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Beware the shark 

Leaders who don't listen to voters could take a bite out of your way of life

We live in a beautiful part of the world, with open spaces everywhere, mountains and lakes, rivers and valleys. Sometimes as I drive along our (mostly) open roads, looking at the clouds and tree-covered landscapes, I just marvel at the beauty that God and nature have given us here.

Economically, we are also doing well, with many well-to-do retirees moving here to enjoy our mild climate and easy lifestyles. Linked to everything, of course, is the growth of the wine (and recently brewing) industry; though not without problems, they have brought significant wealth and improved opportunities to this area. Overall, it's much better to be in an improving situation rather than a declining one (see the Rust Belt states with their loss of manufacturing).

It is important to have smart, honest leadership to protect this wonderful area we all call home, now and in the future. This is a very important topic—don't take it lightly, or someone or some group will try their best to take some of it away from you. Just because you're doing OK now, and you think your family is secure, doesn't mean there aren't greedier people/bigger businesses lurking and planning how to improve their situation at the cost of yours. As the saying goes, there's always a bigger shark in the ocean, waiting for an opportunity to munch you.

The current San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors majority has been favoring its big business/big donor friends now for some time, and many of the rest of us are at risk because of this. For example, the groundwater situation in the Paso Basin, and elsewhere, has been largely ignored for years. The supervisors have known that the basin was being annually over-pumped by more than 2,400 acre-feet of water (that's a lot of water, folks) for many, many years, and they largely ignored the issue to the great benefit of big business corporate wineries that were sucking the ground dry by inefficient overhead watering of thousands of acres of new grapes.

It wasn't until about 2014, under the pressure of state mandates and hundreds of local individuals' wells going dry, that current supervisors were forced to come up with a water management plan. Many areas have unique water situations, and each area was supposed to develop its own plan and pay those costs. But the board, against the advice of the county Farm Bureau, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, and county staff, decided not to do this, but rather make the general taxpayers (that's you and me) pay for those studies. So, an approximately $6 million liability was taken off the books of the big wineries and given to the general taxpayer. And that, my friends, is an example of the big shark mentioned above munching on your foot/wallet.

Good leadership is important. Without it, we all are at risk of losing our wonderful way of life. Leaders are supposed to listen to their voters and protect us from big business that really doesn't give a hoot about our world; they only want to make maximum short-term profits that benefit out-of-area corporations. Do you think a corporation that has drilled a thousand-foot-plus-deep well—at a cost of a million bucks—and is sucking water out of multiple aquifers really cares about your normal-depth home well that just went dry? Not likely.

And here's a second example of those sharks a-munching: The town of Santa Margarita is very strongly against a proposed new quarry due to the estimate that 273 semi-trucks per day (that's one every two minutes) will be going down their main street. Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold rolled right over the residents/voters and supported that quarry.

Per the Sept. 5 New Times story about the supervisors 5th District election: "On the quarry project—which has since been revived and whose application is currently on hold at the county—Arnold said, 'I personally do not think the impact on the neighbors would have been that great, and I say that including myself. I come into work on Highway 58, and often drop my grandchildren at the Santa Margarita school. There are already trucks in and out of the town. ... I really believe that it was a compatible use.'"

Of course there are already trucks in and out of town. It's the addition of 273 more trucks per day that folks object to, and wouldn't you? But Arnold doesn't listen to her voters; she listens to big business/big donors. And there we go again, everyone. Do you feel that big shark nibbling at your way of life again?

We need to change the attitude of the Board of Supervisors, away from protecting the big business/big donors and back to what they should be doing, which is improving and protecting life for all of us. We face serious issues ahead, some of which are wildfires, drought, climate change, and new industries. We need leaders who can look to the future to find innovative solutions, not dictators who protect their friends and ideology at the expense of the rest of us.

I've known Ellen Beraud for years and found her to be an experienced, smart, and honest leader. She has served as the Atascadero mayor and a council member, raised her family here, and would be an excellent addition to the Board of Supervisors. She will study the issues and listen to voters, balancing the good of the community with that of business interests. I highly recommend you think clearly about the upcoming elections, as the direction our leaders take will have serious ramifications for all of us. Δ

Dan Cook writes about county politics from Atascadero. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a response for publication and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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