Long-time Dist. 2 County Supervisor Bruce Gibson is potentially in some political hot water after a citizen’s group filed papers announcing the intent to try and recall him and remove him from office.
Gibson, who won a fifth, 4-year term in the November 2022 Election, harshly criticized the recall in an official response released by the County Clerk.
And while many Estero Bay News readers are familiar with the “recall” concept, they’ve not likely ever seen anything like what this could turn out to be.
Who’s Pushing Recall
The recall group calls itself “The Committee to Support the Recall of Supervisor Bruce Gibson,” said it was comprised of “San Luis Obispo County concerned citizens and forgotten taxpayers from all walks of life and party affiliations. The Committee firmly believes that a change in leadership is necessary to restore the values and integrity of San Luis Obispo County.”
Sprouting out of the North County, the recall effort is spawned in part by the controversy over the Paso Robles groundwater basin management. In a petition that a speaker at the Oct. 31 Supervisors meeting said was signed by more than 600 people, “We, the people of Northern San Luis Obispo County, believe that our elected supervisors should represent our interests in the Paso Basin. Bruce Gibson, the 2nd District supervisor, used his dictatorial powers to remove the first and fifth district supervisors from the Paso Basin cooperative committee and then put himself in that committee.”
The recall committee also alleges that Gibson violated his oath of office dealing with adherence to the U.S. and California Constitutions and violated the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law. He is also apparently rude.
Gibson has “a sense of contempt and disregard for the forgotten taxpayers of SLO County, verbal abuse and mockery of public speakers during Board of Supervisors’ meetings, and most recently, the misrepresentation of SLO County’s legislative platform at the State level.”
Not too surprisingly, Gibson lashed out at his accusers. “I’m not surprised these highly-partisan activists,” Gibson wrote in an official response, “would try this, given their track record:
• They Gerrymandered the district and lost anyway.
• They demanded a recount when I won, then refused to pay our Elections Office what they owed.
• They continue to peddle election fraud conspiracy theories.”
Gibson added, “This petition notice is full of distortions and lies — exactly like the losing campaign they ran against me just last year. Note that two of the candidates I defeated last year are lead proponents of this recall.”
He then veered off into anti-MAGA territory. “They’re MAGA fanatics,” Gibson said, “and this is just what they do. San Luis Obispo County voters are smart and they’ll see through this vain attempt to nullify last year’s election. Voters are also tired of these constant attacks on our democracy. I expect this stunt will fail.”
Official Claims for Recall
The recall committee’s official grounds for recall lists five bullet points:
• Gibson “abused his power as County Supervisor by (a) getting rid of effective County Administrative Officer, Wade Horton, and replacing him with a crony and political contributor, and (b) turning his back on the District 2 voters who elected him in 2022 by spearheading repeal of the 2022 Supervisorial districts to return to 2011 boundaries that ensure his safe future re-election.”
• Gibson “exhibited contempt for property owners who live on fixed incomes and have relied on the protection of Proposition 13; and, (b) by favoring the interests of Northern California and Los Angeles over San Luis Obispo County.”
• He on “multiple occasions, has violated the California Brown (Act) provisions, ensuring Supervisors’ decisions receive public notice of proposed governmental action.”
• He was “silent about (a) the bribery, extortion, and corruption of deceased Supervisor and political ally, Adam Hill, and well (b) the County’s mushrooming county employee pension debt, totaling nearly $1 billion.”
• He “worked to hand special interests control over water rights and gravely harmed the County’s small farmers.”
By way of some explanation and in reference to ex-County CAO Horton, he quit rather suddenly last March giving no public reason why. It was however, shortly after Supervisors voted to throw out the redistricting map approved by the former Board of Supervisors in 2021 following the 2020 U.S. Census.
That 2021 map, drawn by a private citizen and approved by Supervisors in accordance with State Law, was met with a howl of protest, as it re-drew every district line and dramatically shook up what had been basically the same voting districts for over 30 years.
District Map Shuffle
One would have to agree that SLO County’s Supervisorial District Map has bounced around like a fumbled football.
Under that 2021 map, Morro Bay and about half of San Luis Obispo were placed into a new Dist. 3; and Los Osos was placed in Dist. 5, which was an oddly-shaped, arched district that swung around from the Eastern SLO County, down to the Southern County Line and back up and around the coast to encompass Los Osos.
The new map for Dist. 2 included Atascadero, San Miguel and parts of Templeton, plus Cambria, San Simeon and Cayucos from the old Dist. 2.
It marked the first time that the Estero Bay communities (Los Osos, Morro Bay and Cayucos) were not in the same County voting district.
A group of citizens in 2021 filed a court challenge to that 2021 district map claiming without evidence that it was an act of “Gerrymandering” by Republicans and meant to ensure they won the 2022 Election and future elections as well.
The 2022 Primary and General Elections played out with that lawsuit hanging over them.
It should be noted that SLO County Supervisor is a non-partisan position, meaning that a candidate’s political party does not appear on the ballot along with their name.
Right to Vote Taken Away
The 2021 map took away most of the Estero Bay communities’ right to vote in 2022, as neither Dist. 3 nor 5 were up for election.
However, because former Dist. 3 Supervisor the late-Adam Hill committed suicide just months after the 2020 Election, which he won, the Governor was called upon to name a replacement. Gov. Newsom replaced Hill with Dawn Ortiz-Legg, who had been the Dist. 3 Planning Commissioner under Hill.
Which Dist. 3?
Supervisor Ortiz-Legg by law had to run in the first available election, which was 2022. However, because Hill died in office, the people who elected him were tapped to choose a new Supervisor, and with re-districting, that meant the old Dist. 3.
Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Avila Beach and part of SLO, got to vote in that Dist. 3 race, which Ortiz-Legg won in a General Election runoff.
So even though Dist. 3 was up for election, the voters in Dist. 3 as represented in the 2021 map, were not the electorate for that race.
Morro Bay, Los Osos and half of SLO were shutout of the 2022 Supervisors’ Election and after the Supervisors changed the district map a second time, they won’t vote in 2024 either.
After that 2022 campaign, a new, liberal board majority — Gibson, Ortiz-Legg and Dist. 4’s Jimmy Paulding — voted in early 2023 to throw out the 2021 map and adopt one that closely matched the district lines that had been established in 2011 and used in very County election since.
As for the lawsuit, the new Board Majority decided to settle the case out of court and agreed to pay $300,000 for a suit that never made it past the initial court filings.
In essence, a 3-2 Board majority agreed with the lawsuit’s contention that the 2021 map was a result of “Gerrymandering” (a split decision decided by Gibson, Ortiz-Legg and Paulding).
A Déjà vu to Come
And with the change back to what was before — Morro Bay, Los Osos and SLO moving back into Dist. 2 and Atascadero/Templeton back into Dist. 5 or 1 — we could see a déjà vu of the Ortiz-Legg situation — as the voters who will decide if Gibson stays in office are coming from the 2021 map’s Dist. 2. They will mostly be people whom he no longer directly represents.
And with Dist. 5 naturally up for election in 2024, some voters in Atascadero and Templeton will not only decide Gibson’s fate on the recall, but will also be voting on a new Dist. 5 Supervisor, after 2-term incumbent Debbie Arnold decided not to run again. And in Templeton they could also double-dip and vote on the Gibson recall as well as Dist. 1 or 5 Supervisor. (Templeton is split between Dist. 1 and 5.)
So far, two people, both Atascadero City Councilwomen, have announced plans to seek the Dist. 5 seat.
SLO County Clerk-Recorder, Elaina Cano in response to numerous questions from EBN on this political morass, explained it thusly, “If the recall petition is successful and placed on the November 2024 ballot, the voters that were eligible to vote for him [Gibson] in 2022 will be voting on whether or not he should be recalled.
“Should that pass, then the Governor would appoint his replacement to serve the remainder of the term. Then in 2026, when the term is completed, the voters in the current District 2 would be eligible to vote accordingly.”
So while Gibson’s long-time and loyal constituents of Dist. 2 in Los Osos, SLO and Morro Bay, won’t be able to help decide this recall, Cano said they would pick a permanent replacement in 2026, when Dist. 2 would normally be up for election (under the County system, even-numbered districts — 2 and 4 — face election in the same year; so too the three, odd-numbered districts, 1, 3 and 5).
As for the double-dip scenario for North County voters, Cano said, “If the recall petition is successful and goes on to the November 2024 ballot, some voters in District 1 and possibly District 5 may have the recall question on their ballot, as well as the contest for either District 1 or 5 Supervisor.”
Adding to the oddity of this scenario, those same voters of the former Dist. 2, according to Cano, are also the only ones allowed to sign the recall petitions.
In the 2022 General Election, Gibson beat challenger Bruce Jones of Atascadero by just 13 votes.
Going forward, Cano laid out a schedule of milestones the recall petitioners must meet: On Nov. 13, Cano’s schedule calls for the official petition language to be approved by herself for circulation. They should be able to start gathering signatures on Nov. 27 and have until next May 5 to collect the necessary signatures of registered voters.
Cano’s schedule said signatories to the recall must be registered to vote in the old Dist. 2 before Feb. 5, 2023 and the recall committee needs 20-percent of the 36,871 registered voters or 7,374 verified signatures.
Cano will have until May 8 to verify signatures for the recall to move forward or die, and May 21, 2024 is when she would take it to Supervisors, who would have until June 6 to call an election (November 2024).
If the Supervisors fail to act by June 9, Cano as the County Elections Official, would place the recall on the ballot herself. The 2024 General and Presidential Election is set for Nov. 5.