For the past seven years, Bruce Gibson has been a dominant force on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
Armed with a keen intellect and an encyclopedic knowledge of government, Gibson has played a key leadership role in dealing with many of the important issues facing the county including dealing with the crisis in the Paso Robles groundwater basin and stabilizing the county budget.
“I believe I have a vision for this county to make it a better place to live,” Gibson said. “I love this county and enjoy this job.”
But Gibson has also earned his share of critics. They say he does not listen to the public and approaches issues with his mind made up.
On June 3, Gibson’s constituents will decide whether to keep him as supervisor representing District 2 for another four years or replace him with Muril Clift, 71, a retired insurance agent and Cambria Community Services District director. Gibson, 61, a Cayucos citrus grower, and Clift are the only two candidates for the office, so the election will be decided on June 3.
The highly scenic district stretches from Los Osos north to the Monterey County line. Clift says he is challenging Gibson for his supervisor’s seat in an attempt to bring a more open and inclusive style of government to the board.
“We need to bring everyone together and map out what are our concerns over the next 10 years and how we can deal with them,” he said. “I want to bring ‘we’ into the government, rather than Bruce saying, ‘I have the answer and this is what it is.’”
With that in mind, Clift said one of his first priorities would be to bring all the elected officials of the district together and begin discussing ways to find solutions to infrastructure problems such as sewer and water.
“Cooperation and coordination will be essential to the solutions,” he added.
Gibson denies that he does not listen to his constituents. He points to the fact that he attends all the advisory council meetings in his district and regularly holds office hours where people can come and talk to him about their concerns.
“That’s an easy charge to level at me, but I don’t see any evidence of that,” Gibson said. “I am very open to talking to people and solving problems.”
He also said he has worked cooperatively with the public and other agencies to get things done. He cited his success in bringing a new library to Cambria and working to fix Caltrans chip-seal problems on Highway 1.
The two candidates, both Democrats, agree on many of the issues facing the district. They agree that chronic water shortages are the main crisis facing the district and both support exploring desalination as a long-term solution.
Clift is not critical of Gibson’s signature achievement in office, the Los Osos sewer project. After 30 years of delays, construction of the $173 million project is nearly half complete.
Both opposed the opening of a McDonalds restaurant in Los Osos but for different reasons. Gibson said the drive-through aspect of the project conflicted with the principles of a walkable community, while Clift opposed it for water and traffic reasons.
Clift’s differences with Gibson are mostly philosophical. Gibson’s policies have stifled growth in the district, Clift said, and the result is that Cambria and Cayucos are becoming enclaves for wealthy retirees only.
“Bruce is talking about a philosophy rather than the reality of what is going on here,” Clift said. “If we don’t start solving these problems, we are going to have more Carmels and Montereys along the coast here.”
Gibson rejects this argument. Growth on the North Coast has been restricted because of a lack of water and other infrastructure that supports growth, not his policies, he said.
On the contrary, Gibson said he is working to bring more water sources to the North Coast and has worked with People’s Self-Help Housing to bring affordable apartments to Cambria.
“The overwhelming number of those things that could get done have gotten done,” Gibson said.