Morro Bay’s City Council race features a competitive field of five candidates vying for two seats.
Betty Winholtz previously served on the council for eight years. The other four candidates — Dawn Addis, Jesse Barron, Jan Goldman and Jeff Heller — are newcomers to Morro Bay government.
Like the mayoral contest, the race could be decided largely based on candidates’ stances on the planned new sewer, along with economic development and the direction of Embarcadero upgrades.
The controversy over the sewage treatment and water reclamation facility has centered around whether the planned project at the intersection of Highway 1 and South Bay Boulevard, expected to cost $128.5 million, is too expensive and located at the right spot.
Meanwhile, providing affordable housing and head-of-household jobs continue to be city concerns.
The Tribune sent each of the candidates a three-question survey asking them about their stances on those issues.
Running for: City Council
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree, Spanish and art education; master’s degree, special education and teaching, San Francisco State.
Prior experience serving as an elected or appointed official, or running: Morro Bay Citizen’s Finance Advisory Committee; Executive board of San Luis Coastal Teachers Association
1) What should be done at the city level to address the crisis-level lack of affordable housing? Housing is one of my five priorities. My goal is to ensure every person is housed with dignity. I am a working parent of school-age children and was raised by a single mother. Attainable housing has always been personal and real to me. The city needs solution-focused leaders. Affordable housing must be elevated as a priority in city goals and policies such as Morro Bay’s new general plan and its housing element. In addition, regional partnerships should be sought to bring in actionable ideas and funding. Finally, the city should approach housing as a strategy to promote health and community well-being.
2) Where are the best avenues for economic growth in Morro Bay? What would you do to pursue them? Our family loves the eclectic character of Morro Bay. The best avenues for economic growth honor Morro Bay’s personality and history, while diversifying the income stream. I will emphasize marine-based businesses and educational centers that promote fishing, and a healthy bay, estuary and beaches. I will look for ways to further support the Chamber of Commerce’s business development zone plans across Morro Bay. In addition, I will promote thoughtful cannabis sector growth. Finally, I will move the Community Choice Energy partnership forward so that Morro Bay can invest in clean power while benefiting financially from the local energy market.
3) What do you see as the other top issue facing Morro Bay and what would you do about it? The top concern I hear when knocking doors and meeting residents is replacing Morro Bay’s sewer plant. Ratepayers approved a rate increase, and now need an on-schedule, lower-cost project. As a working parent, this is important to me. I want local water security, a clean ocean and schools free of sewer smell. I need affordability. We can have both. I will work to stay the course while reducing cost on our new water reclamation facility. My priorities include acquiring low-interest loans and grants, reducing project scope where possible and delivering on-time. Essentially, I will work to get this project right.
Running for: City Council
Occupation: SLO County plans examiner; Morro Bay planning commissioner
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree, public administration, CSU Bakersfield; master’s degree, public administration pending thesis, CSU Bakersfield
Prior experience serving as an elected or appointed official, or running: 2011-2012 Taft planning commissioner, current Morro Bay planning commissioner.
1) What should be done at the city level to address the crisis-level lack of affordable housing? The city should continue to amend its housing element of the general plan, in accordance with the litany of California Legislature bills that are currently addressing the issue on statewide basis. Since Morro Bay is currently in the midst of a general plan update, this is the time to establish policies addressing accessory dwelling Units, and workforce housing, and make it a part of the general plan. I intend to advocate for this in our General Plan update.
2) Where are the best avenues for economic growth in Morro Bay? What would you do to pursue them? Tourism continues to be our best avenue for economic growth, although diversification into renewable energy, and a resurgence of the fishing industry would be ideal; free markets work best, and to pursue these goals, the city must make it attractive to do business here. That means helping businesses set up shop, not over-tax and over-regulate, and do the functions that the city is supposed to do, and do them well. Essentially, do our job, and get out of their way.
3) What do you see as the other top issue facing Morro Bay and what would you do about it? Obviously the Water Reclamation Facility is the major issue of the moment; the city must have a great leader, and good policy makers to push through this initial resistance to the project, and then continue to manage the project professionally and efficiently and be excellent stewards of the public’s funds. That is easy to say and tough to do; I hope to be able to be the one to put my resolve to the test, and do the hard work that the citizens of Morro Bay deserve from their council.
Running for: City Council
Occupation: Retired teacher of disabled Spanish-speaking students, Los Angeles Unified School District; part-time Morro Bay Visitor Center staff member.
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree, social science and psychology, San Jose State; general education credential (grades kindergarten through eighth).
Prior experience serving as an elected or appointed official, or running: Morro Bay Public Works Advisory Board, General Plan Advisory Committee.
1) What should be done at the city level to address the crisis-level lack of affordable housing? Providing affordable housing is another major issue facing Morro Bay. One possible solution would be to simplify the permitting process to make it easier for some existing garages to be converted to small rental units. Construction costs for new homes might be reduced by allowing car ports to be built instead of requiring enclosed one- or two-car garages. Mixed-use buildings could be encouraged in the downtown area. Some larger lots may be allowed to have granny units.
2) Where are the best avenues for economic growth in Morro Bay? What would you do to pursue them? Being a city of primarily hotels and restaurants is not enough to support and maintain our infrastructure and city services. Why can’t we attract higher-paying jobs? What don’t we have to offer? Space? Internet capabilities? These are serious questions to be considered and solved. The current talks with wind power companies should be supported. We have existing transmission lines which give us an advantage over other possible locations. This is one step toward securing economic benefits for the city.
3) What do you see as the other top issue facing Morro Bay and what would you do about it? The (planned) new water reclamation facility and continued progress on the “One Water” plan. The end goal is for the city to be able to meet its own water needs independently of the state. Because of our recent years of warmer weather and threats of droughts, this seems to be the best path into the future.
Running for: City Council
Occupation: Construction management consultant
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree, zoology, Pomona College; MBA, Colorado State University; licensed general contractor.
Prior experience serving as an elected or appointed official, or running: None
1) What should be done at the city level to address the crisis-level lack of affordable housing? The city needs to do a better job of following up on what is represented to the state as affordable housing. If a single-family residence is allowed to have an attached studio unit with separate entrance, is it actually being used as an affordable, long-term rental unit? Or is it actually being used by the property owner as a short-term rental? The city should also establish below-market rent levels for the unit (with annual consumer price index-based increases) and follow up with enforcement. In addition, the city needs to make concessions regarding parking or minimum unit size, or setbacks, building heights, etc., so that construction of real affordable housing will take place. However, ongoing checking of actual rents must be maintained. Lastly, general plan land use designations should dictate where infill, multifamily affordable housing can be constructed.
2) Where are the best avenues for economic growth in Morro Bay? What would you do to pursue them? While long-term economic diversity is a smart goal, Morro Bay first needs to become a “better tourist town” — which will then attract more diverse businesses. The city needs to encourage and support small businesses by reducing fees, expediting permit processing and listening to each business owner about their needs to succeed. The city needs to lead by taking a supporting role, rather than its current adversarial role. The city needs to repair and upgrade aging infrastructure (sidewalks, streets, IT bandwidth, busy traffic intersections, storm drain, sewer, water systems, old piers, docks, etc.), and be kept cleaner. The Embarcadero is filthy most of the time.
3) What do you see as the other top issue facing Morro Bay and what would you do about it? The sewer project. Like the Los Osos model, Morro Bay has struggled for many years and spent millions of dollars on consultants, while trying to figure out how/where/when/what to do about building a new sewer plant. The cost estimates from the city have varied from $167 million about a year ago, down to $128.5 million today. Yet we are told that it is the same project. How can $41 million be cut out of a cost estimate — yet remain the same project? Program managers have been changed. Yet no “owner’s representative” has been hired as recommended by many community members with experience in these things. The Proposition 218 protest vote has failed, or has it? The city has refused to count the last 1,000 protests submitted at the recent public hearing, prompting further polarization of our residents as well as legal rebukes by the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association.
Running for: City Council
Occupation: Self-employed educator.
Educational background: Bachelor’s degree, special studies, Graceland College (Iowa); master’s degreee, council education, University of Iowa.
Prior experience serving as an elected or appointed official, or running: Morro Bay City Council member, 2002-2010.
1) What should be done at the city level to address the crisis-level lack of affordable housing? I have long advocated that zoning should build according to its designation, for example if a lot is zoned R-3 it should be used to build three units, not a single-family residence. Traditionally long-term rentals have/are being converted to vacation rentals. To reduce this loss, limit the number of commercial vacation rentals. Incentivize the building/retaining of apartments versus condos. Preserve mobile home parks from becoming RV parks. There are two remaining large parcels of land in Morro Bay; how can they assist this issue?
2) Where are the best avenues for economic growth in Morro Bay? What would you do to pursue them? There are a number of local entrepreneurs that have “grown their own” business: Sunshine Health Foods, Elemental Herbs, Ruby Dragon, just to name a few, not to mention the many fine local eateries across town. Add to the mix the many traditional and boutique hotels, three grocery chains and many service providers, you’ll see that Morro Bay is a well-rounded town. I see many avenues for economic growth. We pursue them by providing accurate information to facilitate their licensing. It would be a cultural plus for locals and tourists if our community theater could find a larger home.
3) What do you see as the other top issue facing Morro Bay and what would you do about it? The outrageously expensive sewer project proposed to be built outside city limits. It’s almost three miles from its current location, requiring multiple lift (pump) stations, pipes, and disruption of businesses just to get the sewage to the new site. And add in the cost of the extraneous facilities onsite. The incredible financial burden this places on renters and owners alike is unconscionable for a town designated a disadvantage community by the state. I would cancel the location; fix the mainlines; ask the Coastal Commission for a 30-year temporary authorization like Oceano’s while we build up reserves to pay for moving the plant.