Arnold, Michielssen square off in District 5 supervisor race

Debbie Arnold, incumbent for District 5 SLO County Board of Supervisors
Debbie Arnold, incumbent for District 5 SLO County Board of Supervisors dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It’s make-or-break time in the District 5 San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors race.

On June 7, voters in the district that includes a large portion of the North County will decide whether Supervisor Debbie Arnold will get a second four-year term or if challenger Eric Michielssen will replace her. Because there are only two candidates running for the seat, one or the other will get more than 50 percent of the vote in the June primary election. That means the race will not go to the general election in November.

One sign that the race is approaching the finish line is that both campaigns are complaining that their signs are being stolen. Some sign-stealing is common during campaigns, but in this race the problem seems particularly bad. The Michielssen campaign said that homes in the neighborhoods of Garden Farms, Margarita Farms and parts of Santa Margarita had nearly all of their signs stolen May 6. They estimate that about 50 signs were stolen, valued at about $3 each.

“The thieves were successful in stealing cases of signs, creating a substantial financial loss for the grass-roots campaign,” the campaign said in a news release. “The campaign has filed a report with law enforcement, and they encourage neighbors to look out for one another.”

Arnold said her campaign office has fielded numerous requests for new signs to replace ones that have been stolen. She did not have an estimate of the number of signs stolen.

“It’s always disappointing when a person’s ability to display support for a candidate on their own property is violated,” she said.

Both Arnold and Michielssen are from Pozo. Michielssen is an organic farmer while Arnold is a rancher and vintner.

But that’s pretty much where their similarities end. Arnold is a Republican and Michielssen a Democrat. However, the race is nonpartisan, and they take differing stances on many of the important issues facing the county.

Arnold is running on a platform of holding government accountable, improving county services and promoting the economy. She says she wants to preserve the rural way of life, prioritize fire and law enforcement, and maintain a safe and fair distribution of the water supply.

Michielssen is running on a platform of building the county’s economy, protecting jobs and providing more affordable housing. His top campaign issue is providing more affordable housing, which he sees as benefitting the local economy directly through creating jobs and also benefiting local employers who have a hard time recruiting or retaining workers because of high housing costs.

For example, Michielssen opposes the proposed Phillips 66 rail spur project while Arnold said she is still making up her mind. The project calls for up to five large oil trains a week delivering crude oil to the Nipomo Mesa refinery. On Monday, the county Planning Commission held a daylong hearing on the project but made no final decision. Another hearing is set for Sept. 22.

Michielssen opposes the project for safety reasons and because so many communities in the state along the rail lines are opposed.

“I am very concerned about the whole project,” he said. “I would vote no on the project.”

Arnold said she understands that safety has become the main issue regarding the spur. She also noted that the refinery has been operated safely and creates about 200 good-paying jobs.

Once the Planning Commission takes a position on the rail spur, that decision is expected to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, and Arnold wants to wait until that hearing to make up her mind.

“When I have an appeal coming before me, it’s like a trial,” she said. “I have to keep an open mind and listen to all the evidence.”

In one of the most contentious issues facing the district, Arnold voted in favor of the Las Pilitas gravel mine near Santa Margarita. Michielssen said he opposed the project. The project was ultimately denied by the Board of Supervisors.

The two also disagreed on one of the defining issues to face the North County — whether to form a management district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the district in an election in March.

Arnold steadfastly opposed the district. Instead, she wants the county to manage the basin. Michielssen supported the district because it had the support of the Board of Supervisors and Local Agency Formation Commission.

In another issue facing the county, both candidates support letting voters decide whether to approve a half-cent sales tax measure to generate more transportation funding. Michielssen said he supports the tax while Arnold has not taken a position on it.

Arnold has far outpaced Michielssen in terms of fundraising. She has raised a total of $178,685, while Michielssen has raised a total of $56,926.

Both campaigns have picked up some key endorsements. Arnold is endorsed by District Attorney Dan Dow, Supervisor Lynn Compton and the San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriff’s Association.

“Debbie has used her previous experience and passion for our community to provide the pragmatic leadership that is needed in our region,” Dow said.

Michielssen has been endorsed by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel; former county Supervisor Shirley Bianchi and numerous labor unions and environmental groups.

“Eric brings a strong set of skills and experience as a business owner, public policy practitioner and resident of the North County who will work to build our local economy, create and protect jobs, and protect our public health and safety,” Monning said.

About the Candidates

Eric Michielssen

Age: 67

Education: Bachelor’s degree in Social Science, elementary teaching credential, Cal Poly

Family: Married to Dana Tryde; daughter Kendra, husband Ryan, granddaughter Blake, 4, live in Willow Glen; daughter Kelli, husband Shaun, grandson Callam live in Encinitas

Occupation: Organic farmer, Pozo Organic Farm, consultant to Peoples’ Self-Help Housing (July 2014 to present)

Previous employment: Asset manager/broker at Peoples’ Self-Help Housing 1998 to June 2014

Previous public offices: Atascadero Planning Commission, 1985-88; SLO County Agricultural Liaison Advisory Board, 2008-16.

Which presidential candidate he will support: Undecided

Why he is running: “District 5 deserves a solutions-oriented voice of reason. My diverse background and pragmatic approach to problem solving qualify me to be such a voice. My focus will be to stimulate economic growth, create head-of-household jobs and affordable housing, and responsibly manage our resources. I will advocate for our communities basing decisions on objective facts, not partisan politics.”

Debbie Arnold

Age: 61

Education: Cuesta College, associate degree in early childhood education

Family: Married 40 years to Steve Arnold, two children, four grandchildren

Occupation: County supervisor, rancher

Previous employment: Small business owner, Small Wonders Preschool, Atascadero; legislative assistant, San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors; field Representative for the state Assembly and state Senate representing Sam Blakeslee

Previous public offices: Incumbent, District 5 county supervisor

Why she is running: “To hold government accountable by eliminating programs that don’t work. To promote a healthy local economy that creates jobs. To protect our open space and rural way of life. To make fire protection and sheriff patrols top priorities.”

Which presidential candidate she will support: Undecided