Businesswoman Stacy Korsgaden sees herself as a problem solver.
She has a countywide plan to address homelessness, she wants to keep the Oceano Dunes open, and she thinks she can oust incumbent Adam Hill and win a seat on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors in the March 2020 election.
An insurance agent in Grover Beach, Korsgaden is a political newcomer with leadership experience chairing nonprofit boards such as the Boys and Girls Club of South San Luis Obispo County and the South County Chambers of Commerce.
“I have served our community in the private sector for over 30 years, guided by the principles of integrity, positive leadership, and community,” Korsgaden said in her official campaign announcement Sept. 16. “I’m running for supervisor to bring those principles to local governance, improving the quality of life for all of San Luis Obispo County’s residents and visitors.”
It might be a difficult feat for a registered Republican challenging a left-leaning incumbent in a Democratic district, which includes coastal communities from Avila Beach to Pismo Beach to Grover Beach, Edna Valley and a large portion of San Luis Obispo.
While positions on the Board of Supervisors are technically nonpartisan, the political leanings of board members are clear in votes and alliances and by the stark line of division expressed on the dais.
Hill is seeking his fourth term, but he may not be safe in his seat. His at-times volatile personality has increasingly gained public criticism, and a network of critics have been chomping at the bit to bump him off the board.
Korsgaden thinks she’s the one to do it.
And she’s not shying away from criticizing Hill.
“I’m very moderate in the things that I do. I have a track record and a history of listening to people’s concerns and finding solutions,” Korsgaden told The Tribune Sept. 20.
“Adam Hill has a documented history of serving clientele in a poor fashion,” she said. “If you disagree with him, he will squash you. If you disagree with him, he will shun you. If you disagree with him, you will be punished.”
“I’d love to be part of the solution,” Korsgaden said.
Who is challenger Stacy Korsgaden?
Korsgaden said she decided to run for office after attending a July meeting of the California Coastal Commission, when hundreds of people commented on a recommendation to phase out off-highway vehicle use at Oceano Dunes Vehicular Recreation Area.
“I just felt that people were not getting heard,” she said. “I was so moved by the fact that I wasn’t being heard — hundreds of people weren’t being heard — on both sides of the issue.”
Korsgaden was concerned “that (commission staff) were willing to close down the economic engine for the South County,” when local businesses rely on tourists who visit the beach for a large portion of their revenues. She wants to see the park maintained for safety and to benefit the people of Oceano.
“My goal would be to keep the park viable ... and also protect our citizens in District 4,” she said, a reference to residents on the Nipomo Mesa who experience poor air quality downwind of the park.
Korsgaden has a plan that she thinks would make San Luis Obispo County a national leader on addressing the growing number of residents who are homeless.
Hill has spoken passionately about homelessness for years — promoting a housing-first approach and pushing for a homeless shelter in the South County. This week, he’s at a regional meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Homelessness, representing San Luis Obispo County and advocating for state funding to be directed locally.
Korsgaden is critical of what Hill has accomplished in his 12 years on the job, saying that “a lot of money has gone to solve the problem,” while the number of homeless people in the county has increased. (Homelessness has increased in jurisdictions across the state.)
“Why are people sleeping in parks? Why are they sleeping under bridges? My feeling is we can do a lot better than that,” she said.
Her idea would require a public-private partnership to create places that are similar to RV parks, where people can stay in vehicles in a safe location and have access to bathrooms, showers and other services. These “call of duty,” or, COD, parks would be located in the North County, South County and San Luis Obispo.
Once San Luis Obispo County has provided a place for homeless people to go, the county could then develop an ordinance that people could no longer sleep in public places, Korsgaden said.
“There would need to be collaboration,” she said, adding that Adam Hill “has a track record of not working well with other people. There is a public record of vindictiveness.”
“Because I’ve been in business for 30 years, I see myself as a problem solver,” she said. “I can work with people with all different stripes to solve this problem.”
A ‘fourth Trump Republican?’
In response to Korsgaden’s candidacy, Hill told New Times reporter Peter Johnson that there is “no time for novices, certainly no time for a fourth Trump Republican on our Board of Supervisors.”
“These days, if you’re a Republican running for office and you haven’t renounced Trumpism, it must be assumed you’re a supporter,” Hill told The Tribune when asked why he made that assessment.
Korsgaden said she is fiscally conservative and a lifelong Republican. She’s also a gay woman who “never understood the Republican take on social issues,” she said.
Korsgaden called Hill’s accusation predictable and turned the Trump association back at him.
“When I saw that, I thought it is so telling,” Korsgaden said. “Because what is it about Trump that has so many people upset? It’s tone. If you’re unhappy with the tone nationally, why would you be happy with it locally, Democrat or Republican?”
“I feel that the tone coming from Adam Hill is unacceptable,” she said.
Hill has addressed his behavior in the past, at times attributing it to passion. He’s also said publicly that he was working to make improvements.
“I’ve lost my cool on occasion,” Hill told The Tribune. “Sometimes losing your cool happens in the face of moral outrage. I’m sorry to have offended some folks, but I’ll never apologize for being a fierce advocate for the poor, the homeless, those with mental health challenges and every single resident of my district and my county, even those who don’t vote for me.”
Would she challenge a board majority?
Hill’s voting record could keep him on the dais.
He voted against the Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project, in support of more welcoming regulations for cannabis businesses and has advocated for the county Air Pollution Control District to enforce clean air rules on the Oceano Dunes.
Recent voter registration records show 39% of voters in District 3 are registered Democrats, compared to 29% registered as Republican and about a quarter registered with no party preference.
Many voters see Hill’s presence on the board as important to challenge the conservative majority. And Hill’s jab at Korsgaden wasn’t just about aligning her with Trump; it also attempted to group her in with the three conservatives on the board.
Korsgaden rejected that implication.
As supervisor, she said, “I can tell you with confidence that I’m going to be independent of any organization, any party. I look at a situation and I make the decision that I think is going to represent District 3, and the county as a whole.”
Supervisor focuses on post-Diablo Canyon economy
Hill never officially announced that he would seek a fourth term in office. And there were questions if he would run given his frustrations and the time spent away from the position to manage his health.
Despite his difficulties on the board, Hill is running again, he said, because “I truly enjoy the job” and he has the experience to make decisions that will impact the community for the next 50 years.
“I can’t think of a better way of fighting for the underdog, for the people of my district and the county, than public service,” he said.
“But more to the point on substantive issues, the most important issue in the district and in the county, is without a doubt the future of Diablo Canyon power plant,” Hill said.
“What happens when the plant closes, and how it happens, and the decisions we make about the lands — more than anything, this is why I’m seeking another term,” he said. “I bring the necessary experience, history, relationships with state and federal leaders, and a keen understanding of the complex set of issues relating to Diablo.”
Korsgaden agreed that preparing for the nuclear power plant’s closure is “a key issue,” but said what’s just as important to people in District 3 is “keeping open the Oceano Dunes.”
“If that goes away, it would be a huge impact. That is an equal concern,” she said.
While Hill has called Korsgaden a novice and underscored his own experience, she said she’s not worried.
“I’m a student of whatever I do,” she said.
Korsgaden said she’s successful in business because she “became an expert and surrounded myself with successful people who know what they are doing. I’d like to transfer that to public service.”