SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Voters in the newly reshaped District 2 in San Luis Obispo County will have a choice between four supervisorial candidates in the upcoming election next week.
On the ballot is longtime incumbent Bruce Gibson, who has served as District 2 Supervisor since 2007, as well as businessman Geoff Auslen, retired surgeon Bruce Jones and retired 30-year Marine Corps veteran John Whitworth.
The four candidates are vying to represent District 2, which features much of the North Coast, and now veers inland to large areas of the North County, including Atascadero, San Miguel, Lake Nacimiento and parts of Templeton.
News Channel recently met with all four candidates and asked them the same set of questions about the upcoming election, which will be held on Tuesday, June 7.
The first question asked was why they felt they were the best candidate for the position.
"It's my extensive experience on the board, deep knowledge of county government, the relationships I've built with communities, organizations, state and federal agencies and strong sense of financial responsibility," said Gibson.
"I think you shouldn't have a career politician managing the county and I grew up here on the Central Coast," said Auslen. "I'm a business owner. I know what goes on in the ag world. I know what goes on in business. I know what goes on with regulation. That's what puts me into being the best candidate."
"I think it's because I'm very well prepared," said Jones. "I have spent more than three years on the Templeton Area Advisory Group. This is a group that advises the county government on a 58 square mile area. The last two years I was the chairman. This gave me the opportunity to talk to a lot of residents, homeowners, business owners, ranchers, farmers and others andut I think I understand their concerns, and also that experience has made me familiar with the ordinances and procedures with our county government. Also, I was on the board of a large hospital where I practiced. I was on the board of that hospital. It was a non-profit hospital because I was the elected president of the medical staff. The doctor that the other doctors elect to represent them. This hospital board served a community that was larger than the total population of our county. It had a budget that was larger than our county budget and had more employees. I had to make difficult decisions that are the same type of decisions that a county supervisors makes. I think together these experiences have prepared me well as a supervisor candidate."
"I've never been a politician," said Whitworth. "I never thought I would run for office. I will say very simply, I got a call from God to go forward. I had no intention of doing this. Quite actually, I don't like a lot of what politics is about, but I got called up, and I said, okay Lord, I'm going to go do this. Did my homework. I looked at who's running and what the issues are, and I see the county, my main concern is the county has a lot of issues. I think it's dysfunctional in many ways, and so, I bring 30 years in the United States Marine Corps. I was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam for a year. I fought. I know how to conduct myself under fire. I have a Masters Degree in educational administration from UC Santa Barbara. I am a small business owner currently, and one of the important things is that I'm also a licensed building contractor. It's not active, but I understand the building process and how it works, and I'm very concerned in the county and I've been out knocking on doors talking to a lot of people, contractors, builders and people are very unhappy about the treatment they get, about the fees they're paying. Fees I feel, many are not warranted, so one of my things is the building department. I also think the Board of Supervisors need to be held accountable for some of the things they've done, shutting down our businesses, absolutely not. I will stand up against that, as well as other issues."
The candidates were asked to explain their main campaign points and to list what they feel are the top issues currently challenging the county.
"The unhoused, we need to do something about it," said Auslen. "My opponent, the incumbent, has had 15 1/2 years to try and fix the problem and it's getting worse. Crime is a problem, both at the state level and local government. As a business owner, I deal with it all the time. Absolutely funding our law enforcement and emergency services, police and fire. That is a top priority, not cutting it. Those are really the top issues and then you add of course, water, and keeping our water local in here and doing things that we can increase water here for viability. Agriculture is huge, and in North County, it's agriculture, it's tourism. We have to have a balance and I think adding a space port to Paso Robles is incredible for economic viability here and head-of-household jobs. Inflation is at an alltime high. The average household this year, family of four, is going to be seeing a difference of $6,500 as of today, over last year, so inflation is huge too. We have to cut regulation and get rid of duplication, cut fees and make things really better for us to live here on the Central Coast. We're one of the counties that is growing in population. We need housing. We have to do housing density. It has to be in the right areas. Water is definitely an issue and the unhoused. Those are your top three right right off the bat and keeping law enforcement funded."
"The two things that the Board of Supervisors do has to do with land use and water use," said Whitworth. "The water is a very multifaceted issue. I think it's something that is evolving and it's moving. I think the county is moving in a good way in many directions. However, I'm for the small guy. If you look at the California State Constitution, which in many ways is stronger than our U.S. Constitution, It has a lot of very, very good things it in. Well, you own the water rights. In the State of California Constitution, you own the water rights all the way down to the core of the earth, so now, you bring in the outside people and you start bringing in bigger people that can get in and take that straw and go and get the little guy's water, so when you come to water banking, here's my thought. He with the biggest bank account wins. I do not believe in water banking. I think there's a lot things where we can all work together, the small guy and the big guy, and the little guy, so the little guy basically can get the water he needs to be able to flush his toilet because that's a problem. I have some good ideas and I bring the skills because I know how to execute. We get an issue and we work together and then we come up with solutions, real solutions. I'm running as as Constitutional Conservative, which means common sense values. Don't spend money we do not have. Fewer regulations, and I mean fewer regulations. We're getting regulated to death. The homeless issue and I have some really good thoughts on that. It's a multi-faceted issue also. There are varying degrees of homelessness. Those are just barely homeless. People that are basically healthy and have jobs. Some of them are living in the back of their cars. Then you have people that are at the next level that have been homeless for a while and many of them are on drugs and alcohol, and then you have those that are really addicted that really have the problems. You need to look at each of those differently. I have interviewed Sheriff (Ian) Parkinson for an hour. I have interviewed Dan Dow, the DA, and they've given my some ideas on what we need to do, and so I can't get to detail now, but I feel like I have a good understanding. There's a revolving door with homelessness in the county. We keep throwing money at it, coming back, and we're going to fix this and we're going to fix that, but the one thing you have to keep in mind, half the people do not want to come in and get help. You don't write them off, but you have to deal with reality, but these people need to be held accountable, but what the problem is, with the AB 47 going through, when these people commit a misdemeanor, they can't lock them up. Dan Dow and the Sheriff say if we can lock them up for 90 days, like we could in the past, we could get them clean enough and get them the help they need, but putting them back out on the streets two nights after you put them in jail is making the problem worse."
"The thing that I think it most important is public safety," said Jones. "I will support fire protection and police protection, the probation office, and support the District Attorney's office. The role of the supervisor is to see that they have the funds to do their jobs. Number two, I favor being supportive of small business, agriculture, and tourism, as well as jobs. Part of what our county government can do to help them is to get out of the way so that they can prosper. I favor less regulations rather than more. I have other things I'm concerned about and I have specific policies that can be seen on website about water, homelessness, and can be easily reviewed on that website."
"The issue on everybody's mind right now is homelessness, recovery from the pandemic, and the housing market," said Gibson. "Those things are weighing heavily on lots of folks, so we have a lot of challenges in those areas, but at the same time we have opportunities with new sources of funding and what we need is the political will to get stuff done."
Another question centered around if there are any issues that are specific to District 2 they would like to address.
"Tourism in our district is very important," said Jones. "The North Coast area depends largely on tourism. There's many jobs related to tourism in the inland, particularly around Paso Robles area. The west Paso Robles is in District Two, the city is not. I think we need to support tourism because it brings jobs. I think also not specific to just our district, but I think Diablo Canyon electrical generation facility needs to be open because it provides a lot of well paid jobs that bolsters our economy."
"I think water rights and water is a large issue in District 2," said Auslen.
"Different parts of the district have different issues," said Gibson. "At the coast, we're dealing with how to adapt to sea level rise, how to deal with constraints on resources. That's actually the same thing inland as well, constraints on resources and economic development is on everybody's mind, so the issues are the same from community to community. The specific issues that are at the top of everybody's mind are slightly different from one community to another, but overall, they involve adapting to a changing climate, how to keep our economy strong and growing, how to deal with challenges like housing, how to deal with homelessness. All these things visit all of our communities in one way or another, so there's a lot of commonality."
"It affects the whole county," said Whitworth in explaining his concern with fentanyl abuse. "It affects the our country. I've talked to a number of people about fentanyl and the problem we have in this community. Fentanyl is a major, major problem. We are losing our children, are dying from this throughout this country. One of the things I want to do is help get the Nancy Reagan old program called the DARE program, remember, about drugs, and we've got to get into the schools and we have to teach these kids what's going on because this fentanyl is getting passed around. It's getting laced, whether it be they're smoking it together not knowing, so we need to educate our kids, and whether I win this or not, I plan on winning, but as a citizen, I've already talked with people about how we're going to set this program up and we'll model it after the Nancy Reagan DARE program where kids will even sign a pledge, but you bring people into the community that are trained and we get volunteers and we put them in basically a uniform and we maybe bring a fentanyl kid with them that's gone through it, but this is killing our children and it's become right at the top of my list."
The redistricting of the county has been a controversial subject in the news over the past year. Last December, the current board voted 3-2 (with Gibson and District 3 Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg opposing) to draw new district lines, affecting each of the county's five seats.
The process draw criticism from many in the county, who claim it was done to favor the current conservative majority on the board. While the new lines were approved, it is being challenged in court and it still in litigation.
"I argued against the map that was adopted," said Gibson. "I think it was very clear it was engineered to favor one political party and that's not allowed by state election code. Right now, that's in court. It's going to take at least the rest of this year to resolve that, so the 2022 elections are being run on the map that was adopted. I'm all in running to get reelected and getting acquainted with a lot of people that hadn't dealt with me directly before."
"I believe that this is fair," said Whitworth. "Somebody is always a winner and somebody is always a loser. If you look at about 35,000 people per of the five different districts. I like the idea. I've been to Santa Margarita. I've knocked on doors. I've been to Atascadero. I've been to Cambria, up into San Simeon, and over into Santa Margarita, and part of Templeton, so I think it's a good district, and I feel you can't everybody happy, but I don't think it was a horrible disservice to anybody."
"I didn't have anything to do with it," said Auslen. "I was planning on making a run anyways in North County, and now we have Cayucos to Monterey County border, which is just past Ragged Point on the coast, along with everything at the lake and San Miguel, Atascadero. I can represent that district very fairly because I know the issues. Every community has different issues, but at the end of the day, we need to work to solve our problems here on the Central Coast so we can still be here. When I went to high school, I went to Morro Bay High School and graduated and everybody would ask, why do you live in North County? My answer was because I could afford it. I couldn't afford South County or the coast. Now, most people can't afford the county. We have to do things for future generations, and also workforce housing and making things viable, or we're not going to have much to come to."
"I did not vote on this redistricting," said Jones. "The only District 2 candidate who did was Bruce Gibson. As the Templeton Area Advisory Group did look at the maps and we spent and evening going over all the maps to see if we had recommendations to the county. I presented those recommendations the day after our meeting, on I believe it as November 19th, I'm not sure on that date. Our recommendations were that Cal Poly needed to be included in adjacent properties and the City of SLO. In the old map, there was essentially a ribbon of land that was essentially uninhabited. It connected Cal Poly to Atascadero and not to the property that was adjacent. It seemed like gerrymandering to us. Other than that, our only recommendation we made was that it followed the Fair Maps Act."
Jones was asked a follow-up question to clarify his personal opinion of redistricting, not that of the Templeton Area Advisory Group.
"I think it's fine," replied Jones.
The final question asked each of the candidates to explain what a vote for them would mean to the district and the county as a whole.
"Getting things done," said Whitworth. "First of all, I'm not a politician, but I believe in the United States of America. I believe we're in a fight for the soul of our country right now and the divisiveness that I see at the national level, and I also see it here, and so one of the things I believe that we can do, and my goal would be to get the facts because we all want the same things. I think we can get on that Board of Supervisors and the goal would be to be voting 5-0 on as many things as we can. Fentanyl. Is there anybody that's against starting up a program against that? Is there anybody against having our streets clean and having our police, professional police, having enough Sheriff officers taking care of our first responders, so I feel like a lot of this divisiveness has been an attitude of us against them, and you're not always going to come together, but we need to strive as a nation at that level, so I believe that I know how to execute, how to get things done, bring people together. 30 years in the United States Marines Corps. I was a commanding officer of a Marine Corps squadron for three years. When we had to go into the field, we had to execute and there's not time to make mistakes, so I feel like those are some of the skills that I would bring, and I do it with God in my heart. I bring it as a man that loves this country and I will do what I feel is right and what our Constitution, our Constitution I believe is being stomped on in many ways, but it is still in force, and second to the Holy Bible, the Constitution is an unbelievable document."
"A vote for me is a vote for less regulations, less fees and keeping our streets safe," said Auslen.
"It would be a vote for integrity," said Jones. "A vote for someone who doesn't need a job. I'm a retired surgeon. I don't have a job or business. I'll spend more time and effort than you can imagine. I'm a workaholic. I love this area. Three generations of my family live in District Two. A vote for me is someone who cares about the community."
"It's a vote for good government," said Gibson. "It's a vote for a county supervisor who has over 15 years experience, the commitment to public service, the vision and leadership and other skills that are necessary to get the job done for the residents of San Luis Obispo County."
For the full interview with candidate Bruce Gibson, play the YouTube video below.
For the full interview with candidate Geoff Auslen, play the YouTube video below.
For the full interview with candidate John Whitworth, play the YouTube video below.
For the full interview with candidate Bruce Jones, play the YouTube video below.