With SLO County supervisors in a new era of pettiness, the public must pay attention

San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong administers the oath of office to San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, from left, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Adam Hill in January 2017.
San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Tommy Gong administers the oath of office to San Luis Obispo County Supervisors, from left, John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Adam Hill in January 2017.

In recent meetings, the new hard-right majority of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has acted swiftly and decisively — with a pettiness that would make President Donald Trump proud.

They’ve clearly signaled their governing style and policy direction: Beliefs — not facts — are paramount. Rigid ideology — not the common good — now controls county governance.

San Luis Obispo County residents should be worried.

Having secured the board chairmanship, simply because they don’t like 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill, the new majority decided at our last meeting that neither Hill nor I should represent the county on important state and regional organizations. They followed that by opposing protection of our offshore waters, laying down the welcome mat for Big Oil.

They decided in the morning that only members of their club should serve on the boards of the Economic Vitality Corp. , the Local Agency Formation Commission and the California State Association of Counties.

These moves came with no discussion on the merits — no substantive consideration of the county’s interests or the benefits gained from service over time. This was pure political trophy hunting. It reflects a sorry new low for our board.

In a recent New Times opinion piece, Hill notes that our civic discourse had been “infantilized” by faux populist rage and ideology. Indeed, some liken the majority’s power grab to a trio of preschoolers sweeping all the crayons over to their side of the coloring table. Others think five equal elected officials should “just get along,” that debate on such matters is “bickering.”

These outside assignments are important, however, even as the organizations are not well known to the public. Success at the regional and state level depends on developing crucial relationships over time and working with diverse views and competing interests. Rigid ideology and vote superiority have no value there.

Over the course of eight years on the EVC, Supervisor Adam Hill co-founded the county’s innovative public-private economic development strategy and created the county’s partnership with Cal Poly’s SLO HotHouse center for entrepreneurship.

He personally facilitated county efforts to keep half a dozen growing companies in our community. With Supervisor Frank Mecham’s retirement, newly appointed EVC members John Peschong and Lynn Compton now represent the county, promoting an economic development strategy that seems to be: “I’m with the government and here to do nothing.”

Mecham also served with me on LAFCO, where we worked together from differing political viewpoints to make decisions on city growth and innovative governance for groundwater resources. While the water district for the Paso Robles groundwater basin (created under former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian’s bill, AB 2453) was ultimately rejected by voters, that model received statewide interest, attention and support.

Our new LAFCO commissioners — Supervisors Compton and Debbie Arnold — arrive having demonstrated little understanding of land-use policy (recall the Santa Margarita gravel quarry) and a deep antipathy toward organized water management in the Paso Basin.

In fact, Arnold opposed putting AB 2453 district to the voters, so we can expect no help from her or Compton finding solutions to those dire water problems.

Statewide, CSAC supports and advocates for all 58 California counties, with direct access to the Governor’s Office and Legislature. I’ve represented SLO County there for eight years, having apprenticed for two years before that as the alternate for former Supervisor Harry Ovitt.

In that time, I’ve served on the Executive Committee, chaired two policy committees and negotiated to ensure CSAC’s financial stability without raising county dues. I’ve been able to ask direct questions of Gov. Jerry Brown and his finance chief. In recent years, CSAC has secured guaranteed state funding for new county-run criminal justice and health care programs, while fighting off legislative proposals for burdensome and needless regulation.

Peschong, a local government neophyte, will diminish SLO County’s influence with his doctrinaire mission to oppose CSAC policy on new revenues and “protect Proposition 13.”

Perhaps because he hasn’t finished CSAC’s New Supervisors Institute, Peschong doesn’t realize that CSAC’s policy interests are much wider than our new board majority’s rigid ideological tropes — and CSAC’s policies are widely supported by counties up and down California.

More worrisome than committee assignments, the new board majority went after the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, recently nominated for our coastal waters. Ignoring the sanctuary’s secure protection against offshore oil — not to mention the economic benefits to tourism and the chance to advance Cal Poly’s marine research efforts — Arnold, Peschong and Compton directed staff to prepare a resolution of opposition.

While we heard fevered opposition from commercial fishing groups, direction issued to the majority by the lobbyist representing the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business could not have been more clear.

Hill and I voted no. Tellingly, Arnold refused an amendment requiring the resolution to affirm the county’s 30-year opposition to offshore oil, as codified by the 1986 voter-approved Measure A.

The facts:

(1) The proposed sanctuary would not regulate fishing.

(2) Commercial fishing has thrived in nearby sanctuaries.

(3) Other projects like harbor dredging and desalination plants can be accommodated.

(4) We’ve never had local control of state and federal waters, so offshore drilling is now back on the table.

The sanctuary resolution, with its invitation to the oil industry, will be formally considered by our board in a few weeks.

We now have a board majority unconcerned with collegiality, facts or the interests of county residents.

It’s time for the public to pay attention.

San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson represents District 2, which covers Cambria, San Simeon, Cayucos, Los Osos, Morro Bay and parts of San Luis Obispo.