Los Osos man who sued CSD over election error dies of brain cancer

Stephen Best, a Los Osos community activist, died Saturday at home after a battle with brain cancer.
Stephen Best, a Los Osos community activist, died Saturday at home after a battle with brain cancer.

A Los Osos resident of 20 years known for speaking his mind about community issues — who had a pending lawsuit over an error in last November’s Community Services District election — has died at 68 after a battle with cancer.

Stephen Best’s wife of about 40 years, Christine Ahern, said he was diagnosed with a late-stage brain cancer about a month ago, and the disease progressed quickly. Best died at home about 5 p.m. Saturday.

“It was very peaceful,” Ahern said. “I held his face in my hand and watched him take his last breath. It was very profound. To see him at such peace was a good thing.”

Best’s passions were water conservation, community dog parks, and he had a vision for adding hiking and biking trails in the community so school children especially wouldn’t have to use heavily trafficked roads to get around town, Ahern said.

“Steve felt very passionately about the community,” Ahern said. “He wanted to make it happy and healthy. He loved being here.”

She said he was “tenacious” about his feelings about how to improve the community, regularly attending district meetings while staying active on the online community chat forum Next Door; he was “never afraid to speak his mind.”

Best, who had a career in construction and owned a business installing green heating and air conditioning, ran unsuccessfully for Los Osos Community Services District twice.

Best’s latest CSD campaign resulted in a lawsuit against the district and county Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong, among other elected officials. The lawsuit contested an error in which the seat of director Christine Womack was set for a two-year term when it should have been a four-year term, according to the district’s election cycle.

Womack ran unopposed for a two-year seat, while Best narrowly lost out on one of two seats for a four-year term. Best garnered 27.6 percent of the vote; second-place finisher Matthew Fourcroy received 28.3 percent. Ahern recalled her husband campaigning “very hard.”

Gong later admitted his office had made a clerical mistake. Given the option of trying to pursue a special election, the district’s board voted earlier this month to allow Womack to retain her seat until the 2020 election, when three seats, including Womack’s, will be up for four-year terms.

Best’s lawsuit claimed he was deprived of a fair chance to win a seat on the board because Womack’s name didn’t appear on the ballot and she wasn’t required to campaign. Ahern said the lawsuit that Best filed will be dropped because “I just don’t have the energy, and I don’t see much point in it now.”

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong talks about the process of counting ballots on June 6, 2018, the day after the California Primary. Thousands of ballots remain after Election Day in SLO County.

The board is also looking for a successor for the district’s contract legal counsel Roy A. Hanley, who has announced his resignation pending the district finding a replacement, saying in a statement it’s the right time to step away. Hanley is nearing retirement and has begun the process of “winding down my practice with other clients.”

Best was born in California, grew up mostly in Ohio and moved back to California in his 20s; the couple moved to Los Osos from Malibu, Ahern said.

A celebration of Best’s life is anticipated to take place the first weekend of March, possibility at the South Bay Community Center on Sunday, March 3, Ahern said.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.