The Morro Bay City Council race pits two candidates focusing on fiscal responsibility as a top priority against one pushing for long-term planning as the key order of business.
Three candidates — Nancy Johnson, John Headding and Matt Makowetski — are vying for two seats on the council in the June 3 primary election.
The views of Johnson and Headding align in that they both say the city has spent money excessively in recent years and its finances are in serious jeopardy.
Makowetski hopes to set the tone by helping guide the city through the process of updating the 26-year-old General Plan — its master plan for growth — to improve city infrastructure.
All support building a wastewater plant away from the existing site near the beach. A previous proposal to rebuild the plant onsite met with a California Coastal Commission denial.
Johnson, the incumbent, is seeking to hold her seat for a second term. The other seat was vacated by George Leage, 76, who opted not to run again, wanting to spend more time on his business and with family.
Here’s a closer look at each candidate:
Johnson, 73, a Democrat, is a retired school teacher who owns the preschool and childcare centers Serendipity and Serendipity Too in San Jose. She and her husband, Gerry Johnson, also own and operate a vacation rental in Morro Bay.
Johnson is running on a platform of economic development and fiscal restraint. She also prioritizes keeping police and fire services fully equipped and staffed.
She advocates boosting revenues for the fishing community by opposing restrictive fishing regulations, building a boatyard, and lobbying for buying local fish.
Johnson promotes controlling new sewer treatment plant construction costs, as well.
“While we need the best plant Morro Bay citizens can afford, the important part of this is afford,” Johnson said on her website. “We cannot burden our community with bills we cannot pay.”
“The firing of the city attorney and manager has been the biggest disruption and expense to the city,” Johnson said. “It was a very lengthy process that could have been done in 24 or 48 hours but dragged on for months. It was hard on the community.”
Johnson said she supports Carla Wixom for mayor and Headding for the second council seat.
Echoing some of Johnson’s financial concerns, Headding, a 61-year-old former hospital CEO in the Central Valley and current owner of Morro Bay Drug and Gift, says financial viability is critical for the city.
Morro Bay is dealing with losses of about $800,000 in revenue annually from the closure of the Dynegy power plant and a fishing industry with sinking profits.
“Morro Bay’s economics are dire,” Headding said. “We’re on the verge of being defranchised as a city and reverting to a community services district, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
Headding wants to enhance grant funding for major initiatives, find ways to support local business, boost tourism, and look to outsource some of its services to cut costs.
“Outsourcing is absolutely something we have to look at,” he said. “There may be opportunities in public works. That would be an area that I’d start with.”
After the financial status of the city, Headding considers development of a citywide strategic plan his second highest priority, including updating the 1988 General Plan and the Local Coastal Plan, which hasn’t been amended since 2001.
Other campaign concerns include building a sewage treatment plant at an alternative site as “quickly as possible” to save on projected increased costs over time. Earlier this year, the council voted to build the plant within five years.
Headding, currently the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce’s president-elect, said at a recent forum he’d resign from his chamber role if elected to avoid a conflict of interest.
Headding said he’s undecided on who he likes best for mayor, but supports Johnson for council.
Morro Bay native Makowetski, 46, who has no party preference, brings the perspective of a high school teacher in the Lompoc Unified School District and a Morro Bay fisherman’s son.
Makowetski, who chairs Morro Bay’s Public Works Advisory Board, says “every resident and business owner shares a common desire to improve the general infrastructure of our town.”
“As a fourth generation resident who is involved at all levels in this community, I feel I can help with that,” Makowetski said. “The development of a general plan that addresses the needs of Morro Bay and reconciles our shared vision with fiscal realities will be the first step to enhancing the quality of life for residents.”
Makowetski’s platform includes building the “lowest-cost” sewage treatment plant that minimizes odors and eyesores to the community; seeking grant funding; budgeting two years out instead of one year with a five-year overview; and ensuring geographical balance of street and road repairs.
Makowetski, who backs Jamie Irons for mayor, said he has advocated for geographic fairness in city improvements in his role on the Public Works Advisory Board.
“I requested a revision of the Pavement Management Plan and conducted a public workshop, which resulted in greater geographical balance of streets and roads repaired,” Makowetski said.
Makowetski says a boatyard should be a priority to help bring in revenues from boat parking fees and serve the boating community. He said Avila Beach has taken away business that could go to Morro Bay.