More than 300 people attended a debate Friday between District 4 supervisory candidates Caren Ray and Lynn Compton, where the two sparred over a range of topics including taxes, property rights, the urgency ordinance for the Paso Robles groundwater basin and the Oceano Dunes dust rule.
The debate, which was likely the last time the two will face off before the Nov. 4 general election, covered issues facing the county as a whole and in particular the South County district, which includes Arroyo Grande, Nipomo and Oceano.
The event was sponsored by The Tribune and moderated by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, who held the District 4 seat for 12 years before being elected to the state Legislature.
The event attracted a standing-room-only crowd to the South County Regional Center. Ray said it was the best-attended event they have had during the yearlong campaign.
The candidates offer two distinctly differing viewpoints on the role of government in a job that Achadjian described as the most important in the county. As a result, each has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, setting a record for a county supervisory race.
Ray is a Democrat, a teacher and former member of the Arroyo Grande City Council. She was appointed to the county seat a year ago after Supervisor Paul Teixeira died of a heart attack midterm. She is running on a platform of her government experience and her record of bringing balance and vision to the Board of Supervisors.
“I’ve done this all in one year while I’ve been campaigning,” she told the audience. “Imagine how much I can accomplish in four years.”
Compton, a Republican, is co-owner of Valley Farm Supply of Nipomo and is running on a platform of protecting property rights and growing the county’s economy.
“I believe the economy is at stake,” she said. “The past four supervisors of this district have had business experience, and that’s the kind of experience I bring to the table.”
Compton accused Ray of voting in favor of too much government regulation, which she says hurts small-business owners and economic growth. Ray said she has adopted a balanced approach to government regulation that is intended to prevent the county from becoming overdeveloped like Bakersfield.
The candidates addressed one of the most contentious issues between them: Ray’s stance on property rights and taxes. The issue stems from a vote the Board of Supervisors took in February on its legislative platform, which is a list of issues supervisors want the state Legislature to address.
The board supported a decrease in the threshold needed to increase sales taxes from its current two-thirds voter approval to 55 percent. In mailers and campaign ads, Compton said that Ray’s vote in favor of the platform weakened Proposition 13, a 1978 ballot initiative that limited the ability of state lawmakers to raise property taxes.
“No matter how you try to spin it, that is a direct hit on Prop. 13,” Compton said.
Ray called Compton’s charges a red herring because only the state Legislature and not county supervisors can change Proposition 13.
Lowering the voter threshold to raise the sales tax would be a way for the county to increase revenue for much-needed purposes such as rebuilding crumbling roads, she said.
“It is a way for us to protect property owners in an individual way,” Ray said. “The county has been asking for this for 10 years.”
The two also disagreed over the Paso Robles groundwater basin emergency ordinance, which county supervisors passed a year ago to prohibit any new development and agricultural planting in the basin for two years unless it is offset by an equal amount of water conservation. It was the first crucial vote Ray cast on the board.
Ray said the ordinance was the supervisors’ attempt to “hit the pause button” on new drilling in the basin until a more permanent solution to the groundwater crisis can be found. She supports the formation of a locally controlled water management district for the basin.
“It’s the wild, wild West right now,” she said.
Compton disagreed, saying there is only anecdotal evidence of wells going dry in the basin. The ordinance has failed to accomplish anything and has hurt property values in the basin, she said.
The opinions of the candidates concerning the Oceano Dunes dust rule were more nuanced. The rule adopted by the county Air Pollution Control District requires the State Parks Department to reduce the amount of dust blowing onto the Nipomo Mesa from Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.
Both candidates agreed that the rule is very controversial.
Ray said she supports the rule.
“It is important to recognize that the rule does not hurt riding in the recreation area,” Ray said.
Compton did not say whether she supports the rule but noted that it is the law and that supervisors are required to uphold existing law.
The debate was not all disagreement. The candidates agreed that they need more information before they can make decisions about the controversial rail spur project for oil deliveries to the Phillips 66 refinery on the Nipomo Mesa and the proposal to drill for oil in the Huasna Valley east of Arroyo Grande.
They also agreed on the need to increase services for the chronically homeless, support public art projects and preserve the advisory councils in the district.