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The spirit of Bob Jones 

Last week, my wife and I took our infant grandson on a leisurely stroll over the Bob Jones Trail. Starting at the trailhead on Ontario Road, we spent two-plus hours on the trail, joined by hundreds of folks—some with strollers like us, and others on bikes, scooters, skates. It's the most popular trail on the Central Coast: More than 47,000 people used the trail during June 2020, according to the Friends of the Bob Jones Trail.

I met Bob Jones 40 years ago; I was lucky to recruit him for the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obipso County board in its formative years, soon after launching the organization in early 1984. Bob served as a consultant to the California Legislature in 1970 and is credited with helping draft the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Bob was a consensus builder, a friend to everyone.

In 1986, together with many others including the late Bill Roalman, we wrote a SLO Creek restoration plan for the Land Conservancy. That plan called for restoring the creek throughout its entire watershed and helped build momentum for a trail in the Avila Valley using Pacific Coast Railway right of way.

The Avila Valley segment of the Bob Jones Trail represents less than half the ultimate vision for the facility that bears Bob's name: A new trail segment would link the Ontario Road trailhead with the Octagon Barn 4 miles north. This segment improves emergency access for the Baron Canyon neighborhood, and commuters will love it.

The county has $18 million in grant funding for this project, and originally hoped to complete the trail by April 2025. With strong support from 3rd District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg and two other supervisors, the county has worked diligently to move this project forward.

Sadly, however, our vision for the Bob Jones trail also requires something that's been missing for several years: A fourth vote on the Board of Supervisors. One property owner has denied the county permission even to survey his property and filed a lawsuit against the county to further stall negotiations. Thus, the county must adopt a "resolution of necessity" to purchase that critical segment of the trail right of way, and it requires four votes. John Peschong (1st District) has recused himself, and incumbent Debbie Arnold (5th District) consistently opposes the steps needed to complete the trail.

The county's grant expires if the project isn't launched by early next year, which threatens the entire project. The soonest we can get that fourth vote is after Debbie Arnold finally retires in December.

If Atascadero City Councilmember Susan Funk wins the March 5 election for the 5th District, she'll support the trail's planned completion.

Supervisorial hopeful Atascadero Mayor Heather Moreno has thrown shade on the trail, saying "if ... the government's coming to me for my property, ... it would need to be for a very important purpose." If Moreno is elected, the trail will probably have to move to the north side of Highway 101 or even worse, be left incomplete.

Only my worst nightmare could conjure up the bleak image of walking with my grandson in a stroller with massive semi-trailer trucks barreling along only a few feet away. I simply would not use it, especially knowing that we might have had use of a quiet trail along the creek.

We must not lose the possibility of completing the Bob Jones Trail in this generation. Voters in the 5th District can choose to end the complicity of a single politician with a single out-of-state property owner to frustrate the will of county residents.

We know that these candidates differ on completing the trail named for our late friend Bob Jones. There's an even wider gap between them on the leading issue of our time: climate change.

In January 2014, Atascadero received a draft Climate Action Plan endorsed by its Planning Commission, community members, city staff, and their professional consultants. Then Councilmember Moreno voted to delete entire sections of this plan, objecting to any mention of the scientific consensus linking global climate change to human activity. In a four-hour filibuster, she turned the plan into a meaningless word salad to appease a handful of far-right climate deniers lurking behind a wall of disinformation built by fossil fuel-funded purveyors of junk science.

Fortunately for the voters in the 5th District, Funk is ready to tackle the grim and undeniable realities of our climate crisis. In doing so, we can move beyond the divisive politics of the past that stifled intelligent discussion of climate action. And in the spirit of Bob Jones, we can create that four-vote consensus to overcome the stalemate needlessly delaying the completion of the most important sustainable infrastructure project before us: our Bob Jones Trail.

I can visualize Bob now—he's counting on you, voters. And so is my grandson. Δ

John Ashbaugh hopes to use the complete Bob Jones Trail sometime in his lifetime, even if he has to use a wheelchair. Contact him through the editor at [email protected].

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