do in their whole store. For me that’s kind of a safety net because say a tsunami came and wiped Giovanni’s out, I would still have that Internet business. I could work that out of a warehouse inland. I could just come pick up the fish from here and Santa Barbara and truck it to Atascadero and ship it out.”

Clearly, between the Web, email and social media, Gio has built a strong next-generation platform for Giovanni’s to thrive on into the future. But he took it one step further. He began to use Facebook as a popular canvas to apply the same colorful philosophy he applies to serving food to customers in his restaurant—with sometimes instant results.

 

A taste palate of many colors

 

“The first thing we do is we eat with our eyes, then we smell, then we eat,” he said at Off The Hook, the exciting new Asian-American fusion restaurant that George Leage has opened on the Embarcadero, and for whom Gio is a key consultant. “You can get one of those senses right away on social media. On your phone you get a picture of tonight’s dinner special, which is char-grilled red snapper with fresh vegetables and potatoes. And you can see the picture of the snapper and the vegetables and the herbs. It just looks so good, you know, you see the char marks on it, it looks great. The sushi rolls they have so much color and texture and crunch. You see the vegetables and the shrimp tails sticking out and the gobo root, and the green stuff, the white stuff and the red stuff all sticking out, and it’s like, oh, I want to eat that! And it makes people want to come in here…”

Gio is the epitome of the hands-on businessman. To say he is very involved in the details of the look and taste of the food he serves would be an understatement. He is often found in the kitchens he runs or consults, judging the plating, tasting the food for quality, flavor and consistency, and talking with chefs and staff. Gio sets the bar high. He know what customers expect, and if something isn’t right with the food or the presentation he will demand it be fixed and make sure it is. He is detail oriented, thankfully, he is so detail-oriented that everything he touches makes whatever he’s involved in better.

“I don’t come from a strong culinary background, but I feel that I have a strong culinary sense,” he said. “I learned a lot at home, I learned a lot in the family businesses, and I’ve acquired a niche for spotting good food. Again, it comes down to: it needs to look visually stunning. If it looks visually stunning and doesn’t taste visually stunning, you’re missing part of the component. It doesn’t work. A plus B has to equal C. So half of it is look and the other half is taste. Then from a business point of view there’s the cost involved, but yeah, I want to be visually stunning.”

It is not OK in business to be average these days, he said. “You’ve got to be above and beyond what your competitors are doing. People don’t want average anymore, they want more than what they expect. It’s perceived value versus expectations. With high expectations come high expectations, so if your prices are expensive you better wow people. For me, I want people to not just pick me because I’m the default answer, I want them to seek me out. And you do that through beautiful plates and great product.”

Gio talks about the value of having “the trifecta in restaurants,” found, for example, at Giovanni’s. “For the class and category that Giovanni’s is, we serve a large portion, the quality’s great, and the price is cheap. Now if you think about that, with any restaurant you go to, if you get two of the three you’re lucky. You usually get one of the three. But at Giovanni’s I believe our food’s really good, big portions, good taste, cheap price—that’s the trifecta. If you can get three that’s what makes you successful in the restaurant business—it’s very difficult to achieve that.

“We always had that,” he said. “I fine-tuned some things…”

Gio’s “fine-tuning” led to another major tilt in the business dynamic since he took over—he switched the emphasis more on quality than money, which, of course, has only served to grow the business.

“I brought the quality up a little bit. What that means is, I use a little bit better quality ingredients. I made a little less money but that’s OK. For me, money is not the most important thing in my life,” he said. “You see I’m dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, that’s what I wear every day. Money is not important to me, my reputation is more important than money…”

That’s why when it’s pointed out to him that Giovanni’s is, by all appearances, the most popular restaurant on the Embarcadero, he says right away, “Yeah, and it’s got my name on it so it has to be right. So, for me, whether I made an extra $1,000 a year by using a cheaper mayonnaise or going to a better mayonnaise I’d rather have the better product than save $1,000 a year, and there’s a fine line between those, especially when you’re in a startup business. Now, with Off The Hook I’d like to keep that same mantra, but as a startup business you have to be very aware of costs.”

 

STAX celebrates second anniversary

 

By 2010 Gio was looking to grow outward, and he found that opportunity just a few doors north from Giovanni’s when the lone tourist shop at the main intersection where sloping Beach Street meets the Embarcadero became vacant. After brainstorming all the possibilities, he tapped into one of his passions—fine wine—and STAX Wine Bar was born, a bold, classy outpost of wine country on the waterfront, bringing the best of inland Paso to the pier. Impact: Breakthrough. It immediately became the talk of the town, a town where change comes slowly and different is almost dangerous. In the two years since startup, STAX has naturally evolved from a wine bar into a Euro bistro serving tantalizing Euro-style lunch and dinner entrees, vibrant wine and food pairings, and daily specials that a glass or two of world-class wine turn into stolen moments transported to a brilliant, little out-of-way four-star restaurant somewhere in France, Italy or Spain.

Unlike Giovanni’s with more than 25 years under its belt, STAX started from “scratch” as a “labor of love,” and that’s exactly the way Gio wanted it.

“I didn’t open STAX for the money,” he said. “I opened STAX as a challenge to myself, to prove to myself, to my dad, to the world, that I could do something that wasn’t fish. And I did it just to prove that I could start from scratch and do something that wasn’t my father’s doing, that had nothing to do with my dad.”

Gio’s thoughts ran deep as he swung his plan into action. “There are so many people who think that I was raised with a silver spoon in my mouth. Nothing is further from the truth. We had wooden fish boxes for chairs at our dining room table. We always ate the leftover fish that was going bad. We had the least of the least at our house. That’s what it takes to start up a business, especially in the ’70s and ’80s.”

At the time he conceived of STAX, Gio had a real passion for wine. Seafood and wine go well together, and he had a vision. “I wanted to create an atmosphere that I would enjoy going to, somewhere with leather couches, dark interior, wood floors, granite and marble tops, where you could have a good glass of wine and some cheese and bread for not a lot of money. I thought, there’s nothing like that around here. Paso’s doing it like crazy. Why can’t Morro Bay have something like that?

“So I created an atmosphere that I would want to go to. Turns out everybody in Morro Bay agreed with me and thought the same thing. People love to go there.”

STAX may not be the money-maker that Giovanni’s is, but it wasn’t designed to operate that way. While Giovanni’s is geared to the mainstream and is the gold-standard business model in the tourist district, STAX is easily the most ambitious restaurant on the Embarcadero, a huge leap forward in local dining and sophistication, drawing fine wine and dining enthusiasts to the Embarcadero where ocean sunsets behind Morro Rock provide the master’s touch to a one-of-a-kind dining/entertainment experience.

“We have 130 bottles of wine that you can walk in off the shelf, put it on your table and pour it. Not many places offer that. Typical wine bars have five, 10, 15, 20. I don’t remember the last bar I went in that had 130 bottles of wine that you could choose from, ranging from $14 a bottle to $214 a bottle—Cristal Champagne, Booker, Saxum, Alban’s Reva and Bodegas El Nido.”

“You can have great bottles of wine,” he said. “It’s not enough to have wine because you need to eat when you’re drinking, so it gave me another creative outlet for food. There are certain things I just can’t do at Giovanni’s. It just not that niche. STAX let me explore a little more my creativity, doing things like filet mignon crostinis with a basil pea stew, which is amazing. We couldn’t do that at Giovanni’s. Small plates that really wow your senses. They look good, they smell good, they taste good. We have rotating specials. I can do fresh crab cakes, I can do meat sandwiches, things that when I’ve traveled to Europe I can bring those back and recreate here at an inexpensive price. You can come in, have a plate of food and two glasses of wine for about $20. Where else can you get that?”

STAX celebrated its two-year anniversary on December 6 with a raucous, full-house wine-tasting party featuring Graham Beck Sparkling Wines and catering by Chef Charlie D. Paladin Wayne. The five-course sampler of dynamic food and wine pairings for $30 per person was an electric gourmet dining experience not to be found in Morro Bay before STAX came along to upset the applecart: Rose and caviar; Blancs and smoked salmon; Brut NV and Chef Creek oysters; Brut Zero 2005 with Maine lobster “BLT”; and finally Bliss Demi Sec and chocolate truffle. Stir in the hypnotic reggae vibrations of singer/guitarist Vance Fahie, a full restaurant in full vino bloom, and it’s clear that the focus of STAX is on the total experience, the fun factor, the accume of the whole package of great food, wine and entertainment you can’t find anywhere else on the coast.

STAX was a word twist on the three tall power plant smokestacks that loom over the waterfront. A friend came up with the name. “I wanted it to be very different than everybody else,” Gio said. “I wanted to be a little modern, a little edgy, a little current, if you will, and so that’s why we have the X instead of the CKS.”

If the name works it’s because Gio works and works hard. It is not uncommon to see him sweeping the sidewalk outside STAX. In fact, on his Facebook page, Gio lists his employment at STAX as “Janitor, Morro Bay, 2010 to present.”

“Well, I am the janitor sometimes,” he said. “That’s the thing. To open a business you’ve got to be the janitor. You’ve got be willing to do everything, and that’s how you become the best boss, by doing everything. I spent five-eight years as a fry cook for my dad. You’ve got to start at the bottom. I was a dishwasher for years, I was a manager for years, I was a fry cook for years, I opened the Fish Market for years, I was a fish cutter for yearsI did it all and that makes me uniquely qualified to be boss. So you can say, ‘Hey, you’re not doing that right’ or ‘Hey, you can do this better by doing that’—not because I’m pretentious and I think I know better; no, because I spent years and years doing your job before you did.”

 

Lessons learned, the road ahead

 

What does Gio do when he’s not working?

“Gio almost never isn’t working,” he said about himself, “but if I’m not working, I’m raising my daughter, and if I’m not doing that, I do try to make time to travel. I like to scuba dive, I’m a pilot in training so I fly from time to time—I have 200 landings under my belt—and I love to travel. I just got back from France and Spain. I spent some time in San Sebastian and Bordeaux for 10 days. I just had to get away… I need to see the world, taste the world… I eat. That’s all I do. Eat.”

A master cultural assimilator, he has only made a dent in the world he brings back to Morro Bay and translates into new food ideas for his restaurants. He passionately, relentlessly continues to pursue the best tastes and flavors in the world so he can bring them home alive. You won’t find these rareties on tour groups, so he makes his own way.

“I like to go where the locals are, so I go to the back alleys and eat where the locals are eating. I love Mexico, Mexico is like the other woman for me. I don’t know why I keep going back but I keep going back and I keep going back. I’ve been all over Mexico and I love it and I’ll continue to go there. I’ve been to Italy twice, I’ve been to Sicily, I’ve been to Greece, France, Spain. I want to go to Costa Rica soon. My bucket list is so long that if I don’t retire soon I’ll never get through it…”

Of all his accomplishments, Gio is proudest of “being a dad, for sure” and a son. Few so openly respect, love and honor their parents like Gio, and it says a lot about the man, his humility and his heart.

“My biggest accomplishment is being first and foremost a dad,” he said when asked. “My daughter Katherine is the love and inspiration of my entire life and she’s the reason I do everything I do is for her, because if I didn’t have her who would I be doing it for? She’s my everything. My other favorite accomplishment is making my dad proud, keeping the business successful, taking it to places that he says he never would have thought of, you know, ‘You’ve taken this business further than I ever could have dreamed’—that makes me proud, and so I’m happy that he’s happy, and I’m happy that we’re successful.”

Gio will always be grateful to his dad. His work ethic still drives Gio onward. Through his dad’s Herculean efforts, a network of thriving businesses grew with the times, supporting families and the next generation, and that success has also given Gio the priceless freedom to explore and evolve.

“Giovanni’s does one big thing more for me,” he said. “It allows me to express my creative outlets in other businesses. Opening STAX was $150,000. I wouldn’t have had that if I didn’t have Giovanni’s. Giovanni’s allows me travel, it allows me to open other businesses, it allows me to express myself, so for that I’ll always be thankful to my dad because he gave me not only the business ethic but a really good tool to make money. And I’ve learned how to make it make quite a bit of money.”

Amazingly, as young as he is, as successful as he is today, Gio is already beginning to plan ahead for retirement. “I’m probably going to follow in my father’s footsteps and at some point probably start downsizing again. My time is worth more than my money. That’s another one of my mantras. My daughter is 13. Time’s flying by. I want to hold on and cherish as much time as I can, so I don’t want to wait until I’m too old to retire. My dad made that mistake. Some of the greatest lessons we learn from people are what not to do. And so while the greatest things I learned from my dad were what TO do, one of the most valuable things I learned from my dad was what NOT to do. He waited too long to retire. He’s not in good health. He can’t travel. I want to be able to travel.”

His goal is to start retirement at around 45 by perhaps initially taking off a week a month, then the next year two weeks a month. “Maybe by the time I’m 50 I’m only working one week a month, just transition into it. Because I want to see the world and I want to see the world with my daughter, and the person I’m with.”

Meanwhile, the DeGarimore family flourishes, embracing the ocean and all that it provides. It seems like it was always that way with the DeGarimores and the sea, in one form or another. In the beginning, the family came from “somewhere between Sicily and Genoa” as Gio remembers being told. His dad was an abalone diver and his grandfather ran a couple of small retail shops in Morro Bay. The Captain’s Cargo was in Morro Bay for many years, selling fishing and nautical items. He originally had the Whale’s Tail and also a little store called the Ship Store Deli on the Waterfront. Of course those are all gone now.

Today, his step brother, also named Giovanni, runs Central Coast Seafoods which was recently acquired by Santa Monica Seafoods. His other brother, Tony, runs Pier 46 Seafoods in Templeton in the Trader Joe’s shopping center. The brothers and their businesses are prospering.

“It’s fun that we’re all in the business, and to be honest I feel blessed to be part of the story. I’m one of the luckiest guys I know. I have a lot to be thankful for.”

At the end of the long day we call life, the philosophy that guides Gio is based on living life to the fullest. Losing his mother at a young age and watching his father work 12-14-hour days—once working nine straight months without a day off—has fueled his unquenchable appetite for living.

“The main thing is that life is short and you need to live it full throttle,” he said. “So live every day as if it’s your last year and that’s what I do. I realize first hand that life is precious and life is short. You don’t know how much time you’re going to get so you better do something with it while you’re here—and make a difference, make a change, and put your stamp on the world.”

And, like Gio, do it with flair.

END


Giovanni on Stopping PG&E’s Seismic Test: ‘Everything Was at Stake’

 

There was a distinct chill in the air in Morro Bay on the morning of August 14, and it wasn’t from the weather because every day is a beautiful day in Morro Bay, rain or shine.

Hundreds of miles north in Sacramento the State Lands Commission was holding a hearing to decide whether or not to approve PG&E’s Environment Impact Report and issue them a permit to begin blasting the ocean with 250dBs of high-intensity noise that would cause “significant and unavoidable” damage to abundant and flourishing marine life in Estero Bay, threatening endangered species, and the very future of Morro Bay itself.

The hearing and what could result from it was so important to Morro Bay, whose ocean backyard had been targeted as the primary test area, that it was transmitted via Skype video feed from Sacramento on to a meeting-room wall at the Inn at Morro Bay where it was screened before about 80 people.

Emotions were riding high. There was a palpable anguish in the room, an intense dread that bordered on the grim air surrounding a pending death in the family. During public comment, speaker after speaker, about 65 of them, reasoned, pleaded, argued, even commanded State Lands to deny PG&E a permit to bomb the ocean.

One of those speakers was Giovanni DeGarimore, owner of Giovanni’s Fish Market & Restaurant and STAX Bistro on the Embarcadero. He spoke with a fire in his gut and he spoke for the entire community when he questioned PG&E’s Environmental Impact Report.

“I heard a lot of slick talking at the beginning of this hearing from people that sounded a lot like politicians,” he said from the podium, his image enlarged on the screen, “but I’m just going to be real simple. Something stinks here. Looking at the big picture it just doesn’t sound right. The ‘taking’—whether you call it catching or killing or whatever you’re doing—of fish, baby sea otters, whales, turtles, fishermen, is not right. You’re going to be killing our community, you’re going to be killing our resources, and it’s not something I support. I’m not anti nuclear but I am anti-killing of our resources and killing of our fishing industry. It’s not right…

“We’re talking about baby sea otters, we’re talking about whales, we’re talking about fishermen, we’re talking about people. Let’s not ram this through. Let’s step back, let’s think about it. Let’s think about what’s good for the people and the environment.”

When the SLC accepted the EIR and delayed the actual permitting decision one week, not only was there no relief from the pressure, but the impact on Gio and the fishermen after the SLC approved the dangerous EIR was clearly emotionally devastating. One by one they filtered out into the parking lot in stunned silence. They just stood or sat and said nothing, staring out from anxious eyes that reflected the pain of their deepest fears being realized.

Flash forward to November 10. Almost three difficult months later, after the community, local fishermen and environmental activists joined forces to oppose PG&E’s 3D high-energy seismic testing, the California Coastal Commission voted 10 to nothing to deny PG&E a permit, and sent them packing with little philosophical wiggle room to return to reapply for a high-energy permit in 2013.

You could almost hear an entire town stand and cheer as one. Along with the rest of Morro Bay and neighboring coastal communities, and those throughout the state opposing ocean blasting for any reason, Gio celebrated this rarest of victories over PG&E and a run-amuck state and local government pushing the test. It was hard to believe and still is for those used to be on the losing end of trying to fight big companies and big government.

Looking at it from the Commission’s perspective, considering PG&E’s huge influence on government agencies, Gio found it “surprising that they did the right thing.”

“I applaud them for doing the right thing which might have seemed easy to us, but I guarantee you behind the scenes it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. At the end of the day the right thing happened, and because of the grassroots effort and because our voice, the people’s voice, got so strong, at the end of the day that’s what really made the difference, I’m sure of it. Because if this thing would have flown under the radar, under the media, it would have gone right through.

“I applaud them for unilaterally coming across the board and saying ‘absolutely not.’ And not ‘come back and try again.’ It was ‘No!’ and a firm no.”

The more he read about the test, the more he realized the impact was going to be devastating and far reaching—had it been allowed to move forward.

“Everything was at stake,” he said. “The worst-case scenario is they cleanse our ocean of any living life. In the best-case scenario they kill millions and millions of sea life. I mean, by their numbers… their best plausible number was millions and millions of fish. It was going to be horrific for the ocean.

“Look at the real numbers,” he said, “and now we’re talking hundreds of millions if not billions of fish and sea life and all the other things that they didn’t take into account, things that can’t swim away when they’re ramping up their power, like abalone, sea urchins, clams, mussels and scallops. And you’ve got to remember that each one of these little pieces affects the ecosystem because of the trickle-down effect, and it goes on and on and on.”

Any prospect of that happening was simply unimaginable and unacceptable to just about anyone that heard about it, except PG&E and the politicians.

“To be brutally honest,” Gio said, “this first caught my attention because it was going to affect me on a financial level because my business is solely seafood. I buy seafood, I sell seafood, I unload the boats that do the seafood, I put fuel in the boats that do the seafood. It was going to affect me in every aspect of my life. So when I first looked at it, I thought, wow, they’re going to put me out of business. I looked at it purely from an introverted standpoint, and at the time PG&E was offering me lots of money to quell me, if you will, and I started thinking about it. I negotiated with them and gave them numbers, and I looked at how much money it could cost me per day.

“But the more I started reading about it, and the more I started seeing how PG&E was really being disingenuous and dishonest, the more I realized that not only were these people not trustworthy, but for me it wasn’t about money anymore, and no matter how much money they offered me it wasn’t going to be enough. I knew that once I started speaking publicly against them, my chances of ever getting a claim with them would be non-existent.”

“So the day that I stood up and testified at State Lands I knew that all chances of getting money from PG&E was out the window, but at this point I didn’t care about money, because it was far bigger than just me now. This is about the environment, this is about the ecosystem, this is about where I live, and more than anything it just came down to right and wrong. At the end of the day it was an easy decision to jump on board with this and put all of my energy into it.”

As a result of his decision, his thinking changed in an unexpected way.

“I’ve never been a self-proscribed tree-hugger or environmentalist,” he said, “but God, I kind of get it now, and it felt good to do something right for the environment that didn’t really mean anything monetarily for me anymore. It was just the right thing to do and it felt good…”

Gio’s concerns about seismic testing didn’t end with the Coastal Commission’s ruling against PG&E on the 3D high-energy test.

“The one threat that really bothers me is the low-energy testing that’s been going on, it seems, without benefit of any permit that I can see. We don’t really know a lot about it. There certainly have to be some ramifications. The fishermen are telling me that the fish catch really seems off this last year… The whole time they’re out there doing this testing, what are they doing? They’ve sunk geophones, I believe, in the MPA. They must have gotten a permit to do that. It was all very low under the radar when all that started.

“We’re in line for a really healthy fish stock for all fish stocks here on the California coast. We need to keep people like PG&E away from doing things to disturb that, and there are other threats out there, too, but right now I think it’s a pretty safe area, as long as we can manage the environment.”

— Ed Ochs

 

Carrie Burton and The Curse of Chorro Valley

[slideshow id=2 template=caption]

The California Coastal Commission is currently investigating the City of Morro Bay’s plans to cut their municipal water supply to Chorro Valley residents, thereby forcing them to draw from contaminated water. Out on the outskirts of Morro Bay off of Highway 1, Chorro Valley — which is, by definition, a protected coastal zone — has an unsustainable water supply because the water is utilized by other sources and local irrigation wells are contaminated. On January 24, Chorro Valley resident Carrie Burton submitted a complaint to the Coastal Commission, which stated that the City of Morro Bay has refused to resolve the ongoing issues, despite admissions from the city’s mayor and City Council that they were completely responsible for the trouble caused.

Mrs. Burton is one of several residents in Chorro Valley who are affected by the dispute with the City. Like others who live in the area, Mrs. Burton — who lives with her husband and her two young sons — was unaware of any problems until 2008 when residents discovered that they were potentially receiving insufficiently-treated, contaminated water from their basin instead of safe drinking water.

When the Ashurst wells were in use, the Chorro Valley water customers were receiving well water instead of the blended water from City tanks.  That was because there is only one water line between the tanks and the wells. Concerned residents contacted the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). CDPH responded by ordering the City of Morro Bay to immediately stop using the Ashurst wells.  The CDPH order stated that in order to begin using the Ashurst wells again, the City must provide nitrate treatment and chlorination for the Ashurst well water before it reached any customer connections.

The City subsequently threatened to cut its municipal water supply to Chorro Valley residents, citing a few reasons.  Morro Bay City Attorney Robert Schultz stated in e-mails obtained by The ROCK that the city had “no contractual obligation” to provide water because Chorro Valley was “outside City limits.”

Unaware of the conflicts surrounding Chorro Valley, Mrs. Burton purchased her home since the property was permitted, valued and established based on the City of Morro Bay’s written authorization to provide utility water.

The Burton home was was legally permitted in 1995 and by both the City and the County of San Luis Obispo, based solely on the County-required utility water for a nonconforming lot. The City then provided to the Burton property written authorization of clean state-aqueduct utility water, guaranteed by the City of Morro Bay, and water to be billed according to the “installation of the [water] meter and monthly usage costs per the Master Fee Schedule.” For Chorro Valley residents who live under an acre, having access to the state-aqueduct water is a necessary and valuable asset. Alternatively, residents could use well water from their basin, but there are health concerns.

Studies analyzing the Chorro Basin have shown that the water was polluted as a result of leaking septic tanks from the Roandoak of God property and sewage found in domestic ag wells. The on-site domestic wells, which the city plans to leave untreated, are close to the nonconforming septic tanks and an illegal leach field on Roandoak’s property. The septics there are heavily contaminated with nitrates and coliform, and the contaminants have infiltrated the groundwater. The potential of these on-site domestic wells pulling sewage from those illegal septic tanks is high because Chorro Valley is located in a flood zone of high groundwater. The end result? Chorro Valley residents will be exposed to serious health risks by being forced to use untreated, contaminated water.

In an e-mail to Mrs. Burton, Mr. Schultz has said that the documents — showing that the City was, indeed, responsible for providing safe drinking water to Chorro Valley residents — could not be found by the City and that they “must have burned in a fire.” The ROCK reviewed several documents over the past 20 years that clearly state Chorro Valley being part of Morro Bay’s service area. As far as why the City has not decided to continue discussions with Chorro Valley residents is unclear.

To Mrs. Burton, the City’s threat to cut her municipal water supply — based on their assertion that they were “not contractually obligated” to provide it — was nonsensical. Mrs. Burton provided The ROCK numerous documents, including the City’s water authorization, old title documents from the property’s previous owner, and a special encroachment permit for utility water use and a receipt for the water meter. Though it was unrecorded by the City, a signed and notarized lease agreement from August 10, 1982 shows that the City promised to issue 500,000 gallons per month to Mrs. Burton’s property. Mrs. Burton’s property is part of the original Roandoak property from 1972. The lease — which was never recorded by the City, though they did honor their allocation of water to the Roandoak of God facility — was not disclosed to Mrs. Burton upon purchase of the property. Roandoak’s lease was canceled last year.

On November 17, 2009, the City of Morro Bay issued a petition for temporary urgency change to pump Well 11A on Canay Road and supplement the City water supply. The City sought to change the permit, which was originally issued on November 22, 1972. The City did not seek to change the permit’s place of use, which designated the Chorro Creek area as “within the boundaries of the City of Morro Bay’s Service Area.”

The Burtons purchased their Chorro Valley home in 2004. In a real estate listing, the property was listed as having water service from Morro Bay. Records show that in 1995, the County permitted the home based on the City’s written authorization to provide water. Additionally, the Coastal Commission issued a Coastal Development Permit (CDP). The CDP was contingent on the County’s building permit and the City’s water authorization. Yet the City firmly maintains that that they are under no obligation to provide municipal water service.

Instead, the city has proposed that residents — who own property that are less than an acre — draw water from on-site domestic wells while they continue tapping water from their already-strained aquifer and uniquely sensitive Coastal Zone ecosystem. In Mrs. Burton’s case, the City proposed to install a new well for her property. However, according to County Code, residents living on a property less than an acre cannot have a domestic well. Those residents would be forced to rely on groundwater that tested positive for nitrates, bacteria and other contaminants.

The City also proposed to purchase the Burton property at fair market value, and conjoin the property with adjacent City-owned property to produce a lot that’s over an acre. This would effectively allow the City to construct a new well and resell the property without disclosing water and other issues that have prevented the house from being sold . These offers were part of negotiations between the Burtons and the City. According to Mrs. Burton, she responded reluctantly to that option. Mrs. Burton, and several other Chorro Valley residents, have consistently asked to have uninterrupted supply of municipal water. To Mrs. Burton, that is the only viable option that exists.

The City quickly nixed their own offer to purchase her property. Mr. Schultz told Mrs. Burton that he was going to “wait [the family] out.” Since then, Mrs. Burton has requested a viable offer or continuance of the clean utility water and has attempted to contact Morro Bay Mayor William Yates. But after shelling thousands of dollars in attorney fees for stalled negotiations, Mrs. Burton has received no response.

“[The City of Morro Bay] is hurting my children,” said Mrs. Burton. Since they moved into their home in Chorro Valley, the Burtons have improved and personalized their living space by constructing a basketball court for the kids. She provided an area for her children to ride around in their quadrunners and has constructed batting cages. “Where else in Morro Bay can I ever find that?”

Mr. Schultz has expressed interest in restarting negotiations, but stopped short of offering a timetable.

The City stated that they plan to continue using the water from Chorro Valley to supplement their municipal water supply and blend it with state aqueduct water. However, Chorro Valley customers would not be beneficiaries of that treated water because the Chorro Valley pipeline supplying it would not be returned to residents. Beneficiaries of treated Chorro Valley basin water include include the City of Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County, California State Parks, California State Polytechnic University, California National Guard, California Men’s Colony, and residential and agricultural overlying areas.

An additional pipeline would be required to bring back treated water from the City’s central treatment facility. The City has declined to pay for an additional pipeline. Another option is to install a water treatment system for Chorro Valley residents, but city officials told The ROCK that it would be “too expensive” for the City, despite assurances from former mayor Janice Peters and City Council that they would “make [Chorro Valley] residents whole” at their September 28, 2009 meeting (click on the link to download the audio).The City has reportedly entertained the idea of “annexing” the Chorro Valley area after residents’ connection to the water was cut. According to Mr. Schultz, the annexation would resolve health and safety concerns for residents within the City. Mrs. Burton believes annexation would help advance plans for residential and commercial development.

Despite aggressively pursuing enforcement action in neighboring Los Osos, the Central Coast Regional Water Board (CCRWQCB) has remained uncommitted to resolving water quality issues in Chorro Valley. The water board has allowed the Roandoak of God family to continue operating their illegal septic tanks even though the water board has enacted policies to phase out that type of wastewater treatment.

The situations in Los Osos and Chorro Valley couldn’t be any different, but comparing these locations side-by-side clearly shows that the water board’s application of their policies is inconsistent. On December 9, 2011, RWQCB’s David LaCaro published an update on Los Osos Interlocutory Stipulated Judgment (ISJ) activities. “The Los Osos groundwater basin has been damaged by 1) wastewater from septic tanks causing nitrate degradation and contamination, and 2) excess pumping of the lower aquifer with resultant seawater intrusion,” wrote Mr. LaCaro.

In Chorro Valley, studies show that the illegal septics in the area are causing nitrate degradation and contamination of groundwater. The City of Morro Bay was also found in violation of State Water Board Decision #1633 in regard to excess pumping of Chorro Valley’s municipal wells. The decision states that the city cannot use its Chorro Valley wells when the surface flow downstream is under 1.4 cfs. They are supposed to  have monitoring devices downstream from 11A, and from the Ashurst wells. Decision #1633 explains that the City’s over-pumping has also threatened the creek and steelhead habitat. Sources working closely with the CCRWQCB state that the City has not been in compliance with Decision #1633 since 1997.

In an e-mail sent to SWRQCB Enforcement Investigator Jim Fischer, Mrs. Burton wrote, “I worry it’s more a diversionary tactic and cover up than anything.

“I believe the RWQCB dropped the ball. It’s pretty clear.” She explained, “The well test prove ammonia, bacteria hits in dry months, and the Cleath Hydrology report which identified the contaminator of the City well which is next to my house, as septics from the documented ‘inadequate septics’ and leach fields on a neighboring property.”

Mrs. Burton told The ROCK that she believes the water board violated their own “fair, firm and consistent” enforcement policies.

On December 2, 2010, Richard J. Lichtenfels of the SLO County Health Agency wrote a letter to the Burtons, agreeing with the family that there were concerns with Morro Bay’s proposal to have water provided to their residence from their on-site irrigation well.”Based on the information provided, the land use and well history of your area, the County is concerned that the local groundwater supply where your irrigation well draws from is significantly degraded from a water quality standpoint. Water quality testing has historically shown high nitrate levels exist in both the surrounding City and private wells in the area,” wrote Mr. Lichtenfels. He concluded that the City’s proposal “appears to be less than a satisfactory resolution to safe long-term water service.” However, Mr. Lichtenfels stated that only the City could resolve the ongoing issues.

“[SLO County Health Agency] would hope the City would find a way to keep you and the other affected residents on municipal water so as to eliminate the risk of area residents consuming water from a compromised water supply,” he wrote to Mrs. Burton.

Frustrated with the lack of resolutions, Mrs. Burton has filed a complaint with the California Coastal Commission. The Chorro Valley aquifer is located in a coastal zone, which is under the jurisdiction of the CCC. Mrs. Burton’s property was also issued a Coastal Development Permit. Mrs. Burton has specifically requested the commission to “investigate, issue a formal opinion, and if they deem it appropriate, take enforcement actions as necessary.” So far, the commission staff have responded favorably to the complaint and stated that they will conduct an investigation. The complaint is being handled by Nancy Cave and Madeline Cavalieri of the CCC. A hearing date has not been set.

With support from other residents and friends Mrs. Burton told The ROCK that she is committed to Chorro Valley. She expects the Coastal Commission to step up to resolve an issue that’s been on the hearts and minds of local residents for several years. At last, there is hope for Mrs. Burton and Chorro Valley water customers. For now, Mrs. Burton continues to wait anxiously every day. The City once assured residents that they would continue to discuss the issues with them, but they have been met with deafening silence.

The City of Morro Bay is clearly responsible for what has happened in Chorro Valley. Their unwillingness to resolve the water quality issues has not been thoroughly explained. It is clear that the City has underestimated the dogged perseverance of Carrie Burton. As a mother, Mrs. Burton has tried to make the best out of a bad situation for her family. As a fighter, she has become the face of vigilance. Her unwavering goal — to have access to safe drinking water — has also illuminated California’s ongoing water crisis. Chorro Valley cannot survive or thrive without having access to safe drinking water. Because of Mrs. Burton’s determination and the California Coastal Commission’s eagerness to resolve the curse of Chorro Valley, now there is hope.

—  Aaron Ochs

Something Very Funny's Going On in Morro Bay!?

There was a time when the only live entertainment in town was watching the seals and otters frolic in the bay and the waves lap the shore, and that hasn’t changed since the days of the Chumash, except now the all Chumash live inland on casinos, and the seals are charging tourists for group photos.

Morro Bay is a joke.

There was a time when the only live entertainment in town was watching the seals and otters frolic in the bay and the waves lap the shore, and that hasn’t changed since the days of the Chumash, except now the all Chumash live inland on casinos, and the seals are charging tourists for group photos.

Watching the fishing boats come in and unload the day’s catch still passes for entertainment in the city that always sleeps, and on a beautiful day by the bay, who could argue? But there aren’t many fishing boats anymore – most fish drive up from LA fresh for the weekend — although you wouldn’t know it by the amount of fish and chips served on the Embarcadero every day.

That’s all nice for the tourists, but what do you if you live in Los Osos, Morro Bay, Cayucos or Cambria, and you’re wide awake primetime Saturday night and harmonizing with the call of mating sea lions just doesn’t cut it for you like it used to? Wait a minute. There actually is live entertainment in Morro Bay, that is, live human entertainers, not sea creatures who you think are smiling when they’re not. I repeat for all landlubbers and all the ships at sea: LOWER THE GANGPLANK! LIVE ENTERTAINMENT ASHORE TONIGHT! We’re just not used to it. We have to adjust our thinking.

Today, fortunately, there are two great after-dark entertainment options for area residents. First for levity are Morro Bay City Council meetings. They are hilarious, but you’re not allowed to laugh out loud there, which can lead to the upper gastric distress from swallowing too much laughter. Second source of limitless laughter in town is Saturday night “Comedy Night” at Osaka Joe’s Sushi in North Morro Bay.

Bronston Jones

Now this may be a difficult concept for some Baysiders to absorb, the very idea of stepping out beyond their front porch on a Friday or Saturday night except to walk the cat, let alone stepping inside Osaka Joe’s just for laughs. Now, stand-up comedy at a sushi restaurant may seem to some a little like watching the delivery of a baby at the circus, but you don’t even have to like delicious Japanese rolls, saki or beer to enjoy the professional-level comedy imported, bound with gags, from the comedy capitals of the world by Osaka Joe’s entertainment-wise owner, yes, a guy named Joe, last name Yukich.

For example, Osaka Joe’s is featuring comedian Bronston Jones on Saturday night, April 7, at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

Bronston is a serious threat to celebrate your funny bone. After a five-year hiatus directing hot commercials and music videos (including Uncle Kracker’s Top 20 “Drift Away”), Bronston’s back at the mic doing what he loves most – saying something without selling anything. Wherever he performs he revels in revealing his failings through his conversational, story-telling style, failings we all share, he says, while talking about the demented reality show called reality. “Life’s short – I’m not!” the giant (6′ 7″) funnyman repeats his motto. “Tall or small, live larger than life!”

Erik Marino

Said owner Joe Yukich: “We have been very fortunate to be able to bring top-flight comedy from the top comedy clubs in Hollywood and the West Coast to the Central Coast. Bronston is one of the best and brightest on the comedy circuit today, and we’re thrilled to be able to showcase great new rising talent like Bronston Jones at Osaka Joe’s.”

The friendly atmosphere of Osaka Joe’s creates the ideal environment to enjoy live entertainment. The intimate club setting allows the audience to feel like they are part of the performance, and the shared laughter is a communal experience that brightens everyone’s day. And if you like sushi, you learn to eat carefully on “Comedy Night” — something has to give when you eat and laugh at the same time.

Mat Edgar

Osaka Joe’s has been featuring live comedy and music since 2010, and recently featured comedians Erik Marino, Mat Edgar, Zoltan Kaszas, Ibo Brewer, Steve Zorbalas, Alex Breckenridge, and Central Coast surf band The Dentures. Serving as “Comedy Night” host is comedienne Bo Sellers.

That’s right, live comedy in Morro Bay, and it’s about time. So get used to the sound of random laughter in the streets. Suddenly, Morro Bay is no longer a joke when it comes to real live entertainment. Not at Osaka Joe’s where it’s all a joke on Comedy Night.

Osaka Joe’s Sushi is located at 3118 Main Street (and Jamaica St.) in North Morro Bay. For more information call (805) 772-7987 and visit www.osakajoesushi.com.