In a pair of very tight races that illustrated the voters’ displeasure with some of the Pismo Beach City Council’s actions, Mayor Shelly Higginbotham was barely hanging onto her seat late Tuesday, and one council member appears to have been voted out of office.
The races were too close to call — so close, in fact, that two council candidates, incumbent Mary Ann Reiss and newcomer Marcia Guthrie, were tied with 24.6 percent of the vote each. Although 100 percent of the city’s five precincts were reporting, there are still mail-in and provisional ballots to be counted.
Council candidate Sheila Blake was leading the race for two seats with 26.7 percent of the vote; Councilman Kris Vardas was trailing at 23.9 percent.
“I don’t count anything until the whole thing is over,” Blake said late Tuesday. “If I am (elected), I will serve, and I’m hoping to have Marcia (Guthrie), too.”
In the mayoral race, Higginbotham garnered 50.2 percent of the vote, with challenger Kevin Kreowski, a business owner who ran for a council seat in 2012, receiving 49.6 percent.
Both Blake and Guthrie said the preliminary results show that voters were feeling unrepresented — especially since they overwhelmingly approved Measure H, which would limit what types of development could take place in Price Canyon, a bucolic area east of Pismo Beach’s city limits.
“I think it’s a glaring mandate for us that there are a lot of people who do not like what has been going on,” Blake said.
Guthrie said that, if elected, she would try to rejuvenate residents to get involved with city government. “It’s very important that the people feel like the council listens to them and thinks their ideas are valid and weighty,” she said.
The stage for Tuesday’s election was set more than a year ago, when the City Council took actions to set guidelines for development in Price Canyon. The council later rescinded its actions and didn’t approve other documents needed for a massive hotel and residential project called Spanish Springs to move forward.
But the proposed development led some residents — including Guthrie and Blake — to form a group, Save Price Canyon, and to gather enough signatures to place Measure H on the ballot. The measure would create a new land use designation for the Price Canyon area to allow dry farming, grazing, parks, trails, schools, public buildings and limited residential development.
Voters gave an even more decisive approval Tuesday to Measure I, which would extend a half-percent sales tax for 12 years, maintaining the 8 percent sales tax rate.
Officials say an extension of the sales tax could raise an additional $13 million to $15 million over the next decade and help fund long-term infrastructure projects such as putting utilities underground, improving parks and constructing new storm drains.
Other issues that the new council will tackle include revitalization of downtown Pismo Beach, street improvements in Shell Beach, and working to secure additional water sources.