Gibson Ekes Out Win in Dist. 2 Supervisor Race

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 15, 2022

New City Councilmembers Weigh in

The final-final results are in on the Nov. 8 General Election in San Luis Obispo County and while some races tightened up a bit, none of the outcomes flipped; and the District Attorney has apparently cleared the County Clerk’s Office of wrongdoing over a discrepancy in the vote count that didn’t match up with a report sent to the Secretary of State.

Gibson Hangs On

In the only race that was still undecided, 4-term Dist. 2 County Supervisor Bruce Gibson eked out a win for a fifth term, as Gibson outlasted a challenge by Dr. Bruce Jones, a retired physician from Atascadero.

Dist. 2 was radically redrawn in 2021 as part of the reapportionment following the 2020 Census. The old Dist. 2 was entirely on the North Coast and included Los Osos, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, part of SLO, and the rural areas in between.

The new Dist. 2 map cut out Los Osos, Morro Bay and SLO and drew in Atascadero and San Miguel, which normally lean conservative and looked like a huge obstacle to the liberal-leaning Gibson.

But hard work by Gibson to introduce himself to the new constituents appears to have paid off, albeit barely. 

In the final election results report from County Clerk Elaina Cano’s Office, Gibson collected 11,722 votes to Jones’ 11,709 a difference of just 13 votes. 

It was the closest election Gibson has ever had in his five runs for the seat. The percentages of the vote were 50.03% for Gibson to 49.97% for Jones. 

Overall 25,169 people voted out of 36,891 registered Dist. 2 voters for a 68.23% turnout. But it might not be over with even yet, as Jones has indicated in media reports that he plans to demand a recount of the votes, which he will have to pay for. 

No Changes in Morro Bay

There were no changes to the projected winners for two Morro Bay City Council seats as well as the Mayor’s seat.

Former Councilwoman and Mayoral candidate, Carla Wixom held on to her lead to unseat 2-term incumbent Mayor Dr. John Headding. Wixom finished with 3,325 votes to Dr. Headding’s 2,294 a difference of 1,031. That’s 59.17% to 40.83%.

In the Council races, Robin “Zara” Landrum finished first with 2,442 votes with Cyndee Edwards second with 2,005 votes. Landrum got 25.12% to 21.53% for Edwards. Third place went to Sarah Smith Robinson with 2,005 votes, 20.62%, losing by just 88 votes. 

Also-rans were Casey Cordes (1,784 votes, 18.35%), and David Duringer (1,398, 14.38%).

Some 5,908 people voted out of 8,156 registered voters, for a healthy 72.44% turnout.

The new Council members were slated to take the oath of office at a special meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

New Councilwomen Comment

With two political neophytes about to take leadership roles with the City of Morro Bay, EBN asked them why they believed they’d been elected.

Edwards said, “I believe the voting results said a couple of things. One, the community felt there was a need for a change. Two, I think experience wasn’t the only reason the voters had in mind when they cast their vote. But, my experience did split the candidates with no experience in local leadership positions, so I think it was a mix of things, including emotions that are bigger than our local election.”

Landrum said, “Though I received some donations, I didn’t do any fundraising. I ran a grassroots campaign, I didn’t have a website or any social media presence.  I walked through town, knocked on doors and met people. 

“I listened to them and their concerns and was open and honest about my stance on issues. I had an amazing group of people who supported me by volunteering their time helping walk with me.  

“I think my having deep roots here and truly caring about the future of Morro Bay must have resonated with people.”

Mayor-elect Wixom said, “ We are at a crossroads, will we stay a beach side community or will we become an industrial city? Many in the community I spoke with feel there has been a lack of transparency on many issues i.e. sewer cost, wind energy, battery storage, land-use issues.”

The election had a few focal points, namely the proposal to build a 600 megawatt Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) at the Morro Bay Power Plant. Asked if they felt that was a deciding factor in the election, Edwards said, “I think the overarching issue that I came away with from the community was the need to be heard. We’ve got to find a better way to deliver critical information and events to our community, one that is predominantly over 60 and may or may not have access or use social media. 

“It weighs heavily on my mind. We need to see a greater investment and participation by our citizens; a variety of voices.”

Landrum said, “I think there were several issues. Of course the battery storage facility was a biggie as well as Measure B-22 [a proposed parcel tax to support the Harbor Department that failed]. A big takeaway was that the small, coastal fishing village feel of Morro Bay is very important. 

“People want to protect the city and ensure that we don’t become the next SLO or Pismo Beach. As a community we are asked to watch and conserve our water usage and people wonder how the developments that are currently being built and proposed are allowed with these water conditions? “Residents are angry about recent zoning changes. 

“There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the Planning Department and the red tape and excessive time it takes to accomplish anything. I also heard quite frequently that residents are frustrated by the lack of transparency and accessibility to the City staff. They feel ignored, they voice their concerns and yet the council votes the other way.”

As for that failed parcel tax measure, which would have provided over $600,000 a year to repair and maintain public harbor facilities, each supports the harbor but didn’t feel a parcel tax was the way to go.

Mayor-elect Wixom said, “I first and foremost support a safe harbor; I believe we need to continue looking to grant funding for many of our projects. I’d like to work on public-private partnerships  and will look to our wind energy partners for support in our harbor infrastructure needs, as well as long-term maintenance. I feel we have lacked in our planned maintenance and this has attributed to where we are now/”

Landrum said, “Measure B’s massive failure speaks volumes. While I think the infrastructure is very important to our city, some things need to be established. What are the real costs to repair the infrastructure and what is the order of importance to carry these out? The system that allowed the negligence to occur in the first place needs to be corrected before any money is thrown at it. It makes sense to me that if these wind farm operators will be using our harbor, they should at least pay a portion of the repairs. The residents of Morro Bay aren’t the only people using the harbor, the costs should be shared accordingly.”

And Edwards said, “Yes, I have a couple ideas. One idea I expressed many times during my campaign, which was implementing a paid parking program on the Waterfront.”

How do they feel about an all-female City Council, the first time that has happened in town history? 

Edwards said, “I’m incredibly proud and excited to be a part of something bigger than me. To be able to serve this community is an honor. The fact that I get to do it with such a diverse group of women is an even greater accomplishment. I can’t wait to see what comes of it.”

Landrum said, “While I’m honored to serve on the City Council with the other women chosen, I don’t think it has anything to do with one’s sex. The election outcome proves that the voters in Morro Bay are very smart. They didn’t just vote for flashy ads and mailers, they voted for those they felt would best represent them.”

And the new Mayor feels honored. “I am honored to be elected as the fourth, female mayor in the City of Morro Bay,” Wixom said, “and equally as proud to serve with the other four women on City Council. I believe we will work collaboratively for the benefit of all in our community.”

Parcel Tax Fails

A citizen’s initiative to instill a $120 a year “parcel” tax on all private property in Morro Bay to support maintenance of public facilities in the harbor, was soundly defeated, with 3,679 votes (64.23%) against Measure B-22, and 2,049 in favor (35.77%). 

Measure B-22 needed over 50-percent to be approved and would have raised about $630,000 a year. Instead the new City Council will have to search for ways to increase harbor department funding, as there are some $10 million in unmet maintenance needs to public facilities — the launch ramp, floating docks, piers, moorings and slips — that must be dealt with.

And the San Luis Coastal School District’s Measure C-22 held on to its majority approval, easily surpassing the 55% needed for approval, garnering 22,144 “Yes” votes to 12,925 “No” votes, or 63.14% to 36.86%. It needed 55% to pass. 

C-22 will add $49 for every $100,000 of assessed property value for all private property in the District, which covers Morro Bay, Los Osos, SLO and Avila Beach. 

For a property worth $500,000, the added tax would be about $250 a year. The money is to be spent making upgrades at the District’s elementary and middle schools, including safety measures. A previous bond, 2014’s “Measure D,” has been spent on upgrades to the District’s high schools in Morro Bay and SLO.

Ballot Discrepancy a Misunderstanding

The November Election, which is heading for a recount in the Dist. 2 Supervisor race, was not without controversy. 

District Attorney Dan Dow’s “Public Integrity Unit,” which investigates allegations of corruption, had received four complaints about the handling of ballot in the Clerk’s Office. 

“On Tuesday, Nov. 29,” reads a news release from the D.A.’s Office, “the District Attorney’s Office received a written referral from a federal law enforcement agency with information alleging potential election crimes occurring during the counting of ballots in San Luis Obispo County.”

The referral questioned “an unexplained increase of more than 300 provisional ballots that were announced when the Clerk-Recorder updated the public after counting ballots on Nov. 23, 2022,” the release said. “The referral alleged that election observers were ‘sent home’ and it was while no observers were present that the additional 300 or more provisional ballots were ‘found.’”

The D.A.’s PIU confirmed the discrepancy with County Clerk Elaina Cano, opened an investigation to get to the bottom of the matter. Cano said it was a matter of looking at the wrong spreadsheet.

“The provisional ballot envelopes received by all county precincts on election night,” Cano said in a written response, “were counted, reported and their numbers were included on an Excel spreadsheet utilized by my office to report the estimated figures to the SOS [Secretary of State].

“ However, at the time of the first report to the SOS, the Excel spreadsheet did not generate ‘totals’ for the provisional ballots for precinct numbers 101-123 and 201-220, respectively, which cumulatively equaled 327 provisional ballots. 

“Consequently, when my office reported the estimate of total unprocessed provisional ballots to the SOS on the second day after the election, the provisional ballots for the referenced precincts were not included in that estimate. When the results of the election were updated on Nov. 23, 2022, the provisional ballot totals for precincts 101-123 and 201-220 were captured and included in the ‘estimated’ numbers provided to the SOS on that same day.”

That appears to have satisfied investigators. “The District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit,” the D.A. ‘s Office said, “has found no evidence that would contradict the explanation of a spreadsheet calculation error and therefore releases these facts to increase transparency and trust in the ongoing ballot counting by our county elections staff.”

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