A group of residents in Los Osos thinks now might be the perfect moment for the unincorporated area of SLO County to start thinking seriously about becoming a city.
"I feel like it's a good time with the redistricting that kind of left our community orphaned during the election and not really having a representative," Los Osos resident Kristin Horowitz said. "Now we sort of have essentially no power."
Although Los Osos is currently in SLO County's 2nd District, 2021's redistricting process moved the community out of that district and into the 5th District. Residents of the new 5th District won't be able to vote in an election until 2024. This leaves Los Osos, Morro Bay, Oceano, and parts of the city of San Luis Obispo without representation for 2023 and 2024.
Horowitz, who serves on the Los Osos Community Advisory Council, and former Los Osos Community Services District (CSD) board member Jon-Erik Storm formed the Committee to Incorporate Los Osos. The committee would like SLO County's Local Agency Formation Commission to look at the financial feasibility of pursuing cityhood for Los Osos.
Over the last decade or so, Storm said, he's probably spoken with half the residents in Los Osos about what they think of becoming a city.
"The general sense in the community I got was people would either say, 'Yeah, why aren't we a city?' or they would say, "We don't have the tax base,'" Storm said. "I got persuaded over time that a lot of things could be accomplished through the CSD."
But the CSD can only do so much, he added. Plus, Storm added, Los Osos is poorly represented at the county level and that's what he keeps coming back to.
"We have one county supervisor. The politics of the county supervisors changes, and we only get to vote for the one guy," Storm said.
That guy is 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, but that will change come January 2023
"Our current supervisor [possibly] won re-election, but in his newly drawn district, which does not include us," Storm wrote in a press release. "He is not accountable for us even though he technically represents us. This is worse than 'second-class citizen.'"
Gibson told New Times that he completely understands the desire to incorporate in the face being an "orphaned" community, and that he will continue to represent the residents of Los Osos in any way that they find it useful for him to do so.
"If you need representation to the Board of Supervisors, you are welcome to contact my office, and we will be happy to serve you," Gibson said.
Redistricting has not only created confusion for areas that will temporarily not have any representation, but also for areas that will temporarily have double the representation. These include San Miguel, Lake Nacimiento, west Templeton, Atascadero, Edna Valley, Pozo, and California Valley. If Gibson gets reelected to the 2nd District—he's ahead in the race, as of press time—he will represent Atascadero, which 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold said she will also represent until the end of her term in 2024.
Atascadero leaders told New Times that it plans on looping both supervisors into their future communications with the county.
Gibson said many people have asked him about what the future will look like, and he tells them that "the short answer is that any individual, organization, or jurisdiction in the county can deal with any supervisor they wish to deal with or who will deal with them."
"It's so ingrained in our notion of democracy that a group of people elect a representative, that representative is now bound to that group of people because they elected them," Gibson said. "But that is a matter of custom, that is not a bound statute."
Arnold said she always tells people who may feel orphaned by the redistricting to look on the bright side.
"Now you're represented by all the supervisors," she said. "You can pick and choose. Call whoever you want."
That, she added, happens anyway. People often call the supervisor they know or the supervisor who serves on the committee or governing body that influences their issue.
"Everything takes a little getting used to," she added. "It's just going to be confusing for people to get used to the change."
After the new Board of Supervisors is sworn in in January 2023, county staff plans to have a discussion with them about how they want to address the areas of the county that won't be electing a supervisor until the 2024 election, according to a county spokesperson. Whether it's a resolution designating specific supervisors to provide constituent services to certain areas, an informal agreement letting residents know which supervisor to contact, or encouraging residents to contact the supervisor of their choice, one thing's for certain.
"Regardless of any decision, a constituent in the county is free to contact a supervisor from any district," the spokesperson said. Δ
Correction: This article was edited for accuracy to state that Los Osos is in the new 5th District.