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Candidates show differences on housing, land-use policies

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The choices voters face in the upcoming Board of Supervisors election June 3 were on full display during an April 17 debate.

On one side were development-and-business proponents incumbents Jerry Lenthall and Harry Ovitt, as well as challenger Debbie Arnold. On the other side were smart-growth supporters incumbent Jim Patterson (facing Arnold) and Adam Hill (challenging Lenthall). Frank Mecham, the Paso Robles Mayor challenging Ovitt, said he was tired of term "smart-growth" but seemed to advocate many smart-growth policies.

The forum was sponsored by the Workforce Housing Coalition and moderated by the League of Women Voters. It started with the question: "What three concrete measures would you propose to make housing more available and affordable to the workforce?"

Fifth District candidate Arnold went first and said a switch to a two map system--one for General Plan policies and another for land-use policies--to make zoning more straightforward.

Third District candidate Hill recommended a community land trust, the passing of an inclusionary housing ordinance, and possibly reducing the minimum lot size to allow for a range in unit sizes to develop.

Third District incumbent Lenthall agreed with Arnold on the two-map system, but then said that the county shouldn't dictate policies to cities.

Fifth District incumbent Patterson's suggestions were along same line as Hill's.

First District candidate Mecham suggested allowing more density in lots while creating "self-help" opportunities for potential homeowners.

First District incumbent Ovitt aligned with Arnold and Lenthall but also took the offensive and attacked Hill and Patterson's dedication to smart-growth, saying: "Smart-growth principles are good as a principle and a tool in the tool box, but nowhere in there are there any mechanisms to make it work."

The majority of the answers followed the same path--protecting resources versus making policies easier on developers and property owners--throughout the forum. Hill, Patterson, and Mecham wanted a focus on improving urban areas and providing housing closer to where the jobs are.

"Often you'll hear people talking about density. They don't like the word density, but what they don't like more than that is sprawl, I think we underestimate the cost of sprawl," Mecham said.

Lenthall, Ovitt, and Arnold were consistent in their stance of finding the resources and reducing restrictions to help bring in more high-paying jobs so people can afford existing housing. Arnold defended this position by stating that residential zones tax resources, whereas businesses "pay the way."

The moderator ended with asking if the candidates would release a statement addressing their respective stances on housing. All but Ovitt said they would. And Hill said, "I've done it. I did it about four months ago."

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