December 2, 2022
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Candidates battle for control of SLO County supes

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In San Luis Obispo County, the race to represent the 2nd District on the Board of Supervisors will determine whether the board will operate with a liberal majority or a conservative majority.

Incumbent Supervisor Bruce Gibson faces Bruce Jones, a retired orthopedic surgeon who served on the Templeton Area Advisory Group, in a runoff to represent the 2nd District for the next four years. The board majority would be more progressive if Gibson, who is running for a fifth term, retains his seat, while Jones is the more conservative candidate.

“It certainly should be considered a swing seat,” said Michael Latner, a professor of political science and public policy at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. “This is going to be a tight race.”

The 2nd District encompasses both coastal and inland areas of northern San Luis Obispo County, including Atascadero, Cambria, Cayucos, San Simeon, San Miguel and western Templeton.

This is the first general election for the district since its boundaries were redrawn after the 2020 census. Before redistricting in 2021, the 2nd District was largely coastal and included Los Osos, Morro Bay and portions of the city of San Luis Obispo — a much more heavily Democratic district than the current one, and friendlier territory for Gibson, Latner said.

“As a result, it’s a much closer district between Republican and Democratic registered voters,” he said.

The board — made up of conservative supervisors Debbie Arnold, John Peschong and Lynn Compton and more liberal supervisors Dawn Ortiz-Legg and Gibson— adopted the redistricting map with boundaries for the next 10 years. Their decision has been challenged in court, by those who argue that the map they adopted gives Republicans the advantage by squeezing most of the county’s Democrats into two districts, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans countywide.

Compton lost her seat in the race for the 4th District during the June primary election. At the end of the year, she will be replaced by Jimmy Paulding, an Arroyo Grande City Council member.

Although the Board of Supervisors is officially a nonpartisan body, the race between Jones and Gibson, like the one between Compton and Paulding, is shaping up along partisan lines. The Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County, the California Republican Party, the Lincoln Club and the San Luis Obispo Cattlemen’s Political Action Committee have all endorsed Jones.

Bruce Jones

“I would probably be seen by most people as a fiscal conservative that would like to see less regulation, more efficient government, lower taxes and fees,” Jones said.

Gibson is endorsed by the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party, the Democrats of San Luis Obispo, the Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund and SLO Yes In My Back Yard, a pro-housing group.

“It’s well-known I’m a registered Democrat,” Gibson said. “What you see in terms of the organizations and individuals that endorse me is that’s an expression of our common values.”

Gibson was first elected supervisor in 2006 and is the current chairman of the board. The biggest issues the board faces, he said, include homelessness, the long-term water supply, the cost of housing and “the fundamental need to defend our local democracy.”

“We have seen efforts to damage our local democratic institutions,” Gibson said. “I’m deeply committed to this job and to this county.”

Jones served on the Templeton Area Advisory Group for more than three years, serving two years as the chair of the elected board, which solicits community input on proposed development in Templeton and nearby areas of unincorporated northern San Luis Obispo County and makes recommendations to county officials.

That has exposed Jones to what he says is an excessively slow approval process for some development projects.
“I do understand there are complicated projects that actually take a long time to review, but we have a housing shortage in our county and this seems like an artificial barrier to providing housing,” Jones said.

Bruce Gibson

Though Sacramento has also pushed for more housing and a streamlined permitting process, Jones said he thinks those decisions should be made at the local level.

“Not the state or the county government,” he said. “The majority of my district is unincorporated, and in there, I believe that the county government should listen carefully to each local area. … At the end of the day, though, we need more housing.”

Gibson said he agrees that more housing is needed in San Luis Obispo County, but said more supply is not going to solve the affordability problem.

“If we continue to build what I would think of as traditional single-family houses on fairly large lots, we will not be able to supply our way out of the affordability crunch,” Gibson said. “What we’re going to have to do is get sophisticated in how we work, not just as a county, but as a region. … It’s a matter of zoning the right densities in the right places. It’s a matter of investing in the infrastructure that supports housing.”

The California Legislature in September voted to postpone the planned closure of the state’s last nuclear power plant, located near Avila Beach. California lawmakers pointed with greater concern to the lack of renewable energy sources and energy storage and threat of rolling blackouts.

Jones is in favor of keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. Gibson said he is also in favor of extending the plant’s life span, but wants to make sure the state and county are still planning for its eventual closure.

Gibson said he would also like to see development of offshore wind, something the federal government and private developers are pursuing off the coast of Morro Bay.

“We need to continue to look to our future,” Gibson said. “And our future is in economic development like offshore wind.”

Jones said his priorities, if he’s elected, will include supporting public safety, including more resources for firefighters and the Sheriff’s Department.

“The Board of Supervisors controls a budget of money that goes to those services,” Jones said.

For Gibson, homelessness, infrastructure investments needs and water supply are among his priorities.

“San Luis Obispo County is at a crucial pivot time in its history,” he said.