The candidates for 3rd District county supervisor met at a public forum Wednesday night to debate major issues facing the district, such as how they would encourage more affordable and workforce housing in a county with a shortage of both.
Not surprisingly, the issue of civility on the dais also came up in a race that has been characterized by animosity among the candidates — most notably between incumbent Adam Hill and challenger Dan Carpenter.
The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County and The Latino Outreach Council at the Board of Supervisors chambers in San Luis Obispo. All three candidates — Hill, Carpenter and Debbie Peterson — all attended.
The forum comes as the June 7 primary looms and the three candidates compete to be among the top two vote-getters in that election and move on to the Nov. 8 general election.
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Carpenter, a San Luis Obispo city councilman, has been outspoken about his dislike for Hill and what he calls “bullying” behavior on the dais. Wednesday night’s forum was no exception.
“I think civility is important, and it comes based on the makeup of the people sitting up here, and I think the gentleman to my left here has been a big source of the problem,” Carpenter said near the end of the forum, during a question regarding civility on the board. “Simply by me getting elected, that would pull the civility back.”
Hill shot back at Carpenter’s claims during his own closing comments.
“Well, just in response to Dan, I would ask you to look at his record on the City Council, and see how little credibility he has to be a critic of someone else’s behavior,” Hill said. “His history of doing nothing but yell at people is well documented.”
Though tension rose at the end of the forum, the majority of the night was markedly civil.
The candidates addressed a range of topics throughout the two-hour forum, from ensuring the county’s economic vitality to better representing women and diverse populations at the county level.
One of the biggest topics of discussion, however, was growth and housing: several questions from the audience focused on what the candidates would do to ensure more affordable housing in the county, and where they stand on workforce housing issues in light of the April fire in Nipomo that destroyed homes meant to house up to 112 farmworkers. Fire investigators have called the blaze “suspicious.”
To call anything in this county affordable is probably not accurate, but we can make it less unaffordable.
Debbie Peterson, District 3 supervisor candidate
Both Peterson and Carpenter said they would like to see more incentives for developers to encourage building in the county, while Hill said it was more about “political will.”
“If we don’t make a case for new housing, then we will not be able to keep these young professionals here,” Hill said. “And we will be what people fear we will be, which is a high-end retirement community.”
Peterson, a real estate broker, said she would like to see more communication between the building community and the government.
“One of the things I’ve seen done successfully in other places is to make sure that we have the infrastructure in place first,” she said. “That’s a big help to developers. It helps save them some money, and it allows them to pass on those savings and create housing that is less unaffordable, because to call anything in this county affordable is probably not accurate. But we can make it less unaffordable.”
Carpenter pointed to his experiences on the San Luis Obispo City Council, including the council’s recent work with the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo to partially fund veteran housing in the city, as examples of how incentivizing can help provide more affordable housing and workforce housing options.
When asked how he would improve the environment for farmworker housing in the county, especially in light of the Nipomo fire, Carpenter said he would look into the land-use policies that make it difficult for farmers to build housing for workers on their properties.
“But that’s a zoning issue, and it takes leadership from your elected leaders to do that,” he said. “But I think ultimately that is the right place. We also want to make sure we integrate all of our residents into the community — I don’t want to start the segregation of putting them in one area.”
Peterson also said she thought helping to remove those barriers to putting houses on farms would solve some of the problems.
Hill said that though housing is one part of it, he felt the tension between residents and farmworkers would not be solved without more open discussion.
“I wish we could banish this kind of intolerance and irrationality from people’s minds and hearts, but obviously we are seeing it in the country,” he said. “If we don’t speak up more as a community and have conversations about these things, then we are going to see people continue to feel unwelcome here.”
For more on the candidates’ stances on issues facing the district, check out a video of the forum on The Tribune’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SLOTribune.