The three South County candidates running for District 4 County Supervisor faced off Wednesday evening in a forum at Nipomo High School, sparring – sometimes testily – over a variety of issues including the proposed rail spur at the Phillips 66 refinery and accusing one another of being overly partisan.
The three candidates lined out separate stances on the rail spur project -- a proposal by Phillips 66 to build a rail spur to its refinery in order to deliver crude oil from new sources. It currently moves crude by pipeline.
Arroyo Grande real estate broker Mike Byrd took the firmest stance, saying he does not like the idea of oil being imported into the county in rail cars because it poses too many safety issues.
“I have a problem with the idea that this is going to be allowed,” Byrd said, adding that a way should be found to pipe the oil into the refinery.
Appointed incumbent Caren Ray of Arroyo Grande pounced on this, saying it is unethical of Byrd to take a hard-nosed position on the matter before it comes before the Board of Supervisors. Ray said she is working to make sure that the environmental impacts and other issues associated with the project are dealt with.
Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton said the project has its pros and cons but pointed out that the refinery is a source of good jobs in the district. “They are a good neighbor and a benefit to the community,” she said, adding that the county’s permitting of the project is unfolding as it should.
The three repeatedly accused one another of being partisan and lacking independence.
Compton, a Republican, said that Ray, a Democrat, has taken a partisan stance on many issues, siding frequently with fellow progressives, Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill.
“I truly believe that the current board is a divided board and that this seat is a swing vote,” Compton said.
Ray vehemently denied this and accused Compton of using fear tactics. Ray said that in the six months she has been on the board 90 percent of the votes have been unanimous and only four votes have been 3-2 and that she has sided with Supervisor Frank Mecham on several issues.
“I bring balance to the board,” Ray said. “Anyone who tells you differently is misleading you.”
Byrd said that, while he is a Democrat, he has gone out of his way to avoid partisan endorsements unlike the other two candidates who he said each have plenty of partisan endorsements and campaign contributions.
The discussion drew a crowd of about 200 in the school’s Forum Room. Many of the candidates’ answers followed themes that are becoming common as the trio approach the June 3 primary election.
Ray highlighted her accomplishments during the six months she has been in office, saying she brings the best mix of government and business experience. She was appointed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve out the term of Supervisor Paul Teixeira who died of a heart attack in June.
Compton repeatedly cited the importance of creating jobs and protecting property rights from government intrusion that she said is driving business out of the state and suppressing the economy of the district.
Byrd stressed that he would be an independent vote on the Board of Supervisors. He said he also brings a good mix of business and government experience, having worked for a county supervisor for eight years in Kern County before moving to the county 20 years ago.
The three will be on the primary election ballot for the supervisor seat. The district falls within the southernmost part of the county and includes the communities of Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Oceano.
If no one gets a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will move onto the general election in November.
The debate was sponsored by the county Latino Outreach Council, a nonprofit group that works to facilitate participation by the Latino community in the affairs of the county.