The local chapter of the Sierra Club has withheld an endorsement from longtime ally Jim Patterson in the incumbent supervisor’s tight race for re-election in the county’s 5th District.
The Santa Lucia chapter did not endorse other candidates for supervisor either, but the decision to not support Patterson stands out because of his lengthy environmental record.
The Santa Lucia chapter’s decision came from a six-member committee, which offered no reason beyond a generalized statement that Patterson did not demonstrate a commitment to the group’s principles.
Patterson, however, says he angered the local group by his support for solar power plants in the Carrizo Plain.
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“I wasn’t expecting an endorsement from them because of my position on the Carrizo solar projects,” Patterson said in an email to The Tribune. “I was offered the ability to purchase their mailing list, which I don’t intend to do.”
Patterson spoke about the rift during a series of questions about political independence asked by The Tribune Editorial Board on Monday. The Tribune asked both Patterson and his challenger, Debbie Arnold, to cite times when they had differed with their chief backers.
Arnold, a self-described small-government conservative, could not think of an issue on which she has disagreed with the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB).
A property rights and anti-regulation lobbying group that appears frequently at Board of Supervisors meetings, COLAB does not make formal political endorsements. But its members have been strong backers of Arnold, financially and otherwise, and have been highly critical of Patterson. More than any other organized group, it embodies Arnold’s political base.
Arnold also has been making appearances at events sponsored by the Tea Party, a loosely organized group of conservatives who oppose regulation and taxes but also take controversial positions on such matters as whether President Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen, whether he is a secret Muslim, and whether global warming is real and/or man-made.
Arnold told The Tribune Editorial Board she believes Earth experiences climate changes, but she is not convinced they are man-made.
The Tea Party’s most prominent local spokesman is Matt Kokkonen, a Republican who has run unsuccessfully for state, federal and local office.
Like COLAB, the Tea Party does not endorse candidates. But Kokkonen said members were pleased to see Arnold at its most recent event.
While Arnold’s base remains apparently intact, Patterson conceded that some environmentalists are not happy with his aggressive support of solar power.
Nonetheless, Patterson is making the solar plants one of the cornerstones of his re-election effort, touting them as job producers and a step away from fossil fuels.
The Sierra Club’s Greg McMillan of Cholame, who owns what he calls “the oldest straw-bale construction company in California,” sent the rejection letter to Patterson, as well as to Adam Hill, who is running for re-election in the 3rd District against Ed Waage.
The letter to Hill reads, “In order to warrant the Sierra Club’s endorsement, candidates must demonstrate a commitment to the club’s guiding principles of protecting and restoring natural resources and access to public lands, while demonstrating an understanding of environmental and land use principles and the ability to run a viable campaign.
“In addition, we look for candidates who have shown an ability to think and act independently, rather than simply accept staff recommendations or accommodate the wishes of economic special interests,” the Sierra Club went on.
“After reviewing your voting record on county land use issues, the Chapter Executive Committee, unanimously, has decided not to offer you an endorsement at this time,” McMillan wrote.
McMillan declined requests for comment from The Tribune, but he is on record as being concerned about the effect of the solar plant development on the kangaroo rat.
While McMillan declined to comment, chapter Executive Director Andrew Christie said the nonendorsement was based on unspecified “North County development votes” over the past four years.
Christie said he was present at the endorsement meeting but did not influence the outcome.
He also denied that the nonendorsement was environmentalists’ payback for the departure of his sister, Sarah Christie, from the Planning Commission. After a series of public brouhahas, including two grand jury reports, Sarah Christie resigned in December 2009. But it was widely believed she was forced out.
Patterson had appointed Sarah Christie to the Planning Commission in 2005.
Patterson won by only 347 votes in 2008 in a district that historically has close elections and usually holds the balance of power in deciding which way the county will move.
A win by either Arnold or Waage could tilt the board to the conservative stance it took before 2008, with one or both of them forming a pro-growth bloc with Frank Mecham and Paul Teixeira.
The 5th District encompasses Atascadero and part of San Luis Obispo, along with the unincorporated communities of Creston, California Valley, Garden Farms, Pozo, Santa Margarita and South Atascadero. The 3rd District includes a large portion of San Luis Obispo, the Avila Beach area, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach.