Pismo Beach resident Charmayne Brooks was taking her Maltese poodle on a walk on a recent Wednesday when she was approached by a man with an armful of glossy fliers.
“I have a question,” Brooks said, shaking his hand. “Say your last name for me. I’ve heard it every which way.”
County supervisor candidate Ed Waage laughed and acquiesced, and then handed Brooks a survey asking for feedback on various issues, from plastic bags to tourism. The Pismo Beach mobile home park was dotted with campaign signs by the time Waage left a few hours later.
With the June primary less than a month away, Waage, 69, is spending much of his time attending events, walking precincts and handing out yard signs in his bid to unseat 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill.
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Hill, 46, a former Cal Poly professor of literature and writing, and Waage, a Pismo Beach councilman who managed PG&E’s emergency planning program for Diablo Canyon before he retired in 2000, are running to represent residents in a district that includes a large portion of San Luis Obispo, the Avila Beach area, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach.
The district includes 30,054 registered voters, according to an updated report from the California Secretary of State’s Office. Of those, 11,360 are registered Democratic, 10,626 are Republican and 6,188 do not have a party preference.
The only other contested supervisory race is for the 5th District seat, where incumbent Jim Patterson is facing off for the second time against Pozo rancher Debbie Arnold, a former aide to former Supervisor Mike Ryan and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee.
The races could have broader implications for all county residents. For starters, the election of Arnold or Waage could tilt the balance of the county board and change how it approaches development and growth issues and how it acts toward the environment. The outcome “will make a tremendous difference because COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business) would like to get rid of slow-growth policies,” said former county Supervisor Shirley Bianchi. COLAB is a conservative rancher and business group, and Bianchi was a strong environmental advocate and liberal voice on the board.
There’s also a slight chance a new board could try to reverse some of the earlier, controversial votes the current Board of Supervisors and other ancillary boards have taken.
Those include an ordinance banning plastic shopping bags at most stores in the county, passed by the Integrated Waste Management Authority board; a new rule controlling dust emissions from the Oceano Dunes state park, and limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from new development, both passed by the Air Pollution Control District board.
“The short answer is that a future board could amend or repeal an ordinance,” said Ray Biering, a San Luis Obispo attorney who represents public entities, including the county Air Pollution Control District and county Integrated Waste Management Authority.
The budget and the economy are among top concerns for the supervisory candidates.
Hill is quick to point to the steps he and his colleagues on the current board have taken to reduce the county work force by more than 250 without layoffs, to negotiate pension reforms and to work with the private sector to create jobs.
He said the county’s strong financial standing has put it on track to meet other goals, including completing the Willow Road-Highway 101 interchange project in South County and building a new women’s jail, and leading the effort to secure land for a new regional homeless services center.
Hill also worked with local business leaders and the Economic Vitality Corp. of San Luis Obispo County to craft an economic strategy for the region. “We need to do what we can to help our companies stay here,” he said last year.
More recently, he added: “We have been, I think, more business-friendly than I think a lot of people anticipated.”
Waage, however, believes Hill and other county supervisors have supported unnecessary regulations and higher fees that make conditions more difficult for business owners.
One example is the new limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, which were narrowly approved in March by the county Air Pollution Control District board.
Waage, who voted against the one-year test program, didn’t think the air board staff had followed the process and sufficiently taken into consideration the impacts the new program would have on large housing developments.
Hill, who voted in favor of the limits, said the goal was to set thresholds that make it clear which developments would be included in existing requirements, exempt smaller and midsize projects, and give larger projects a clearer idea of what standards they must meet. “The truth is this is actually helpful for anyone building,” Hill said.
Waage is also concerned about the impact a vote to ban plastic bags at some stores will have on small retailers.
“This is another example of larger agencies taking local control away,” Waage said. “We have to be careful that we protect the power of the cities to make decisions in their own boundaries.”
Waage also disagrees with the idea that the county board’s balance of power could shift should he be elected, or that the supervisors and ancillary boards have become increasingly divided into liberal and conservative camps on certain issues.
“I guess I see the science behind some of the things going on,” Waage said. “I’m not driven by ideology. I want to do what makes sense.”Hill, though, thinks that some issues, such as the plastic bag ban, have been used by groups including COLAB as a “clarion call” to further a political purpose.
“I think the regulations that we’ve passed are regulations that protect people and the environment,” he said.
Like Waage, Hill is spending many weekends with a stack of brochures, walking around neighborhoods in the district.
On a recent Sunday, he was accompanied by Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, and her two children, Sofi, 18, and Sage, 10, who wore bright green campaign shirts and carried dog biscuits and pens to hand out to residents in a San Luis Obispo neighborhood on the eastern border of the city.
Together, they knocked on doors and greeted residents. In one case, Hill was mistaken for a San Luis Obispo council member by a resident who started to give him an earful about the city’s binding arbitration issue before Hill quickly set him straight.
Other residents recognized Hill, including 96-year-old Cal Poly professor emeritus James B. Lau.
“We think he has the right values,” Lau said, citing Hill’s involvement with efforts to create a homeless center on South Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.
The two candidates agree on several issues: supporting public safety, solar farms, and the Nipomo pipeline project to bring water from Santa Maria.
They differ to various degrees on other issues, including:
Relicensing of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant: Both said they support the seismic monitoring studies intended to better determine offshore faults. Waage said he would also support continuing the relicensing process, and that the license renewal and seismic studies are two parallel processes that can be done at the same time.
Hill said he wants to see the advanced seismic studies completed, and expects the licenses to be renewed to 2044 and 2045 if the studies show that the plant can continue to be run safely.
“Because climate change is such a critical challenge, I think taking nuclear power out of the equation, purely for political reasons, is a mistake,” Hill said. “I think there are new technologies and new ways to use or dispose of waste, and we know better now not to site plants in seismically active areas.”
The Excelaron oil company plan to drill as many as 12 wells in the Huasna Valley: Hill, who didn’t want to share how he’ll vote because the company’s appeal will be before the board Tuesday, said, “There are some serious problems that I think frankly can’t be mitigated.”
Waage said substantial issues exist and the project must protect the water supply.
“Right now, the Huasna Valley is very quiet and peaceful, and you need to make sure you’re not going to affect the quality of life,” he said. “If you can mitigate all those, then I would be in favor, but I think there are substantial issues that need to be addressed, and until they do I think it’s a wait and see.”
Global warming: Hill called it “the most critical environmental problem we have worldwide” and said it’s the county’s responsibility to carry out measures that have passed at the state level.
Waage said it is real, but questioned the cause. He believes the man-made amount of carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming has been far less than estimated and is “not enough to bet your economy on it.”
Government should take prudent measures and encourage solar power, but some predictions have been “alarmist,” Waage added. He also supports the solar projects in the eastern part of the county and has installed solar panels on his home.
Growth in Price Canyon: Owners of four properties in Price Canyon had assembled a plan that included more than 650 homes, 160 hotel units and a nine-hole golf course on portions of 1,100 acres; the plan is in its preliminary stages.
Hill believes any development would significantly impact water, roads and biological resources and is inconsistent with the county’s plan for strategic growth. “I have not found anybody in South County who thinks these are needed,” he said.
Waage supported developing an economic impact report on development in Price Canyon but said numerous issues, including water and traffic, must be addressed before steps can be taken toward annexation and development.
Hot issues and how they voted
Ancillary countywide boards have voted on various environmental and growth issues over the past year. While Adam Hill and Ed Waage don’t hold seats on each board, their votes or positions on several hot issues could help voters decide which candidate they prefer.
Here are three issues and a breakdown of votes:
The Air Pollution Control District board passed new regulations that hold State Parks responsible for levels of dust blowing off the Dunes on windy days that exceed certain limits. It passed 7-4, with one abstention. Hill voted in favor, Waage against.
The county Integrated Waste Management Authority voted 8-5 to ban plastic shopping bags at most stores in San Luis Obispo County. Hill voted in favor as one of three representatives from the county board (as did Pismo Beach Councilman Ted Ehring, the city’s representative on the board). Waage, who does not sit on that board, said he would not have voted for it in that form.
The San Luis Obispo Local Agency Formation Commission, which considers annexations, voted 5-2 to deny Pismo Beach’s request to annex a 182-acre property to the city, stopping a large residential development known as Los Robles del Mar. Waage and Hill do not sit on this board, but Hill told The Tribune he believes LAFCO made the right decision. As a Pismo Beach councilman, Waage voted to forward the annexation request to LAFCO as part of a settlement the city negotiated with the developer. “I feel from a City Council perspective it was a good project for the city,” Waage said. “I also thought the water issue was satisfactory and I still believe that.”