Tilt-A-Whirl supervisors now are pro-growth

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comJanuary 5, 2013 

Bob Cuddy

The environmental-leaning 3-2 majority that has controlled county land use and other matters for the past four years enters 2013 on the run, with one of them departing and the other two weakened politically by self-inflicted wounds.

On most issues the supervisors work well together, and the five-member board — Jim Patterson, Adam Hill, Bruce Gibson, Frank Mecham and Paul Teixeira (and before Teixeira, Katcho Achadjian) —has won praise for shepherding the county through the recession.

The supervisors have kept the county solvent, reduced the workforce, balanced their budgets, and brought in a dynamic young group of managers.

But on growth, planning and environmental issues, there has been a split, generally pitting Hill, Patterson and Gibson against Mecham and Teixeira.

Others have gotten involved, and the county has seen high-profile dust-ups over disappearing water supplies in North County, plastic bag bans, and sand pollution from off-road vehicles on the Oceano Dunes.

The Gibson-Patterson-Hill troika has generally prevailed. But Patterson lost his bid for re-election to Debbie Arnold, who ran on a platform of less regulation. She will be sworn in Monday.

Thus, the board majority changes to 3-2 in the other direction, with most observers expecting the popular veteran, Mecham, to lead Arnold and Teixeira.

So, if you fear out-of-control growth, or dwindling drinking water supplies, as many environmentalists do, the immediate future may not look rosy.

The departure of Patterson will be a particular blow to that crowd; he has been a strong environmental voice on the board.

On the other hand, some in the environmental community helped accelerate Patterson’s departure by turning their back on him during the recent campaign. Their pique was reminiscent of Tea Party purists willing to stall the national government.

The local environmentalists were mad at Patterson because he replaced their favorite, Sarah Christie, on the Planning Commission. Christie, the sister of local Sierra Club leader Andrew Christie, has since left the county. Gibson and Hill are different stories.

Gibson announced late in 2012 that he and his wife were divorcing and he had taken up with his legislative aide in what he called “an affair of the heart.”

The county counsel said he had done nothing illegal, but not all behavior is judged by legal standards; some is judged by moral standards, and in that Gibson has come up short, many people feel.

It doesn’t help that his aide is still on the payroll at her $68,890 a year job as Gibson’s assistant, but is actually working in the county Clerk-Recorder’s Office on a “temporary assignment.” There is a widespread feeling that she is receiving special treatment.

Will this hurt Gibson politically? We’ll see. He is a very controlled and disciplined man and he is not likely to become a shrinking violet during policy discussions. My feeling is that he is waiting for the whole thing to blow over. Hill, although he is more of a social issues liberal than an environmental one, has generally sided with Gibson and Patterson. But he, too, shot himself in the foot in December.

His transgression: He attacked, via email, a Pillar of the Community — Bill Thoma, who owns Thoma Electric.

Hill has always been pugnacious in public office when he thought someone was spoiling for a fight, but the county’s power elite generally let it ride. After all, he usually was duking it out with equally bellicose people who came after him first — Los Osos sewer protesters, for example.

Most visibly, he has taken on Mike Brown, Andy Caldwell, and their Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB), an anti-regulation outfit whose members worked to replace Patterson with Arnold.

All those squabbles got Hill some notoriety, but it was when he went after Thoma, whom he accused of trying to sabotage a homeless shelter proposal, that it really hit the fan. The local political and economic establishment rushed furiously to Thoma’s rescue.

There is a nice irony here in the way this was framed for the general public — the big bad elected official beating up on the defenseless private citizen. But Thoma is no delicate flower. He has been a community leader for a long time. He gives as good as he gets, and a look at his public remarks during, say, the life of the Dalidio proposal, shows a guy who needs no help.

Nonetheless, even Hill acknowledged that he had gone “over the top.” He clearly antagonized the wrong people and, more to the point, threatened the viability of the homeless project because of the volatile nature of his argument with Thoma.

A contrite and ostensibly humbled Hill publicly apologized and vowed to get control of his anger. Plenty of people will be watching to see if he means it.

Meanwhile, did Hill — along with his most recent sparring partner, Thoma — do any long-term damage to the local homeless? Stay tuned.

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