2nd District race goes well beyond sewer

The 2nd District includes far more than Los Osos, and whoever occupies the supervisor’s seat next January will have considerably more to deal with than the Los Osos sewer.

Yet the sewer and all its history and ramifications hang over the North Coast contest like a miasma over Morro Rock.

Attorney Marshall Ochylski, who is challenging incumbent Bruce Gibson, entered the race largely because he is critical of the way Gibson and his fellow supervisors have handled the long-stewing sewer problem.

“I am not satisfied” with the progress that has been made in bringing a sewage treatment plant to the coastal community, Ochylski, 61, wrote in response to a Tribune questionnaire.

He faults Gibson for allegedly allowing the state Coastal Commission to assert control over the project. He also criticizes the incumbent for not building consensus in the Los Osos community and for “lack of transparency.”

The county “should immediately reach out to all interested parties … to reach consensus (and) eliminate much of the mistrust,” he wrote.

Gibson, 57, flatly denies these assertions, and when he speaks of the sewer it seems as though he and Ochylski are talking about different things.

Gibson talks about the county’s “well-crafted approach” producing “remarkable progress.” He says there has been full public review that included town-hall meetings, community questionnaires, mailings and overwhelming public participation, including 1,000 public comments.

Beyond the sewer

The 2nd District extends up the North Coast to the Monterey County line and includes the city of Morro Bay as well as part of San Luis Obispo and the communities of Cambria and Cayucos.

Besides the Los Osos sewer, the supervisors will decide on many countywide issues and problems.

There is one key difference between the two candidates: experience. Gibson has been dealing with county struggles for four years.

Last year, when Gibson was chairman of the board, he navigated it through a long and sometimes bitter dispute over management, after which the top two administrative officials were fired.

In addition, Gibson has been on the board as it works its way through the third year of what county officials call a “Five-Year Pain Plan.” The county has faced multimillion-dollar budget deficits, including a projected $19 million deficit for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and a reduction in staff of 13 percent.

Aside from experience and the Los Osos sewer, the two men’s views are, generally, similar.

On crime, for example, both men see youth gangs as a problem.

They agree that the county should fight gangs by working with parents and the community and seek to prevent youngsters from joining gangs in the first place or, if they have been paroled, from re-offending.

Both said the supervisors and the sheriff should work together, and Gibson said the board already is moving in that direction. This would be in contrast to the icy relationship the supervisors have had at times with current Sheriff Pat Hedges over issues such as staffing and the budget. Hedges will be retiring at the end of the year; six men are running in the June primary to replace him.

Other issues

Both candidates support a two-tiered pension system, under which new hires would not receive the benefits given to current employees. Gibson said he and other supervisors have been working with employee associations to pick up a greater share of the pension contribution.

Ochylski said the county needs to entice green businesses to the county.

Both candidates consider public safety the highest budget priority.

Ochylski and Gibson both are concerned about a study that showed that particulate matter blown onto the Nipomo Mesa from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area creates a health hazard.

Neither man denigrated the study, as some South County supervisor candidates have done. Gibson said it “conclusively shows that motorized activities on the Dunes contribute to elevated particulate levels.”

Gibson and Ochylski said there may be ways to at least partially fix the problem short of an outright ban on all-terrain vehicles. But Ochylski was less sanguine about an off-road vehicle ban, which he said would create “a significant short-term negative economic impact.”

Gibson was more optimistic about the long-term future of the area, even without off-roaders. He called the Dunes “an incomparable natural landmark,” adding that “eco-tourism could provide a significant economic base.”