James Costanzo and Jen Ford
In the June 7 Primary Election, Morro Bay voters will pick someone to serve out the remaining time on the term of the late Councilman Robert Davis, with the appointed incumbent Jen Ford being challenged by retired businessman, James Costanzo. The winner will serve until the November 2024 General Election.
It’s the only local race on the ballot for Morro Bay voters to decide and the Estero Bay News sent a number of questions to the two candidates to give voters an idea of their positions prior to the election.
There are other important races — Dist. 2 Supervisor, State Assembly, Congress — that voters here will cast ballots on, but with multiple candidates in each of those races, it seems safe to say the Top-2 vote-getters will face off in the November General Election. EBN is concentrating coverage of the June vote on the one race that will definitely be settled in June.
As a native Californian who grew up in Bakersfield, Morro Bay was my family’s favorite vacation destination to enjoy as a child. My husband and I continued this tradition with our two daughters until we could move here a decade ago.
Our goal was to provide cleaner air and a better life for them. After settling in, we started our own business with one client in Morro Bay and now serve businesses and organizations worldwide.
I believe an effective leader views themself as an equal to those they serve. Reflecting on my life experiences as a mom, former teacher, community leader, former Planning Commissioner, and sitting Councilmember, I can’t help but see the lessons I’ve learned as building blocks to the community servant I am today.
I am very fortunate to live and own a home in this beautiful City of Morro Bay. I have lived and worked for over 40 years here on the Central Coast and became a successful, independent, owner-operator doing contract work throughout California.
I have enjoyed volunteering at our schools and in the community. I have the time needed to serve on the Morro Bay City Council.
I am an independent thinker and intend to foster debate when appropriate. Through constructive debate we can come to a better understanding of issues. My only intentions when on the Council is to listen to the citizens and do what’s right for the City of Morro Bay. Vote on June 7.
Estero Bay News: What do you see as the biggest challenge to Morro Bay’s economic future?
J.F.: As a local small business owner, I believe the current drive to create good development regulations within our Planning Department and a healthy working relationship between our business community and our Chamber are vital in helping prepare for a better future. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of housing affordability for our workforce, and I will continue to work with City staff, organizations, and our community toward solutions.
J.C.: One of the biggest challenges is housing. Another is to have diverse businesses and not rely only on tourism. We need to ensure the economic viability of Morro Bay.
EBN: How can the City help alleviate the issue of homeless people living on our streets, parks and open space areas? Why would you support or oppose a homeless shelter being built here?
J.F.: As your Councilmember and a member of the Estero Bay Alliance of Care, I believe this issue will not be solved unless we address it regionally with an updated SLO County ten-year plan, which is currently in development. Within our City, I will continue to familiarize myself and support the current work being done to identify local, sustainable solutions.
J.C.: Homelessness is a serious problem. There are many reasons why someone has become homeless and building more shelters is not a solution it is a Band-Aid.
We have many organizations some here in Morro Bay and throughout the county. Something I think works well is outreach and to match a person’s needs with the correct organizations.
This would give the individual or family a choice in what they feel comfortable with and not just force someone into a shelter. I could dive deeper into this subject and give other examples, but this is not the forum. The reader can have an idea on how I would approach the problem.
EBN: The main types of affordable housing in Morro Bay have traditionally been mobile home parks, subsidized housing, granny units and old motels converted to studio apartments. Which of these would you support more of and why?
J.F.: After living here for over ten years, I have witnessed the need for more choices in how and where residents live. Home-sharing among our senior citizens and promoting an increase in affordable housing stock in Morro Bay are essential for our workforce and senior residents. I do not believe in one solution because the needs of our community are diverse.
J.C.: Yes, we need affordable housing. But the City of Morro Bay cannot build or subsidize, manage housing. What the City can do this have a master plan and zoning ordinances and the infrastructure in place when a developer is willing to build affordable housing.
The City can accommodate the development in a way that enhances the City. We may see some affordable housing in the near future.
EBN: What are your feelings about vacation rentals? Do you support the 250 licenses the city put into its ordinance, or should it be more or less?
J.F.: In 2020, City Council supported revising its cap on the number of homes used as non-hosted short-term vacation rentals from 250 to 175. Our City is also in the process of increasing monitoring and code enforcement. I am proud of our community for working together on the new ordinance that promotes successful, happier experiences between visitors and locals.
J.C.: I’m not a big fan of vacation rentals. I am a bigger fan of property rights. I do support the permitted rentals the city has already. Currently, I do not believe the City has any plans to make any changes to the current ordinance.
EBN: What is your position on the Vistra Battery Energy Storage System proposal that will probably come before the Council in the coming months?
J.F.: As a Councilmember, mom, and business owner, I care about our climate and the future of Morro Bay and our coastal community. Securing clean energy and solutions for substituting energy with the approaching loss from Diablo Nuclear Power Plant is essential for generations to come. Regarding Vistra’s Battery Energy Storage System proposal, I’m balancing input from the community, environmental experts, and staff before making a decision.
J.C.: It is very early in the process, and we do not have the full proposal. I think it would be premature to make a judgment at this time.
EBN: Why are you happy or unhappy with Morro Bay as it stands right now?
J.F.: As a mom and business owner, I believe that our City is moving in a positive, more fiscally responsible, and climate action-oriented direction. I look forward to continuing our progress in building a future together.
J.C.: Morro Bay is a great place to enjoy the beach, live, work, visit and recreate. But we need to keep up on our infrastructure. When I am on the Council, I’ll listen to the citizens about the issues that affect us in Morro Bay.
EBN: If elected, what will be your Top 3 priorities?
J.F.: Waterfront Improvement: As a Councilmember, I know that our waterfront is one of our biggest assets and economic drivers. For too long, the waterfront has been underfunded and under-cared for. It’s time to change that. When elected to carry out the entire term, I will work every day to ensure our waterfront gets the resources and attention it needs.
Housing Affordability and Supply: As your Councilmember, I have the unique perspective of being a small business owner, a current renter, and a former homeowner. Solving the housing crisis isn’t just good for local people; it’s also good for businesses who want to hire locally. The current housing crisis is detrimental to the health of our community. As a former Planning Commissioner and current Councilmember, I know what it takes to increase housing and aim to be committed to housing solutions that are the right fit for Morro Bay.
Climate Action Planning, Clean Energy: As your sitting Councilmember, I have seen first-hand how Morro Bay is at the front of the climate crisis. As a Coastal Community: The ocean is one of our greatest assets, but we have to be prepared for rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. I serve on the climate sub-committee because I believe we can make a difference when we work together to create solutions. I am committed to working hard to solve our biggest challenges.
J.C.: Infrastructure, work with Council members to make Morro Bay business friendly and focus on issues that affect Morro Bay.