- PHOTO COURTESY OF CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
SLO County supervisors voted against the same mosquito and vector control program they’d handed off to voters just a few months earlier.
On April 7, county supervisors gave environmental health officials $280,000 to hire a consultant and put a ballot measure to voters that would drastically expand existing control programs, if approved. On June 23, they decided that the process was so botched and the public information was so bad that the county shouldn’t even participate in the vote.
As a property owner, the county was allowed to vote on the assessment ballot, which gives more weight to people and entities that own more land. County properties equate to about 700 votes, officials said.
“I think the process by which we got here, I don’t want to say questionable, but it’s difficult to deal with,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said.
In fact, some of the ballots Mecham himself was supposed to receive never got to him. Mecham cast his personal ballot in an open public hearing just minutes before county officials closed the vote.
If approved, a new mosquito and vector control district will cost the average household $10 per year during the first year of the program.
About 38,000 ballots came back out of about 93,000 that were mailed to property owners, which is a good return, County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said. However, there were about 1,400 ballots that bounced back as undeliverable. Rodewald said it’s normal for the county to get back undeliverable ballots, but it still left many members of the public and a few supervisors uneasy.
Many critics blasted county officials for the misleading information passed to voters. Some characterized the information as biased at best and a deliberate attempt to scare voters at worst. Since 2003 there have been only two human cases of West Nile virus in the county, County Environmental Health Director Curt Batson said at the hearing. But, he added ominously, “To think that San Luis Obispo County is immune or can’t be the center of an outbreak is not very forward thinking.”
It was an odd choice of words because many people complained that county officials embellished the potential danger to the public without explaining that the actual danger has been minimal so far.
“Our clerk would be totally embarrassed to send out voter information that looked like that,” said Eric Greening, a prominent civic activist.
The supervisors’ vote did not kill the assessment. A final vote count will be presented to county supervisors on July 14. The measure could still pass, even with the county abstaining and with a majority of city councils voting against the assessment.