A year in SLO County: The good, bad and more

The Tribune Editorial Board looks back on the highlights

letters@thetribunenews.comDecember 31, 2012 

Jodi Fisher hands out free ice cream from a truck in Cayucos for her birthday.

JAYSON MELLOM — jmellom@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Before closing the book on 2012, The Tribune Editorial Board looked back at some key events that occurred in San Luis Obispo County. Here, in no particular order, is our subjective list of highlights and lowlights we witnessed in 2012.

Some are sad, others inspiring, and in some cases, the stories are still playing out — giving us plenty to consider in 2013.

The Good

Voter generosity: Local voters approved nearly every tax measure on the ballot, including Proposition 30 — the governor’s temporary tax increase to raise funds for schools — as well as a local sales tax increase in Paso Robles, a bond measure for Templeton schools and a parcel tax for the Cayucos Fire Protection District.

Safe parking: Two fledgling “safe parking” programs for homeless people living out of their RVs and cars began on a small scale. One in Arroyo Grande was discontinued, partly because of a lack of qualified participants, but the San Luis Obispo program may be expanded. We hope so. This is the best way to get illegal “campers” off the streets and into programs that will link them to services.

Return of the marathon man (and woman): After a 26-year absence, SLO’s marathon was back — and was a runaway success. It generated an estimated $3 million for the local economy and inspired many of us to lace up our running shoes, even if it was just to jog around the block. Look for the marathon’s return April 21.

Jodi’s gifts: Jodi Fisher warmed our hearts and inspired us to live each day to the fullest by celebrating her “bucket list” in the final weeks of her life. She appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and met President Barack Obama, but the sight we’ll remember most is Jodi, leaning out of the window of an ice cream truck to hand out free treats to kids to mark her 44th birthday.

Solar farms: Construction of commercial solar plants on the Carissa Plains was a bright spot in a still-sluggish economy, as well as sign of progress in the switch to clean energy.

Bag ban: The countywide Integrated Waste Management Board narrowly approved a ban on plastic bags that went into effect in October. Yes, we still hear some grousing from shoppers. But those horrors we were warned of — including outbreaks of illness linked to use of dirty reusable bags — haven’t come to pass.

Pocketbook power: Save Our Downtown organized SLO’s first “cash mob” at Phoenix Books in May — an event that drew more than 200 people to the store, boosted sales dramatically and reminded us of just how fun brick-and-mortar shopping can be.

A welcome Willow: After years of planning — not to mention hand-wringing over escalating costs — the Highway 101/Willow Road interchange opened in Nipomo. It should go a long way toward easing congestion at Tefft Street and 101.

The Bad

Homeless shelter hits a snag: Sure, Supervisor Adam Hill’s infamous tirade against Bill Thoma was a blow to the cause. But plans for a full-fledged homeless services center were derailed even before that, when South Higuera Street business owners started harrumphing about having a shelter in their midst.

Get it together, folks. The homeless shelter is needed now — not five or 10 years from now — and it’s time to get the plan back on track.

The Bruce Gibson affair: While we’ve supported many of Gibson’s positions on the issues, his ongoing affair with his legislative assistant was an appalling lapse of judgment, even if it didn’t violate any county ordinance.

A trail of scandals at State Parks: There was unauthorized “buyback” of vacation hours, the $54 million in “found” money that led to the resignation of the director, Ruth Coleman, and closer to home, there were allegations that local State Parks officials showed favoritism when they waived rental fees for some private events at Hearst Castle.

We’re concerned, too, that State Parks still appears to be in denial when it comes to taking steps to reduce dust pollution at the Oceano Dunes offroad vehicle recreation area.

Hate crimes continue: Last year, it was a cross burning in front of the Arroyo Grande home of an African-American family. This year, anti-gay graffiti targeting the athletic director at Mission Prep was a sad reminder that intolerance continues to fester in San Luis Obispo County.

Lisa Solomon’s high-priced departure: Paso Robles police Chief Lisa Solomon (now former police chief) is accused of sexually harassing the officers under her command — and she walked away with a $250,000 settlement?

Capps/Maldonado campaign: Sure, politics is a brutal business, but the sparring between Rep. Lois Capps and Republican challenger Abel Maldonado was a huge turnoff for voters. Ugh.

Cuesta College: The accreditation mess wasn’t entirely Cuesta’s fault; state funding, or lack thereof, had something to do with it. But there were also missteps by Cuesta officials — including premature discussion of another attempt at a facilities bond measure.

Just saying no … again: The county Board of Supervisors turned down another application for a medical marijuana dispensary, after the applicant had spent many months and thousands of dollars on the application process. As we said at the time, if the board believes that medical marijuana dispensaries are just plain bad, it should ban them.

If not, revise the ordinance to better specify where they can go.

Maligned merger: A proposed merger of the Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande police departments fell apart. Grover officials said A.G.’s offer would have resulted in a takeover, rather than a partnership. We understand, but how about giving taxpayers a break and resuming negotiations?

The unfolding

Seismic testing in coastal waters: The state Coastal Commission has said “no” to high-energy seismic surveys near Diablo Canyon, but we don’t believe that PG&E should be off the hook when it comes to fully characterizing faults near the nuclear power plant. If the Coastal Commission doesn’t want high-energy testing, then please, come up with another method of study so that we can be assured the plant can withstand the strongest quake that could occur.

Oil drilling in Huasna: County supervisors voted unanimously to deny Excelaron’s application to drill for oil in the Huasna Valley near Arroyo Grande. Good for them. But Excelaron wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and headed to court. Trial is scheduled for early 2013.

Cycling in Avila: The eyes of the world (or at least the cycling world) will be on Avila Beach this spring when it hosts the Tour of California. Will it be up to the challenge? Or will it be one big, hot, snarly mess? Find out May 16.

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