Deny it all you want, but when the bodies of the dead rise to feast on the flesh of the living, those who hesitate will die first, or become undead, or be digested. So we here at New Times gathered some of our local candidates, our potential future leaders, and sat them down to secretly evaluate who is best prepared to survive the zombie apocalypse, and who has it in them to ensure humanity’s continued existence when the end is nigh.
It may be a blessing and a curse to be a champion of stronger education when zombies are in search of the most succulent brains. But with the state eviscerating public education programs to bandage its bleeding financial wounds, at some point it becomes necessary to ensure each future generation has the necessary smarts to protect their brains.
• A Cuesta College and Cal Poly grad who speaks five languages, SLO County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian—the Republican candidate for Assembly District 33—might be a target for gray-matter-starved walking cadavers. As for protecting education, he’s got a plan: Keep it local.
“Our schools should be controlled by parents, teachers, and local school boards of trustees and not by Sacramento politicians,” he said. “Money allocated to school districts is for local trustees to make the decision as to where and how to spend that money. Any money that’s not been spent need not be returned back to the state.”
But if Sacramento is looking for extra dough to pump into education, he’s in favor of redistributing lottery funds. He wants to increase school funding allocation from about 36 percent to 45 percent of lottery coffers, though Achadjian would still rather prioritize at the local level to avoid the state’s blind distribution.
“We always end up getting the short end of the stick,” he said.
• Assembly candidate Hilda Zacarías went to Harvard for her master’s degree, so her brain is super delicious. Who knows, maybe it even tastes like Boston Baked Beans? All those years of advocating for education—first on the Santa Maria Joint Union High School Board of Education and then as a local politician—probably won’t help her either because zombies don’t put much stock in intelligence.
“As a state, one of our greatest jobs is to provide a high-quality education system. We’ve haven’t been able to do that because of the economy,” Zacarías told New Times. “Sacramento needs someone who can do both, who understands the systemic issues of education and fixing California’s budget.”
She proposes stopping excess regulation in the classroom and taking away things like mandatory testing for second graders.
“Children are whole beings,” she said. “It’s not just about how well you read or write at age 7.”
But will that matter if zombies take over the world?
• Paul Polson of Arroyo Grande was a bit groggy during his phone interview. It was about 5 a.m. his time, speaking from Afghanistan where he’s been doing carpentry for a Department of Defense contractor for the past two years.
At first, Polson was a bit iffy, weighing the benefits of a strong public-education program against the fact that there just isn’t any money to pay for it.
But the Libertarian candidate running for Assembly quickly perked up and the sleepy tone to his voice took on more of a professional-badass quality.
“Let’s raise the money on our own,” he said. Maybe not all badass.
He cursed state regulations that dictate the curriculum of local schools.
“The bottom line is for students, when they leave whatever level they’re at, to be capable of going to the next level,” he said. “If they’re capable of becoming a productive member of society, then we’ve been successful.”
• To make it as the county’s top lawman, you need to have a combination of street smarts and book smarts. Sheriff candidate Ian Parkinson says he has both—which means the walking dead would smell him from blocks away.
“Education is obviously extremely important, and everyone knows I’m currently working on my bachelor’s degree,” Parkinson said. “But street experience is a big thing. I guess overall it’s most important to be well-rounded.”
He said the more than 22 years he’s spent rising through the ranks of the SLO Police Department has given him experience at every level (save chief).
“That’s where you learn to be a leader,” Parkinson said.
• Sheriff candidate Joe Cortez is big on education. He’s got a degree in criminal justice administration and is pursuing a Master’s degree. He also attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and, as the Pismo Beach chief, Cortez received FEMA certification for disaster planning.
“The leadership success I’ve enjoyed stems from a strong formal educational foundation, decades of on-the-job seasoning, and a balanced policing philosophy that recognizes that the letter of the law should never trump common sense, fairness, and reasonableness,” Cortez said. “It would be easy to criticize the value of a college degree in law enforcement if you didn’t have one, so it seems where you stand depends on where you sit.”
On-the-job seasoning? Yum.
As any zombie survivalist knows, keeping your brainstem attached and your flesh un-eaten means finding a bunker and hunkering down until the last of the brain junkies have completely decomposed. With a pulsing horde of cannibals scratching through your door, you better be prepared for the long haul, and it doesn’t come cheap. Considering the annual multi-billion-dollar deficits in Sacramento, a smart politician will need to drag the state out of its monetary hole, and make sure that we’ve got the bucks to shut in until the dead stay dead.
• Achadjian may not have a quick solution to fill the capitol with capital—he’s more of a long-term guy who sees the budget problems as a result of overregulation. As a business owner who runs several South County gas stations, Achadjian said he’s seen first-hand how the state can make it hard to eke out profits.
“I always wear my small-business hat,” he said.
Part of his campaign has focused on his time with the county Board of Supervisors, where he touts a history of balanced budgets.
“In good times we planned ahead for the future and built reserves,” he said, definitely a plus in terms of apocalypse preparation. “In the lean times we still contributed to reserves and made tough but necessary cuts to keep our budget balanced. Sacramento must do the same.”
• A former accountant and small business owner, Zacarías is well versed in making sure everything adds up. And when it comes to building an arsenal, her grassroots campaigning style might come in handy since most of the Political Action Committees will have dissolved as a result of the ensuing apocalyptic chaos.
•The mucketyist of the mucks in Sacramento tend to create mindlessly unnecessary regulations that harm business owners, Polson thinks. A contractor’s license, for example, is geared about 90 percent toward knowledge of obscure business laws rather than how to do actual contracting work, he said.
“That license doesn’t make them qualified to do the job,” he said. “And that’s a very expensive and tedious process.”
So just do away with unnecessary red tape.
“I don’t think that there’s anything else the state can do to encourage businesses to be here than to make it easier for them to do business,” he said.
Polson believes that many people take advantage of the government and drive nails further into an already well-sealed coffin, even though stronger coffins make for better-trapped zombies.
“They don’t pay attention to what the real issues are and how a politician is supposed to represent them in the field of politics,” he said. “As a politician, it’s not my job to do what I think I’m supposed to; it’s my job to do what the people want me to.”
• Cuts hurt and in the zombie apocalypse, open wounds can be deadly. Parkinson said managing a city police force with an operating budget comparable to the Sheriff’s Department and dealing with reductions there have prepped him to make the tough decisions when it comes to shrinking budgets.
“If we’re talking about cuts, 85 percent of the budget is personnel, so how are we going to have cuts without a reduction in services?” Parkinson said. “If that is the case, then the public should be dictating what services are priorities and helping us guide those cuts so they’re as painless as possible. Without that input, [the sheriff is] making that decision in a bubble.”
• Cortez is proud of his performance as a financial steward: “In all my years, I’ve never overspent a budget by a nickel, and I’ve never lost a nickel of the taxpayers’ money being on the wrong end of a lawsuit.”
He’s prepared to deal with cuts by reviewing the entire department’s operations and searching out new ways to streamline costs.
“Additional budget cutbacks may be a real possibility given the economic turmoil we continue to encounter,” Cortez said. “My top goal is to keep our families and neighborhoods safe by providing a timely response to emergency calls for service. One of my first jobs as our new sheriff will be to take a top-to-bottom look at the entire organization with an eye toward streamlining operations.”
Cortez said he’s familiar with difficult budgeting.
“Tight budgets are nothing new to me, as I’ve had ‘where the buck stops’ budgeting accountability as a police chief for 15 years, during good times and bad, and have always finished the year under budget,” Cortez said. “There’s an old military quotation, ‘We will adapt and overcome,’ and I will use my years of leadership experience to ensure that the safety of our communities is our highest priority.”
Build your arsenal
Let’s face it, katanas don’t come cheap, and that’s just the overseas shipping costs. Guns and bullets can drain your wallet pretty fast, too. Politicians naturally know this, which is probably why they suffer through all the fundraising dinners and campaign junkets to fatten their bank accounts before election day. But who among the candidates can buy the most and deadliest weapons? Who among them offers the most bang with their bucks?
• According to the California Secretary of State, Achadjian received $351,918.78 in contributions (enough to buy more than 1.4 million 9 mm rounds) and spent $350,026.69 as of Oct. 16. He made two loans to himself: $23,000 in January and another $25,000 in March. Aside from himself, Achadjian’s biggest bankrollers were CDF Firefighters ($7,800), the California Medical Association ($7,800), and the California Dental Political Action Committee ($7,800). Some notable contributions came from Chevron ($3,900), Exxon Mobile ($1,500), and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians ($2,000).
• Zacarías had reported receiving $130,699.93 as of the same date and spent $151,561.15. Her top three contributions came from the California Teachers Association (two $3,900 contributions), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 639 ($3,900), and the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 ($3,900). Some notable contributions came from the Teamsters PAC ($1,500), the California transit union ($1,500), and Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and SLO counties ($1,000).
• At the first sign of an undead uprising, Polson would be totally screwed. He’d better be damn good at hand-to-hand combat, because his political treasure chest is utterly empty. He hopes to get elected, but as a third-party candidate, he doesn’t expect to.
“I would say there’s less than 500 people that know I’m even running for office,” he said.
That’s small by political standards, but still has the making of a terrifying horde when they get hungry.
Avoid the mob
One of the hottest topics in the sheriff’s race is gangs: How do we prevent them from gaining a foothold in the county? How can we cut into the endless pool of new recruits? And once a gang is established, what is the best tactic in chopping it down?
So gangs are a metaphor for zombies. Big whoop. Wanna fight about it? What would Parkinson and Cortez do if, by some fluke of science, some colorless, odorless rage was released into the air and somehow gangs grew exponentially in a relatively short period of time? Get it?
• “We have a responsibility to help prevent people from joining gangs, most importantly,” Parkinson said. “You can’t just respond with the enforcement approach, some people don’t respond to that.”
In order to effectively combat gangs, he added, the sheriff needs to lead the charge in providing alternatives, opportunities for self-improvement, such as job training. Of course, zombies have one job and one job only.
• Cortez said he and his department would be ready to take on hoodlums.
“If we were to encounter a significant increase in gang activity, I would enlist the support and cooperation of our local police departments, D.A.’s Office, CHP, Probation, etc., to form a strike team of additional officers to meet the problem head on,” Cortez said. “Fire departments do this exceptionally well and bolster their resources by bringing in the combined talents of outside agencies. We will do the same and continue it until the problem is finally abated.”
His strategy is to go after the leaders.
“I want to specifically target the shot callers and leaders of the gangs, and also the recruiters who operate in our middle schools and high schools,” he said. “By removing the leadership of the gangs, as well as those providing an avenue for gang membership, we can starve these organizations out of existence.”
And he wants the department to deal with the roots of the gang problems.
“We need to get into families and work to break up the generational aspect of gang membership,” he said. “Just because Grandpa and Dad are gang members doesn’t mean a son or daughter needs to join as well.”
Join the horde
Sometimes it’s good to play along. Zombies are persistent, but not the brightest of potentially Earth-ending horrors. Zombies don’t eat other zombies—it’s professional courtesy. So anyone who can blend in may stand a chance of making it to their next stronghold. It’s not ideal, but if you find yourself out in the open, it may just save your life.
• Before 2009, Achadjian tended to join up with former Board of Supervisors buddies Jerry Lenthall and Harry Ovitt, but the 2008 election changed that. Over the past two years, Achadjian has been in the minority, politically speaking. But a New Times review of Achadjian’s recent voting record shows that he’s no more flamboyant—politically speaking—than Liza Minnelli at a drag show.
Since the first meeting of 2009, Achadjian stood his ground and was the only opposing vote in decisions a total of 10 times. He found himself in the minority of 3-2 splits 12 times. But he sided with the majority opinion on split votes 15 times. He also abstained from votes pertaining to the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area because of his conflict of interest as a gas-station owner.
Achadjian tended to put his foot down on land-use items limiting development. For example, he was the only “no” vote on an item amending the housing element of the county’s General Plan.
• A review of Zacarías’s voting record while on the City Council shows she’s definitely not one to join the horde. Oftentimes, she’s the sole dissenting or approving vote on the council. As an example, Zacarías gave her no vote on the Santa Maria Good Neighbor Ordinance (a policy that changes the process for getting an entertainment license).
“I was the only no vote on that,” she said. “I felt that what we have now is a good neighbor policy because it allows members of the community to come express their concerns to the City Council.”
•Polson has no record of voting with the majority because he doesn’t have any record. Though he’s a Libertarian activist, Polson has never held public office.
But, he said if he’s elected and sent to Sacramento, “Oh man they’d love me. I ain’t taking nobody’s advice on nothing.”
When cornered by our slow moving, slowly decomposing counterparts, having a katana clasped in your kung-fu grip is a good thing. Having a chainsaw might be better. But nothing compares with the comfort of having Ol’ Smokey on your person for that quick-and-clean headshot. No fuss, no muss. But should the apocalypse creep up on you, already having your concealed firearm permit could come in handy.
• Parkinson said the sheriff has to make some tough calls in regard to issuing conceal-to-carry permits. It’s a struggle, he said, between allowing people the freedom to carry a concealed weapon when it’s warranted while protecting people by not giving permits to those who have no business carrying guns.
“It’s a privilege, not a right, and unfortunately there’s no simple explanation—it’s all case-by-case,” he said. “I think it’s the sheriff’s duty to be consistent, to apply the same standards when issuing these permits. Otherwise, the sheriff gets sued, and that costs the taxpayers money.”
• Cortez said there just aren’t enough sheriff’s deputies to cover the whole county.
“We have patrol level staffing reminiscent of the early 1990s,” he said. “We simply don’t have enough deputies on patrol and very little chance of new funding for deputies in the near future. This results in extended response times to 911 life-threatening calls of 15 minutes or longer.”
He intends to allow more concealed weapons permits than the present sheriff. Cortez has claimed on numerous occasions that he would have a more liberal (conservative, that is) policy on concealed weapons than the present sheriff or his opponent.
“I want to give our citizens the tools to protect themselves, and a workable concealed firearms policy will do just that,” Cortez said. “Community safety is our top priority, so there will be a vetting process to ensure that our CCW applicants have the right maturity level and understanding of the consequences of the use of force.”
Since SLO County is home to its very own nuclear plant, preparing for the unexpected—like, say, radioactive zombies—is key.
• In regard to emergency training, Parkinson cites the formal stuff such as the “ton of Diablo drills,” state and federal training, and his coordination with the county emergency services, as well as the kind you don’t get from behind a desk: his experience as a captain during the infamous 2004 Mardi Gras riot.
“It was one of those critical experiences that teaches you to manage large numbers of people, the planning that goes into it, and the instant reaction,” he said. “In a situation like that, you don’t have the luxury of sitting behind a desk and making the painstakingly planned, well-thought-out decisions. You gotta act.”
• Cops seem to be the first ones who get eaten or converted into rookie zombies. Cortez said he is ready—emergency wise—and has the experience and training to deal with sudden disaster.
“I am the only candidate to have earned full FEMA Disaster Management certification,” Cortez said. “Why does that matter? Because in the case of a disaster like the San Simeon earthquake, a FEMA trained professional can work in concert with local, state, and federal officials to activate resources, get us help we need, and get it right now. Every minute counts, and I am trained to organize and lead in disaster, and I’m ready to go on day one.”
Cortez said the Sheriff’s Department will be ready. If only blondes in black-and-white movies, stumbling away from a relentless pursuer, could be so prepared.
“The pieces are in place, and we’ll just need to ensure we maintain open lines of communication with one another on the local, state, and national levels,” he said. “When considering our emergency management response, the phrase, ‘Drill baby, drill’ is a good thing.”
Plan of attack
We weren’t quite sure how to pose the following question to our candidates, so we just came out with it: What’s your plan to survive the zombie apocalypse? Some of them laughed, some were confused, and some gave answers so utterly canned that we may have proved a few local candidates are in fact zombies themselves.
• New Times had to ask Achadjian this question three times. The first time he paused and responded, “You’ll have to explain that.” After some explanation he gave his answer. But the recording of that interview mysteriously deleted itself, so we asked him again in an e-mail.
“This is where my combined experiences of being self employed for 33 years, supervisor for 12 years, and commissioner for four years have prepared me to deal with [the] zombie apocalypse as you put it. I love dealing [with] and serving the public from all walks of life. I accept the challenge and look forward to the adventures of the capitol regardless of the difficult times ahead of us.”
• When the zombie apocalypse is upon us, and the living dead start beating down our doors for tasty brains, Zacarías said she plans to be the badass Latina heroine who fights them off and saves the world from, well, apocalypse.
“I’d be like the heroine in that zombie movie by Quentin Tarantino,” she told New Times. “After I saw that movie, I felt like I had survived the zombie apocalypse.”
The current Santa Maria City Council member said she would use her skills as a leader to unite the region’s survivors.
“But I’d be one of those leaders who’s right in the middle of it,” she said. “I’d get a bat and start swinging. I have a pretty powerful swing. I hit my first homerun in sixth grade.”
• Polson’s answer to this question was downright terrifying. If ever there was a man who could kick some zombie ass, it’s him.
“Well, let’s see. How should I put this? I would become ruthless.”
Holy crap, Paul.
He said that if “everybody I ran into was a possible threat,” he would try to avoid taking out “innocent bystanders.”
“But I would pretty much just shoot and blow up everybody.”
He went on, “It would be like a shooting gallery. You know, you’re shooting at things in a shooting gallery—bink, bink, bink, bink, bink.”
• “We’re at a very interesting time with a lot of angry and upset people, and I’m afraid it’s going to grow worse,” Parkinson said. “You have to be organized and have a plan. As a sheriff, the closer I can remain inside the community, the better. The more I can be out there and listen, the better I can hear it coming, the better I can feel it coming.”
• Cortez’s plan to deal with zombies is both simple and sensible, as well as disturbing for Robert A. McDonald, the reporter who asked him the question.
“From time to time, I play the Plants vs. Zombies computer game, and I’ve found that the pea-shooters and red hot chilies do an awesome job at repelling a zombie onslaught,” Cortez said. “However, since your question is about the real world, and not about a fictional game, my answer is quite simple: I don’t need to run fast to avoid the zombies, just faster than you, Mr. McDonald.”
The New Times bunker is NOT the perfect zombie hideout. Find your own sanctuary! Send comments to Executive Editor Ryan Miller at email@example.com.