Ask the three candidates running for supervisor in the District 4 race what the most pressing issue facing the South County is, and you will get three different answers.
For appointed incumbent Caren Ray, it’s the rail spur project at the Phillips 66 refinery on the Nipomo Mesa, because it has generated a lot of concerns in the district and has regional implications.
For Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton, it’s creating jobs and protecting property rights.
For Arroyo Grande real estate broker Mike Byrd, water — or the scarcity of it — is the challenge that affects all other issues in the district.
That’s one of several issues about which the candidates have varying opinions, giving voters in the June 3 primary election three distinct choices. If no candidate wins a clear majority of the June vote, the top two vote-getters would face off in the Nov. 4 general election.
Ray, 45, is a Democrat, a high school teacher and a former Arroyo Grande city councilwoman. She was appointed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve out the term of Supervisor Paul Teixeira, who died of a heart attack in June.
She is running on her experience in government and her efforts to bring consensus and civility to the Board of Supervisors. In the six months she has been on the board, she has cast several crucial votes, including one to approve an emergency ordinance banning new pumping in the Paso Robles groundwater basin.
“I do believe the county is going in the right direction,” she said. “We have weathered the recession and have a board that is being very fiscally conservative as we move forward.”
Compton, 50, is a Republican and co-owner of Valley Farm Supply. She is running on a platform of creating jobs in the South County and reducing the burden of government on businesses.
“It’s hard to do business in this county,” she said. “I think things that are being implemented right now by the Board of Supervisors hurt business and hurt jobs. Every time you implement a new fee, you’re affecting a small business.”
Byrd, 62, is a Democrat and broker at the real estate business SLO Home Store. He is running on a platform of bringing independence and nonpartisan balance to the Board of Supervisors.
He promises to govern in the independent tradition of Teixeira and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, who held the seat before Teixeira. He promises to “make critical county decisions based on facts and the needs of our people, not based on partisan political agendas.”
Although only Byrd cited water as the most important challenge facing the district, all three agree that chronic water shortages and the drought are issues that will affect the Board of Supervisors for years to come.
“I don’t put water as the greatest challenge facing the district because the Santa Maria basin is in adjudication and there’s very little the county can do to affect that other than working with purveyors to find supplemental sources,” Ray said.
Byrd said water is his most important issue because it affects issues like development in all parts of the district.
“In the past, we’ve had developments approved that were based on outside water sources like state water that did not deliver any water this year,” he said. “We need to be more realistic about what water we do have and what it costs.”
Compton is critical of how the county has dealt with the water issue, because she said it has failed to find long-term solutions. She thinks the emergency ordinance in the Paso Robles basin was rushed through and trampled property rights.
“Private property rights are foremost in my mind,” she said. “They are a kind of prism that I look through everything with. I think it is a shame that in 20 years, we have not dealt with the infrastructure needed to deliver water and keep up with development.”
Another important issue for the district is the Oceano Dunes dust rule that has prompted State Parks to spend $1 million this year to curb dust blowing from the Oceano Dunes riding area onto the Nipomo Mesa.
Ray and Byrd support the Oceano Dunes dust rule, but Compton said there are other sources of dust on the Nipomo Mesa and is afraid that the dust issue will be used to close the off-road riding area.
“I think it is a colossal waste of money for millions of dollars to go back and forth between agencies,” she said.
All agree that it was a mistake to allow trees that acted as windbreaks to be cut down as part of several housing development projects on the Mesa.