Priorities at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will stay the same for now with the re-election of Supervisor Bruce Gibson, but the long-term character of the board is still up in the air with no clear winner in the hotly contested District 4 race.
Challenger Lynn Compton and Supervisor Caren Ray were the top two vote-getters in the South County race and will face each other in the November general election, which means five more months of campaigning and fundraising for the pair. Less than 400 votes separated the two.
The outcome of Tuesday’s primary election will have important implications for several vexing problems facing the district including water shortages, the Nipomo oil refinery and oil drilling in the Huasna Valley.
“I think all three of us would have liked to have walked away with this election this evening,” Compton said. “I came in with no name recognition and was leading an incumbent all evening so I think my message is resonating.”
Tuesday’s election saw incumbent 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson of Cayucos win a third term, handily defeating challenger Muril Clift of Cambria.
In the District 4 race, Compton garnered 46 percent of the vote while Ray got 43 percent.
Arroyo Grande real estate broker Michael Byrd got 11 percent of the vote. As a result, he was eliminated from the race.
“We gave people an alternative, which is all we really wanted to do,” Byrd said.
Ray and Compton can now shift their focus to reaching out to those who voted for Byrd as well as undecided voters. Because general elections usually attract more voters than primary elections, the race still has undecided voters up for grabs.
Byrd said he will not endorse either of the other candidates. “I really believe that if there was someone I could have endorsed, I would not have run in the first place,” he said.
The seat is considered a swing vote on the Board of Supervisors and voters will have a clear choice Nov. 4. Ray, a Democrat, has received much of her financial support from developers while Compton, a Republican, has strong support from the agricultural community.
Ray was not available for comment Tuesday evening.
Whoever is elected in November will have to deal with several serious challenges facing the county, including managing the crisis in the Paso Robles groundwater basin and an unprecedented drought. The winner of the election will also play a pivotal role in the biggest controversy to face the district in years — plans to install an oil transportation railroad spur at the Phillips 66 refinery on the Nipomo Mesa.
The race is already the most expensive in the district’s history and will get even more expensive over the next five months. As of May 17, the three candidates had raised just over $400,000 in donations.
Tuesday’s election was also a strong endorsement for Gibson’s eight years on the Board of Supervisors as well as his crowning achievement in office — the $183 million Los Osos sewer project, which is nearly half complete. Gibson won 67 percent of the vote while Clift got 33 percent.
“I’m really energized by the support I’ve received from the folks in my district,” Gibson said. “I take it they think I’m doing a good job and I’m looking forward to doing it for another term.”
Clift, who will continue to serve on the board of directors of the Cambria Community Services District, was not available for comment Tuesday evening.