Politics & Government

Headding awaits final vote count on Morro Bay council seat

Morro Bay City Council member John Headding has announced his intent to run for mayor in the November 2018.
Morro Bay City Council member John Headding has announced his intent to run for mayor in the November 2018. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

John Headding did some calculations the day after Tuesday’s primary and figured he needs 426 more votes to win a seat on the Morro Bay City Council and avoid going to a Nov. 4 runoff. He may find out as soon as Thursday if he’s got those votes.

On Tuesday, Headding won 49.86 percent of the vote, falling just short of the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff with incumbent Nancy Johnson, who got 35.99 percent.

Beginning at 1 p.m. Thursday, county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald will begin counting mail-in ballots countywide that have not yet been tallied, including 731 from Morro Bay. Provisional ballots, including 91 from Morro Bay, and a small number of non-processed ballots will be counted next week.

Rodewald said she wasn’t sure when her office would know if Headding has secured the seat or not, but he said he was guardedly optimistic he will win.

“It’s possible to get that,” he said, “but it really depends on where the votes came from and if one of the other candidates is far ahead with this group of voters.”

On Tuesday, Mayor Jamie Irons easily won re-election with 56.7 percent of the vote over challenger Carla Wixom’s 42.8 percent.

Council candidate Matt Makowetski handily secured one of the two open seats on the council by winning 60.8 percent.

In all seven precincts in Morro Bay, Makowetski was the highest vote-getter, followed by Headding, with Johnson coming in third in both in mail-in ballots and in-person voting. Whether that pattern will hold up in the final ballot counting remains to be seen.

Still, Headding, the president-elect of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce and a former Central Valley hospital CEO, is looking ahead.

He said, if he’s elected, he plans to assess every decision he makes based on the potential return on investment for the city because he believes Morro Bay is in a “dire” financial bind.

His ideas include filling economic gaps (such as more affordable housing and a shoe store for Morro Bay); marketing to tourists with more disposable income to drive sales and bed taxes; ensuring that enterprise funds such as water, sewer, harbor and transit are self-supporting; and looking to outsource some city services.

“We have to strengthen the overall balance sheet and financial status of Morro Bay,” Headding said. “Every decision has to be filtered through impact on the economy for Morro Bay and return on investment.”

A day after his re-election, Irons also was looking ahead. Irons disagreed that the city is in financial straits but said improving finances and business vitality is important.

The city faces some tough decisions, however, and the council will be seeking public input on solutions, he said.

Irons said water rates will need to rise because they no longer cover the city’s debt responsibilities to pay for its water supply.

The permit for the city’s desalination plant also has lapsed, he noted, a mistake the current council is working to fix.

He noted that the council also has faced some criticisms for issuing a request for proposals for a new operator at the waterfront Morro Bay Aquarium, rather than renewing a lease with the Tyler family that operated it for 50 years.

The Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach has signaled its interest in partnering with others to revamp the aging Morro Bay facility. Irons said the city should seize that opportunity because the offer may not be there in 10 years if the Tylers renew their lease.

“Tough decisions have to be made,” Irons said. “We can’t get so emotionally attached that we’re not moving the city forward. We have to work through things and part of that is saying we’re not going to get so upset with a past decision we can’t work together for what’s best for Morro Bay.”