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VACO faces scrutiny from previous advisory council members for discriminatory bylaws 

Two years after the SLO County Board of Supervisors unrecognized the Oceano Advisory Council (OAC) due to claims of dysfunction, former members are taking jabs at Oceano's new advisory council.

During a March 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, Oceano resident Lucia Casalinuovo said that the Vitality Advisory Council of Oceano's (VACO) new bylaws are appalling, discriminatory, and fail miserably at equal representation of the Oceano Community

"Persons who served with the ... council that was unrecognized by this board shall not be eligible for election," she said during public comment.

Casalinuovo said she believes it is unconstitutional to ban anyone from running for public office unless they were convicted of a felony, and these bylaws blatantly target former members of the OAC.

VACO alternate Adam Verdin told New Times that Casalinuovo is wrong: Anyone can run for an elected position.

According to Public Records Act requests filed by Verdin and provided to New Times, on Dec. 4, 2023, Casalinuovo wrote in an email chain to April Dury, Bill Root, Charles Varni, and Allene Villa that she's going to ask that an election committee gets formed in Oceano and for a new Oceano advisory council to be elected.

"In the meantime, WACO [sic] can continue operat[ing] and then be erased from the face of the earth until the newly elevated [sic] council becomes functioning," Casalinuovo's email reads.

On Dec. 10, 1996, the SLO County Board of Supervisors adopted a policy to authorize advisory councils in 11 unincorporated areas that included Oceano, according to previous New Times reporting. For years, the OAC was the only advisory council in Oceano after forming in 1996, but in 2021 things changed.

VACO Chair and Oceano Community Services District board member Linda Austin told New Times that VACO was formed due to the dysfunction and hostility of OAC. On Dec. 6, 2022, the SLO County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to unrecognize the OAC after then 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton said that it stepped out of line in its responsibilities.

"They're the nastiest, most uncivil group I've met in my life," Compton said during that meeting.

This resulted in VACO becoming the only recognized advisory council in Oceano.

During public comment at the March 26 meeting, Casalinuovo asked supervisors for VACO to transfer to an elected council by the end of March, and if it couldn't comply with the county's guidelines to hold a fair and unbiased election, then it should be unrecognized.

"VACO plans to have an elected council by July 2027; that's way too long," she said. "We believe that an independent election committee should be established immediately, and elections held as soon as possible."

However, Austin said that VACO and 4th District Supervisor Jimmy Paulding discussed the council's election requirements during the second week of April and decided that its first election will be held in January 2025.

"We have nine seats; five will be elected and four will be organizationally based," Austin said. "This is less than four years before our formation, and thus within the election every-four-year requirement."

In 2023, the Board of Supervisors introduced a new community advisory council handbook, and it states that advisory council membership should be made up of a majority of elected positions chosen by members of the public.

"Elections should be held in an open and transparent manner. Elections should be held at a minimum of every four years and may be staggered to allow for only half of the seats to be elected at any one time," the handbook states. "If there are any membership changes, the advisory council should notify their district supervisor and the planning liaison."

Verdin said that VACO's been in contact with the League of Women Voters to figure out how it should draft its election.

"We thought it'd be better to push this into January to give us time to get organized, work with the supervisor's office, work with League of Women Voters, and kind of figure out the right way of going about it because it's not like there's a big budget," he said. "This is just a local group of volunteers that have an organization that's recognized by the county. It's something that makes everybody feel welcome and comfortable to participate." Δ

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