Note: This story has been corrected from the original to say that Debbie Arnold was elected to a second term on the Board of Supervisors.
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold defeated challenger Eric Michielssen to retain her 5th District seat in Tuesday’s primary election. Arnold got 53 percent of the vote while Michielssen got 47 percent in unofficial returns.
With just two candidates running and Arnold getting more than 50 percent, the race will not move on for a runoff in the Nov. 8 general election. Arnold said she is looking forward to her second term on the Board of Supervisors.
“I’ll be very pleased and happy to continue my job representing the 5th district,” she said. “It is an honor to have that vote of confidence.”
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Arnold and challenger Michielssen provided voters with two distinct choices.
A victory by Arnold means the seat will remain conservative, while a Michielssen victory means the district would have a much more progressive voice on the politically-divided San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.
The race is the only one of three county supervisor seats up for election this year that is likely be settled in the primary.
Third District incumbent Adam Hill was running for re-election against two challengers, while four candidates pursued the 1st District seat to replace retiring supervisor Frank Mecham. On Tuesday night, the two top vote-getters in the 3rd District race were Hill and Dan Carpenter; in the 1st District race, John Peschong and Steve Martin took the lead. They all will now move on to the Nov. 8 general election.
On Monday, Michielssen said he was optimistic about his chances of beating Arnold. In any case, running for supervisors has been an educational experience, he said.
Both candidates live in Pozo. Michielssen is an organic farmer while Arnold is a rancher and vintner. During their campaigns, they staked out differing stances on many of the important issues facing the county.
The district stretches from northern San Luis Obispo to east Templeton and east to the Carrizo Plan.
Arnold ran on a platform of pragmatic leadership, creating jobs and enhancing local control. Michielssen ran on a platform of building the county’s economy, protecting jobs and creating more affordable housing.
One issue that was liable to weigh heavily on some voters minds was the controversial Las Pilitas quarry near Santa Margarita, which was overwhelmingly opposed by residents of the town due to traffic and safety concerns.
The proposal was narrowly defeated with Arnold voting in favor of the mine. Michielssen said he would have voted against the mine if he had been on the board of supervisors.
One of the most contentious issues the winner of the election will face is a proposal by the oil company Phillips 66 to add a rail spur to their Nipomo Mesa refinery that would allow the facility to bring in crude oil by rail, with as many as five trains per week making the run. Opponents have said they fear one of the trains could derail and cause a fiery crash or explosion that would endanger neighborhoods along the rail line.
Michielssen said he opposes the project but Arnold has not made up her mind. She said she will wait to make up her mind once the issue comes before the board of supervisors, which is expected to happen early next year.
Management of the Paso Robles groundwater basin is another contentious issue that will come before supervisors. On March 8, residents of the basin voted overwhelmingly to reject the formation of a special district to manage the basin and thereby deferring management to the county and possibly the state.
Arnold opposed the district, preferring to have the county manage the basin. She said the county’s Flood Control and Water Conservation District has effectively managed the basin for 70 years.
Michielssen supported the district formation because it was recommended by a county-appointed blue ribbon advisory committee and the county Local Agency Formation Commission.
The Paso Robles basin is one of five that will the county will manage because the state has declared them to be in overdraft. The others are Edna Valley, Cuyama Valley, Los Osos and Nipomo Mesa.