In a four-sentence statement released March 10, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Frank Mecham announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2016.
Mecham is currently serving his second four-year term representing the county’s 1st District, which includes Paso Robles, San Miguel, Shandon, the western part of Templeton, and the sprawling rural areas in between. He started his two decades-long stretch of public service by serving on the Paso Robles Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, after which he served on the city’s planning commission from 1996-98, the city council from 1998-2000, and as the city’s mayor from 2000-2008. Mecham was elected supervisor in 2008 and took the seat in 2009.
“It’s been a great run, it’s been a privilege and honor to represent the county, it was a privilege and honor to represent the city [of Paso Robles], and it’s time to move on,” Mecham told New Times.
Mecham had planned a June announcement on whether or not he’d seek reelection, but decided not to wait.
“I decided the earlier the better; that way, it will give anyone who wants to run for the seat ample opportunity to ramp up a campaign,” he said.
Much of Mecham’s time as an elected official has been focused on water: As mayor of Paso Robles, he played a leading role in the city’s decision to buy into the Nacimiento Water Project and sign up for a 4,000-acre-feet-per-year allotment; as supervisor, Mecham has been at the center of the ongoing Paso Robles Groundwater Basin saga, where the county has been wrangling with tough decisions over whether to limit pumping, how to manage the existing supply, and what steps to take in the future. During that process, several 3-2 votes have hinged on Mecham, including those determining the county’s support for water district legislation and the ongoing consideration of a permanent ordinance that would limit new and expanded groundwater pumping. Mecham initially voted against both of those matters, but eventually gave his support after requested changes were made.
Mecham began 2015 as both the board’s chair and the de facto swing vote. He quickly received a brash, scrutiny-filled welcome after 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold ruffled feathers by pointing out that she wasn’t elected chair as part of the routine rotation process—though it wasn’t the 5th District’s turn for a couple more years. After two very contentious meetings filled with harsh public comment, Mecham elected to remove himself from the chair’s seat, and to elect Arnold to be chair and 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton as vice chair. A 3-2 decision to do so followed.
For the remainder of his term, Mecham will likely continue as a deciding vote on several issues—especially those involving the Paso basin—as there has been a tight alliance between Arnold and Compton thus far. Before Compton was elected in 2014, the 4th District supervisor was often considered the apparent swing vote, even though more conservative-leaning members have largely held the seat.
Mecham said that during his original 2008 campaign for the supervisor seat, he was asked how long he’d plan to stay—to which he responded he would serve two terms, “as long as you will have me.”
Mecham told New Times that that promise factored into his decision to bow out in 2016. While he may not continue to serve in public office, Mecham said he’d continue to work in other capacities on issues he holds important.
“There’s always more to do, and there’s always things to finish,” he said.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay