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A year of disruption: From politics to energy, 2022 pushed for change in SLO County

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COVER IMAGES FROM ADOBE STOCK
  • cover images from Adobe Stock

The battle for control of the SLO County Board of Supervisors is arguably the biggest story of 2022. New district lines, allegations of voter fraud, ballot recounts, and a fiercely contested 2nd District race all play a role in that fight, which is now winding its way into 2023. But it's not the only big story of the year. Paul Flores was finally convicted for the murder of Kristin Smart, Diablo Canyon isn't closing anytime soon, and Paso Robles voters rebelled against their school board. Oceano lost one of its advisory councils, safe parking sites abound, and Nipomo oak trees might have to make way for 1,400 housing units. We cover that and much more in this year's look back at the 12 months of news that made up 2022.

—Camillia Lanham

NEW MAJORITY Newly elected Supervisor Jimmy Paulding and elected incumbents Supervisors Dawn Ortiz-Legg and Bruce Gibson (left to right) make up the Board of Supervisors new liberal-leaning majority. - FILE PHOTOS BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photos By Jayson Mellom
  • NEW MAJORITY Newly elected Supervisor Jimmy Paulding and elected incumbents Supervisors Dawn Ortiz-Legg and Bruce Gibson (left to right) make up the Board of Supervisors new liberal-leaning majority.

SLO County Board of Supervisors swings left

An action-packed and transformative year for San Luis Obispo County politics ended appropriately this month with one of the closest supervisor elections in county history—which, pending a recount, will result in a new majority on the Board of Supervisors come 2023. The year started off with a citizen group filing a lawsuit against SLO County alleging gerrymandering during its redistricting process—claiming that supervisors shifted district lines in favor of Republicans. A motion to sideline the map for the 2022 elections was denied in February by a local judge and then the California Supreme Court. Despite the purported electoral advantage for conservatives, in June, left-leaning Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Jimmy Paulding defeated right-leaning incumbent Lynn Compton for the 4th District seat. Then, in November, veteran progressive Supervisor Bruce Gibson edged out conservative retired surgeon Bruce Jones for the 2nd District seat by a mere 13 votes. Following the liberal victories, one North County resident called for consecutive recounts, its backers alleging possible fraud and demanding changes to election processes. Entering 2023, the Board of Supervisors' new majority of Paulding, Gibson, and 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg is expected to steer the county and its policies in a new direction.

—Peter Johnson

Kristin Smart murder trial reaches a close

STILL MISSING Despite a guily verdict, Kristin Smart's remains are still missing. The courts will sentence Paul Flores in March 2023. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • STILL MISSING Despite a guily verdict, Kristin Smart's remains are still missing. The courts will sentence Paul Flores in March 2023.

Twenty-six years after Cal Poly student Kristin Smart went missing, a Salinas jury declared Paul Flores—reportedly the last person to see Smart—guilty of murdering her. Following a preliminary hearing last year that took months to complete, the trial started this July in Monterey County with separate juries for Flores and his father, Ruben. New Times spoke with Your Own Backyard podcaster Chris Lambert whose 2019 series uncovered pivotal information previously unseen by the SLO County Sheriff's Office. Lambert continued updating his podcast as the trial progressed. In the final verdict issued Oct. 18, Flores was convicted but Ruben wasn't. The SLO County District Attorney's Office alleged that Ruben helped his son bury Smart's body under his deck in Arroyo Grande where it remained for years before being relocated to an unknown location. Smart's remains are still missing. Flores' sentencing was postponed to March 10, 2023, but he's facing 25-years-to-life without the possibility of parole.

—Bulbul Rajagopal

WISH GRANTED After a late-hour campaign to save nuclear energy, California passed a law this year that aims to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant running through 2030. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SAVE CLEAN ENERGY
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Save Clean Energy
  • WISH GRANTED After a late-hour campaign to save nuclear energy, California passed a law this year that aims to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant running through 2030.

Diablo Canyon gets a lifeline from the state

Nearly on the eve of its decommission, California lawmakers decided this year that the state was actually not ready to quit Diablo Canyon Power Plant. A late-hour push by Gov. Gavin Newsom and pro-nuclear leaders, like former local Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, resulted in the Legislature passing a law in September that lays the groundwork for extending operations at Diablo until 2030. Initially set to close in 2024 and 2025, Newsom and others made the case that California is not far enough along in developing renewable energy resources to power down its last nuclear plant and also keep the lights on. Record heat waves over this year's Labor Day weekend underscored that concern, as the state came close to activating rolling brownouts for the second time in three summers. Per the Diablo legislation, PG&E received a $1.4 billion forgivable loan from the state to undergo preparations to keep the Avila Beach plant running another five years, including applying with the federal government for license renewals. The extension is not a done deal, and what happens in 2023 will likely determine the controversial plant's fate.

—Peter

IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION The conclusion of a federal lease sale to place wind turbines off the coast of Morro Bay could change the future of California. - FILE RENDERING COURTESY OF BOEM
  • File Rendering Courtesy Of BOEM
  • IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION The conclusion of a federal lease sale to place wind turbines off the coast of Morro Bay could change the future of California.

Offshore wind's closer to reality

The plan to place wind turbines 34 miles off the coast of Morro Bay made steady progress in 2022, culminating with a federal lease sale that concluded in December. The sale auctioned off three areas near Morro Bay and two near Humboldt for offshore wind farms. Three companies secured bids for the lease areas off the coast of Morro Bay, totaling around $425.6 million. While many hope that the offshore wind energy projects could be one renewable energy solution for California, not everyone views the project through rose-colored glasses. Morro Bay fishermen feel disenfranchised due to a loss of fishing grounds and what they see as a lack of adequate compensation from the federal government. Environmentalists and members of the whale-watching industry are worried about what the large floating turbines might mean for whale migration in the area. Companies are still in the process of negotiating their leases with the U.S. government, which should include something called a community benefits agreement—which could help local residents and industries deal with the changes an offshore wind farm might bring.

—Shwetha Sundarrajan

NEW HOPE Homeless residents of the Oklahoma safe parking site hope that a union will create smoother cooperation with county officials while they advocate for their rights. - FILE PHOTO BY BULBUL RAJAGOPAL
  • File Photo By Bulbul Rajagopal
  • NEW HOPE Homeless residents of the Oklahoma safe parking site hope that a union will create smoother cooperation with county officials while they advocate for their rights.

County safe parking sites face turbulence

Safe parking sites for the homeless on Oklahoma Avenue and in Railroad Square faced a laundry list of problems in 2022. In February, Oklahoma Avenue witnessed a fire that broke out in a parked RV, which killed a homeless woman. In April, several residents who parked at the SLO County-run site told New Times that they were dissatisfied with the way the program was run. They complained about overcrowding, duplicated services, lack of security, inadequate mental health care, and the general absence of affordable housing in the county. In September, the city of SLO declined to make the Railroad Square parking site permanent yet due to complaints from businesses in the area, property managers, and the county transportation agency. Following a Homelessness Point in Time Count and Survey that showed a 2 percent decrease in transiency compared to the previous 2019 tally, the county adopted a five-year plan that aims to reduce homelessness by half. Now, the county is addressing the low number of affordable housing options by figuring out plans for a tiny house community near the Oklahoma safe parking site.

—Bulbul

School board troubles in Paso Robles

Over the past year, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District's board of trustees angered the community with decisions that sometimes stemmed from national politics. From passing a resolution that would protect gender specific titles to requiring students present parent permission slips to join clubs, school board meetings this year have been filled with angry students, parents, and decisions. Georgia Brown and Glen Speck elementaries are still playing musical schools with students and teachers moving from school campuses to temporary sites and vice versa. When election time rolled around, controversial board members Chris Arend, Frank Triggs, and Peter Byrne were ousted from their positions by Jim Cogan, Sondra Williams, and Laurene McCoy. Residents also successfully filed a petition to remove the school board member appointed to fill the rest of Chris Bausch's term, Kenny Enney, after he posted transphobic and anti-LGBTQ statements on social media.

—Shwetha

Former cannabis mogul Helios Dayspring goes to prison

Once at the top of the Central Coast cannabis industry, Helios Dayspring hit rock bottom this year, checking into federal prison for bribery and tax evasion. The founder of Natural Healing Center received a 22-month sentence in May, which he started in August at a correctional institution in Mendota. Dayspring pleaded guilty in 2021 to bribing late SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill on multiple occasions across several years and defrauding the IRS out of millions of dollars in income taxes. Fallout from the corruption scandal spilled into 2022. Dayspring's girlfriend, Valnette Garcia, took the helm of Natural Healing Center, and the company sued the city of SLO for rescinding its dispensary permit. A judge declined to reinstate the permit. As part of that litigation, Dayspring claimed to have bankrolled SLO's two current dispensaries, Megan's Organic Market and SLOCal Roots. He alleged that those companies did not properly disclose that financing to the city—a charge that SLO officials dismissed.

—Peter

Oceano loses one advisory council

The SLO County Board of Supervisors made history when they voted to "unrecognize" the Oceano Advisory Council in December. Established by a resolution in 1991, the advisory council received recognition from then-supervisors in 1996. It's the first time that the board has withdrawn certification from an advisory council. One of Oceano's two advisory councils still has county recognition. The Oceano Advisory Council drew 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton's ire after she received a community-driven petition opposing the council's approach to a vacation rental ordinance. Previously this year, the advisory council also weighed in on renovating the Oceano airport. Its now-former chair, Charles Varni, successfully ran in the general election for an Oceano Community Services District (CSD) seat. The CSD also had an eventful year, replacing former board director Cynthia Replogle with Steve Montes and grappling with the future of fire services after area residents again voted against a tax to pay for it.

—Bulbul

Dana Reserve plans nearly 1,300 new homes in Nipomo

A heated debate over housing and growth erupted in Nipomo this year as the Dana Reserve project and its nearly 1,300 housing units moved through the SLO County planning process. While proponents argued that the 10-neighborhood development represents a much-needed boost in housing supply, skeptics pointed to a draft environmental impact report (EIR) released in June that found major impacts, including the destruction of thousands of oak trees and an exacerbated housing/jobs imbalance in Nipomo. Opposition to the project built over the year, with more than 2,000 people signing a petition to stop it. Developer Nick Tompkins promised he would build reasonably priced housing and enhance the community's infrastructure. SLO County has yet to release a final EIR for the project.

—Peter

ADDED TROUBLE Sunny Acres founder Dan DeVaul contends with a labor lawsuit filed against him by some program participants while the county eyes his property for receivership. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • ADDED TROUBLE Sunny Acres founder Dan DeVaul contends with a labor lawsuit filed against him by some program participants while the county eyes his property for receivership.

The future's uncertain for Sunny Acres

Dan DeVaul's Los Osos Valley Road nonprofit recovery program called Sunny Acres has threaded SLO County's fabric since 2002. But over the last decade, DeVaul's relations with the county soured following myriad code violation notices that were slapped on the property due to mismanagement. With a new set of notices in place, Sunny Acres is now split in two, with DeVaul on one side and program participants on the other running the recovery space on leased land. While the two groups spar for control over both the property and management of the program, the county eyes the property for possible receivership. DeVaul is also battling a labor lawsuit filed by some participants who allege improper pay and inadequate rest.

—Bulbul

Morro Bay heads for change

With a fresh-faced City Council to face the new year, Morro Bay residents changed out their decision-makers in 2022 following concerns over a proposed lithium ion battery storage facility and debate about how to best pay for needed harbor infrastructure improvements. News of a fire at the Moss Landing lithium battery storage facility earlier this year put Morro Bay residents on edge over plans to put something similar to place of the city's iconic smokestacks. Proposed by Texas-based energy company Vistra, proponents of the battery storage facility say that it could be crucial in sustaining the electrical grid once Diablo Canyon Power Plant shuts down. In November's election, residents voted down a tax measure that would have paid to refurbished battered seawalls and deteriorating pilings and replaced incumbent mayor John Headding with local business owner Carla Wixom. The city now has an all female city council, featuring new council members Cyndee Edwards and Robin "Zara" Landrum.

—Shwetha

Weed and space in Paso

Turning its airport into a spaceport and allowing recreational marijuana within city limits are ways Paso Robles could diversify the city's existing wine and tourism industries. This year, city officials pushed to make the Paso Robles Municipal Airport a place where space jets could take off horizontally, Cal Poly students could launch their miniature satellites, and a technological business park could accompany the new industry. The city is working with students to submit its Federal Aviation Administration Spaceport license by Aug. 23, 2023. Paso Robles is also debating a change to its cannabis regulations, which currently only allow a limited number of medical marijuana delivery dispensaries to exist within city limits. Recreational cannabis storefronts have the potential to bring in nearly a million dollars in revenue annually for the city. Δ

—Shwetha

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