Bluegrass music played as some North County residents started gathering at Atacadero’s Sunken Gardens on Wednesday, several carrying homemade signs reading “Eric listens,” “A Time for Change,” and “A-Town (hearts) Eric.”
After greeting supporters, Pozo organic farmer Eric Michielssen took the microphone to announce the official start of his bid to unseat incumbent 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold in the June 2016 primary.
“We need a supervisor who represents the best interests of the whole community,” Michielssen said, “who listens to the facts, reviews the recommendations of staff, and listens to the people.”Michielssen, who first confirmed his intention to run about two weeks ago, spoke to more than 100 supporters in front of Atascadero City Hall — the same location where Arnold kicked off her campaign Tuesday.
“I think people need to be represented, not just special interest groups,” said Parkhill Road resident Eric Booker, one of Michielssen’s supporters.
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The district includes Atascadero, California Valley, Creston, Garden Farms and Santa Margarita, as well as portions of Cal Poly, Pozo, San Luis Obispo and Templeton.
Already, Michielssen has differentiated himself from Arnold on a few key issues: He supports allowing landowners to vote on whether they want to form a new Paso Robles groundwater management district.
In April, the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2, with Arnold casting one of the votes in opposition, to send an application to the county Local Agency Formation Commission to form a Paso Robles Basin Water District. Landowners would have the final say on whether to form the district.
He also opposed the Las Pilitas quarry project three miles northeast of Santa Margarita. The supervisors denied that project 3-2, with Arnold dissenting.
In addition, Michielssen has concerns about a project at a Nipomo Mesa refinery that would allow it to receive crude oil by rail. He said he still needs to review the plan further, but added: “Right now it’s a scary project.”
Arnold said Wednesday that she’s still researching the rail project.
While the race is nonpartisan, Arnold is a registered Republican and Michielssen is a Democrat (although he said he was registered Republican until 1992). Michielssen taught special education for five years and later owned several real estate companies. He recently retired after 17 years with People’s Self-Help Housing.
“I couldn’t sit in my rocking chair while knowing our quality of life is threatened,” he said.