Four candidates for two seats on the county Board of Supervisors made their cases for election Friday to a business-friendly audience that regularly applauded the candidates’ frequent references to shrinking the size and reach of government.
The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce hosted the candidates during a 90-minute lunch meeting at the City-County Library.
“I think it’s nice to see candidates trying to be aware of the needs of businesses and trying to respond to those,” said Jeff Buckingham, president of Blue Rooster Telecom, a communications company.
In the 5th District, Jim Patterson is running for a third term against Pozo rancher Debbie Arnold, a former aide to Supervisor Mike Ryan and state Sen. Sam Blakeslee. Patterson defeated Arnold in 2008 after defeating Ryan in 2004. The district is centered in and around Atascadero and snakes down the Cuesta Grade to take in parts of San Luis Obispo.
In the 3rd District, Adam Hill is seeking a second term against challenger Ed Waage, a Pismo Beach city councilman. The district encompasses more than half of San Luis Obispo and also includes Grover Beach, Avila Beach and a slice of Arroyo Grande.
The questions and answers at Friday’s event covered fiscal responsibility, government regulation, pension reform and other subjects. For the most part, Patterson and Hill ran on their records, while Waage and Arnold said the incumbents had been ineffective.
Arnold and Waage received frequent applause from some attendees, including members of the North County Tea Party.“I think it was very clear that the two incumbents are for bigger government and more regulation and the challengers are for smaller government and less regulation,” said member Randall Jordan, a San Miguel resident who owns Palomar Homes.
When it comes to considering local implementation of state-generated mandates, “our county never pushes back,” Jordan said. “Our county never says no.”
Patterson and Arnold
Patterson, who made largely the same arguments as Hill, said the current Board of Supervisors has dug the county out of a deep economic trough caused by the recession.
The county has reduced its workforce by 300 without having to lay off anyone, Patterson noted, and the budget is balanced. He and Hill both praised county workers for helping keep it that way.
Such projects as the solar power plants in the Carrizo Plain, the Willow Road interchange in Nipomo and a fire station in Creston have not only helped the respective communities, Patterson said, but have created 1,000 jobs.
Arnold, however, said increased fees, a cumbersome regulatory process and greater regulations have made it more difficult to do business in the county.
She and others zeroed in on the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, whose excessive regulations, she said, “are jeopardizing our food supply.” She said “the concerns of production agriculture have been consistently disregarded” by the board.
Asked about affordable housing, Arnold said developers subsidize it through fees, and she would prefer to see jobs created so that people can work and buy their own homes.
Patterson said affordable housing is supported by public and private money and labor, including contributions from Habitat for Humanity and Peoples’ Self-Help Housing.
Hill and Waage
Like Patterson, Hill said the county is in an enviable position and ahead of the curve on pension reform, with a two-tier system in place that is helping the county save $16 million a year.
Waage, who was elected to the Pismo Beach council in 2008, touted the city’s fiscal stability and efforts to increase revenue for tourism and marketing through the formation of a business improvement district.
However, he said the county board should focus on policies that bring more jobs instead of creating excessive regulations.One example, he said, are requirements on energy retrofits of existing homes that place a burden on people trying to resell their houses. Patterson responded that the retrofits are voluntary.
“We have to be careful about how we do them (mandates) so we can satisfy the state while at the same time not wrecking our local economy,” Waage said.
On affordable housing, Waage declined to criticize subsidies. “It’s tough for people to live in this county,” he said.Hill said such homes are often inhabited by people who work in the county’s ag tourism industry and who do not make enough money to buy their own houses. There is nothing wrong with helping them, he said. “If they’re good enough to work here, they’re good enough to live here.”
In response to a question on rural development, Hill said it’s important for the county to work with cities to accommodate future growth. “It’s important to put the houses where the jobs are,” he said.
Waage said Pismo Beach officials have approved many infill and higher-density developments.
“I certainly don’t want to harm farmland, but there are areas where we can put development in the county. We need to strike a balance.”
The candidates were also asked about how to increase citizen involvement. Hill and Patterson pointed to the county’s advisory councils in various communities.
Arnold suggested some residents are reluctant to make a permanent commitment to sit on an advisory council, adding, “What really needs to happen is supervisors reaching out more to constituents.”
Waage commented that “we need to be more respectful to those who come before the Board of Supervisors.”