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33RD ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

What’s the difference?
Three Republican candidates for the 33rd Assembly District try to distinguish themselves

STORY BY MATT MCBRIDE
PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER

HOMEGROWN
Sam Blakeslee grew up in SLO County and will rely on his experience with complex budgets to separate himself from the rest of the pack.


Republicans love a good fight.

But you’d hardly know it by watching the three Republican candidates vying for their party’s approval in the March 2 primary to be the next 33rd District assemblyman.

The Republican candidates seeking a place on the Nov. 2 general election ballot are certified financial planner and president of Blakeslee & Blakeslee, Sam Blakeslee; attorney and rancher Michael Zimmerman; and financial adviser and businessman Matt Kokkonen.

In other primary races, Democrat Stew Jenkins, an attorney; Green Party member Tom Hutchings, a retired peace officer; and Libertarian Gary L. Kirkland, a schoolteacher, all are running unopposed.

The district’s current Republican assemblyman, Abel Maldonado, is seeking a seat in the state senate.

With so much agreement on key issues between the three Republicans, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. Instead, the race to be their party’s nominee in the Nov. 2 general election has been built mostly on differences in background.

Sam Blakeslee


Blakeslee is 48 years old. He attended elementary, junior high, and senior high school in SLO. He did his undergraduate work at U.C. Berkeley and has a master’s degree in geophysics from UCSB. After graduation he took a job offer from Exxon Co. in Houston, Texas, where he moved into management and became the company’s strategic planner.

Blakeslee said his job at Exxon taught him some valuable lessons that he would bring to the Assembly.

He tended financial needs and projects for Exxon, and implemented plans balancing what could and couldn’t be funded. He then managed the plans, made sure people stayed on budget, and dismissed people who couldn’t perform. He was in Texas seven years.

“The skills that I bring, and perhaps uniquely bring to [the assemblyman] position, are the proven experience of dealing with large, complex budgets,” Blakeslee said.

Blakeslee returned to the Central Coast in 1995 to help run the financial planning firm Blakeslee & Blakeslee for his parents.

In 1998, he was elected to the Cuesta College Board of Trustees. In 2000 the board elected him president, and then reelected him in 2001. Blakeslee said some of the decisions he faced as board president show his management style.

“The toughest decisions at Cuesta were saying no to raises. I’ve voted no on the last five raises in a row. My feeling then—as it is now—is that we need to put every dollar possible into the classroom, and where possible save jobs.

“In tough times, the last thing you do is increase salaries [if it’s] going to affect the classroom or your skilled pool of employees. Most of the employees have been there 10 to 15 years, they’ve got great skill sets, and they understand the institution. If you give raises and the price for that is you’ve got to fire some of your best people, it’s a pretty bad tradeoff. When the money begins to flow once the budget turns around, those people aren’t there anymore and you’ve got to start from scratch.”

 

FARM BOY
Mike Zimmerman is banking on his background in law to put himself ahead of his Republican peers in the race for 33rd Assembly.

 

Mike Zimmerman

Zimmerman, 51, grew up in Modesto and was active in local 4-H clubs and the Future Farmers of America. He attended Cal Poly as a farm management major, graduating in 1973. He then attended law school at Western State University. After graduation he moved to Arroyo Grande, opened up a law office, and he’s “still sitting there now.”

Zimmerman believes he has the most going for him when it comes to the job of assemblyman.

“I have the best background of all the candidates running in the Republican primary. I sit down every day with clients that have problems. We sit down and I apply the applicable law to come up with solutions. Sometimes it requires negotiating with someone on the other side, and that’s exactly what we do in the legislature. The legislature isn’t just passing a budget.

“You don’t need a certified financial planner to know that you can’t spend more than you bring in. My family budget works that way. You’re adding a few more zeros, but it’s the same concept.”

He also thinks an attorney is best suited for the details involved in the Assembly seat.

“There are hundreds of bills that come up every year. I understand the law and have worked with it for years. [My opponents] are going to have to rely on third parties telling them what the laws mean because they don’t have training in that area. I may be able to spot problems that the others may not be able to.”

FINNISH FINISH Born in Finland, financial planner Matt Kokkonen says he’ll put his energy into resolving California’s budget woes.

 

Matt Kokkonen

Kokkonen was born in Finland and immigrated to the United States on his own at age 16. He graduated high school in New York and attended college at Westmont in Santa Barbara, earning a degree in philosophy in 1967. He also holds two master’s degrees, one in financial services and one in management. He moved to San Luis Obispo in 1970 and has been a financial planner ever since.

“I believe I am the best-suited candidate for the job because of my background in finance. I understand budgeting, financial management, and accounting. [In my 33 years of business] I have paid worker’s compensation premiums, made payroll, and dealt with hundreds of business clients with insurance and investment-related projects.
“I uniquely possess business knowledge, which I believe is sorely needed in Sacramento.”

Kokkonen believes worker’s compensation is a state crisis that must be solved immediately because California is suffering a hemorrhaging of its finances.

“I have worked in that field for over 30 years; I understand worker’s comp, medical insurance, and liability-insurance issues. Daily I get calls from clients who are in anguish over increased premiums. Here, employers have to decide between letting employees go or paying their insurance premiums. It’s a tragedy, and it’s driving businesses out.”

Each of the three Republicans has similar stances on current issues.
On taxes: all three oppose Proposition 56. This measure reduces from two-thirds to 55 percent the number of votes required to pass the budget and other bills—including tax-increase measures—related to the budget. Zimmerman expresses a familiar mantra.

“If [lawmakers] get to a crisis situation and [56] kicks in, they’re going to be able to go ahead and pass tax increases and ignore the other side. To me it’s just so obvious—I don’t know why anybody would vote for it.”
Kokkonen agrees.

“That’s one of the most dangerous propositions we have faced in a long time. I am absolutely opposed to Prop. 56 because the people of California would have no protection against tax increases.”

On education: all three support allowing local school districts more authority in deciding where to spend the money given to them by the state. Zimmerman echoes his rivals on the subject.

“We need to be much more efficient in the way we spend money in our schools. Get rid of the categorical funds where [officials] don’t have any choice at the local level. We need to block-grant those funds to the local school boards so they can decide where to spend it.”
And Blakeslee agrees.

“Grants need to be transformed into a more user-friendly, locally controlled, block-grant formation.”

And on water rights: all three agree that it is an issue that must be solved. Kokkonen sees the State Water Project as a step in the right direction.
“It would be unfortunate if some of the local entities did not sign on to the state water project because it’s unavoidable that people are going to keep coming here. We need to build the infrastructure and services to provide for that.”

With their similar stances on the issues, all three hope their backgrounds will set them apart and win votes for a seat on the Assembly.

ASSEMBLYMAN
Republican Abel Maldonado currently holds the office being sought by three other SLO County Republicans.

Staff Writer Matt McBride can be reached through the managing editor at swarde@newtimesslo.com.

 

 

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County Supervisors

Housing, water, and health care
Third District winner will have their hands full tackling a variety of local issues

STORY BY DANIEL BLACKBURN
PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER


A retired police officer, a San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board member, and a Pismo Beach City Council member; one of these three people will be the next supervisor for SLO County’s 3rd District.

The winner will have to tackle issues such as how to deal with affordable housing and growth, water rights, and an apparent move away from centralized hospitals toward a growth in clinics.

They each have their own beliefs.

Patty Andreen

Patricia “Patty” Andreen grew up outside Philadelphia. She attended college in Massachusetts, lived in the Midwest with her first husband while attending medical school, then moved to Fresno. She made her way to SLO 12 years ago.

In San Luis, she’s practiced law as co-council on nursing home safety cases until she opened her own law office and dealt mostly with employment law.
She was elected in 2000 to a position as a governing board member of San Luis Coastal Unified school District. She said the main challenge of the position was balancing the school budget.

“We were able to do it while giving our employees a raise and maintaining really good programs,” she said. “It was a long process; l learned a lot about building consensus, working with different groups, and how to reconcile all those different interests and come up with a plan for everybody.”

Andreen thinks most of the solutions in dealing with affordable housing have already been identified.

She said one option she is in favor of is giving density bonuses to developers to incite them into putting more units on a parcel of land.
She also favors inclusionary housing, where a developer is required to include a certain percentage of moderate or low-income units when they get approval for development.

She thinks there are solutions, but she said the problem is political, as in “who has the will to put them into play?”

“When a politician is elected and looks to maintain popularity, it becomes very difficult to require things to happen. Opposition comes from the developers and it comes from the neighbors, and a lot of the people who need affordable housing aren’t there to speak for themselves. When you’re catering to those that already live here, and their opposition, it forces the governing body to only listen to those that are in the room.
“You have to listen to who’s not there sometimes.”

As far as growth is concerned, “I’ve been depicted as anti-growth, which isn’t quite right. I believe in taking some additional population here, because I think we have to—we have to build housing for the workforce, but I would like to see our growth follow the principles of smart growth because it’s important to maintain the community the way it is.”

“I would like to see more retail development in downtown areas so we can keep ourselves more like Santa Barbara and less like Santa Maria. I’m in favor of more density and I’m in favor of trying to keep the downtown a vital tourist, shopping, and eating area. I don’t want to see everything leave downtown; that will hurt the vibrant core of the city. [The downtown] is one of our biggest assets.”

In terms of the county’s hospital closings and apparent move toward the use of clinics, she is a supporter.

“I supported the closing of General [Hospital]. I think the clinics are going to be much more efficient, because they’re much closer to where people live, and hopefully they will be more cost effective.

“It looks like we’re moving in a direction that’s going to be able to deliver the most care for the money we have.”


Bill Rabenaldt

Bill Rabenaldt was born in Dover, N.H., and grew up in Argentia, Newfoundland, until he was 18. He’s a U.S. Navy veteran and spent four years in Vietnam. He’s a retired vocational training school principal who’s worked in San Bernardino, Anaheim, Simi Valley, and Oxnard. He’s been in SLO County since 1986. He’s served on the Pismo Beach City Council for the last five years.

Rabenaldt believes the problem of affordable housing is “very solvable.” But he said it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“As you create more housing, you also create more traffic and water issues, as well as sewer and environmental [problems].” He said once the elected official understands those things, they can see what needs to also be accomplished. He said it’s been done before all over the country.

“San Luis Obispo does not need to reinvent the wheel,” he said.
“I am in favor in densifying the city’s or the cultural locations, if you will.”
He also said that building entire new communities appeals to him, too.
“There are models all over that are already successful. [They are] good as long as you’re not looking at creating a bedroom community—you’ve got to have industry and job creation within that community to sustain itself.”

He said he believes the Nacimiento Pipeline is “probably necessary,” but it’s a also a “fallacy.”

“If you go after every source of water there is and you use it up, eventually you’re going to have no water,” he said.

Instead, he favors a forward-thinking concept that’s being used in Europe.
He said some Europeans are building new homes with two exterior walls with a cistern in the middle for collecting rainwater. This water is treated through a membrane and is used for showers, cooking, and drinking.

Also, he said Englanders are installing mini-sewer plants in their homes. The water used for showers, dishes, and toilets is treated and turned from “black water” to “brown water,” which can be used to flush the toilet or water your lawn.

He said an approach like this could save 40 percent of the water in the county.


Jerry Lenthall

Jerry Lenthall is a retired police supervisor and sergeant for the San Luis Obispo Police Department. He received his B.S. in Industrial Technology from Cal Poly, and an M.B.A. from the University of Redlands. He is a founding member and supervisor of the SLO County Bomb Task Force.

On the League of Women Voters Smart Voter web site, www.smartvoter.org, Lenthall says he believes “the majority of future growth should occur within the cities, and building in-fill projects is the most logical solution. Urban sprawl is not a solution and causes more problems than it solves.”

He also states that the county’s health care system continues to evolve. His priority is that health care services must be delivered when and where people need them.

“I think we can take a good lesson from what the private sector has done. Satellite medical centers—whether it’s a MedStop, a doc-in the-box, or a critical care center—allow our health care to be more accessible, and hopefully a little more timely because not everybody has the time to drive to General Hospital. They’re also more effective in their delivery of health care services. The doctors have found you don’t need a big overhead or a big office building.”

Lenthall thinks there are a lot of solutions for water-related issues on the Central Coast, but he said the best he’s seen so far is the Nacimiento pipeline.

“We’ve been studying [the issue] for over 30 years, and the cost just keeps getting more and more expensive. The key is restoring the trust and integrity of all the agencies involved [in the pipeline project]. We want to get this thing built, and we want to get the water delivered to the customer at the best value. The only way we’re going to get that is by the commitment of as many agencies as possible—that’s what’s going to make or break this thing.”

Lenthall’s beliefs about the pipeline project parallel his thoughts about becoming supervisor.

“We’re trying to make the best decision that hopefully affects the most people. It’s all about representing people.”

“What sets me apart is I don’t come from any specific, one-camp background; my finances and my support have been extremely broad-based, probably more broad-based than all the other candidates combined. That’s the type of broad-based support that I think people want.

“I don’t even claim to be the smartest person that’s running for office, because it’s not about smarts. It’s about listening and problem-solving skills.”

 

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Ovitt faces stiff competition
First District must confront problems stemming from rapid growth

STORY BY DANIEL BLACKBURN

Veteran supervisor Harry Ovitt, currently chairman of the board and a fixture on the county’s governing panel since 1989, is facing vigorous challenges from Susan Harvey and Dan Del Campo for his First Supervisor District seat.

District 1, which covers inland North County, is one of the region’s prime agricultural areas and encompasses Lake Nacimiento.


Harry Ovitt

Incumbent Ovitt has been a county resident for 55 years, an Eagle Scout who considers his accessibility to constituents to be a high priority.

Ovitt champions property rights for the individual, he said, and he wants to continue what he describes as his ongoing effort to provide an increased level of county services for North County residents “in line with growth.”

Population growth is the “major issue” facing county residents, Ovitt said, because such growth has a huge impact on planning, budget, services, and resources.

Rural growth must be balanced with planning for urban services and facilities, he added.

In a recent debate with other county supervisor candidates, Ovitt said numerous options exist to help county planners encourage residential construction that fits. The so-called county “housing element”—a long-term planning document—was backed by Ovitt. It calls for more master-planned communities and developments that combine homes with businesses. Construction of condominiums and apartments also must be considered important, Ovitt believes.

He said he is planning to “continue to protect all North County resources, particularly Salinas water.”

Ovitt is an outspoken advocate of business and job creation through the Economic Advisory Committee and Economic Vitality Corporation.
Ovitt’s endorsements include the county Cattlemen’s Association and the Paso Robles Board of Realtors.


Susan Harvey

First-time supervisor candidate Susan A. Harvey is president of Paso Watch, a citizen’s advocacy group that acts as watchdog to the North County’s biggest city.

Harvey owns a high-tech international software firm for manufacturing applications, Inifinite Functions.

She has resided in the district for 29 years and had operated a farm, cattle ranch, and vineyard in San Luis Obispo County. Harvey earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Regents College in New York.

Harvey thinks that quality of life in this county can be preserved with a balance of growth and new infrastructure.

Harvey has a special interest in water resources, she has said during the campaign.

She requested, in written comments on the Nacimiento Pipeline Project, that “mandatory conservation programs be instituted by agencies and cities wishing to participate in the pipeline project.”

Harvey said water conservation can be improved.

“We are all drawing on the same aquifer. Urban residents have the safety net of municipal water projects to supply their water. The only limiting factor to their water use is the cost. Currently the cost of water bills seldom provides an incentive to conserve,” she said.

With a steadily shrinking 1.2 million county acres presently in agriculture production, Harvey worries about the continuing health of the industry in the face of encroaching development.

“We risk too much if we take a narrow, unbalanced approach that favors any and all commercial, industrial, and residential development on the premise that all growth is good regardless of where it occurs,” said Harvey.
“What is happening on the borders of Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, and the communities of Nipomo and Templeton illustrate what I am talking about. The problem is not ‘no growth.’ The problem is unlimited, uncontrolled, and unbalanced growth. Balance means growth in the right places and at a pace where it does not overwhelm infrastructure, revenue sources, water sources, air quality, traffic, and the quality of life in this county. I will make this balance my priority.”

Harvey has endorsements from the Sierra Cub and the California Faculty Association.


Daniel Del Campo

Dan Del Campo, former mayor of Thousand Oaks, said he plans to work for “greater protection of agriculture and environmental resources.”

New to San Luis Obispo politics, Del Campo said he also sees health care and affordable housing as major issues in this campaign.

He believes that one possible solution to the housing crisis is to implement a program he said “has been used successfully elsewhere.”

This plan would require employers who hire large numbers of service workers to pay a one-time tax to help finance workforce housing projects.
In a recent debate, Del Campo wondered if the Nacimiento Water Project for North County users would be worth the money to water customers who might face higher rates. He won’t condemn the plan, though.

“I’m not against it,” he told reporters. “I want more answers.”

Del Campo, a marketing manager, is a director of the Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee and on the board of governors of the Boys & Girls Club.

Del Campo has won the endorsement of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

 

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FIFTH DISTRICT INCUMBENT Supervisor Mike Ryan will face water conservationist Jim Patterson for the county’s 5th District seat.

 

Ryan seeks third term
Fifth District incumbent is challenged by water conservation manager

STORY BY DANIEL BLACKBURN

 

Mike Ryan, a rancher, real estate broker, and 5th District supervisor incumbent, is seeking his third term on the board and faces a tough battle from water conservation manager Jim Patterson.

The two-person campaign has been the fiercest political battle this year in San Luis Obispo County, pitting pro-development Ryan against the environmental expressions of Patterson.

Michael P. Ryan

Mike Ryan likes to claim that he has “helped keep county government solvent” with a minimum of reductions to essential public services.
He said he “is determined that county residents receive what they expect—good roads and bridges, well-maintained libraries and parks, and strong public safety agencies.”

Ryan believes San Luis Obispo County has “avoided the hard times that have affected neighboring counties,” and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.”

He said he has “devoted much time and effort to fostering a healthy local economy in which small businesses can prosper and new jobs can be created.”

This, he said, “means lessening the burden of taxes, fees, and regulations and assuring that companies interested in locating to San Luis Obispo have access to a well-trained work force, sound transportation systems, affordable housing, and a plentiful water supply.”

The fundamental responsibility of government, according to the supervisor, “is to provide essential services to the public: sheriff’s deputies on the street; firefighters and paramedics at the ready; libraries for learning; parks, zoos, and other recreational facilities for families; and roads and bridges that are safe and secure for motorists.”

Ryan said he will “confront the new challenges of the coming years,” which include affordable housing, improving the quality of health care, and increasing water supplies.

Ryan has earned endorsements from County Assessor Tom Bordonaro and San Luis Obispo Mayor Dave Romero.

Jim Patterson

Jim Patterson, who’s facing Ryan and making a contest of the 5th District, is a water conservation manager and former owner of Bay Laurel Nursery.
A 30-year county resident, Patterson is a native Californian and a Cal Poly graduate.

Patterson said he believes the county is “in desperate need of an updated master water plan that will analyze future needs.”

In the meantime, he said at a recent forum, “water conservation and more efficient use of water are the surest sources of additional water. These are immediate tools to stretch the water supply,” he added, noting that this approach is “less expensive and more environmentally appropriate.”

Patterson said the county’s plan for water development “has been on the shelf for two years while certain parts of the county are left not knowing what the water resource situation really is.”

Next, he said, the water plan must be made available to communities for review “to fill in the gaps.”

His opponent has provided “many examples of circumventing the public to avoid public input on important issues,” said Patterson, who wants to “put the public back in the public participation process.”

A one-time ranch manager, Patterson said he places the declining affordability of health care and the lack of workforce housing in priority positions if he wins the seat.

“We are displacing the middle class in this county,” he said, and county officials “haven’t done much to prevent it.”

Patterson is backed by the Atascadero District Teachers’ Association, Atascadero Mayor George Luna, and councilmember Becky Pacas. ?

News Editor Daniel Blackburn can be reached at dblackburn@newtimesslo.com.

 

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Council districts, bonds, mayors on voters’ minds


Local voters will deal with a small slate of proposals this election day, only one of which has sparked much community zeal.

Morro Bay residents will be asked to decide if separate city council districts should be established to replace the current system of at-large election.
Additionally, the measure would change the post of mayor from an elected office to a rotation among council members.

The debate has been fueled by the opposition to the proposal by a large part of the city’s current leadership, including most of the present city council and the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, funded largely by city tax contributions.

Two bond issue efforts have been floated, one for $21.35 million for Lucia Mar Unified School District, the other a $98 million try for Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. Both will cover upgrading of current facilities and construction of new classrooms.

In Pismo Beach, voters will decide if they want an elected mayor, and if so, whether that politician would serve two- or four-year terms.


—Daniel Blackburn


 




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