Saying they got a clear message from the voters, three newly elected members of the Morro Bay City Council plan to usher in a new era of consensus-building when they are sworn in late this year.
“Everyone is tired of the anger and acrimony we’ve been experiencing in the last couple of years,” said Councilwoman-elect Christine Johnson. “I will find consensus and move forward.”
Johnson, along with incumbent Councilman Noah Smukler and Mayor-elect Jamie Irons, were elected June 5 by margins so large that they eliminated the need for a runoff election in November.
Johnson will replace Councilwoman Carla Borchard, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor. Irons will replace Mayor Bill Yates, who placed third in the election.
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The winners ran a disciplined, on-message campaign, walking precincts and telling voters the three needed to be voted into office as a bloc.
“They outcampaigned us and ran as a ticket,” Yates said. “It was very impressive what they did.”
The victors in the June 5 election, who will be sworn in officially in December, will face the challenge of bridging a long-standing divide between tourism-related and business interests, and environmental and quality-of-life concerns. They say residents should look for several changes in the way the city is managed, including:
More consensus-building and listening to constituents and less factionalism.
A greater emphasis on developing and diversifying the economy while allowing the Chamber of Commerce to focus its attention on tourism promotion.
Working more cooperatively with the Coastal Commission, a powerful state agency that has a say in many of the city’s land-use issues.
However, the new majority on the council will not be sworn in for nearly six months. During that time, the current council will have to make decisions on several issues that will impact Morro Bay for decades to come.
These include a $34 million upgrade to the city’s sewage treatment plant, negotiating with the energy company Dynegy over the fate of the Morro Bay power plant and the budget for fiscal year 2012-13.
“How this council manages those decisions will set the tone for what the next council will be working with and doing,” Smukler said. “It’s important we keep the community’s best interest in mind and not make decisions based on the political shift that may be coming.”
The upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant is Morro Bay’s most immediate concern. Over the objections of Coastal Commission staff, the City Council wants the new treatment plant to be built where the current plant is in order to save money.
The newly elected council members want to work with the commission to look at alternative locations away from the ocean for the treatment plant. The commission is scheduled to decide the issue in August.
“If the Coastal Commission approves the current location, we’ll move ahead with that,” Irons said. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll need to start looking at alternatives.”
Assistant City Editor Antonio A. Prado contributed to this report.