It’s no secret that the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has been a divided body for the past few years, with Supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson joining forces on the left, Supervisors Lynn Compton and Debbie Arnold teaming up on the right, and outgoing Supervisor Frank Mecham serving as a swing vote in the middle.
Over the past year, the board has split on some significant — and in many cases controversial — issues, including marijuana, affordable housing fees, a sales tax measure for transportation projects, and the Las Pilitas rock quarry project near Santa Margarita.
Some of those close votes could have had very different outcomes if the candidates now running for the District 1 and District 3 seats in the Nov. 8 election had been on the board at the time. A closer look at how those candidates might have voted on past issues can offer some insight on how the balance of power could shift after Nov. 8.
In District 1, Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin and political consultant John Peschong are running to replace Mecham. In District 3, San Luis Obispo Councilman Dan Carpenter is challenging Hill, the incumbent.
Carpenter, who views himself as a centrist, has been endorsed by Arnold but not Compton, although Compton donated to his campaign.
“Many people have said, ‘Dan is a wild card,’ and I take that as a compliment,” Carpenter said.
Compton and Arnold have endorsed Peschong, a Republican political consultant and former chair of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party and president of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association. Peschong said he would fight for “smaller, more efficient government, lower taxes and more personal freedom.”
Martin said he would play a role similar to Mecham as “the high-pressure swing vote that comes along from time to time to break the tie.”
The candidates have shared their thoughts on issues the Board of Supervisors may consider in the future.
Here is a look at how they might have voted on issues that came before the board during the past year:
In May 2015, the supervisors voted 3-2 to affirm the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the Las Pilitas quarry project, which could have resulted in hundreds of truck trips rumbling through Santa Margarita each day.
Gibson voted with Hill and Mecham to uphold the commission’s denial, while Arnold and Compton dissented.
Carpenter, who cautioned that he has not had time to research the project in-depth, said he probably would have agreed with the majority and voted against the project. But, he said, the project applicants could bring the project back to the county in a different form.
“I can’t tell you what I could do in the future,” he said.
Martin, who noted that “it’s always easy to play Monday morning quarterback,” said he also would have voted against the project because of the heavy traffic and residents’ concerns about it. He said the project would have to come back significantly changed for him to support it.
Peschong said he thinks the project may come back to the county and did not want to state his position.
“I know that Frank was concerned about the roads,” he said, “... I do always think on a lot of these, there is mitigation that needs to be done with traffic and trucks ... but I will be curious to see how many truckloads they’re talking about and routes they’re taking if it does come back up.”
In July, the supervisors voted 3-2, with Gibson and Hill dissenting, to have county staff prepare an urgency ordinance to halt the planting of new medical marijuana grows across the county and to restrict commercial grows in residential zones. When the urgency ordinance came back for approval, it passed 4-1, with Hill dissenting, to ban cultivation by anyone who didn’t have plants in the ground Aug. 23.
“I’m not convinced that we have an emergency,” Hill said at the time.
Carpenter and Martin said they would have supported the urgency ordinance. Peschong said he would have supported an urgency ordinance that dealt directly with the proliferation of marijuana grows in California Valley, because that was the area that posed problems for law enforcement, Sheriff Ian Parkinson has said.
Separately, the supervisors in November 2015 voted 3-2 to reject an application by Ethnobotanica Patients Cooperative to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Nipomo. Hill and Gibson voted in favor of the dispensary.
Carpenter, Martin and Peschong all cited safety concerns as the reason they would have voted against allowing the dispensary in Nipomo.
“San Luis Obispo County has over 100 delivery services for medical marijuana, and I do believe the delivery services do service the people who utilize medical cannabis,” Peschong said.
The Board of Supervisors took several votes on Measure J, the half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects that will be decided by voters Nov. 8. In July, the supervisors voted 3-2, with Arnold and Compton dissenting, to place it on the ballot.
Carpenter said he would have voted against placing it on the ballot, and wants the county to make transportation funding more of a priority. Peschong also would have voted against putting it on the ballot because he doesn’t believe the measure has enough support to clear the two-thirds margin needed for it to pass.
Martin said he would have voted to put the measure before voters. The measure would give the county local control of funding for transportation projects, he said.
“As one of the city’s representatives to SLOCOG,” he said, using an acronym for the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, “I know the situation we’re in in this county with funding, and I know we are locked in a wrestling match with the state of California to get funding back.”
The board last November conducted its annual review of affordable housing fees levied on developers and voted 3-2 — with Gibson and Hill dissenting — to continue to freeze affordable housing fees at the level set in 2008.
Carpenter, Peschong and Martin all said that, had they been on the board, they would have voted along with the majority to keep the fees at the same level.
“It’s a disincentive to builders to build if those fees go up,” Carpenter said. “It adds more onto the cost of housing that they’re building.”
Peschong said he would try to find incentives for builders to build the types of homes that people want and that the community needs. He suggested the county could try a pilot program modeled after a program in Phoenix that expedites plan reviews and permits.
Martin agreed that higher fees might be a disincentive for a developer to build more homes, but argued that any savings a developer would get for lowering fees wouldn’t necessarily be passed on to homebuyers.
“Unless that type of fee is actually tied to some affordability strategy, some form of constrained pricing on housing or agreement that would bring benefits directly back to the county such as agreements to use local labor, I’m in a hard spot to say that’s something the county should aggressively do,” Martin said.
In October 2015, the supervisors voted 3-2, with Arnold and Compton dissenting, to adopt a countywide water conservation program.
The main feature of the program is the requirement that new uses of groundwater in the Paso Robles and Nipomo Mesa areas must be offset by an equal amount of conservation.
Earlier that year, in April 2015, the board had voted 3-2, with Arnold and Compton again in the minority, to send an application to the county Local Agency Formation Commission to form a Paso Robles Basin Water District and to work with LAFCO to hold public hearings on the controversial proposal.
Carpenter said he would have agreed with Arnold and Compton and voted against the water conservation program, and against sending the application to LAFCO. He did not think the conservation program was equitable to all property owners, he said, and he did not think the creation of a water district was fair.
“People have a right to adequate and beneficial use of the water below them, and this is taxing them for using something they have by right,” Carpenter said. “The board had the last decision to move it on, and that would have saved the county a lot of money in my opinion.”
Peschong also said he would have voted against the water conservation program. He also opposed the board’s vote to send an application to LAFCO, but because he has property in the Paso Robles groundwater basin area he isn’t sure he could have voted on it.
Martin said he would have voted for the conservation program because San Luis Obispo County is subject to the state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires basins in critical overdraft to have management plans in place by 2020.
“We’re going to have to take these steps to make sure the aquifers are stable so I think I would have voted for it,” Martin said.
He also would have voted to send an application to LAFCO on the Paso Robles basin water district:
“I supported that district, and I would have supported the action to get it on the ballot.”