There’ll be a couple of new faces on the boards of local services districts, and any North Coast voters who didn’t think their ballots were important have only to look at the slim margins of victory to know that’s not the case.
Now, two new directors will join the remaining incumbents under the watchful eyes of constituents who supported or opposed their election.
In a race with eight candidates, a difference of 33 votes decided who will sit in the third Cambria Community Services District Board of Directors seat, with voters electing new director Harry Farmer instead of incumbent Gail Robinette.
It had been a nail-biter of a race, with Robinette having a 14-vote lead at the outset from mail-in-ballots. But Farmer’s vote count overtook hers once ballots cast at the polls were added in. His lead increased gradually as the painstaking hand count continued and was completed for the district’s provisional and other ballots.
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The margin was even smaller in tiny San Simeon, where eight votes made the difference in the community services district race. Challenger Mary Margaret McGuire unseated incumbent Leroy Price.
The vote counts are complete, but still unofficial until the canvass is declared official Thursday, Dec. 8.
According to the counts completed Wednesday, Nov. 23 — more than two weeks after the election — incumbents Amanda Rice and Greg Sanders have kept their posts. Rice garnered the most votes in the race (1,653, or 18.78 percent) and Sanders came in second (1,554, 17.66 percent).
Director-elect Farmer received 1,437 votes (16.33 percent), while incumbent Robinette got 1,404 votes (15.95 percent).
Other candidates were Dewayne Lee (1,184, 13.45 percent), Tom Kirkey (1,052, 11.95 percent), Jeff Walters (373, 4.24 percent) and write-ins, (144 or 1.64 percent). Steve Kniffen ran as a write in.
There are 4,184 registered voters in the district, according to www.slovote.com, and 3,676 of them cast ballots, 2,627 of them using vote-by-mail ballots.
Incumbents Alan Fields and Dan Williams will retain their San Simeon Community Services District Board of Director seats, with 76 and 56 votes respectively (31.28 and 23.05 percent). They'll be joined by director-elect McGuire, who got 59 votes (24.28 percent). Price received 51 votes (20.99 percent).
There are 163 registered voters in the San Simeon district, according to www.slovote.com; 129 of them cast ballots.
The CCSD vote
The Cambria results, which surprised some voters, could be interpreted as sending a mixed message.
Sanders and Robinette had indicated by their previous votes and campaign literature that they’re adamant supporters of the district’s Sustainable Water Facility and the permanent permit that the CSD is seeking for it. They had sought a mandate to continue on that quest.
Farmer, on the other hand, campaigned on respect for the environment, Cambria’s ambiance and Cambrians themselves. In his Oct. 27 statement in The Cambrian, Farmer said most Cambrians supported the project’s previous emergencies-only iteration as a “reasonable, adequate” source of water, but that the “multimillion-dollar Sustainable Water Facility” conversion of the project is “meant to encourage growth.”
And Rice, a self-acknowledged water-policy wonk, often is positioned somewhere in between, supporting the Sustainable Water Facility project for the most part, but often having cast a lone vote on behalf of environmental or fiscal concerns.
Farmer and Rice were both endorsed by the Sierra Club.
I’m not your usual candidate, but there are changes going on.
Harry Farmer, incoming CCSD board member
It remains to be seen whether the election will produce a frequent 3-2 vote pattern now, or whether Rice’s fellow directors will elect her as the CSD’s vice president or president, posts that have eluded her during her four years on the board. That election of officers is to happen at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.
Farmer said in a Nov. 29 phone interview that people who supported him and who have been congratulating him on his election have told him “they wanted somebody on the board who would tell them the truth, someone they could trust. They said, ‘Harry, we know you love this community and the people in the town, and we’re grateful that someone like you will be on the board.’ ”
He acknowledged that “I’m not your usual candidate, but there are changes going on” all across the political spectrum. “The Bernie Sanders energy is out there. People want change in who is in the positions of responsibility.”
Farmer said he knows the district faces a raft of serious issues.
“There are certainly some financial challenges on the horizon that perhaps most Cambrians are not aware of,” and that’s one primary reason why he ran for the office, “to point out the challenges and let people know what’s on the horizon.”
Rice said Nov. 29 that she’s looking forward to working with Farmer on the board.
“I think it will be a good change. Harry works really hard, and he has a good sense of humor,” and she thinks that the tone of the board meetings will change.
Mulling over the CSD election results, Rice said she feels that “it’s not necessarily that people were anti the focus of the board before, but they were saying (with their votes) that there’s a confidence issue.”
Robinette lost by a skinny margin of less than 1 percent, but she said Tuesday, Nov. 29, that she feels the majority of voters are telling the directors to “stay the course” on the Sustainable Water Facility and other key community needs, such as the Fiscalini water storage tank, ongoing wastewater treatment plan upgrades, completing the first phase of the community park, obtaining a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan and continuing to pursue grants.
“We have the momentum,” she said in an email and phone interview. “Clearly the voters have given a strong mandate to stay the course.”
Her opinion is based on mathematics, she said. With each voter allocating their three CCSD votes (although about 20 percent only cast two votes, Robinette said) and with eight candidates in the race, the mathematical “message is clear and positive: Most Cambrians want us to finish what we started.”
Based on social media postings and other comments, Farmer’s supporters were understandably elated by his win, with exclamation marks and congratulatory messages that included the words “awesome,” “yea” and “way to go!”
However, reactions from other political camps ranged from cautiously optimistic to puzzled to concerned. Many seemed willing to take a “wait and see” attitude, saying that all they had to judge Farmer by were statements he made during the campaign, and that they hoped he’d modify some of his stances after navigating the steep learning curve every new director must take, which will include, as one poster noted “a forum in the form of a closed session with counsel.”
We have the momentum. Clearly the voters have given a strong mandate to stay the course.
Gail Robinette, outgoing CCSD board member
Board Vice President Mike Thompson said in a Nov. 28 phone and email interview that he’d congratulated Farmer at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, because, while all the votes hadn’t yet been counted, “it was fairly obvious that he’d won.”
Thompson said, “I’m hopeful that, now that the campaign is over, we can put campaign rhetoric behind us and he can join with the board majority to work toward obtaining the regular coastal permit which will enable the community to utilize the Sustainable Water Facility as is deemed necessary.”
Thompson added that Farmer “ran a really good campaign … with good mail pieces and good ads. Harry’s a likeable person” who should be “a positive, contributing member of the board.”
Greg Sanders, too, said he’s looking forward to working with Farmer.
Voter Brian Griffin said in an email interview the same day that “I hope the board will continue moving forward to provide for our water supply and fire safety.” He said, “After the presidential election many people were dissatisfied and some took to the street to cause violence and destruction. Fortunately we are more civilized here in Cambria. Two of the people I voted for were elected, and one was defeated. Getting two-thirds of the pie is not bad. I don't know much about the newest board member, but I will be watching him closely and, if I like what he is doing, I will let him know. If I don’t, I will also let him know. That actually goes for all board members.”
Robinette concluded by saying “we will stay together and continue to expect the best from the board to ensure we have a secure water supply and a plan for upgrades to keep our community in a proactive position, never a reactive position.”