Editorials

In Morro Bay, our top choices are Headding for mayor; Barron, Addis and Goldman for council

John Headding holds a 101-vote lead in his bid to replace Jamie Irons as Morro Bay mayor as the final votes are counted.
John Headding holds a 101-vote lead in his bid to replace Jamie Irons as Morro Bay mayor as the final votes are counted. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Morro Bay’s election of a mayor and two City Council members is yet another unofficial referendum on the controversial sewer/water reclamation project the city has been agonizing over for years.

There have been mistakes and missteps, and a sizable segment of the community is opposed to the current project. But as some of the candidates have pointed out, the city can’t go back 10 years and do it over.

The current project avoids the biggest mistake: Rebuilding the sewer plant at or near its present waterfront location. With all that’s happening in the world today — rising sea levels, tsunamis, typhoons — it’s foolish to put any essential infrastructure on the coast, especially a sewer plant that could cause massive contamination in the event of failure.

Also, further long delays could jeopardize low-interest funding and make the project more expensive in the long run.

For those reasons, we recommend candidates committed to moving forward with the current project, with the caveat that they keep costs as low as possible and provide financial relief to those who truly can’t afford to pay for water and sewer.

Mayor

For mayor, we endorse current City Councilman John Headding to replace Jamie Irons, who chose not to seek re-election.

Aside from council candidate Betty Winholtz, who served on the council from 2002-2010, Headding is the only one of the seven candidates for city office who have council experience, which is especially important when taking on the mayor’s job.

Headding is a big proponent of economic diversification. He advocates putting off-shore wind turbines off the Morro Bay coast; seeking additional funding for harbor improvements (Morro Bay was recently awarded $2.4 million in federal funds for dredging the harbor entrance); and upgrading the Embarcadero — and possibly adding a “low-rise, underground parking garage.”

Great idea — parking on the waterfront is a pain, and will get worse as tourism increases.

That said, as mayor Headding would have some fence-mending to do, and that will likely take longer than a single term.

The Morro Bay City Council has struggled with a reputation for a lack of transparency, and its recent decision to not accept some Proposition 218 ballots protesting water and sewer rate increases didn’t help it. Opponents of the rate increase turned in a batch of ballots — they said there were 1,000 — on the night of the hearing. The council declined to accept them. Council members said they were invalid because they did not include dates, and speculated that many were probably duplicates of other ballots turned in earlier.

Contrast that with county elections, in which officials go to great lengths to verify the ballots, to ensure fairness. Instead, the council seemed to reject ballots out of hand. Had it accepted all ballots for verification, that would have firmly established, once and for all, whether a majority of ratepayers support the sewer/water reclamation project and is willing to fund it through a rate increase.

City Council

For the two council seats, three candidates stand out: Dawn Addis, Jesse Barron and Jan Goldman, all of whom support moving forward with the current sewer/water reclamation project.

Barron, a city planning commissioner and county plans examiner, is our top choice. He’s smart, young and forward-thinking, and he’s a pragmatist with a sense of humor.

Campaign-wise, he’s been flying somewhat under the radar. In an essay he posted on Facebook, he explains why he’s not going in for yard signs: “I am not one to plaster my name all over town, screaming ‘Vote for Pedro’ (Or Jesse, as it happens). I am quietly in the shadows wishing the system was better, and that I didn’t have to go asking for donations from the politicos (which I have yet to do).”

Don’t let the informal tone fool you; Barron is smart and highly knowledgeable about challenges facing the city, such as the lack of affordable housing. He advocates for a strong ordinance limiting vacation rentals, and for simplifying the process of adding accessory dwelling units, with the caveat they be used as permanent residences or long-term rentals. He’s also got good ideas for commercial revitalization; he’d like to see a comedy club in Morro Bay. Great idea!

For the second council seat, either Dawn Addis or Jan Goldman would be an excellent addition.

Like Barron, Addis would bring a youthful perspective to the council. For example, when the Editorial Board invited candidates to discuss past council actions they disagreed with, she brought up the council’s decision to drop funding for a school resource officer.

Addis also is a strong advocate for working-class housing; she believes the city should emphasize that as a major goal.

Goldman, too, is knowledgeable on the issues, she’s affable and highly principled.

One example: She disagrees with the council’s decision to reject the last batch of Proposition 218 ballots. Even though she supports the sewer project, she believes the ballots should have been counted. That speaks to her commitment to transparency.

Again, Barron, Addis and Goldman are all strong candidates, making this decision difficult. Regardless of the results of the election, we strongly urge them to stay involved in city government — it would be a loss to the city if they did not.

The Tribune strongly endorses John Headding for mayor and Jesse Barron, Dawn Addis and Jan Goldman for City Council.

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