Consider these realities: global climate catastrophe. Cuts to the American safety net. Race baiting. Foreign undermining of the democratic process. The erosion of U.S. moral authority. The devolution of constitutional norms. Voter suppression ... .
These crises—and more—make the 2020 elections the most important in my lifetime.
The election on March 3 holds the key to our county's future. In less than two weeks, your vote will determine whether our county will be governed by conservative ideologues or broadminded supervisors. One seat will make the difference.
Currently, conservative supervisors Lynne Compton (District 4), John Peschong (District 1), and Debbie Arnold (District 5) hold the reins, while Bruce Gibson (District 2) and Adam Hill (District 3) advocate modestly progressive positions.
The 1st, 3rd, and 5th District seats are up for election. Depending on where you live, you will choose between Peschong and Stephanie Shakofsky, Hill and Stacy Korsgaden, or Arnold and Ellen Beraud.
I asked each candidate by email what issues they believe will have the greatest long-term impact on SLO County. I am grateful to Arnold, Beraud, and Hill for responding. I also researched candidate positions and attended candidate forums. Full disclosure: I am a registered Democrat, and I have canvassed precincts in SLO and Atascadero for Beraud.
Conservatives Peschong, Arnold, and Korsgaden hold to Republican maxims of less government, less regulation, and lower taxes. They believe protecting the business climate should supersede the climate crisis. They support oil drilling. And they brazenly support Trump.
The progressives believe that the magnitude and complexity of the problems we face require the resources of government. That we cannot afford the old business-as-usual, laissez faire approach, which has served to exacerbate the climate emergency, decrease housing affordability, increase homelessness, and sacrifice public health in favor of private interests.
Although Peschong voted for some fee increases, he is, in the words of The Tribune editorial board, "a member of a conservative majority that has stood in the way of real progress on some key issues." Those issues include affordable housing, homelessness, and climate action. Shakofsky outlines her major concerns as government transparency, road maintenance, homelessness, and affordable housing.
In District 3, Korsgaden believes developers will build more homes if fees are lowered—but she can't guarantee that doing so will ensure more affordable homes. Hill, on the other hand, believes that for the sake of working people, the county should encourage clean new businesses while also providing direct resources for affordable housing via inclusionary fees on developers.
In line with the incumbent conservatives, Korsgaden advocates for nonprofits and churches to fill the gap in services for the homeless, for the uninsured or underinsured, and for expanded child care services for county employees. She opposes Monterey Bay Community Power, the lower-cost, clean energy provider now serving the city of San Luis Obispo.
In an email, Hill said that the conservative majority's adherence to "ideological talking points" impacts all critical issues: "A few years ago, they opposed a self-help sales tax measure that would have made tens of millions more dollars available for our road infrastructure; the measure lost by 600 votes. ... Thus, traffic congestion will continue to be difficult to improve, as will housing affordability, homelessness, other infrastructure, and we will continue to stand still while other counties around us progress forward."
In District 5, perhaps the most hotly contested local race, Arnold said, "I believe the issues that will have the greatest long-term impact on the county will be 1) county citizens retaining control of their groundwater, 2) maintaining and making improvements to our roads, 3) planning appropriately for affordable housing to meet state mandates."
In contrast to Arnold's low-key vision of the future, Beraud believes that we are at a crossroads, that we cannot afford what she calls "a failure of leadership and inaction" that contributes to an accelerating pace of mounting challenges.
Like Korsgaden, Hill's opponent, Arnold wants to give developers a gift in lowered fees, while Beraud, Arnold's opponent, says, realistically, that "we can't build our way out of the housing crisis—it will take political will and funding, including impact fees on large properties."
Might it sound to you to like the conservatives adhere to old head-in-the-sand principles that have led to climate denial, worsening congestion, unaffordable housing, and other critical troubles?
As Beraud says, "Either we will address our housing affordability crisis, or we'll continue to be one of the least affordable communities in the nation.
"We can finally prioritize enough funding to help get people off of the streets, or a thousand people will continue to go unsheltered each night," she asserts. "Will we invest in renewable energy programs like community choice energy, or will we green light oil extraction in the most environmentally sensitive habitats on the Central Coast?"
The real world has come knocking on the door of our idyllic community. On March 3, voters will determine the fate of San Luis Obispo County around the urgent issues of housing, homelessness, and climate action.
That's what's at stake. Remember to vote. You decide how we will live and survive. Δ
Amy Hewes is a grassroots activist. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.