In her second try, Pozo rancher Debbie Arnold defeated two-term incumbent San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Jim Patterson in North County on Tuesday, while Adam Hill easily held on to his Central-South County seat in the face of a challenge from Pismo Beach City Councilman Ed Waage.
Patterson conceded late Tuesday that Arnold’s nearly 1,300-vote lead would be too large to overcome.
Arnold, meanwhile, claimed victory, saying she is “so proud of my campaign team that has worked so hard,” and “deeply touched by the incredible showing of support.”
“I look forward to serving the citizens of San Luis Obispo County as the next 5th District supervisor,” she said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Tribune
Arnold’s victory will likely tip the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors to a pro-growth, anti-regulation point of view. Arnold likely will form a ruling triumvirate that already includes supervisors Frank Mecham and Paul Teixeira. Mecham was re-elected without opposition Tuesday.
Hill and North Coast Supervisor Bruce Gibson will find themselves in the minority, but not for seven months. Because there is no November runoff, the current board will remain in power until January.
When the change occurs, however, Arnold’s victory will make Mecham an especially key player in shaping the future of San Luis Obispo County government. Teixeira generally follows the lead of the politically savvy former Paso Robles mayor, and Arnold will be likely to do so as well, at least until she establishes her independence.
Arnold, who outspent Patterson by tens of thousands of dollars, was backed by a coalition of ranchers, farmers, the wine industry and small donors.
Her victory will likely give a stronger voice in county government to anti-environmentalist opponents of regulation such as the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, better known as COLAB.
They have fought, or at a minimum questioned, such regulatory activities as banning plastic bags from grocery stores and curtailing dust pollution on the Nipomo Mesa from the Oceano Dunes.
The election of Arnold could prompt the future board majority to shine a spotlight into the actions and role of some of the county’s ancillary boards involved in those decisions, including the Integrated Waste Management Authority and the Air Pollution Control District.
Arnold has attacked high salaries for county executives, focusing in particular on the director of the Air Pollution Control District.
Arnold’s election will bring dramatic changes to the board, Hill said while watching the results trickle in at his election party in downtown San Luis Obispo.
“Her campaign was very partisan,” he said. “It seemed like she was attacking the board.”
While he is disappointed at Patterson’s loss, Hill said he hopes the new board will express a willingness to work together for the good of the community — even if some decisions anger supporters.
Hill said he’s looking forward to continuing initiatives he’s led, including an economic strategy to attract or retain businesses in the county and an effort to secure land for a new regional homeless services center.
“I’m obviously grateful to the voters for putting their trust in me again,” he said.
The election culminated months of heavy campaigning in which the candidates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, paced by Arnold and her substantial donations from agricultural and wine interests.
The incumbents, Patterson and Hill, sought to run on their records over the past four years.
They said they and their colleagues guided the county safely through the recession, balancing budgets and instituting pension reforms despite the hard times.
While the county work force shrunk by more than 10 percent, nobody was fired or laid off, they noted. Hill and Patterson attributed this to the county’s workers, administration, and leaders of the employee unions, with whom the board has formed a mostly amicable working relationship.
They reached out as well to forge alliances with the business community and are especially proud of the jobs they have created, most notably on the Carrizo Plain, where solar power plants have been approved.
Arnold and Waage, by contrast, said the government was oppressive, promulgating too many regulations, and making it difficult for businesses to function.
They attacked high salaries, such as the $232,000 including benefits paid to the executive director of the Air Pollution Control District, and expenditures they consider unnecessary, such as the hiring of a specialist to deal with childhood obesity.
Each of the races had its individual angles as well. This was the second go-round for Patterson against Arnold. He also defeated her boss, then-Supervisor Mike Ryan, in 2004.
In South County, Waage made an issue out of Hill’s so-called lack of character because Hill stopped a contentious speaker from Los Osos from talking at a meeting.
Hill accused Waage of running a “dirty tricks” campaign, right up to the final day. On Tuesday, a Waage supporter, Kevin P. Rice, sent out automated phone calls to Democrats falsely accusing Hill of opposing Rep. Lois Capps’ re-election to Congress. Capps is a Democrat. Hill supports her.
County supervisor, 3rd district, 100 percent of precincts reporting
Adam Hill, 58.62 percent
Ed Waage, 40.94 percent
County supervisor, 5th district, 100 percent of precincts reporting
Debbie Arnold, 55.66 percent
Jim Patterson, 44.16 percent