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As SLO County’s political landscape starts to shift after redistricting, three supervisor seats are up for election this June 

Bruce Gibson sounded almost giddy.

The longtime North Coast San Luis Obispo County supervisor had just gotten off of KPRL's Sound Off—the popular North County conservative radio program—when he called New Times on March 31.

"I had such a good time," Gibson said. "Nobody who listens to that radio station is going to vote for me anyway. I'm very relaxed about being in that setting because I can just be me, and tell them what I really think."

Gibson had challenged host Jaime Umphenour when she suggested that the progressive-leaning supervisor from Cayucos would have trouble winning over voters in North County—now Gibson's largest base of prospective constituents after redistricting.

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In response to a comment that alluded to him antagonizing North County in the past, Gibson pushed back and pressed her for specific examples. He felt he'd stumped her on it and exposed a false narrative about him.

"You wouldn't believe how often that's tried," Gibson told New Times. "'How are you relating to the folks in North County?' I'm relating just fine to the folks of North County. They have all the same issues all the rest of us have."

Since he was first elected in 2006, Gibson has cruised to easy reelection victories in 2010, 2014, and 2018 to become the board's longest-tenured supervisor today. But that was before 2021's redistricting.

The SLO County Board of Supervisors' seismic redrawing of its supervisorial districts last year turned the once politically blue, coastal 2nd District into a purple, more rural district. It now includes not just Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon, but also Atascadero, west Templeton, Lake Nacimiento, and San Miguel.

Gibson faces three challengers in the June 7 primary election, but it's not just his seat on the Board of Supervisors that's at stake. The 3rd and 4th Districts are also up for election, with respective incumbents, Dawn Ortiz-Legg and Lynn Compton, fighting to keep their seats.

Collectively, the outcomes of those three races will decide the direction of the Board of Supervisors, which currently has a deep political divide and conservative tilt.

Four's a crowd

Second District supervisor candidate Geoff Auslen likes to keep his message simple. He's a conservative, small- business owner and active Atascadero community member who believes a fresh voice is needed in Gibson's office.

"The incumbent's had 15 and a half years now on the Board of Supervisors," Auslen told New Times over coffee at Joebella Coffee Roasters in Atascadero. "Career politicians should not be in local government. I think it's time to make a change."

The owner of Glenn's Repair and Rental in Atascadero, Auslen is quick to talk about his civic work over the years in the city of Atascadero.

He's served on the board of directors of the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce and as a volunteer in the local Elks Club, the Kiwanis Club, and on the city's Citizens' Sales Tax Oversight Committee. He recently helped coordinate the fundraising and development of the Joy Playground, a playground inclusive to children with disabilities that opened in 2019, he said.

click to enlarge GEOFF AUSLEN, 2ND DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • GEOFF AUSLEN, 2ND DISTRICT

"I'm a doer," Auslen said. "I have a proven track record as a business owner and resident of the county."

A majority of the current Atascadero City Council and its past leaders, like longtime Mayor Tom O'Malley, support him, according to Auslen's campaign website. He also has the endorsement of the city's police and firefighter unions. He's raised $77,824 for his campaign in 2022, including $25,000 in loans.

Templeton resident Bruce Jones, a retired orthopedic surgeon and former chair of the Templeton Area Advisory Group, is also running for the seat.

Jones is endorsed by the SLO County Republican Party and by local conservative politicians like former Congresswoman Andrea Seastrand and current state Assembly candidate Vicki Nohrden. He's raised $100,000 (including $50,000 in loans) for his campaign this year thus far. Jones declined to speak to New Times for this story, canceling a scheduled interview.

Col. John Whitworth of Atascadero is another candidate—a self-described "constitutional conservative" with a military and business background. He's raised $6,050 this year, almost all of which is a loan. Whitworth did not respond to requests for an interview.

Auslen acknowledged that he's competing with Jones and Whitworth for the conservative vote in the new 2nd District. He boasts endorsements from Central Coast Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-SLO) and the conservative Lincoln Club of SLO County.

"The party's divided," Auslen said. "I think I appeal to everybody in all walks of life. And it's a nonpartisan position. ... It's a shame we have to wear a label."

That's something that Auslen and Gibson agree on.

Gibson—who's backed by the local Democratic Party and a variety of local elected officials, and has raised $106,358 in 2022 thus far—believes that the county's current political environment is too partisan, which he thinks has slowed progress on a slew of local issues, from affordable housing to water.

click to enlarge BRUCE GIBSON, 2ND DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • BRUCE GIBSON, 2ND DISTRICT

"To me what's more important is, are you a pragmatist?" Gibson said. "Are you a problem solver, or are you an ideologue who's playing to their team? To me, if you're in a space of being interested in solving problems, I don't care where you put yourself on the right/left line."

Gibson sees himself as a pragmatist and pointed to examples in his record—completing the Los Osos sewer, establishing a library branch in Cambria, renovating the Cayucos pier, and creating a safe parking site for the homeless—as demonstrating that.

Yet Gibson isn't shy to talk politics. A frequent critic of the conservative majority on the Board of Supervisors, Gibson believes that national Republican Party politics have impacted the SLO County board and led to "an assault on our local democratic institutions." He referenced unrebuffed attacks on the county's election integrity and county redistricting, which he believes was a gerrymander, as two examples.

"You take that all as a piece, that's really an assault on our democracy," Gibson said.

Gibson said his top focuses right now are drought and water, housing and homelessness, and economic recovery. As SLO emerges from COVID-19, he thinks real progress is possible on all those fronts.

"We have a whole set of interesting opportunities," Gibson said. "Finally, our communities and our state and federal government are starting to put resources in places where we can take advantage of them to solve these problems, or at least make a start at solving them."

While Gibson supports inclusionary housing fees on developers to produce affordable housing, Auslen opposes them, arguing that they add to the cost of housing. Gibson has encouraged the community to accept Diablo Canyon Power Plant's closure and shift its focus to renewable energy, and Auslen believes that the nuclear plant needs to continue operating. Auslen also supports expanding local oil production, which Gibson opposes.

click to enlarge JOHN WHITWORTH, 2ND DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • JOHN WHITWORTH, 2ND DISTRICT

"There's plenty of oil in SLO County. They should be drilling out in Arroyo Grande like mad," Auslen said. "I'm not against shutting oil down, shutting Diablo down when the timing is right. But we're not there yet. We should be looking at every ounce of green energy possible to do. I'm all for it when we have the capability to do it."

In general, Auslen believes that too much regulation at all levels of government is hurting local residents and the economy.

"There's no simple answers and solutions for a lot of things," Auslen said, "but the meat of it is we have overregulation. We need to cut that crap out."

If none of the 2nd District candidates win an outright majority of votes in the June 7 election, the top two will move on to the November 2022 election.

The gray zone

When Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Ortiz-Legg to SLO County's 3rd District seat after Adam Hill's death in 2020, the former county planning commissioner hoped that her "collaborative brand" of leadership could help break some of the gridlock on the Board of Supervisors.

So far, she's been somewhat disappointed.

"The part that's been frustrating is that even when we [the supervisors] are in a conversation—which is very far and few between—we come to the board and decisions have already been made behind the scenes," Ortiz-Legg told New Times at a Skipper's Brew Coffee House picnic table. "To try to find a negotiation, a collaboration, an ability to moderate and compromise, I'm always willing to do that. ... But it's usually met with a 'no.' So that's a little frustrating to really experience that."

Despite the resistance to compromise, Ortiz-Legg said she still values the role she's played on the board since her appointment two years ago, describing her approach as moderate and balanced. She thinks voters in the 3rd District (the old district lines, since this election determines who will finish late Supervisor Hill's term that started in 2020) will agree.

"I see that there's a very black and white approach [on the current Board of Supervisors]. I think the world is really gray," she said. "And you've got these extremes in both parties, and the gray is where the majority of people are. And that's where all the solutions are."

click to enlarge BRUCE JONES, 2ND DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • BRUCE JONES, 2ND DISTRICT

Stacy Korsgaden is challenging Ortiz-Legg for the 3rd District seat. The Grover Beach insurance agent ran and lost against Hill in 2020. Arnold Ruiz, a SLO retiree who could not be reached for this story and has no campaign webpage, is also running.

To Korsgaden, Ortiz-Legg's leadership brand looks more wishy-washy than consensus-building.

"I am running because I saw in her mode of leadership exactly what I don't want, and that's a public servant saying one thing and doing another. I can't stand it," Korsgaden told New Times in her office on Grand Avenue, which is decorated in vibrant ocean-themed art.

Korsgaden's specific contention is that Ortiz-Legg took a position in favor of Diablo Canyon staying open but later recused herself from a Board of Supervisors vote to send a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom advocating for that. Ortiz-Legg said that she legally had to recuse herself due to her recent employment with PG&E and conflict of interest rules.

But Korsgaden called that explanation "confusing" and "weak" leadership and said she's a candidate who will always put "muscle" behind her positions and convictions. That's something she said she did as a citizen on Jan. 6, 2021, when she traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the "election integrity rally" that preceded the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Korsgaden went to the rally "to question my government," she said, maintaining that the event she attended was legal and peaceful. When asked what she was questioning, Korsgaden said she had concerns about election integrity.

"It was an election integrity rally," she said. "Before the election, and it's well documented, because of COVID, the whole world was under pressure and different states rolled out new laws, and millions of people were given new ways to vote. I wanted to verify that it was done correctly."

Ortiz-Legg blasted Korsgaden's attendance at the rally, calling her views "radical."

click to enlarge STACY KORSGADEN, 3RD DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • STACY KORSGADEN, 3RD DISTRICT

"To be willing to fly across the nation to challenge a perfectly legal election and to succumb to the plots and to feign that she's just going on a joy trip or something like that, as opposed to really engaged in some of the radical elements that we're seeing a lot of, is very concerning," Ortiz-Legg said.

Discussing the issues at the county, Korsgaden said she's focused on water, homelessness, the economy, and public safety. She's an advocate for establishing sanctioned "triage tents" for the homeless, a project that she believes could allow the county to more strongly enforce its anti-camping ordinances. She supports off-road riding on the Oceano Dunes, calling the state park "our Hearst Castle in South County."

"I love it and I'm going to fight for it," she said.

Ortiz-Legg, who touted her years of work in the renewable energy sector prior to public service, said her top issues are homelessness, water, and economic growth. She's endorsed by the local Democratic Party, trade union groups, and various local officials, raising $144,210 for her campaign in 2022.

Korsgaden's endorsements include the local Republican Party, Assemblymember Cunningham, and Pismo Beach Mayor Ed Waage. She's received $75,169 in contributions in 2022.

A rematch

After coming within 61 votes of victory in 2018, Jimmy Paulding is challenging 4th District Supervisor Compton again for her seat in the June 7 election, returning this time as a member of the Arroyo Grande City Council.

click to enlarge DAWN ORTIZ-LEGG, 3RD DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • DAWN ORTIZ-LEGG, 3RD DISTRICT

"The difference between now and 2017-18, when people didn't know who I was, is I have a track record now," Paulding told New Times. "There's definitely a different feeling this time around. We've made a lot more headway, and the community support is even broader than it was before."

Compton is seeking her third term on the board. The Nipomo resident and Republican told New Times that her approach to campaigning hasn't changed much since 2018, and she feels like she's a known commodity in the community.

"I kind of run on my thing: lower taxes, keep the government out of our lives, and personal freedom. I feel like it hasn't really changed," Compton said.

What's maybe changed most in the race is the 4th District itself, which was redrawn during redistricting. The new 4th District no longer has Oceano but picked up the Edna Valley and the rural communities of Pozo and California Valley instead.

While critics of the county, including Paulding, called the district overhaul a gerrymander for Compton (a majority of Oceano voters supported Paulding, a Democrat, in 2018), both candidates noted that the political makeup of the new district is closely split between political parties.

"This new district is a very purple district. My old district was a very purple district. There is no advantage," Compton said. "If we were going to create an advantage, we would've done it a lot better for me."

click to enlarge ARNOLD RUIZ, 3RD DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • ARNOLD RUIZ, 3RD DISTRICT

As the candidates have walked precincts, they said the issues of homelessness, water, public safety, cost of living, and traffic come up most frequently. Compton and Paulding agree on some fundamental solutions, like South County's Central Coast Blue wastewater treatment project to augment groundwater or creating more types of shelter options for the homeless.

But they clash on other policies, like what to do about inclusionary housing fees to fund affordable housing or whether to join Central Coast Community Energy (3CE). Paulding is in favor of both inclusionary fees and 3CE, while Compton isn't.

Compton and Paulding both highlighted their fundamental differences in approach to leadership. Compton pointed to her recent vote on the Board of Supervisors to halt work on a long-planned roundabout project on Highway 227, which faced strong neighborhood opposition, as an example of their different styles. Paulding voted in favor of the project as a city representative on the SLO Council of Governments board.

"When I have 90 percent of a community, a big community, where this is their No. 1 issue, and they've taken the time to sign a petition and come to meetings and voice their concerns, when you have that many people who don't want it, regardless of what the experts say, I just feel like I have to be the voice for that group," Compton said. "I think that that is a big difference between myself and Jimmy Paulding and how we approach things."

Paulding countered that Compton's decisions too often hinge on what "special interests" show up for a particular county issue, indicating a lack of discipline and fairness to the county as a whole. He argued that Compton and the board's majority have opened the door to partisan influence in part by operating that way.

"It is an issue with public trust," Paulding said. "You look at the redistricting process, which was a gerrymander; when you look at the decision to raise campaign finance contribution limits to $25,000 per individual, business, or PAC; when you look at what transpired with the clerk-recorder and [former Clerk-Recorder] Tommy Gong, the failure to defend the integrity of the 2020 election, failure to stand behind our election official, those kinds of things in my opinion have eviscerated the public's trust."

click to enlarge LYNN COMPTON, 4TH DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • LYNN COMPTON, 4TH DISTRICT

Similar to 2018, neither candidate is short on cash. In 2022, both Compton and Paulding raised more than $100,000, and they both receive new donations almost daily.

Compton said she expects the race to be as close as it was in 2018.

"It's a toss-up," she said. Δ

Contact Assistant Editor Peter Johnson at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.


Redistricting recap

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors' redistricting vote last year significantly changed the boundaries of the five county supervisorial districts—sending about 100,000 voters countywide into new districts for the next decade. This new configuration is relevant in two of the three supervisor races taking place this year.

The election for 3rd District supervisor is the only county race this year that uses the old district boundary. The old district lines encompass about half of the city of San Luis Obispo, the cities of Pismo Beach and Grover Beach, and the communities of Edna Valley and Avila Beach. The race uses the old boundary because it determines who will finish late 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill's term, which began in 2020. In 2024, the 3rd District election will be held using its new (very different) boundary. Some voters in the old 3rd District will also get to vote in the supervisor race for the new 4th District, since the boundaries have some geographic overlap.

The new 4th District shifted to the north and east after redistricting—and it includes the city of Arroyo Grande, Nipomo, Edna Valley, Cuyama, California Valley, Pozo, and rural lands in between. About 4,100 voters located in Edna Valley are in both the new 4th District and the old 3rd District, so they will vote in both supervisor races this year.

click to enlarge JIMMY PAULDING, 4TH DISTRICT - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • JIMMY PAULDING, 4TH DISTRICT

The historically coastal 2nd District lost Los Osos and Morro Bay in redistricting, and the new district now encompasses the communities of Cayucos, Cambria, and San Simeon, as well as San Miguel, Lake Nacimiento, west Templeton, and the entire city of Atascadero.

As the makeup of the SLO County Board of Supervisors changes due to redistricting, the transition will leave several communities without a supervisor for two years. The towns that will not have a representative on the board between 2022 and 2024 are Oceano, Los Osos, Morro Bay, and part of the city of San Luis Obispo—they are all in the new 3rd District.

Some communities will have two supervisors representing them between 2022 and 2024. Those are San Miguel, Lake Nacimiento, west Templeton, the city of Atascadero, Edna Valley, Pozo, and California Valley.

The new district map will be fully implemented on the Board of Supervisors by January 2025, following the 2024 elections.

To view the county's new redistricting map online, visit slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/Administrative-Office/Countywide-Projects-Programs/Redistricting.aspx. Δ

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