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The challenger 

Meet the man shaking up the race for the county's third district

The man looking to take the seat from San Luis Obispo County 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill this June couldn’t stand in starker contrast to the incumbent.

click to enlarge ‘I GUESS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM I HAVE IS [HILL’S] CHARACTER. THE WAY HE HAS TREATED PEOPLE WHO HAVE COME TO SPEAK TO THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS. HE’S NOT RESPECTFUL.’:  Ed Waage, 3rd District county supervisor candidate - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • ‘I GUESS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM I HAVE IS [HILL’S] CHARACTER. THE WAY HE HAS TREATED PEOPLE WHO HAVE COME TO SPEAK TO THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS. HE’S NOT RESPECTFUL.’: Ed Waage, 3rd District county supervisor candidate

A relatively new face to the local world of politics, Pismo Beach City Councilman Ed Waage has a doctorate in chemistry and ties to Pacific Gas & Electric. He does speaking gigs before local Republican organizations, and he’s made a name for himself at the county level as the leading voice of opposition in the often contentious debate over air pollution and the Oceano Dunes.

But the voting residents of the county’s third district, who generally seem to keep out of politics and don’t follow health issues on the Nipomo Mesa, likely still don’t know much about the man—other than that he’s not Adam Hill.

But the first-term Pismo Beach councilman’s campaign has attracted something of a diverse following, and it’s preparing for its final push as June 5 draws near. Waage’s wife, Jeannie Nix, recently tweeted, “The @EdWaage signs are up, when we drop off literature, people say ‘Oh, now I know who he is!’”

Last week, Hill leveled with New Times News Editor Colin Rigley. This week, Ed’s fielding the questions. At his campaign headquarters in Grover Beach, we talked about his professional background, his take on the issues of the day, his opponent, and, as a scientist, his favorite element on the periodic table.

NEW TIMES First off, why did you decide to jump into the race when you did? Why do you feel you’d make for a better supervisor than Adam Hill?

ED WAAGE Why’d I choose to run? First of all, a little background. I was on the planning commission in Pismo Beach for four years. This month, it’s my fourth year on the City Council, and I’ve seen what we’ve been able to achieve in the City Council. And I think I can bring those kinds of skills and qualifications to the county level. I’ve been very successful in Pismo Beach, and I see some problems at the county level, and I think I can help bring some changes to the county.

NEW TIMES Can you expand on that a little: achievements in Pismo Beach?

WAAGE Well, we’ve got a very respectful council now. How long have you been here?

NEW TIMES I’ve lived in the county a little over five years now.

WAAGE Basically, in the past there’s been some problems with the City Council. And the current council’s been very effective working together. We’ve been working hard to improve our business climate. And we help our local tourism economy. I was our Conventions Visitor’s Bureau liaison, and we were able to put together a funding mechanism to boost our tourism promotion, and we were successful. The city has had record revenue from its bed tax.

NEW TIMES The occupancy tax?

WAAGE Basically, the transient occupancy tax. That means the hotels are doing well. We have projected a $2.3 million budget surplus—doesn’t get covered, because that’s good news. When almost all the other cities were struggling to maintain services, we re-budgeted a $1.5 million surplus, and we have, in fact, $2.3 million surplus. It’s been collaboration, cooperation between the city, the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention Visitor’s Bureau, the hoteliers—the lodging industry in general. And we’ve been able to do a good job in providing city services. Very much, I’m proud of our local employees, the city. They do a great job of providing services; they’re very effective, very efficient, in providing those services. … And at the county level, I see there’s all these additional restrictions coming down the pipe. The other issue is my opponent, himself. You folks have covered him [laughs]. I’ve been very respectful in the City Council, and everyone else as a whole is very respectful to each other. We respect people when they come out to the City Council meetings. They made the effort to show up, and they have the right to be heard. And, you know, that’s the whole idea of what we’re about, is to serve the public when they come speak to us, and we need to be respectful towards them.

NEW TIMES Well, this was actually farther down on my list, but you just touched on it. What is your assessment of Adam Hill’s performance as a supervisor?

WAAGE I guess the biggest problem I have is his character. The way he has treated people who have come to speak to the Board of Supervisors. He’s not respectful. He’s been rude to some of the people speaking there. And I think that’s unbecoming. … If you are an elected official, you have to be respectful to the people coming before you. You have to respect that divergence of opinions. There’s a rich debate about what should be going on in the county. And there’s lots of points of view, and you have to respect those points of view. We have to come together and find some way to get some kind of consensus and move forward. That’s what they say I’ve been doing on the City Council. And they say we get along really well. We can have a sharp debate about the issues, but we’re debating about the issues; we don’t make it personal. And that’s how you have good outcomes. That spirit on the City Council, I’d say, we have good cooperation between all the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Bureau, the hotel industry, other local groups in that we work very closely together, collaboratively. And I think that’s part of the reason for our success. And that success goes largely unreported, by the way. … You’ve probably heard about the Adam Hill impersonating phone call? I assume you’ve heard of that?

NEWTIMES Yes, I have. And I wasn’t going to, but should probably ask you about that. Did he apologize?

WAAGE No.

NEW TIMES Do you think he should?

WAAGE Yeah. Yeah, I do. I thought he ought to apologize to the Board of Supervisors, too, because whether it was a prank or not, it’s not something an elected official should do.

NEW TIMES Not to harp on this too much, but as far as on the issues, what’s your assessment of Hill’s performance, aside from what you see as his personal quirks? As far as where he lies on the political spectrum.

WAAGE Well, I think he’s in many cases been passing more regulations than I would have. There’s lots of regulations, and we’re still struggling from a rather devastating recession in California and our county in particular. And we’ve got to have a better economy, more jobs, and more efficient delivery of services. As far as how he’s been doing, again, I think his mode has been putting more regulations on which will hurt us in the long run.

NEW TIMES Can you give any other examples of the issues?

WAAGE Well, they’ve been talking about this proposal to add the events ordinance, to put that in place. I guess they’ve shelved that until after the election, but that is an example. It should be complaint-driven. It just seems to me there isn’t a problem, with the exception of large events in Avila Beach. There isn’t a problem, pretty much, and it should be complaint-driven. ... That’s one example; there are several others. The climate action plan has some things in it that seem like overkill. Having an energy retrofit upon resale of an existing home would hurt our local real estate industry at a time when the local real estate industry is struggling. They call it Energy Wise now, but it’s a climate action plan. They changed the name to make it sound more appealing, I guess. In fact, that plan passed on a 3-2 vote, and I would have opposed the current version of it.

NEW TIMES And to what extent has your role on the Air Pollution Control District [APCD] and the issue over the [Oceano] Dunes and health in the Nipomo Mesa played into your decision to run for a supervisor seat?

click to enlarge ‘THERE WERE JUST LOTS OF THINGS THAT DIDN’T ADD UP IN THE [OCEANO DUNES] STUDY. BUT THE FACT IS WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC HEALTH, BUT WE’VE GOT TO DO IT THE RIGHT WAY OR WE’RE GOING TO BE SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM.’:  Ed Waage - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • ‘THERE WERE JUST LOTS OF THINGS THAT DIDN’T ADD UP IN THE [OCEANO DUNES] STUDY. BUT THE FACT IS WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC HEALTH, BUT WE’VE GOT TO DO IT THE RIGHT WAY OR WE’RE GOING TO BE SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM.’: Ed Waage

WAAGE I suppose it’s part of it. But I’m looking at the larger picture of the regulatory issues. It’s part of who I am. I challenge the status quo. I’ve got a doctorate in chemistry. I looked at the dunes study, and the results and conclusions they came up with, and looked at it in detail, and it just didn’t hold up. There were several flaws in the study, and I don’t think it should have been the basis to pass the current regulations. I supported the best management practices, which is to increase the amount of vegetation, see if you can try to decrease the amount of track-out sand and dust problems. And those kinds of efforts I supported. But the proposal was to put the kind of onerous regulations, which wasn’t really supported by the results of the study. State Parks was also planning to do additional studies, as is the APCD, and I would welcome that, too. And, you know, if there are ways we can reduce the dust, that’d be great. But we’ve got to make sure it’s based on sound study and not flawed science. Like I said, I took a look at the study and determined, well, both State Parks and I noticed right away that they measured the wind speeds not on the dunes, but—are you familiar with that study?

NEW TIMES Yes.

WAAGE They had the controlled study, which was where they measured wind speeds on the dunes. That was at Oso [Flaco Lake]. And they had their riding area study where they measured their wind speeds at CDF [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection] behind tall eucalyptus trees. Well, that’s not a good area to measure wind speeds. They’re comparing apples to oranges, and they found much higher wind speeds at the Oso site. And they didn’t even try to, didn’t even look at the possibility that, “Gee, look. Maybe that was a lousy location to put the wind speed monitors.” That was one of the first things I pointed out, and it wasn’t until just before the regulations passed that the staff admitted, “Gee, maybe we should have looked at wind speeds on the dunes.” … .

NEW TIMES Do you think that the APCD used the study to reach a predetermined conclusion? That’s, I guess, the criticism of the district in the issue. And why would they want to do that? Why do you think they didn’t adequately address the concerns that you had and spend more time with the study?

WAAGE That goes to motive, and I don’t like to speculate on why someone did what they did. The fact is, I’m interested in getting the right answers. That’s the main thing. … The huge flaw of the study, the one you could drive a truck through, was the fact that the riding area of the dunes is much larger than the control area of the dunes. I did a complicated calculation showing that the size, shape of the dunes and the distance of the monitoring locations can explain the differences they measured. Once again, the staff report didn’t look at that. Motive: I just don’t want to go there. There’s certainly revenue from the fees. … There were just lots of things that didn’t add up in the study. But the fact is we’ve got to protect the public health, but we’ve got to do it the right way or we’re going to be solving the wrong problem. And that’s the larger issue when you are in government … you’ve got to be running effective programs and not just spinning your wheels. … And that’s just—you asked, and I’m answering. We’re talking about the dunes stuff, I’ve spent a lot of time on it. But that’s not why I’m running. [laughs]

NEW TIMES But there’s, I’m sure, plenty of people who might not know much about the local issues—specifically Pismo Beach—who may only know you from your work on the Air Pollution board. And you were the outspoken figure over that dunes study and what followed.

WAAGE Sure.

NEW TIMES So let’s sidetrack a little bit and talk about you. Describe yourself.

WAAGE Oh, well here’s a little bio, by the way [slides over a résumé].

NEW TIMES Great, thanks.

WAAGE Me, huh? I have a doctorate in chemistry, I taught chemistry at Illinois State University for five years. I was hired to head a brand new program on hazardous materials and emergency response for the State of Illinois. They had several big explosions of railroad tankers, and they wanted a better-coordinated response for Illinois agencies, so I was hired to help put that program together. After Three Mile Island, I was put in charge of their nuclear power plant preparedness program. And I did that … until I was able to get a job at PG&E, Diablo Canyon—first in San Francisco, then they transferred me here. So I worked on emergency preparedness for a good part of my career. I then took an early retirement. They were encouraging people with early retirements, and I said sure. And I’ve never regretted that. It’s nice to be retired. In 2005, I was invited to work with the [International] Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] in Vienna, Austria, to help on emergency preparedness. And I did that for a year. I helped do training, procedures, run an exercise, evaluate the exercise, for the IAEA—it’s part of the United Nations. After the exercises, I helped design a new emergency response center, which they used during the Fukushima … Japanese nuclear power plant disasters. That was the year that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IAEA and its director general. They threw a nice party for us and thanked us for our efforts.

NEW TIMES And the Nobel Peace prize was awarded specifically for the emergency preparedness efforts, or—

WAAGE No, it was awarded to the agency as a whole. And there’s several parts of the agency. One of the best known is the inspection program. The inspections of the Iranian nuclear program is on the front page of all the papers, The IAEA is doing those inspections, but no, I don’t even think emergency preparedness was mentioned in the award at all. The inspection program, the nuclear program, and the safety program. I was part of the safety program.

NEW TIMES But what about you as a person? Describe yourself as a person.

click to enlarge ‘THERE WERE JUST LOTS OF THINGS THAT DIDN’T ADD UP IN THE [OCEANO DUNES] STUDY. BUT THE FACT IS WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC HEALTH, BUT WE’VE GOT TO DO IT THE RIGHT WAY OR WE’RE GOING TO BE SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM.’:  Ed Waage - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • ‘THERE WERE JUST LOTS OF THINGS THAT DIDN’T ADD UP IN THE [OCEANO DUNES] STUDY. BUT THE FACT IS WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE PUBLIC HEALTH, BUT WE’VE GOT TO DO IT THE RIGHT WAY OR WE’RE GOING TO BE SOLVING THE WRONG PROBLEM.’: Ed Waage

WAAGE I am somebody who is interested in—since I’ve retired, especially—politics and the political process. I enjoy the give and take. I’ve been a student of politics for some time. I enjoy talking about the issues and solutions that we can need to define to get through.

[Staff photographer Steve E. Miller walks back from a chat with Waage’s wife and whispers to the reporter]

STEVE MILLER He’s a Viking.

WAAGE Pardon?

MILLER I said, “He’s a Viking.”

WAAGE [laughs]

MILLER I just got that from your wife.

WAAGE Waage is a Norwegian name, yes. [My] father’s side was Norwegian, but my mother’s side is mixed. In fact, on my mother’s side, they came looking for gold in 1853 and couldn’t find it, but became farmers.

NEW TIMES Alright, so how do you define yourself politically?

WAAGE I’m a registered Republican, but I’m a very pragmatic person. [I’ve] supported people, for example, in South County, during the primary election for the 4th District supervisorial race, I supported Jim Guthrie, and he’s a Democrat. … I thought he would do a good job. So, it wasn’t based on politics. I guess the point is I will be—Adam Hill used the term in an e-mail that went out: ‘zealot.’ Like I’m a right-wing zealot, or something like that. And I don’t think that defines me at all. I’d say I’m very pragmatic. The SEIU [Service Employees International Union] 620 workers in Pismo Beach has made a donation to my campaign, and I think our employees in Pismo Beach are doing a great job in providing services and I appreciate their support. Like I said, I’m very pragmatic, and I’ve cast a wide net of support. We need to find solutions not based on ideology, but based on what’s going to work. I’m not driven by ideology.

NEW TIMES You mentioned the county’s climate action plan. Some people have called you a climate change “denier,” that you don’t believe in climate change. What’s your opinion?

WAAGE That I don’t believe in climate change? Let me tell you what I believe: I’ve been looking at this whole issue of global warming for about seven years, and the best I can make out of all of this, I’ve read the reports, all the skeptic blogs, commented on a few of the skeptic blogs. It seems to me there’s been a little bit of warming from additional releases of carbon dioxide, but not the kinds of scary predictions that, well, let me put it this way: To get really scary numbers, you have to look at the computer models. The CO2 itself might make the temperature rise one degree, which isn’t too bad. But to get the three- or four-degree temperature rises, those are based upon computer models, which have been inaccurate. They said the temperature was going to keep rising after a certain amount, and it hasn’t in the last 10 or 15 years. … So, I think we have to be careful how we approach this. … I think we need to look closely at the numbers to see that what we’re doing is going to be really effective and it’s not just the flavor-of-the-month thing to do. … The main problem I had with [the Global Warming Solutions Act] is this cap and trade, which is being implemented as we speak. There was several other states that were supposed to participate in this cap and trade plan—Oregon and Washington, for example—and they bailed. It’s now California and Quebec, the Canadian province, they’re part of the cap and trade program. Cap and trade has failed miserably in Europe. It’s been very ineffective. The carbon credits are almost worthless right now. There’s a cost to the consumers. The largest polluters will just simply raise the price of their refinery, or the price of our gas, cement. There will be, bureaucrats call it “leakage,” where you get carbon emitters in California going elsewhere because it’s cheaper. And that doesn’t reduce carbon emissions at all, it just hurts our economy.

NEW TIMES Switching gears here: Given your experience in the nuclear industry and your former job at PG&E, some have raised the question of whether you’re too close to PG&E to independently supervise the district?

WAAGE Well, I sold all of my PG&E stock about eight years ago. I have a pension from PG&E, but that’s a defined pension … I get a pension no matter what. So, I’m from a safety background, too, emergency preparedness. My career has been based upon making sure we do things safely. That’s the culture I’m used to, that’s the culture we had at the IAEA. Nuclear power’s fine as long as we do it safely. Safety is the bottom line.

NEW TIMES And obviously, the relicensing process is going on. Should you be elected, some big things regarding the plant could happen during your term. They’re doing seismic studies right now up and down the coast. What would you, or what could you do, as supervisor, to hold PG&E’s feet to the fire in terms of making sure that they’re getting good science in this case and ensure that the plant’s safe?

NEW TIMES Well, first of all, I know what success looks like in the nuclear business. You gotta do things right. You’ve got to follow procedures. You’ve got to make sure the plant will survive any possible threat to it. Because public health and safety is paramount. There’s a certain culture surrounding that, that attention to detail. I would make sure that PG&E’s doing things right, or I’ll raise an issue about it. I’m not beholden to PG&E, I didn’t take any money or campaign donations from PG&E, so to say I’m beholden to PG&E, I’m not.

NEW TIMES I haven’t heard anyone say you are beholden to PG&E, just raising the point that there would be a former PG&E employee overseeing the district of its nuclear power plant.

WAAGE I have a few acquaintances that I see occasionally that still work out there. But you, know, if you work out there it’s even more important you do the job right. That was the culture when I was out there, and I assume it’s still the same. They say nuclear power’s fine as long as it’s done right.

NEW TIMES Another public safety question: law enforcement. Have you reached out to the local law enforcement community? I saw that the Deputy Sheriff’s Association endorsed Adam Hill.

WAAGE All the candidates were interviewed by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, and I pointed out I have a strong public safety background, 26 years in public safety. So I am a strong supporter of law enforcement. In Pismo Beach, we are updating equipment, squad cars, so officers are more efficient. We’ve got some gang and drug issues that we need to make sure we can go after.

NEW TIMES Pro-development and smart-growth. Where do you lie?

WAAGE Those are two terms that—let me put it another way. It’s not either-or. I think you need to do several things. One is support infill projects, like we have in Pismo Beach, for example. … We’ve got to plan for our future, for growth, especially our workforce housing, and so we need to put the housing where the jobs are. I think some of these terms, I mean, I understand what smart growth is, but sometimes you can go too far, or you end up raising the costs so much that you end up without adequate housing. Housing’s already very expensive in this area.

NEWTIMES You said you’re not afraid to challenge the status quo. What’s the status quo in SLO County?

WAAGE Well, it’s not any one thing. I guess I want to make sure that whatever we do that it’s based upon a good, a sound, basis before we move forward so we solve the problem if there is one.

MILLER What element do you most identify with?

WAAGE On the periodic table?

MILLER Yeah.

WAAGE I’ve always been fascinated with carbon, to be honest with you. I chose physical chemistry, not organic, but organic always interested me. Carbon. But they’re all there for a reason. But carbon is what life is based upon. How can you not like carbon? Yeah, and after carbon, oxygen—some of my favorites. Oxygen, of course, was a poison in early Earth when Earth was filled with cyanide-based organisms.

MILLER Should we colonize Mars?

WAAGE No. Too cold.

Staff Writer Matt Fountain can be reached at mfountain@newtimesslo.com.

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